Downtown businesses suggest First Avenue for bus-only lanes
Downtown Saskatoon businesses support improvements to the city ’s transit service, but they think First Avenue would provide a better home for bus-only lanes than Third Avenue.
The city this week released the configuration of new rapid-service corridors that will be discussed at a special meeting of city council on Wednesday.
The most contentious part of the rapid service routes that snake their way throughout the city are bus-only lanes in the Broadway Avenue business district and on Third Avenue downtown.
“The mix of businesses on First is a little bit different,” said Brent Penner, executive director of the Downtown Saskatoon business improvement district.
“There’s going to be challenges whatever street you put this on if it goes ahead.”
The plan to improve transit service includes elements of bus rapid transit, including three stretches of bus-only lanes running in two directions on Third, Broadway and College Drive.
Penner said the Midtown Plaza, located on First Avenue, supports the idea of bus-only lanes, while the businesses surveyed by Downtown Saskatoon show overwhelming opposition to bus-only lanes on Third Avenue.
More than a dozen restaurants line Third, along with salons and galleries concerned about displacing parking stalls to accommodate bus-only lanes, Penner said.
He noted one of the long-term goals of the transit plan is to improve density along the rapid service corridors. He thinks there’s more potential for development along First, especially between Midtown Plaza and 25th Street, he said.
“There’s certainly some open spots (for development) along Third, but there’s also a significant number of heritage buildings.”
Penner noted the city made a significant investment on streetscape improvements to Third Avenue a few years ago, and that money would be wasted if the street is redeveloped to host bus-only lanes.
Downtown Saskatoon has submitted a letter to the city and Penner plans to speak at Wednesday’s meeting of council’s governance and priority committee.
“There is a need to make sure this is done right so it’s beneficial for the riders, the businesses and those that own property along the route,” Penner said.
Deeann Mercier, executive director of the Broadway Business Improvement District, also plans to appear before council on Wednesday to express a “lot of trepidation” on behalf of area businesses.
Like Penner, Mercier said businesses support the idea of transit improvements in principle, but she’s concerned about the impact of the bus lanes and the construction process.
Broadway businesses suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost business two years ago during a summer-long construction project to replace water pipes and pave the street, she noted.
Mercier said she believes transit construction on Broadway would not happen until 2020 or 2021, but businesses would like more details.
She wonders whether the city could wait until ridership rises before building bus-only lanes.
“There’s not a lot of places that are easily comparable to Broadway,” Mercier said. “It’s a very pedestrian-friendly space with a lot of businesses in a fairly compacted area.
“It’s a heritage space. It’s very well loved. A lot of people choose to live in the area because of the character of Broadway.”