Bike lanes may be little more than narrow strips of asphalt, but on rue Saint-Denis, they have become fodder for a tense debate over the future of the neighbourhood.   

After a group of shop-owners threatened to sue the city to remove a controversial bike lane through the Plateau over fears that it could hurt business, the borough’s mayor, Luc Rabouin, and a local entrepreneur are saying their fears are misguided.

The cycling lanes on St-Denis are part of the Réseau express vélo (REV) project, which will see the integration of 184 kilometres of bike paths across Montreal, including 17 paths that will be accessible year-round. 

Supporters say the lanes are a good thing that will revitalize the street, keep people safe, and help beleaguered merchants. 

Here are their arguments.

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Bike lanes will beautify the street and improve business

Before the bike lanes, Saint-Denis was essentially a highway with four lanes of traffic and was not a friendly place to shop, said Jacques Nacouzi, the owner of Code & Café.

“It was noisy, polluted, and even visually speaking, four lanes, it was not fun to be sitting out on the terraces,” he said. 

Nacouzi said the REV is going to breathe new economic life into the neighbourhood and transform Saint-Denis into one of the most accessible commercial streets in the city.

His beliefs are backed up by a number of studies that show bike lanes increase sales for retailers.  

Not a lot of parking will be lost

You’ll still be able to park on both sides of Saint-Denis when the REV is complete. The only things being removed are two lanes of traffic.

According to Nacouzi, of over 300 parking spots on Saint-Denis, only 26 were sacrificed to make way for pedestrian crossings.

“In a single parking spot for a car you can put about ten bikes, so this is ten customers instead of one,” he said. 

Some merchants have argued that, unlike cafés or small shops, their businesses need street parking to survive, but Nacouzi said his business also relies on vehicular traffic, especially for the robotics day camp for kids he operates called Les Ateliers Kikicode.

“People tell me ‘you have a café, you’re not a destination shop, but yes I’m a destination shop,” he said. “For the coding, people come from Gatineau, even this weekend I had people coming in from Granby.” 

 

Most merchants support the project

Plateau–Mont-Royal borough mayor Luc Rabouin said the city did extensive consultations with Saint-Denis merchants about the REV about a year and a half ago.

“We went door to door,” he said. “Every merchant was consulted about what had to be done to improve the vitality of the street [...] Not all the merchants were in favour, but the majority of them were in favour.”

The REV was developed as part of an action plan to revitalize the street, which had already been facing economic decline for a number of years, he said.

The city has promised an additional $1.2 million in economic aid to help the merchants on Saint-Denis through this difficult time.

“We are now working to find a way to give them a coup de pouce during this tough period for them," said Rabouin. "We are working to reduce the impacts and support our merchants because we know that we need them.”

Rabouin didn't comment on the group of rue Saint-Denis businesses threatening to sue the city.

The REV will be complete by the end of October.

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