To say the last couple of years have been frustrating for some small Edmonton businesses is an understatement.
“The business has suffered. That would be mild to say that,” said Barbara DiCurzio, owner of Head Shoulders Knees & Toes Children’s Shoe Store.
DiCurzio is one of a number of owners in the High Street area, near 102 Avenue and 124 Street, who have been left shaking their heads over two city projects: first, the 102 Avenue Bridge and now, bike lane construction.
Work to replace the bridge over Groat Road began in July 2014 and was set to last until September 2015. However, three girders buckled in March 2015, pushing back the opening of the $32-million project until July of 2016.
During the extended closure, several businesses on the east side of the bridge claim the lack of traffic in the area meant anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent less business.
After reopening, things were getting back to normal, DiCurzio explained. She said customers didn’t have to detour or call for instructions on how to get to the store.
“It was a really good time.”
Then, the city began the second project earlier this year: bike lane installation. Barricades went back up, traffic restrictions were put in place and construction began along 102 Avenue on dedicated bike lanes, separated from vehicle traffic by concrete medians.
While the bridge and bike lanes are two different projects, there are still questions about the city’s project management practices and the impact on local businesses. High Street developer Bill Butler there’s a “total disconnect” between the taxpayers and the contractors and the city.
“They don’t realize the impact they’re having: oftentimes shutting down flows and putting up barricades and so on. Many things are are necessary but many things are not,” he said.
“And ultimately I think the timing of putting those things in play — could this bike lane have been delayed for three or four years to allow these tenants to recover from the bombardment of the bridge fiasco?”
Butler said, in fairness to the city, it did have a coordinator working with local businesses on the bike lane project and “she’s been sympathetic, although not particularly effective in trying to deliver rectification.”
Downtown Ward 6 city councillor Scott McKeen said he understands the frustration and wishes the bike lanes had been built while the bridge was still closed.
“I suspect they were going on a program that was at a schedule that was long established before the bridge problem happened but you wonder why, when the bridge was delayed, they couldn’t have jumped in at that point and done it.”
McKeen explained the bike lanes took so long, in part, because sewer work was also carried out at the same time. Still, he said he’ll be asking for answers on behalf of the 124 Street businesses.
“It’s just one insult after another to them, I recognize that,” McKeen said during Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony at City Hall. “We talked to them a lot and I think we were left with trying to do the best we could but it wasn’t done fast enough.”
DiCurzio said the city showed a lack of respect to the local businesses trying to make a living.
“They were on their own agenda, thinking only their project and not understanding what they were affecting.”
She feels the concerns of the small companies were ignored because they are just that — small.
“Our bark isn’t big enough. We don’t count enough,” the exasperated store owner said. “Business suffers, big deal. A door closes, another one comes in. So, really, who is the one that is really is suffering? The city isn’t. They’re not looking at what that looks like enough for them to change. Change isn’t something they need to do… that’s the problem.”
“If the city thinks for one minute that these bike lanes did not affect the businesses, that means [it’s] not intuitive to what actually happened.”
The bike lanes are almost complete, with some line paining and sign installation still to be complete. The city said work in the area should be done in a few weeks. In the meantime, retailers remind Edmonton shoppers their doors are still open.
“We look forward to the High Street getting back to being the High Street,” Butler said.
WATCH: For years, High Street business owners dealt with slumping sales because of the construction of a bridge. Now they are frustrated with bike lane construction and are calling for better planning. Kendra Slugoski filed this report on Sept. 20.
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