Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Businesses suing city over bikeway

Area residents angered by changes

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Complaints about Winnipeg's massive bike-and-pedestrian infrastructure upgrades have entered the courts, as six businesses located near the Midtown Bridge are suing the City of Winnipeg over the new Assiniboine Bikeway.

The city is in the midst of a major active-transportation overhaul that will see 35 projects completed this year with the help of $20.4 million from all three levels of government. The projects must be finished before the snow falls, as the funding disappears if the work is not completed by March 2011.

But the upgrades have raised concerns among some businesses and residents in areas where work is underway, including complaints over River Heights road changes and a North End parking dispute.

On Assiniboine Avenue, recent traffic-flow changes to accommodate the bikeway-in-progress have upset some commuters.

"It's an absolute nightmare," said Jan Fontaine, who works in the area. "It's complete and utter gridlock."

And some area businesses -- who earlier raised concerns about traffic flow -- filed a statement of claim this week seeking damages and demanding the road changes be reversed.

"Our fundamental position is that the city has wrongfully undertaken the works on Assiniboine Avenue and the adjacent streets," said Douglas Mackenzie, a lawyer with law firm Campbell, Marr.

Mackenzie said the businesses believe the city is "without the jurisdiction or the authority" for the sort of work undertaken on the street and worry about safety, fearing emergency vehicles will block traffic. They want the streets restored to pre-construction condition and are seeking unspecified damages, as well as $1 million in punitive damages.

Mackenzie is president of 10 Donald Street Ltd., one of the plaintiffs, but said he's not personally handling the file. Other plaintiffs include Unicity Taxi, Dubrovnik Restaurant and Giovanni Geremia Architect.

In River Heights, the installation of curb extensions, called bump-outs, and traffic circles at points on Grosvenor and Fleet avenues are raising the ire of residents. The traffic-calming measures are meant to improve safety, but River Heights-Fort Garry council hopeful Michael Kowalson said he's heard hundreds of complaints about them.

"I've run into a lot of people door-knocking who feel there should have been more public consultation," he said. "I have yet to meet the first person who thinks it's a good idea."

Council incumbent John Orlikow admits the city didn't do enough to engage residents. Letters were hand-delivered to those living on the corridors, he said, and the city held two open houses. But they only drew 10 or 20 people, he said, and a later mail-out to 15,000 residents doesn't seem to have been widely read.

"It's our fault," he said. "It's the city's responsibility to find ways to properly engage the community."

Orlikow said the fact consultation happened in winter likely contributed to the lack of response. He said he thinks the public will still be happy with the end results.

Active transportation coordinator Kevin Nixon and Bill Woroby, acting manager of engineering for the city's public works department, were not available for comment Thursday.

City spokeswoman Michelle Bailey said the city has done its best to inform the public about the 35 projects, holding open houses and information sessions, advertised in daily and community newspapers, posting information online and sending out flyers.

Some construction concerns stem from the loss of parking from planned curb bump-outs. Gord Brauer said original plans for Airlies Street would have eliminated all street-front parking at a building he plans to turn into office space, as well as that of a neighbouring salon.

Brauer said he didn't know about the planned overhaul until a pamphlet came in the mail in July, and even then he didn't realize he would lose parking.

Brauer said he found out about the parking loss at the 11th hour and, after contacting numerous officials, managed to convince them to modify the design to preserve his spaces.

Bailey confirmed a redesign was implemented on Airlies Street based on concerns of a man in the area.

Last-minute modifications aren't possible for all routes, she said, but the city will accommodate concerns where possible.

lindsey.wiebe@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 17, 2010 A4

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