Bike lanes and businesses: When the numbers do the talking

If we had a dollar for every time we’ve been told that removing traffic lanes and car parking to make way for cycle lanes will kill local businesses, we could just about fund the lanes ourselves. It’s a classic barbecue assertion. And, like any other dodgy assertion, it withers in the face of the data.

Toronto’s Bloor Street today: spending and customer numbers up, near-miss collisions down.

Where to go for that data? One place is Toronto, which studied the economic impact of a protected cycleway in Bloor Street, a major east-west corridor. The Bloor Street story goes back to late ‘70s, when advocates first started lobbying for bike lanes on the street. It wasn’t until 2016 that a pilot lane was built, and even then it was conditional on an economic impact assessment into the effects of the pilot lane on local businesses. In some cases, those businesses were hostile to the lane because, they said, the loss of a traffic lane and 160 on-street car parks would drive customers away. The study was commissioned by the Toronto City Council to see exactly what did happen.

Bike activism, Toronto-style.

It wasn’t a trivial exercise. The study compared Bloor Street data from before the pilot and during it with a nearby control street, and drew on multiple sources: customer counts from 525 merchants, visitor surveys, point-of-sale data and business vacancy rates.

Here’s what the study showed:

  • Customer numbers increased: The percentage of merchants who reported 100 or more customers on a Saturday went from 45% to 62% during the study period.
  • Spending increased: Point-of-sale data showed an increase of 4.45% in the pilot area, versus 3.7% in the control area.
  • Vacancy rates were stable.
  • It was safer: Near-miss collisions between all road users decreased by 44%.
  • Cycling rates went up by 49%.

Pretty clear, then. With the data behind it, the council went ahead in October 2017 and voted to convert the Bloor Street pilot cycle lane into a permanent one. A win for the cyclists of Toronto, and a useful counterpoint for you next time someone drops a lazy assertion about business and bike lanes.

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