Bike lanes are a common topic of discussion at the doorstep.
The value of bike lanes is hotly debated. I have canvassed to nearly 600 residences, and taken note of the input I've received. My informal survey has found that about 25% of people are strongly favourable to bike lanes, 15% are critical of them, and a large majority of people say something along the lines of "it's a big change and I'm still getting used to them."
(Full disclosure: I commute every day to Capital Park on the bike lanes along Pandora and Wharf Streets. They've made my commute safer, easier, and faster.)
Out of that 15% who are critical of bike lanes, I have come across only 2 or 3 people who think bike lanes are a complete disaster and should be torn out. The more common (critical) sentiment is that the network should not be expanded, and that cyclists should follow the rules of the road.
One of the comments I've heard several times is that bike lanes kill local businesses, and that curb-side parking is essential for Victoria's shopkeepers. In fact, the Cook Street Business Association formed *specifically* to oppose bike lanes in Cook Street Village, on the assumption that bike lanes are bad for business.
Being the academic and policymaker that I am, I decided to look at the evidence to see if these claims are valid or unfounded.
Here's what I've found on cycling, bike lanes, and impacts on local businesses:
1. A study in Portland of 78 businesses found that cyclists are "competitive consumers, spending similar amounts or more, on average, than their counterparts using automobiles." On average, cyclists spend less at grocery stores, but more in other categories of food-related shops: bars, restaurants, and convenience stores. They also make more shopping trips to commercial areas.
2. A survey of 420 people in Manhattan's East Village, an area with protected bike lanes, found that "cyclists spent about $163 per week on average, compared to $143 among drivers."
3. A survey of over 1,700 shoppers in New Zealand (Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington) found that, in city centres, drivers and cyclists spent about the same per trip ($47 to $43, respectively), but that cyclists spent more time in the shopping districts and spread around their purchases to different shops. Drivers went to the grocery store, which are often not locally owned businesses.
4. One fascinating study in Dublin, Ireland found that business owners tended to overestimate the percentage of patrons who arrived via private automobile. On Henry Street, for instance, the owners guessed 19%, but it was actually just 9%. The shopkeepers also underestimated the number of patrons who arrived by bicycle. Spending was essentially identical between cyclists and drivers (228 to 237 euros per month).
5. Surveys in Toronto with 61 merchants and 538 patrons on Bloor Street found that only 10% of patrons arrived by car and that pedestrians and cyclists outspent drivers on a monthly basis. The survey's authors concluded that bike lanes in the area were "unlikely" to have a negative impact on local businesses. "On the contrary, this change [would] likely increase commercial activity."
6. Studies in Seattle, Washington are particularly germane because researchers measured business sales before and after the installation of new bike lanes. In the Roosevelet area, 12 parking spaces were removed for a bike lane on 65th Street. "The sales index on 65th Street skyrocketed after the lane was put in place, especially compared with the index in the rest of the neighbourhood." By contrast, a new bike lane in the Greenwood area had no tangible impact on businesses whatsoever, leading the researcher to conclude that it, at the very least, had "no negative impact."
7. My assessment of these studies is that bike lanes either marginally increase sales for local businesses or have no tangible economic impact. But there is scant evidence to the claim that bike lanes kill businesses. My own sense is that this sentiment is driven by a fear of change rather than any tangible evidence or lived experience.
8. These findings are not meant to exonerate examples in Victoria of poorly placed bike lanes, which were designed without consideration for low-mobility users, and are often confusing and dangerous to navigate. I do also concede that there could be instances in which businesses that require drive-up access could be adversely affected by a bike lane. (I won't even get into how much cities subsidize parking, by the way.)
9. But the overwhelming evidence suggests that bike lanes are unfairly maligned, and that, of equal importance, businesses tend to underestimate the percentage of their patrons who access businesses via bicycle. If readers are aware of studies or meta-studies that find different conclusions, I would be happy to read and consider those findings.
10. In preparation for running for city council, I reached out to the city to get the latest data on cycling and bike lane usage. Per the manager of transportation, 10% of trips to the downtown core are now made by bicycle, and that number has steadily grown in recent years. It would be lovely if someone would undertake an economic impact assessment on local businesses. Also, it's unclear what modes of transportation those cyclists would be using if it weren't for the bike lanes, but it stands to reason that at least *some *of them (half?) would be in private automobiles, which means there is tangible evidence to suggest that bike lanes are reducing congestion in the core.
11. Finally, I don't think cycling and bike lanes are the magic solution to all our transportation and emission woes. Many people, including my elderly mother, are uninterested in or unable to ride bikes. Cycling will always only be part of the transportation solution. But as a city we should take an evidence-based approach to understanding the positive impacts that cycling tends to have on cities and their businesses.
The various studies are summarized here: