City staff say that the temporary bike lanes along Bloor Street should be made permanent in light of a study that suggests their presence brought more customers to area businesses while only slowing down vehicular traffic by an average of two to four minutes.

The separated bike lanes along a 2.4-kilometre stretch of Bloor Street from Shaw Street to Avenue Road were installed last June as part of a one-year pilot project.

In a 19-page report released on Wednesday, staff say that the number of cyclists travelling along the corridor increased by 49 per cent from June, 2016 to June, 2017, making it the second busiest cycling route in the city with an average of 4,925 trips per 24-hour period. The busiest cycling route in the city remains along Adelaide and Richmond streets.

Cyclist traffic did decrease along the bike lanes on Dupont Street (down 11 per cent) and Harbord Street (down 25 per cent), suggesting that some simply changed their routes.

Furthermore, staff say that impact on traffic was not significant as it appeared to be when the lanes were first installed.

In February, the city published preliminary data which suggested that vehicular commute times between Bay Street and Ossington Avenue were up four to eight minutes during peak periods.

The report released on Wednesday reveals that those delays have been cut in half largely thanks to the retiming of traffic signals, with the westbound commute about 4 minutes and 15 seconds slower compared to June, 2016 and the eastbound commute two minutes slower compared to June, 2016.

The report suggest that vehicular traffic along the corridor is down about 18 per cent overall since the lanes were installed. Meanwhile, traffic along the nearby corridors of Dupont Street and Harbord Street is up by seven and four per cent respectively since the lanes were installed.

“The impact on car travel times has during the course of the year been cut in half and I am optimistic that we can cut that down preferably to zero but certainly to the point that it becomes a very small change in order to accommodate the needs of all of the people that want to use Bloor Street,” Mayor John Tory told reporters at an unrelated news conference on Wednesday. “My job is to do what I think is best in a balanced way for all the people in the City of Toronto and we will continue to work hard to minimize hopefully to zero the impact on people who choose to continue to drive cars or who have to drive cars.”

Increase in visitors to area businesses

A number of area businesses have raised concerns about the presence of the bike lanes, particularly as it pertains to customer parking and complications around deliveries.

Tory said he is “very anxious” to ensure those issues are addressed but believes the majority of business owners have either a “neutral or positive” opinion on the bike lanes.

The results of a study carried out by the by the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation and included in the staff report seems to support that.

According to the study, merchants on Bloor Street reported an increase in customers since the lanes were installed while visitors to the area said that they came to the area an average of three times more per month.

Notably, the study found that the number of merchants who reported having 100 or more customers on a typical Saturday increased from 46 per cent before the lanes were installed to 62 per cent after their installation. This increase was even more significant along Danforth Avenue, going from 25 per cent to 81 per cent. The bike lanes do not extend to Danforth Avenue but do connect with an existing lane that travels across the Bloor Viaduct.

The city also obtained data from point of sale technology group Moneris Solutions Corp., which suggested that while total sales volume in the study area is marginally down it is consistent with an overall decrease seen across Toronto.

“I visited the site of the pilot project five times and spent the majority of my time talking to business people and I am convinced that with continued practical changes with regard to street design, curbside access, deliveries and so on that we can make this a positive experience for them over time,” Tory said. “Obviously, I am very anxious to make sure that that section of Bloor Street remains a vibrant home for small business.”

Bike lanes remain somewhat divisive

In terms of the overall level of support for the bike lanes among members of the public, the staff report revealed a somewhat mixed response.

It says that an online survey of about 14,000 people revealed that 92 per cent of those who cycle along Bloor Street support the lanes while 57 per cent of people who drive but never bike do not support the lanes.

Of the 3,800 respondents who live in the general area about 74 per cent said they support bike lanes and agree that the” trade-offs in motorist traffic flow and parking convenience” are acceptable.

As for the impact on collisions, the study says that while five years of data is needed for “meaningful comparison,” there are some positive indicators.

It says that the number of collisions between bicycles and vehicles remained about the same in the year since the installation of the lanes despite a surge in cyclist traffic.

It also noted that the number of “near-miss collisions” in which one or more road users had to alter their course to prevent an accident was down by 44 per cent overall.

That data comes from a University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute study that was conducted at Bloor Street and Clinton Avenue, Bloor Street and Walmer Road and Bloor Street and Bedford Road.

“It didn’t feel safe biking on Bloor and my wife and I and our little daughter didn’t feel safe biking as a family on Bloor until these bike lanes came in. Now we are being joined by other families who are deciding to leave their cars at home and use bicycles because we have built the safe infrastructure,” Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina Councillor Mike Layton said at city hall on Wednesday morning. “Study after study has told us that the reason why people are not biking is because safe infrastrcuture doesn’t exist. These bike lanes on Bloor have changed that.”

The report will be considered at a meeting of the city’s public works and infrastructure committee on Oct. 18.

City council will then have final say on whether or not to make the bike lanes a permanent feature at a meeting scheduled for Nov. 7-9.