From Vancouver Sun:

A study released last month that could have – and should have – nailed down the impacts of downtown Vancouver’s new bike lanes on the businesses that line the affected streets is, in fact, doing no such thing.

Far from informing an intelligent discussion, the Business Impact Study prepared for council is so thin it’s little more than fodder for spin from anyone trying to score points either for or against the separated downtown lanes.

I think the blame for the report’s inadequacies falls squarely on the shoulders of the very businesses that purport – not very credibly under the circumstances – to be suffering losses as a result of the bike lanes. The city did its bit – bringing together a group including the Vancouver Economic Development Commission as well as representatives of the Downtown Vancouver Association, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and the Vancouver Board of Trade, and then hiring professional consultants to do an evenhanded report.

But Hornby Street and Dunsmuir Street businesses put the kibosh on any chance of meaningful solutions when most of them refused to provide the researchers with any solid data. Of the 225 businesses on the streets involved, only four ever provided any detailed information.

So the report’s authors had to struggle to find something authoritativesounding to write down. They settled on a conclusion that the lanes brought about “according to participant perceptions” a total sales loss of $2.4 million a year and profit loss of $480,000.

Well, maybe. Or maybe not. On data this thin, who knows?

And at least one other quite specific fact – although I suspect the sample size may also be too small for this to be considered definitive – suggests the opposite. Hornby Street, at least, seems to have become a more desirable place to set up shop, going from a pre-bike lane vacancy rate of 12 per cent to a post-lane rate of two per cent.

The main complaint of businesses seems to relate to the loss of parking spots on the two streets that used to be lined with parked cars before the concrete barriers were erected to create a safe space for bikes. Intuitively, this sounds credible since 170 spaces disappeared – 152 on Hornby and 18 on Dunsmuir.

But if you look a little more deeply you’ll find that parking spaces are much more readily available, not less, since the bike lanes came in. A whole host of factors – the new Canada Line, the generally positive experience using transit that commuters were pushed into during the Olympics and the egregious new combination of parking taxes that adds more than a third to the cost – have conspired to reduce demand for downtown parking.

No precise up-to-date figures are available for either private parking garages or the city-owned Easy Park, but the city’s transportation director, Jerry Dobrovolny, tells me the numbers are believed to be down 20-30 per cent.

Mind you, parking patterns have changed with the advent of the bike lanes.

“We did a survey before the lanes went in,” Dobrovolny said.

“It found roughly 25 per cent of the people drove and parked, on average, two blocks away on the street.

“We duplicated that survey after the bike lanes, and what it told us is that it’s about the same number of people on the street who drove there. But now they’re parking less than a block away, and they’re parking in parkades.”

Finally, there’s some other hard data in another city report that indicates the bike lanes are generating more bike traffic – just as they were meant to do.

“By mid-May 2011, bicycle use on Dunsmuir had reached the levels equal to the highest levels seen in the summer of 2010,” the second report notes. “Average mid-week daily cycling trips on Dunsmuir Street in June 2011 were higher than those seen in July and August 2010, and 50 per cent above June 2010 levels.

“The number of cyclists on Dunsmuir Street reached 55,000 per month in June 2011 and is expected to be higher in July and August. This compares to a previous maximum of 48,000 in August 2010 and approximately 10,000 cyclists per month in summer 2009.”

So, judging from the numbers that can be verified, some aspects of the bike lane appear to be a success. And if other aspects of the experiment are causing hardship, then businesses feeling the pinch have yet to make a credible case.