One of the most common arguments against eliminating parking from downtown areas is that it’ll affect business. The people behind those complaints are dead right: There will be an impact on business–only it’s the opposite of the one they have in mind. Removing cars from downtown streets actually increases trade by attracting pedestrians and cyclists, and a new study of Queen Street West in Toronto’s Parkdale neighborhood has the numbers to prove it.
Back at the end of 2015, a study was commissioned to see just how many people arrived at the street by car, and how many got there by “active” transportation like walking or biking. The idea was to see what impact a parking ban or other car-hostile, people-friendly changes might have on local businesses.
The report, published at the end of 2016, shows that most business owners overestimated how many of their customers arrived by car. Not only that, but the visitors themselves overwhelmingly preferred widened bike lanes or sidewalks, even if it meant sacrificing some parking spaces.
The numbers are surprising, even to somebody who follows this kind of thing: Almost half of the local business owners estimated that more than 25% of their customers arrived by car. The actual number? Just 4%. By far the biggest way to get to the street was walking or cycling, with 72% of visitors arriving that way. Cyclists and pedestrians were also better customers, spending more time in the area, and spending more money per month than the folks who engaged in drive-by-shopping.
Even so, the report found that local merchants were against adding bike lanes or widening sidewalks at the expense of on-street parking, which makes sense if they believed most of their clients arrived by car. In fact, over half of merchants also thought that there wasn’t enough parking on the street. On the other hand, only 19% of visitors, even those in cars, thought that there wasn’t enough parking.
There was, however, one point on which everybody agreed: “A majority of visitors (53%) and merchants (64%) stated that there was not enough bicycle parking within the Study Area,” the report said.
That’s pretty clear evidence that removing on-street parking from downtown streets doesn’t make things worse for local businesses–and that’s before you take into account the improvements to an area that removing parking can bring about: Wider sidewalks and more bike lanes make a street a more pleasant and hospitable place to spend time on. It might make sense to focus on adding parking only on the side streets off the main drag–one could argue that some of those arriving “on foot” had just parked their cars on nearby streets and strolled over.
Much of the opposition to plans that favor bikes and pedestrians over cars comes from local business owners, so one wonders what might happen if merchants were presented these figures before the plans were introduced. Would they still be so defensive of parking if they knew that only 4% of their customers ever used it? Probably not.