Southeast BRT completion spells relief for International Avenue businesses

Business owners along International Avenue are celebrating the end of a nightmarish 1½ years of construction outside their businesses.

BRT construction along 17th Avenue S.E. had local restaurants and businesses hurting

The owner of the Indonesian Kitchen restaurant, Kartini Casdam, is one of many along International Avenue breathing a sigh of relief now that construction along the popular strip is complete. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Business owners along International Avenue are celebrating the end of a nightmarish 1½ years of construction outside their businesses.

A new transitway of dedicated bus lanes was constructed along the middle of 17th Avenue S.E., beginning in May 2017, leaving businesses struggling with customers finding it difficult to navigate the construction or staying away altogether.

As well as creating one of three new bus rapid transit routes in the city, the work also includes a broader makeover for International Avenue with wider sidewalks, new landscaping, lighting and public art at all of the local BRT stops. 

While some work continues to tie up loose ends along 17th Avenue, local businesses are glad to see the end of construction signs, confusion and traffic snarls. 

The new Max Purple bus route serves downtown, East Village, Inglewood, Forest Lawn, Applewood and East Hills. (City of Calgary)

"It was hard, a little bit hard," said Kartini Casdam, owner of the Indonesia Kitchen restaurant.

"My customers, lots come from the northwest and deep south and they found it so difficult, and lots of the them are elderly, so I found we were down in business," said Casdam.

"I have a big hope and I think business is going to be great for everybody here now. Everybody was so patient and I think it's worth it. I'm really excited," Casdam said. 

At times during construction, there was no parking or sidewalks outside businesses, with some reporting their takings had been cut in half and some forced to lay off staff to survive.

Sam Elkadri is all smiles now that construction outside The Desert Pita & Grill restaurant is finally completed. He says the new-look 17th Avenue S.E. will be a big draw and he’s excited for the future. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"It was a very tough time for all businesses," said Sam Elkadri, owner of The Desert Pita & Grill, which serves kebabs and Lebanese food.

"We are so happy, finally. We were waiting a long time, over a year-and-a-half," said Elkadri.

"Seventeenth Avenue will be very important in Calgary here now. I was waiting for a long time for this to happen, and thank God finally it's done," said Elkadri.

The work to upgrade 17th Avenue beyond the BRT route and stations has been more than 20 years in the making, according the International Avenue BRZ.

"It's quite monumental. Two years and there was a complete and utter redesign of the street, including underground utilities and everything," said Alison Karim-McSwiney.

Executive director of the International Avenue BRZ, Alison Karim-McSwiney, says it was a tough slog for some businesses but the upgrades to 17th Avenue, including the new bus rapid transit route, are worth the wait. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"A number of businesses knew it was coming but the reality is when it does hit it's still a bit of a shock and no question it did impact them," said Karim-McSwiney, who says traffic dropped considerably from the usual 42,000 vehicles per day along the strip.

While seven business closed their doors during the construction phase, Karim-McSwiney says 16 new businesses opened.

"The ones that closed, there were some that were retired and some, frankly, were struggling to begin with, and it was the final nail in the coffin for some of them," she said.

The street was originally designed for cars but the upgraded version is now walkable, accommodating bicycles and making it easier for people to explore via transit.

Another new feature is drivers can now make legal U-turns along the busy strip, improving access to businesses.

Karim-McSwiney hopes the new BRT connection will see more urban explorers coming to check out 17th Avenue's rich international culinary district and specialty stores.

"It's a huge improvement for everyone," she said.

One of the new southeast BRT stations along 17th Avenue, at 33rd Street S.E. The construction work to make the route a reality has been a headache for businesses. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist covering all kinds of stories from northeast Calgary for web, radio, TV and social media, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey