Yet Another Study Shows That Bike Lanes Boost Business

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CC BY 2.0. Bloor Street bike lane at start, 9 September 2019. Lloyd Alter

A deeper look at Toronto's Bloor Street bike lanes finds more shoppers spending more money.

Whenever a bike lane is proposed, retailers complain, "It will kill our business," and drivers complain they won't be able to shop. And every time I know of, when they looked at this after the bike lanes were built, they found that, in fact, business got better and sales went up.

We saw this with an earlier study of Toronto's Bloor Street bike lane, but a new study from the University of Toronto and the Center for Active Transportation, Measuring the Local Economic Impacts of Replacing On-Street Parking With Bike Lanes, looks at it in greater detail.

The Bloor bike lane starts in the west at Shaw Street, looking east in the photo at top toward the bike lane. The study evaluated customer counts, customer spending, visitor frequency and business vacancy counts. The City of Toronto also got credit and debit card transaction data. They compared data to a shopping district to the East, where Bloor Street becomes Danforth Avenue, as a control.

Bloor in the morning

Bloor Street at dawn/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It seemed that the restaurants and bars all did a lot more business after the bike lane went in, but there was not much change at the dry-cleaners and service businesses, which are pretty local and were probably all walk-in anyway.

The number of merchants on Bloor Street reporting more than 100 customers per day increased substantially and significantly for food service/bar and retail establishments on both Saturdays and weekdays. No significant changes were detected for service establishments.

Visitor frequency went up as well, and the usual complaint that bike lanes will increase vacancies? Didn't happen. The control on the Danforth did worse.

Our results indicate the business environment on Bloor Street improved during the time of the study: Reported visitor spending rose, visit frequency increased, estimated customer counts show growth in the number of customers, and vacancy rates held steady... Other data we collected from the visitor survey are consistent with positive changes in the pilot area. The proportion of shoppers driving to the neighborhood remained unchanged at 9%, and that of shoppers arriving on bicycles rose considerably from 8% to 22%.
sales data

© Daniel Arancibia et al

Eric Jaffe of Sidewalk makes an interesting point about how shopping actually changes a bit.

Just why bike lanes have a neutral-to-positive impact on spending remains an open question. The strongest theory — one supported by the Bloor study — is that while cyclists lacking a car trunk might not make large purchases, they make more total purchases over a given period, since an area is now easier and safer for them to visit. (The large-purchase barrier also stands to change as more retailers shift toward on-demand delivery over in-store merchandise.)
Parking on Bloor

Google Maps/Screen capture

There aren't a lot of stores on Bloor where one would make purchases of big stuff, but it also should be noted that there actually is a lot of car parking in the area; when the subway was built just north of the street, much of the surface above was turned into municipal parking. You really don't have to walk that far to find a space. In the stretch of Korea Town shown above, you can see lots almost the entire length parallel to Bloor.

Beside Bloor Street, the researchers looked at eight other studies and conclude, "Our results suggest bike lanes can be added to vibrant, downtown retail streets without negative impacts."

Perhaps now it is time to extend that bike lane west of Shaw and east onto the Danforth. I suspect that with a continuous route across the city, business would increase even more. The report is good fodder for the battle in other cities, too.