Laurier bike lanes bad for business
Store and restaurant owners hurting as lack of parking keeps customers and diners away
Ottawa City Hall must have figured there was a good chance that segregated bike lanes on Laurier Avenue would hurt businesses along the downtown street.
But when the city is bent on doing something “green,” as it was with the bike lanes, turning a blind eye helps push through the agenda quickly. After all, it wouldn’t listen to residents on Laurier, who were extremely vocal over the loss of most of the street’s parking spots to accommodate the bike lanes.
For months now, businesses — restaurants for the most part — have experienced a huge drop in revenues because the lack of parking has kept customers away.
The bike lanes, between Elgin Street and Bronson Avenue, serve both eastbound and westbound cyclists in the summer and winter, which, in the latter case, is stupid. Bike traffic has been virtually non-existent for months. In August, about 1,700 cyclists were using the segregated lanes on weekdays.
Some businesses say revenues are down 30 per cent. Dewan Chowdhury, owner of the Buffet Moni Mahal, between Elgin and Metcalfe streets, says he’s taking in about $15,000 less a month. Before the bike lanes opened last July under a two-year pilot project, he says his monthly revenues were about $48,000. Now, they’re closer to $32,000 or $33,000. He used to get about 200 customers a day. That’s down to 120-130.
To be fair, part of his drop in business can also be attributed to the loss of a pay parking lot behind his restaurant that is now being developed. But that makes his argument for the city to do something even more compelling, as approval for the development came from Ottawa Council.
Chowdhury, who has visited city hall numerous times seeking help, says it’s so bad that he hasn’t collected any salary for the last six months. He is also having trouble with rent payments. He pays $8,000 a month, though his landlord has been “understanding of the situation.”
He has nine years left on his lease, which he renewed a year ago. But he adds his 11-year-old Indian food restaurant won’t survive if something isn’t done soon.
Why not move one of the bike lanes to another street, so at least customers will be able to park on one side of Laurier, he asks.
It’s the same story with other eateries up and down Laurier. Mohsen Hashemi, who owns Persian Cuisine Express, between Bank and Kent streets, says his business is down 30 per cent. He’s on a monthto-month lease after his long-term lease expired recently, so it will be easier for him to pack up and leave. He says he will if business doesn’t improve. “It’s not working,” says Hashemi. “Everybody is struggling.”
To add to their woes are angry delivery drivers, who have designated parking spots on the street. They are usually forced to circle the area three or four times before a spot becomes free. Chowdhury says some delivery people told him they dread going onto Laurier.
That’s right, says the owner of Manhattan Deli Café, at Laurier and Kent. All she gets from delivery drivers is grief. The owner, who doesn’t want to be identified, says business is down 25 per cent. She says lost business from cabbies accounts for much of that. Cabbies, she says, can’t park their cars in front of her shop while they grab a sandwich or coffee.
At the Japanese Village, near the Buffet Moni Mahal, owner Nori Shuji says revenues are down 11-12 per cent or about $10,000 a month. He says lack of parking around his restaurant has especially discouraged former customers in wheelchairs who used to eat there.
So what is the city doing to help these small businesses? Some at city hall say they are trying to come up with solutions.
Let’s hope they do better than the idea floated by a city bureaucrat when he visited Chowdhury recently. Chowdhury says he was told that perhaps the city would consider giving his customers a parking discount of 50 cents if they used the lot underneath city hall at Laurier and Elgin Street during evening hours.
Says Chowdhury: “Who’s going to pay $4 to park for an $11.95 buffet?” Evening parking on Laurier was free before the bike lanes were installed.
About 60 per cent of Chowdhury’s clientele for weekday lunch (11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.) are customers who are in walking distance from their jobs. So the situation isn’t as bad at lunch as it is for weekday supper hours (5-9 p.m.) when taking the car to a downtown restaurant is the norm.
“When you come to my restaurant, and see there’s no parking, right away you’ll make the decision, ‘Let’s go to another restaurant,’ ” says Chowdhury.
Hashemi agrees. Not only has he lost lunchtime customers who would park at a meter and sit down for a meal, he’s also lost those who would park out front and run in for a takeout order. Like Chowdhury’s restaurant, the supper crowd at Hashemi’s is now a lot thinner.
Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes, who represents businesses and residents on the section of Laurier with the bike lanes, is trying to have deliveries made easier and without fear of a parking ticket. She suggests a 15-minute grace period — outside morning and afternoon rush hours — to allow delivery vehicles to park in front of businesses. But other changes that could bring back lost customers to the street will likely have to wait until the pilot project is up in July 2013, she says. “If we continue to hear from the businesses and residents that this is too difficult for them, then that should send us back to the drawing board.”
Orléans Coun. Bob Monette says he was surprised to find only three customers at Moni Mahal when he recently returned there for supper. The place was always bustling at that time, he says.
The councillor supports bike lanes, but says changes are obviously necessary. He says he intends to raise the matter at city hall this week. And Monette says he’s not the type to sit back if “staff says, ‘We can’t do anything.’ ”
Jerry Onyegbula is counting on Monette. The owner of Kwik Kopy, a printing company on Laurier, near Elgin, says walk-in sales are down to $100 a day because customers can’t park in front of his shop anymore.
“On a good day, I could get $6,000 from walk-in business.”