Mixed views as Moncton's Main Street goes one-way, adds bike lanes
Users, businesses expected more patio space with change
Three-year-old Andrew Dohaney was pedalling his new bike hard down Moncton's Main Street on Friday morning, his father and sister running alongside.
"It makes me feel a lot safer that I can go fast because no cars can get me," Andrew said.
The three were using the city's temporary new bike lanes, separated from traffic by concrete barriers, before a stop at a coffee shop for lemonade.
"It wasn't what I expected when I first heard that they were going to do a bike lane and one-way traffic," Pat Dohaney said.
"I thought the idea was to give the restaurants more room, which I don't think really happened.
"It's interesting, I guess. It's an unusual summer and unusual circumstances, so I guess whatever they can do to drum up some business and get people downtown is a good idea."
It was a common reaction to the changes among several people CBC News spoke with Friday, 10 days into the change.
The pilot initially was originally presented to city council as a way to offer more space along the thoroughfare for restaurant and café patios. A compromise option closed one lane with the separated bike lane on the south side and preserved parking spaces on the north side, where most restaurants and cafés are located.
On Friday at noon, several patios along the strip were nearly full.
The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse was among the businesses with a larger patio space in front of a neighbouring shop, something not previously allowed under city rules. Its normal space only allowed for 10 seats because of physical distancing requirements while the extra space allows for 30.
Owner Steve Gallagher said he was pleased the city and neighbouring shops allowed the change.
"Since we expanded the patio, the seats have pretty well always been occupied," Gallagher said.
He supported a full closure of several blocks of Main Street, but he's not sure how much the current configuration is helping.
"It's early yet," Gallagher said. "We'll see how it plays out, but I didn't expect it. I had something different in mind when I first saw the plans."
Downtown Moncton Centre-ville Inc., representing downtown hotels, shops and restaurants, objected to a complete closure. The group worried it would lead to fewer people going downtown.
Anne Poirier Basque, executive director of the downtown group, said it's still early to evaluate how the change is going for businesses.
"I think we have to give it a bit of time," Poirier Basque said. "Hopefully, once more and more people, more workers come downtown and the buildings start to fill up with employees, we'll probably see a different situation."
Moncton's Delta Beausejour had opposed a full closure that would've cut off its main access road.
Raymond Roberge, the hotel's general manager, said he's remaining open to the new configuration. He said the hotel has been explaining to guests how to continue to access the site since reopened Friday.
"We support the city and in trying to do this initiative to try to revive the downtown and make it a little cozier of a downtown feeling than it was," Roberge said. "We think it's worthwhile trying."
But he said he hasn't seen the crowds that he hoped to see, or many more larger patios.
Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said her understanding is that several restaurants are interested in expanding into parking spaces in front of their locations.
She called it early to assess the change.
"So far people seem to like it," Arnold said in an interview Friday. "It's a step in the right direction. The bike lanes seem to be pretty busy."
Over an hour starting at 12:15 p.m., CBC News counted 21 cyclists using the bike lane, while four others rode on the sidewalks, six people walked down the bike lane and one rode on a longboard.
Roberge hopes painting the grey concrete barriers used to separate traffic from the bike lanes will make the street more attractive than it is now.
"We need to make it cozier and less industrial looking," he said.
It's something city staff said was being considered when the switch to one-way was approved last month.
The Delta Beausejour reopened Friday after months being closed because of the pandemic. Roberge said 24 rooms were booked for Friday evening, compared to 310 at this time last year.
He said about half of the bookings were related to the so-called Atlantic bubble that began on Friday and allowed recreational travel between the four Atlantic provinces.
"We understand that the recovery is going to be very long," Roberge said. "It's going to be long and painful and particularly for the tourism industry."
He said the hotel is hoping to hit 15 to 20 per cent of its usual business for the month of July.
"We'd be happy," he said. "And those are awful numbers."