27 March 2010

Bike lanes or On-Street Parking?

I posted before on the issue of on-street parking and a study that was conducted by the Clean Air Partnership and the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation. The study, called Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business: A Study of Bloor Street in Toronto's Annex Neighbourhood, was released in February 2009 and looked at the issue of "competing priorities for space" on the road. It was a great study because the results helped debunk the myth that business owners necessarily object to removing on-street parking for alternate use by either bike lanes or widened sidewalks. Even more, the study showed that a majority of business owners actually think better infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians would improve their business! This is an on-going issue for city planners, engineers, and local business owners (not to mention motorists, cyclists and pedestrians) and so I thought it worthwhile to take a look this issue a little closer.

First, the dichotomy between bike lanes and on-street parking is often a false one. We don't always have to choose between either one or the other. Where space between buildings permits, we can design our streets to accommodate both on-street parking and physically separated bike lanes by simply reversing the on-street parking and the bike lane as in the illustrations below.

(credit: streetfilms.org)

(from Copenhagen)

Currently, Bloor street in the Annex neighbourhood is a four lane car road with the two curb side lanes providing on-street parking. It might be possible to design the street with both a physically separated bike lane between the sidewalk and parked cars, but there doesn't seem to be enough room for both in this case. Below is a picture from the Bloor/Annex study:

So, the issue becomes whether it makes more sense to put in a bike lane (although the City of Toronto is still struggling with the idea of physically separated lanes) or keep the on-street parking. Let's take a look at some of the key findings of the Bloor/Annex study:
  • Only 10% of patrons drive to the Bloor Annex neighbourhood;
  • Even during peak periods no more than about 80% of paid parking spaces are paid for;
  • Patrons arriving by foot and bicycle visit the most often and spend the most money per month;
  • There are more merchants who believe that a bike lane or widened sidewalk would increase business than merchants who think those changes would reduce business;
  • Patrons would prefer a bike lane to widened sidewalks at a ratio of almost four to one; and
  • The reduction in on-street parking supply from a bike lane or widened sidewalk could be accommodated in the area's off-street municipal parking lots.
One of the main conclusions of this study, informing some of the main recommendations, is that relocating car parking to off-street locations would not negatively impact the commercial activity of the area (and that inviting more cyclists and pedestrians would actually positively impact business). Take a look at the full report to read about the methodology, findings, and recommendations.

Just released in March 2010 was a second, similar report called Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business: Year 2 Report: A Study of Bloor Street in Toronto's Bloor West Village. Not surprisingly (to me at least) this report echoed the findings of the previous one. This report surveyed 96 merchants and 510 visitors to the Bloor West Village and found that:
  • 4 out of 5 people surveyed do not usually drive to the area;
  • Merchants overestimated the percentage of people who drive to Bloor West Village and yet more than half of merchants surveyed believed that reducing on-street parking by 50% and adding a bike lane or widening sidewalks would either increase or have no impact on their daily number of customers;
  • People who arrive by transit, foot, and bicycle visit more often and report spending more money than those who drive;
  • People who preferred to see street use reallocated for widened sidewalks or a bike lane were significantly more likely to spend more than $100 per month than those who preferred no change;
  • The majority of people surveyed (58%) preferred to see street use reallocated for widened sidewalks or a bike lane, even if on-street parking were reduced by 50%.
View the full report.


Given the results of these studies, it might be time to start rethinking how we use our available road space. It is also time that we (those who make the decisions) stop relying on false arguments about cyclists and pedestrians being bad for business.

As I'll get to in future posts, the purpose of roads is to move vehicles and people, not to park cars. And although the car might be the choice of transportation for many people it turns out that far more people can be moved by designing streets to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation.

For some reporting and commentary on these two studies check out the following:

"Study finds that removing parking to install bike lanes or widen sidewalk would benefit business on Bloor" (Spacing.ca)

"Strong support to replace Bloor Street parking with bike lanes" (Rabble.ca)

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