A magical new supply of parking spots

A magical new supply of parking spots

Annex Gleaner, November 2, 2017

Merchants need to look to themselves

What if Bloor Street merchants — especially those who believe the bike lane is bad for business — could magically create a new supply of parking spots for their motoring customers?

A recent report commissioned by the local BIAs (Bloor Annex and Koreatown) and the City of Toronto suggests that the possibility is hardly far-fetched.

Issues about parking demand and supply have traditionally been informed by assumptions, particularly that a parked car equals a deep-pocketed shopper. In reality, the car owner might be engaged in any number of other activities that don’t include spending money, like visiting a tenant who lives above a store. A new report sheds light on the parking demands of a particular group — merchants themselves. The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) found that 49 per cent of local merchants drive to their businesses. Most of them then park on Bloor Street, a side-street, or a Green P lot. Spots taken by merchants are obviously not available to their customers.

The TCAT study, which interviewed ground floor merchants in Koreatown and the Annex, found that in real numbers, merchants (who responded) take up 62 parking spots. Less than one quarter of these spots are in private areas, like exclusive merchant parking areas. In the context of the much-ballyhooed 160 parking spots removed from the entire length of the pilot bike lane, merchant parking demand is significant.

The total number of merchant parking spots along the bike lane is actually much higher. The study did not include the large number of below-ground and upper floor merchants, nor did it include the area outside of the Koreatown and Bloor Annex BIAs (east of Madison Avenue and west of Montrose Avenue). When the entire 2.5 kilometre Shaw Street to Avenue Road area — as opposed to the 1.5 kilometre study area — is included, there are about 345 merchants, according to Toronto employment surveys used by TCAT. Assuming that the same percentage of these merchants drive, the total number of parking spaces occupied by merchants would be about 130 — not far off the 160 parking spots lost to the bike lane.

Merchants therefore have the opportunity to open up parking spots for their customers by changing their mode of travel. For those merchants who must drive (though it would be useful to establish why) — perhaps to pick up supplies during the day — there are options, including local driveways that remain empty during the day or a parking app like Rover that connects (for a fee) motorists with residents who have available parking.

Anecdotally, I recognize the cars of two merchants who always park in spots on my side-street close to Bloor Street. These parking spots are free of cost during the day, and there is no time limit. (It’s no surprise that one of these merchant is an ardent opponent of the bike lane.)

Since merchants will generally arrive earlier than their customers, and stay longer, the demand on the parking supply by merchants is magnified. If a merchant parks for three hours this would replace nine customers who shop for twenty minutes.

There is little disincentive for merchants who drive to work. The fees in Green P lots are surprisingly low. A car can be parked all day in a Green P lot along the bike lane for $8 — a bargain that might have impressed Honest Ed. The fact that parking costs can be written off by merchants is an additional benefit. Even on-street Bloor Street parking in Koreatown is cheap. A motorist can park for three hours for $6.75.

Merchants, particularly those operating variety and drug stores, or drycleaners, who may need Bloor Street parking spots for customers who pop in quickly, would do better to point the finger at their fellow (motoring) merchants than the bike lane.

Merchants’ driving habits may explain why many continue to oppose the bike lane. Merchants may simply be assuming that their own driving habits reflect those of their customers.

Despite earlier studies by TCAT showing that only 10 per cent of customers arrive by car, many merchants continue to wildly over-estimate the contribution of motorists to their businesses. According to TCAT’s survey, 58 per cent of merchants believe that over one-quarter of their customers arrive by car. Indeed, 11 per cent of merchants estimated that 75 to 100 per cent of their business comes from motorists!

Merchants who remain concerned about the loss of parking on Bloor Street — despite TCAT’s findings that business in the area is up since installation of the bike lane — would do better to speak to their fellow merchants than to blame cyclists.

Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer and founder of Bells on Bloor. The group was a partner in the Tour de Bloor passport, which promoted local businesses to cyclists.