The fate of the Bloor bike lanes hang in the balance with a vote at City Council later this month. For the over 6000 people now using it per day they may soon find themselves without any bike lanes—or some weird temporary bike lanes—if suburban politicians or a new business group gets their way. This new business group is bizarrely called the "Annex Business Bike Alliance". Or ABBA, but not nearly as fun as the band. They don't seem to be associated with the Annex BIA; rather they seem to have formed in protest to the Annex BIA working with the City on studying the Bloor bike lanes. They're concerned that the Bloor bike lanes in their current design are having a big negative impact on sales. But instead of getting rid of the bike lanes, they want to change the "design and operating hours".
It's not clear how many Annex businesses decided to join this ad-hoc group. For all we know, this group might be just one guy, Barry Alper, who I presume is the same Barry Alper that is a co-owner of Fresh Restaurants. Yes, the same Fresh restaurant that gives a discount to Cycle Toronto members.
Money, Money Money: group does their own economic impact survey
The City of Toronto is conducting an economic impact survey that is being conducted by the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation and the University of Toronto. The report is coming out shortly in order to be ready for a vote at Council. ABBA, however, decided sight-unseen that it doesn't like the report and decided to conduct their own super scientific online "survey". Despite the fact that the City's survey was agreed upon by the merchants: "Korea Town BIA, the Bloor Annex BIA, and the Metcalf Foundation, in 2015, before data collection began and before the installation of the bike lane."
Here's an example of the kind of leading question they ask:
How has the Bloor Street Bike Lane Project affected my business sales?
Already the bike lanes are damned by this survey once it inserts into the merchant's mind that there can only be one cause for crappy business sales: the bike lanes. But there's no way merchants can pull out this one cause out of all the possible influences on their retails sales: whether it be the rain/snow/sun; general downturn in the local economy; customers with less disposable cash because they're spending it all on $1 million houses; employees who are skimming; or just bad business sense. You don't have to take my word for it. One of the merchants responded to the business sales question with:
Hard to say, still limited sample. Last fall business was great. This has been an unusual year, there's been so much rain which really affects our business. I'd like to see how the bike lanes work over more time.
And we can't ask the merchants to open their books. The Ontario Association of BIAs recommends against collecting retail sales data because of transparency and uniformity issues. TCAT states "the funding partners and the research team agreed that a survey question regarding sales without data to verify it would be insufficient." So the City's research also gathers "estimated customer counts from the merchant surveys, estimated spending and visit frequency from the visitor surveys, and business vacancy counts from a street level scan."
But ABBA doesn't like that approach, saying it's coming "from a group whose opinion on economic impact from these lanes would not seek out the local business’s in a meaningful way". So ABBA crafted survey questions all on their own, and conducted the survey all on their own. Almost as if they wished to engineer an outcome that is favourable to their own preconceived notions of the prime importance of their motoring customers. As one of the merchants asked in their response: "Just curious about the purpose this survey? It's says it's an Economic Impact Study but of the nine questions 4 are about parking." I have exactly the same question.
Knowing Me Knowing You: Suspicious survey responses
We know nothing about ABBA's survey except what we can see from Surveymonkey results. We already know the questions themselves are leading, but what about the parts we can't see and which ABBA failed to tell us about? Are the responses all from actual owners of the stores, or from random employees? Did ABBA coach the responders in any way?
We don't even know for sure that ABBA didn't just add a few more data points themselves to buttress their argument. There is some suspicious activity in the responses. Out of the 63 responses, only 38 come from distinct IP addresses. And there are two time periods, June 29 and July 13 when there are quick successions of responses within 1-2 minutes of each other from the same IP address. It's almost as if someone filled out the survey multiple times themselves in one sitting.
The City really can't take this survey seriously.
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! More Parking
The reduction in car parking on one side of the street was the biggest change with the bike lanes. I find it really hard to believe, however, that merchants have any clue if this had any effect. The one merchant who gave us the most information in the survey says, parking doesn't really make much difference:
We have never depended on street parking. There's only 2 space in front of our business and it's a total lottery for our customer to get one.
Wouldn't that be true for almost all stores along this strip? All of them have store frontages that are as wide as 1-2 parking spots. How much business can you actually get from 1 or 2 parking spots? Especially when most of your customers are likely coming by subway? According to the same merchant, even the Green P parking lot is rarely full:
There's a giant freakin' Green P in the Annex that was rarely full is still rarely full. Our customers that drive seem to be able to find it. The changes in parking have been insignificant.
"How important is street parking on Bloor Street to my business?"
Zero, not at all. I wanted to set-up business in a neighbourhood close to the subway, walkable and accessible by bike. That's why we came to the Annex. If we wanted parking we'd by out in Mississauga Dundas W and Erin Mills or something like that.
Waterloo: ABBA's final stand
ABBA is demanding of Councillor Cressy, not that the bike lanes be removed, but that they be redesigned and that the "operating hours" be reduced:
We are the Annex Business Bike Alliance who want to encourage and expand cycling in the GTA but do it in a way that does not dramatically impact local independent business’s along Toronto’s main streets. The Bloor and Bike lanes design and operating hours have created a highway that has reduced business activity along the entire strip (Madison to Shaw). Traffic to the area to shop has been reduced as cars do not come and cyclists do not stop and shop.
Where have I heard "bicycle highway" before? Oh yeah, former Councillor Adam Vaughan referring to the Richmond/Adelaide cycle tracks. This seems to be the go-to criticism now; make it seem cars are just soft pillows on wheels meandering at a walking pace and bicycles are monsters ready to eat your children.
Someone didn't give this kid the memo.
The rest of the letter kind of reads like stream of consciousness, with conflicting demands. One the one hand they want the City to "REMOVE BIKE LANES FROM BLOOR ENTIRELY AND FOCUS ON DUPONT AND HARBORD (and/or surrounding side streets) AS A MORE FUNCTIONAL BIKE ROUTE OPTION". But they also "want city council to keep bike lanes on Bloor street but redesign them so that the Annex can flourish and not transform itself into an area where only national chains survive." And these are some of their suggested design changes:
CREATE RUSH-HOUR ONLY BIKE LANES USING A WHOLE LANE OF TRAFFIC (from 7-10AM eastbound/4-7PM westbound), THEN RETURN THAT LANE TO MOTOR VEHICLE PARKING FOR THE REMAINING HOURS OF THE DAY
How is this supposed to work for kids biking to school? Do all children live west of their schools? They clearly have not given school kids any thought.
CREATE SEASONAL BIKE LANES (operational from May to September)
May to September?! One of the merchants had even suggested only open the bike lane during the summer months: June to August.
What about people who like to bike in all the other months without snow: March, April, October, November? It's already October and I don't see a hint of snow nor a drop in the number of people biking. But even with snow the City has been plowing the Bloor bike lanes so there's less reason to stop biking. I find it amazing that Canadians think nothing of sending their kids out to play in the snow but can't imagine biking in cold weather.
REMOVE THE BIKE LANES FOR 1-YEAR AS A PILOT PROJECT TO MEASURE THE AFFECT ON SALES/BUSINESSES
I've got a better idea. As a pilot project let's remove all car parking on Bloor and let's see if that makes as much of a difference as you assume.
CREATE MORE MOTOR VEHICLE PARKING SPOTS ALONG SIDE STREETS, DIRECTLY NORTH/SOUTH OF BLOOR (free, 1-hr parking on BOTH sides of these sections of the those streets)
Good luck fighting local residents on this proposal.
ENFORCE SPEED LIMITS ON CYCLISTS RIDING IN THE BIKE LANES (especially during the AM and PM rush- hours)
Sure go ahead. Make sure cyclists don't go over the 50 km per hour speed limit.
OFFER FREE BIKE BASKETS TO CYCLISTS TO ENCOURAGE SHOPPING ALONG BLOOR
This actually sounds like a good idea. I'll take a basket. But you know, it's already a lot easier to stop and shop on Bloor while biking rather than drive and park. Maybe instead you should try to entice with baskets all those car drivers who lost years ago to Costco or Walmart.