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Businesses pushing city about bike-path change

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Six businesses in the Broadway-Assiniboine neighbourhood hope the City of Winnipeg will back-pedal on a recent tweak to the Assiniboine Bikeway because they fear they'll be adversely affected by changes in traffic flow.

The city began construction this week on the $125,000 Assiniboine Bikeway, which has been part of the city's active-transportation plans since 2008 but is being built this year as part of a city-wide $20.4-million bike-and-pedestrian upgrade that includes 34 other projects.

The Assiniboine Bikeway project includes changes in the flow of traffic along Assiniboine Avenue to prevent motor vehicles from short-cutting through the neighbourhood. Assiniboine will be one-way eastbound between Kennedy Street and Edmonton Street and one-way westbound from Edmonton to Navy Way. A half-block stretch of Hargrave Street will also be two-way.

But the plan presented last year to city council still called for two-way traffic on the block between Navy Way and Hargrave Street. The change in traffic flow on a single block, a seemingly minor project detail, has led six businesses to complain their ability to enter and exit their properties will be dangerously compromised.

In a letter sent Tuesday to city chief administrative officer Glen Laubenstein, the businesses -- which include Unicity Taxi, Yellowquill College, Giovanni Geremia Architect and the law firm Campbell, Marr -- argue they were not notified about the tweak until late July, five weeks before the start of construction.

Douglas Mackenzie, a lawyer with Campbell, Marr, argued the changes in traffic flow could create 20-minute delays for anyone leaving the businesses during rush hour, when the Midtown Bridge is heavily congested, and other headaches when emergency vehicles block a back lane that will become a sole access point.

He said city officials agreed to meet with the businesses, who presented an alternative, but were told no changes to the project will be made.

"Meaningful consultation requires some dialogue," he said. "No one has listened to our concerns."

Kevin Nixon, the city's active transportation manager, said the Assiniboine Bikeway plan was tweaked when it became apparent Handi-Transit vehicles would be required to open their doors on the wrong side of Assiniboine Avenue on one of the blocks in the neighbourhood.

The change did not require council approval, as the plan was presented last year as information, not as legislation. And the alternative the businesses suggested would likely create even worse traffic problems, Nixon said.

The city has been struggling to satisfy the sometimes-competing interests of motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and people with special needs as it proceeds with 35 separate active-transportation projects, he added.

"When you have all those things to balance, it's almost impossible to make everyone happy," said Nixon. "And we have done way more public consultation than we normally have, certainly more than developers would be required to do."

The city has never spent more than $2.6 million in a single year on active transportation. The $20.4-million upgrade this year was made possible by federal infrastructure spending announced in 2008, in co-operation with the city and province.

The federal funding will disappear if the projects are not completed before April, which effectively means they must be done before the snow falls this November. That has forced the city to engage in all planning and construction during a single season.

Nixon, however, said there was no rush to design the Assiniboine Bikeway, given the three-year lead time on this particular project.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 3, 2010 A12

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