Fort Street bike lane designs draw concern from businesses

A number of business owners are calling on the City of Victoria to put the brakes on building bike lanes on Fort Street.

A number of business owners are calling on the City of Victoria to put the brakes on building bike lanes on Fort Street, saying they were not properly consulted.

Bruce Gillespie, owner of Little Jumbo and a cyclist, expressed concerned with the overall design of the proposed two-way bike lanes on Fort Street and that the lanes could pose significant traffic and congestion problems in the area.

In December, staff presented mayor and council with designs for the bi-directional Fort Street bike lane, as part of the city’s multi-million-dollar project to implement an all ages cycling network by 2018. The first 1.2-kilometre protected bi-directional bike lane is currently being built along Pandora Avenue from Cook to Store streets and is expected to be complete by the spring.

The two-way bike lanes proposed for Fort Street would see the addition of raised medians, on-street bike parking, bollards and street furnishings to provide a protective barrier for users. However, the lane would bring the traffic down from two lanes to one between the 500 and 600 blocks on Fort, while 30 parking spots are expected to be lost as well.

“You take the street down to one lane, how does The Keg get supplied? How does Koto get supplied? Ourselves? To me, that’s the number one piece,” said Gillespie, noting he’s also expressed concern about loss of business while the lane is being constructed, noting he relies heavily on tourists in the downtown core in the summer months.

Gillespie has since started a petition calling on the city to put the brakes on the project until data can be collected from the bike lanes currently being built on Pandora Avenue on rider usage and its affect on businesses.

More than 100 business and property owners have signed the petition, which Gillespie hopes to present to council soon.

Robert Simon, who owns a business in the 600-block of Fort Street, is one of the people who signed the petition. He said the high volume of traffic that uses the corridor, such as shuttle services, double decker and transit buses, as well as people parallel parking on the street will create a bottle neck if the street is reduced to single lane lane traffic. That congestion could pose a problem should an emergency vehicle need to get by, he said.

Loss of parking is also an issue.

Jason Cridge, owner of the Cridge Family Pharmacy, said adding bike lanes at the expense of parking stalls will affect many of his vulnerable clients, such as seniors or people with disabilities, who are unable to walk far distances.

“Those people really depend on that parking to access those services,” Cridge said. “Things will be made harder for a group of people whose life is already hard.”

Businesses were quick to point out they are not against bike lanes on Fort Street, but hope the city will change the design of it once proper consultation is done. Gillespie would like to see uni-directional bike lanes on the right side of the road with flex posts.

Last week, the Downtown Victoria Business Association held a meeting with roughly 40 Fort Street business owners so they could express their concerns to city staff.

Coun. Margaret Lucas, the city’s liaison to the downtown, said consultation with businesses is just revving up and, through that process, staff can potentially make changes to the proposed bike lanes if necessary.

She noted council faced a similar backlash from businesses with the bike lane on Pandora Avenue, however, staff were able to make some changes to lessen the impact on businesses. Ultimately, approval of the bike lane designs is in the hands of council.

“It won’t matter where we put those bike lanes in the city, you’re going to get a lot of push back and concern. These are people’s businesses, their livelihood, it’s a major change, so we’ve got to listen to that,” Lucas said, adding she expects to see final designs for the Fort Street lanes presented in the next few months.