Are Bikes Bad for Business?

The Hornby separated bike lane is still a week away from being approved by city council, but the lane is generating lots of controversy already. The local business community is campaigning against the bike lane warning the loss of car capacity and parking will hurt businesses. It is difficult to take their warnings seriously when they also said the same thing about the Burrard Bridge and Dunsmuir bike lanes, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

It is surprising and disappointing to hear that a lot of business owners still think catering to cars is a necessary ingredient for success, especially within downtown Vancouver. Most people who live and work downtown don’t use a car – they walk, take public transit and cycle (as was shown in a recent survey). Downtown Vancouver has thrived because it has created a dense neighbourhood that can be accessed without a car. “According to a 2007 study Vancouver has, since 1997, seen its population increase by 27 per cent, and jobs by 18 per cent, yet 10 per cent fewer cars are entering the city than a decade ago. Pedestrian trips have risen by 44 per cent, cycling by 180 per cent, and transit use by 50 per cent.” (Divided they Ride).

In fairness, not all businesses are opposed to increased cycling infrastructure. The VACC has started a new Business for Bikes program to help businesses reach out to cyclists. Gordon Price has been doing a series of posts on Bikes and Business (more here.) illustrating the positive economics of cycling, which I highly recommend reading. There is also a piece in the Vancouver Sun on Bikes vs. cars: Who pays their fair share? to blunt arguments that cyclists should be paying more to have bike lanes.

Cyclist Slap Down SignLuckily, it looks like the bike lane on Hornby will be approved despite the opposition of some businesses. I’m really happy Vancouver has a mayor and city council that is willing to push forward with change. The same can’t be said for Winnipeg where Mayor Katz is cancelling bike routes. Winnipeg is a car-dependent city, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. The car-dependent culture and lack of cycling infrastructure are the biggest reasons keeping me from moving back. When I was in Winnipeg in July, I walked down Wolesely, a quiet residential street that is also a bike route. There were signs reminding cyclists to share the road, but nothing reminding cars. The few cyclists we did see were biking on sidewalks, not the street – which tells you how safe it is to ride down bike routes in Winnipeg. Compared to Vancouver, traffic congestion in Winnipeg is much worse and their downtown has been in a sad state for decades.

Maybe the solution is to build elevated tracks in the sky and let people bike in enclosed bubbles, as proposed by Shweeb. Like all personal rapid transit projects envisioned before, it is fascinating but likely doomed to failure. It is difficult to build incrementally in a way that even the first iterations are convenient to lots of people. Not everyone wants to travel in isolated pods. And special to Shweeb, not everyone wants to get into a pod smelling like some other sweaty cyclist.


  1. Here in St Catharines, Ontario, we had a road that went from four lanes, down to two, with a centre turning lane and bike lanes on both sides.
    Owner of a Canadian Tire complained, claiming he **may** lose business as traffic was backed up and people **may** go else where. Here is a video I took of the morning rush hour:

    The bike lanes were removed and sharrows added. A cyclist was recently charged $60 for riding on the sidewalk along here: (

    Doesn’t end there, business owners on another road complained about the loss of parking for a bike lane. Council desided to add sharrows instead of a bike lane. This road is wide enough to have both a bike land AND on-street parking.

    It’s not only businesses that win over council here, a resident on another street complained about the cities plan to add a bike lane, as residents would no longer be able to park their cars on the road (despite all homes have a driveway).


    • Car-dependent cities seem to have a tough time introducing bike infrastructure because it is both businesses and residents who fear having their commute worsen. Ironically, these are the cities that generally have the worst traffic problems and could probably benefit the most from people switching to bikes. It is cities with good public transit and dense walkable neighbourhoods that are able to introduce bike infrastructure with less opposition because less people are reliant on their car. We’re lucky in Vancouver that the suburbs are separate cities because that is where most of the opposition is coming form, but they don’t vote for our city council.


  2. Hey Chris, thanks for all the links to more info on bikes and businesses – lots of good stuff for me to research! Sad to hear about Winnipeg … glad I am living here, not there!


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