Dozens of worried merchants push back against plan for St-Denis bike path

St-Denis business owners are concerned for the future of their businesses as parking and delivery space will be further limited on the street, which was severely impacted by infrastructure work five years ago.

Plante administration defends project, says they will be good for economy

The bike lanes on St-Denis Street are slated to run with traffic on either side of the street. That's going to be bad for business, merchants say. (City of Montreal)

Yet another bicycle path project has come under fire in Montreal, and this time it will run up and down one of the city's busiest arteries: St-Denis Street.

Roughly 60 worried merchants along the commercial strip signed an open letter opposing the incoming bike lanes, one running north and the other south on either side of the street.

They are concerned for the future of their businesses as parking and delivery space will be further limited on the street, which was severely impacted by infrastructure work five years ago.

That letter was published in La Presse+ and caught the attention of city council on Tuesday. While the debate raged in city hall, work crews were already on the job — the project is slated to be completed this fall.

"These changes will have major consequences on accessibility to our businesses for customers, particularly during the winter and holiday season," the merchants wrote. "They will hamper deliveries and shipments."

The letter laments the city's efforts to jump start an economic recovery while, at the same time, appearing "to do everything it can to shut us down."

The merchants are demanding an emergency meeting with Mayor Valérie Plante.

Anne-Marie Laoun is one of the letter's co-authors and the owner of Georges Laoun Opticien on St-Denis Street.

She says the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating merchants' concerns about the bike path project. 

"A change of landscape should not be happening in times of extreme stress," Laoun told CBC Montreal's Daybreak. "This is a dream that somebody has, but it's not our dream as the retailers of St-Denis."

In response to the open letter, some Montreal cyclists put together a list of businesses to boycott because they have opposed various city bike path plans, including the Express Bike Network (REV) project.

The lanes on St-Denis are part of that project, which will see 184 kilometres of bike paths throughout the city. The corridor for Berri, Lajeunesse and St-Denis streets will include 8.7 kilometres of bike paths, running from Gouin Boulevard to des Pins Avenue. 

The City of Montreal claims that cycling will account for 15 per cent of transit in the next 10 years. 

Opposition slams project

Ensemble Montréal, the official opposition party, was quick to harp on the Plante administration's unyielding effort to expand the bike path network across the city without consulting the public first.

"The reality is that there will be no more shops when you finish your work, because you do not listen to your merchants," said party Leader Francesco Miele. 

"You pretend. You give them false hope," Miele said. "We are simply asking you to do nothing. To stop harming them."

Executive committee member responsible for active transportation Marianne Giguère disagreed with the opposition.

"We are going to allow hundreds, thousands of people — people who have money in their pocket, who see the windows, who can stop — to finally access St-Denis Street," she said. 

In an interview with the Radio-Canada program Le 15-18, Plateau-Mont-Royal Mayor Luc Rabouin said the development of bicycle lanes on St-Denis will bring new customers to the street while reducing traffic.

"It's going to be a much nicer street to go for a walk, have a drink, go to the theatre," said Rabouin, who is also responsible for economic development on the executive committee.

He said the work will start on the northern portion of the street, where there are fewer shops, so that restaurants farther south can keep their terraces for the rest of the summer.

Construction south of Gilford Street will begin after Labour Day. Rabouin said the work will be completed in time for the holidays, a crucial season for merchants, and it will be nothing like the major infrastructure work that took place in 2015-2016.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada