Dozens of Exchange District business owners frustrated with bike lanes popping up, loading zones taken away, and rising street parking rates have signed a petition asking the City of Winnipeg to hit the brakes.
The group of 67 is asking the city put in place a moratorium on any more changes for parking, transportation, construction or development before a comprehensive plan is put into place for the area, and following full consultation.
As well, they are asking for pay parking to be rolled back to 2017 rates and the city to commit to "immediately modify the recent, radical, physical street changes" by looking at impact on businesses, traffic circulation, parking, and safety concerns.
Ibrahim (Obby) Khan, one of the leaders of the petition and owner of Shawarma Khan restaurants, said Thursday he has seen business drop at his Exchange District location about 20 per cent in the last two years.
"It's almost a six-figure loss," Khan said. "We're all local businesses which have put our passion and money on the line in the city and we need city council to help us... We need to get back to having a master plan for the area."
The businesses to sign the petition include: Toad Hall Toys, Pan Am Boxing, King and Bannatyne, Warehouse Artworks, Mayberry Fine Art, King's Head, Deer + Almond, Into the Music, and Parlour Coffee.
At a civic committee meeting earlier this week, Khan was even more blunt about the changes outside the doors of his restaurant.
"I feel betrayed," he told city councillors on the innovation and economic development committee. "I feel hurt and I put so much into my store and it is dying a slow death.
"You said you wanted to revitalize our downtown core, and we feel though you have turned your backs on us."
"I feel betrayed. I feel hurt and I put so much into my store and it is dying a slow death." – Obby Khan
Khan said area businesses are fully supportive of bike lanes, but there should have been an overall plan for the area before they were put in.
"No rights on reds because of bike lanes implemented on these lanes," he said. "I love the idea of bike lanes, but the roll out, design, implementation... is a catastrophe — it is killing businesses.
"Was there thought put in to how it's going to affect the business owners?"
Former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray, who lives, works and owns a business in the downtown, said he signed the petition because he believes the city needs an updated plan for the Exchange District.
"I'm a 12-months-of-the-year cyclist," Murray said. "We do want bicycling infrastructure in the area. But we need to have it better designed and organized... We are asking the mayor and council to put up a planning group.
"Right now, it really looks like an evacuation plan there."
David Pensato, executive director of the Exchange District Business Improvement Zone, said the owners group is also concerned about the price of street parking in the area. Currently, the price set by the Winnipeg Parking Authority is $3.50 per hour in a large portion of the Exchange, but the city is looking at hiking it further.
"It's not supposed to be for revenue," he said.
Jeremy Davis, a spokesman for Mayor Brian Bowman, said the mayor has received the group's letter and petition.
"Mayor Bowman has met with area businesses and the Exchange District BIZ to discuss their concerns," Davis said.
"The mayor will continue to be actively engaged with the Exchange District BIZ to find solutions that can be acted upon for everyone's benefit."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Thursday, November 28, 2019 at 7:37 PM CST: Updates photos