Verdun business owners threaten lawsuit over bicycle path
Merchants along Verdun St. are mobilizing to block construction of a bicycle path that would take away 275 parking spaces in the area.
On Thursday, 12 small business owners served the borough’s mayor with a lawyer’s letter, giving the city until Monday to respond before facing legal action. They say removing parking spaces in a growing neighbourhood would be catastrophic for their business.
“By the time I found out about the bicycle path, contracts had already been awarded and construction was almost underway,” said Josée Denis, a hairdresser who has worked at DJ Coiffeur for 30 years.
“Our clients are elderly people who come in from Châteauguay and the West Island, they need those spaces. We’re not multinational corporations, we’re small businesses and this could ruin us.”
The hair salon joined a local veterinary hospital, a dentist’s office, a martial arts gym and nine other businesses to file the legal complaint.
Verdun Mayor Jean-François Parenteau said he’s aware of the merchants’ legal threat and empathizes with their plight. But he claims there had been ample consultation dating back to 2017 when the plan was conceived.
“We believe a bicycle path will increase flow in the area and bring more life to it,” Parenteau told the Montreal Gazette. “I get that if you’re a business owner, you don’t want to hear that, you want to see it, you want to see results.”
Merchants who spoke to the Montreal Gazette said they support safer cycling in the area. They added that the current plan will inadvertently make their businesses inaccessible to motorists.
“They have to remember this is a pilot project, we’ll study it as we go along and if it doesn’t work, if it is a disaster, I’ll be the first to admit it and we’ll modify the project.”
Denis, who found out about the bicycle path in early May, says she went back and looked at old city development plans.
“I looked through 144 pages of plans and there’s references to bicycle paths, but nowhere in there does it say anything about losing 275 parking spaces,” she said. “I know Mayor Parenteau is a perfectly decent person in his everyday life, he’s a good man, but on this I think he’s wrong.”
By Sunday, another 18 merchants added their name to the list of those fighting to keep Verdun St.’s parking spaces.
Parenteau answered merchants’ questions at a council meeting last week and met with individual owners on Thursday. He says as a former business owner himself, he can understand how much of people’s effort, time and life savings go into maintaining their livelihood.
The pilot project will go through this summer and begin again next summer. If the project is a success, it will be implemented on a permanent basis in 2021.
The borough has proposed making temporary parking spots available along the side streets that intersect Verdun St. to help merchants. The problem, according to three business owners interviewed by the Montreal Gazette, is that parking on those streets is already at capacity.
Much of Verdun’s downtown core consists of triplexes and sixplexes, where almost every tenant has one or two cars — making parking a potential nightmare. Furthermore, merchants argue, many of the businesses affected would not benefit from more bicycle traffic in the area.
“You have a clinic, a rehabilitation centre, an optometrist, a paint shop and a daycare centre in one small area,” Denis said. “Many of our clients come to us because they have reduced mobility and there’s a ramp that connects our shop to the sidewalk. These aren’t cyclists. We need our spaces.”