Trading Parking Spaces for Bike Lanes and Sidewalks

Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business — A Study of Bloor Street in Toronto’s Annex Neighbourhood was recently published by Totonto’s Clean Air Partnership. The study set out to understand and estimate the importance of onstreet parking to business on Bloor Street in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto.

From the study:

The spending habits of cyclists and pedestrians, their relatively high travel mode share, and the minimal impact on parking all demonstrate that merchants in this area are unlikely to be negatively affected by reallocating on–street parking space to a bike lane. On the contrary, this change will likely increase commercial activity.

It is recommended that this type of study be replicated on other commercial streets where there is concern about reducing parking to accommodate wider sidewalks or bicycle lanes. Specifically, the researchers also recommend that the City of Toronto use this study to look more closely at the future of Bloor Street as a candidate for a cross–town bikeway.

In 2006, Transportation Alternatives published a similar study that examined the travel, shopping and spending patterns of visitors, residents and workers on Prince Street, in the historic SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. Its findings were similar:

The major implication of the study is that Prince Street would be improved for visitors, residents and workers through an expansion of the space allocated to pedestrians. Doing so would relieve that current overcrowding on the sidewalks. Merchants would benefit as those who patronize the neighborhood’s stores and restaurants would come more often, drawn by the reduced crowding on sidewalks. This increased patronage would offset by a five to one ratio any lost retail sales from those not coming due to reduced parking spaces.

We need more studies like these. Too often merchants quickly rally against reduced parking based upon the assumption that it will negatively affect business, without first considering the potential increase in business that can be brought on by improved pedestrian and bicycling facilities.

Read the full study [PDF]

6 Responses to “Trading Parking Spaces for Bike Lanes and Sidewalks”

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Agreed. Portland has been swapping car parking for cycling parking recently in a number of spots. It was actually requested by the local merchants. Story is on bike portland:

    I am a big fan of these kinds of changes.

  • brad says:

    While I agree in principle, we had an interesting counter-example in my neighborhood in Montreal last year.

    On the strength of several citizen petitions, a bunch of streets that provide access to rue Fleury, a busy shopping street in Montréal not unlike Bloor in Toronto (but on a much smaller scale and nowhere near as hip), were made one-way. This eliminated all the shortcuts that local people used to get there and made finding a parking space more difficult.

    Fleury is already well-served by the north-south bike route through Montreal; it’s a cinch to get there by bike and there are plenty of secure parking stands for bicyclists. But as soon as those access streets were made one-way, all the merchants on Fleury suffered. Two of them went out of business and nearly all of them reported dramatic drop-offs in sales. Another petition went around and most of the access roads are going back to the way they were. Business is back up.

    Bottom line: cars are still king, and removing parking spaces to accommodate bicyclists is something that has to be scheduled thoughtfully and carefully to avoid killing off stores that may be teetering on the brink of survival, especially in these times.

  • Alan says:


    I totally agree, Brad. My only point is that we should do the research instead of making blanket assumptions, whatever the results.

  • Zane Selvans says:

    Also, it’s important to try and disentangle the effects of these bike/pedestrian policies from other things that would have happened anyway – I suspect that lots of retail areas had a hard time last year, regardless of what they did with their parking/bike lanes.

  • brad says:

    Zane — I agree and had that in my head as I was writing my comment. In fact the recession (or at least the realization that we were in a recession) hit Québec quite a bit later than it hit the United States and it’s only really in the past few months that people here have started to lose jobs, cut back on their spending, etc.

    The fact that these stores are starting to see normal business again now that the streets have been restored to their previous configuration seems to indicate a cause-and-effect relationship, but these things are always complicated when they play out in real life as opposed to controlled experiments and simulations. ;-)

  • Duncan Watson says:

    The one way streets are a different topic then removing parking. One way streets are a cancer in many cases, they cause many more problems then they solve. Transit oriented development in general does much better with grids and two-way streets.

    In general I am not a fan of one way streets, many traffic “calming” devices (bulb outs, poorly thought out speed bumps, those silly traffic circles just placed in the middle of some residential intersections). But I am a big believer in bike lanes and bike corrals.

© 2011 EcoVelo™