Some merchants on St-Denis Street are threatening legal action over the construction of a bike path on the commercial artery.
The St-Denis bike path is part of the city’s Express Bike Network (EBN) project.
The aim is to incorporate 184 kilometres of protected bike lanes, including 17 all-season paths, to the existing network.
Work on the first five all-season paths, including St-Denis Street, was scheduled to be finished in 2021.
That timeline, however, could be in jeopardy after three St-Denis Street merchants sent a cease and desist letter addressed to Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, demanding the city put off the project.
The owners of Concept Zone Inc., Optique Georges Laoun Inc. and Mycoboutique Inc. said they’ve garnered the signatures of 60 other merchants who also want to see the work stop.
They argue the timing couldn’t be worse and they intend to hold the mayor responsible.
“There’s a pandemic and we’re barely recovered from the last round of construction,” said Anne-Marie Laoun, owner of Optique Georges Laoun Inc., referring to work that was done in 2016-2017 to revamp the water and sewage systems on a stretch of St-Denis Street.
“We have lost in the pandemic 40 per cent of our business,” she said, adding bringing the business online isn’t an option. “In Quebec, you can not sell optical frames online.”
She said since construction started on Monday, clients have stopped showing up at the store.
Muriel Rajaoniana, co-owner of Qui dort dîne, a home decor business, said it’s the same at her store.
“Nothing,” she said, “People can’t get here anymore.”
With work underway, there’s only one northbound lane open on the street, which means less parking.
Both Rajaoniana and Laoun said they aren’t against having a bike path but question the timing of the construction.
“What I don’t like is that it’s become a very divisive issue, and it’s not about cars, or bikes or liking something or not liking the other,” said Laoun.
“As a merchant, we like everybody. We want people to come in cars, in bikes, walking — it depends on where they live and people will do their best depending on their mobility.”
Rajaoniana said she’s all for progressive projects but the interests of small business owners need to be taken into account.
“There’s no rush to this, there’s no emergency,” Rajaoniana said. “We’re in a pandemic. This can be done without undermining us.”
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the city has no plans to postpone the work.
“I hear their concerns because it is not an easy time right now,” she said. “At the same time, what we’ve decided to do is we’ll be offering them some financial resources to cover some of the problems that might come with the construction of the bike path.”
Plante also said maintaining the status quo isn’t working.
“It is very important to remember that for many years this street didn’t work — this business street was not that successful,” she said.
The hope is the street redesign will breathe new life to the commercial artery.
“Next year, when summer’s back, everybody will fully enjoy our St. Denis as a local destination street where people can bike, they can walk, they can use their car and park,” Plante said.
As for Laoun, her hope is the administration will agree to a face-to-face meeting to address their immediate concerns.