Sunday, 23 October 2016

I decided to post something here in response to a thread that has been going on in the Seaton Village Facebook group about this issue (linked to in article above), as the post is long. I will refer the group to the blog post with a link.

This is a long response as it is a complicated issue, glossing it will just lead to misunderstanding.

The problem with discussing this issue is that the Toronto cycling advocacy community is cautious about any negative commentary about bike infrastructure. I get why, new bike infrastructure in this city is hard won and years in the making, so any sort of negativity is pounced upon by both sides, by advocates as they feel it weakens their case and gives ammunition to the anti-bike crowd, and by the anti-bike crowd as evidence that bike infrastructure is a bad idea. Thing is, whether you can agree on the costs or not, if you can't discuss costs you can't solve the problem, .

What are the common responses to questions about lost revenues to business due to bike lanes?

For some it is to deny the costs, as they are seen as propaganda to use against bike infrastructure.

For others it is to take out the bike lanes, as they are hurting business.

Both responses are untenable.

The first response is mistaken as there are *always* costs, period. Any time technologies have changed they have introduced a new set of costs and benefits, that’s just the way it works. Sometimes they are monetary costs, sometimes otherwise, but they always exist.

When horses were the main mode of transportation in cities we had a horse manure problem, cities like New York had 5-12 tons of manure per square mile per day deposited by horses at the turn of the century. It was a public health hazard. Then we got cars, and eventually smog, greenhouse gasses, drunk driving and carnage on the highways… just no horse crap.

Every technology has benefits and costs, so if you introduce bike lanes and switch cars for bikes they will have costs too. In this case, a cost to businesses during an adjustment period is normal. I am still skeptical of the numbers given in the Toronto Star article, but that’s another issue.

The second response is a large part of the reason why we lack more green technologies and have so many environmental problems. Sometimes technologies create more costs for some users than others, that’s just the way it is. New technologies that are “green” for example, can put workers in other industries out of work. Sometimes that’s a net employment loss, sometimes a net employment gain.

What is interesting is that the response to the idea that there are costs to local businesses is to suggest the bike lanes should be removed. That is of course a solution, but it forgets that there was a problem being addressed by the change in technology in the first place, in this case pollution from cars, a general reduction in the level of physical fitness (e.g. driving rather than walking or cycling), traffic congestion, etc.

Ask yourself this, say the city had decided to rip up Bloor (to replace pipes beneath the roads for example) over the same space where there is now a bike lane, and parking was reduced by the same amount as it is for the bike lane. Assume the same business losses.

Would anyone be suggesting we should leave the pipes alone?

If the city builds a new road near an established neighborhood and suddenly cars start passing by that neighborhood, leading to businesses closing, would anyone suggest ripping up the new road?

If the loss in business is real, then businesses should be compensated. That’s one of the costs of putting in bike lanes. The neighborhood will eventually settle in to a new normal, with some businesses closing, and some staying open, and new ones moving in. 

If, however, you don’t pay those costs, and some businesses eventually fold (assuming the loss in business is sustained and real), and the anti-bike crowd can point to the bankruptcies and say, “there you go, bike lanes kill business”.

No, change kills business, and that’s fine. Businesses ebb and flow: technology changes, so do demographics, general prosperity, and a host of other things. You either think this is fine or you think that businesses should be compensated for the losses, but there is no point denying that there are costs.

And for those who think I’m being unrealistic, e.g. “money doesn’t grow on trees”, “who’s going to pay for this”, and “what mechanisms exist for this to be funded, you clearly don’t know how this works”, you are simply ignoring decades of evidence that government subsidizes technologies all the time, both directly and indirectly. There are obvious examples like governments bailing out the auto industry, the massive subsidization of  the nuclear industry, the massive subsidies given to the ethanol industry, etc, etc, etc. I believe in subsidies to get technologies going, and that should include bikes. 

If the technology is important, and its benefits desirable, then these costs, whatever they are, must be borne.

For what its worth (and this is anecdotal), the parking may not be the issue. I park on Bloor between Clinton and Bathurst, and around Spadina, several days per week and on the weekends, all year round. I have been able to find parking on Bloor or on nearby streets every time since the new lanes have been put in, but I am willing to park on a side street. So what you are really losing here, I suspect, is a portion of the car population, one that is only willing to go somewhere if they can park very close by, so those with mobility issues or those who just prefer to be closer.

I think the far bigger issues are that:

a) The traffic congestion on this stretch of Bloor feels worse to me, others can add their experiences to the discussion, but I’ve found it much worse since the lanes came in.

b) The traffic on surrounding streets has also worsened.

c) Pedestrians, motorists and cyclists are not sure what to do (turning cars at intersections, passengers exiting cars and pedestrians wandering into the lanes are problem areas)

It’s entirely possible a) and b) are due to some other cause, but they could be due to the lanes. c) is clearly due to the new infrastructure.

I believe that a), b) and c) will all readjust over time, and all will improve. The only one I’m not sure about is a), as I have seen other areas have traffic increase and not go back down.

So my response to the concern that businesses may be losing money would be to say that the new bike infrastructure may be the cause, if so, there should be some form of compensation for businesses over an agreed upon period, to reflect this cost of adjustment to the new flow of customer traffic. This should be done as all technological change brings costs, and we have an obligation to consider protecting businesses against these costs, at least for a period of time.