‘Visitors won’t come’: Chinatown businesses oppose 3rd Avenue upgrades project

Terry Wong, executive director with Chinatown business improvement area, poses for a photo on Saturday, August 22, 2020.

The city’s plan to transform 3rd Avenue into a more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly corridor has members of the Chinatown community up in arms over worries the project could hinder local businesses.

The

3rd Avenue South Walking and Wheeling Upgrades project

would “improve active transportation connections to businesses, residences, transit, and existing pathways and bikeways,” according to the city, while providing “separation between people travelling at different speeds, which improves safety, predictability and comfort.”

The city says there is an increased demand for sidewalk space along 3rd Avenue between 8th Street S.W. and 1st Street S.E.

“Providing an on-street alternative will help to alleviate the strain on sidewalk capacity in the area,” it states online.

The project is split up into three zones, with final decisions on street design amendments still to be determined. Two options exist for Zone C, which runs along 3rd Avenue from 2nd Street S.W. to 1 Street S.E., and along 1 Street S.E. to Riverfront Avenue.

The first option would see cyclists and drivers share the road, while pedestrians and scooter-riders would share the sidewalk.

In the second option, 3rd Avenue would be converted to a one-way eastbound road for drivers between Centre Street and 1st Street S.E.

The entire road would include dedicated spaces for people walking, biking or scooter-riding. Parking spaces in the area would be reduced by 14 per cent, from 262 stalls to 225.

 The 3rd Avenue South Walking and Wheeling Upgrades Project aims to make it easier to walk and wheel along the corridor while providing vital East and West connections to our existing network.

“Moving mobility devices such as scooters, in-line skates, and skateboards off of sidewalks into accessible pathways and bikeways enables people of all abilities to travel in the area comfortably,” according to the city.

But Chinatown BIA executive director Terry Wong said the changes would lead to “disruption” for local businesses.

“The business concern is the limitation on 3rd Avenue will choke off business activity and customer visits,” he said.

Wong added local businesses are dependent on the roadway, which is used by commercial vehicles to unload.

“The other concern about that is taking out parking in Chinatown,” he said. “There’s limited parking as it is already and if you can’t get down there and park and parking is too expensive, customers won’t come to Chinatown, visitors won’t come to Chinatown. They’ll go somewhere else.”

Annette Fung, who owns the Silver Dragon restaurant, said convenient access to parking in Chinatown is vital for businesses like hers to survive.

“Cars and trucks competing on a one-lane, one-way 3rd Avenue roadway in front of Silver Dragon will be a recipe for my business’ failure,” Fung said.

“If the city is not willing to engage and listen, Silver Dragon will have to consider relocating out of Chinatown.”

 Annette Fung, owner of Silver Dragon restaurant, poses for a photo on Saturday. The area around Fung’s restaurant on 3rd Avenue S.E. is busy, forcing delivery vehicles to park in the sidewalk.

Coun. Druh Farrell, whose ward includes Chinatown, called current conditions in the neighbourhood “unsafe.”

She noted the engagement process for the project is in its early phases.

Public engagement

began earlier this month

, with a second phase planned for October. The city plans to begin construction in April 2021.

“I encourage the residents and businesses to participate in the process and to think about achieving a couple of key objectives,” Farrell said. “There have been numerous deaths and injury-collisions in Chinatown. How can we make Chinatown safer to enjoy and get around?”

She also noted that Chinatown businesses are “struggling.”

“How do we draw more people into Chinatown to shop and dine?” said Farrell.

The city says businesses along 3rd Avenue would be further supported through increased access for customers travelling by foot, bicycle or other modes of transportation.

The initiative would “enhance pedestrian safety and accessibility” and include traffic-calming measures. It said changes to on-street parking, including curb extensions or concrete islands, would improve the visibility of people at intersections.

Angle parking stalls would also be added to side streets to increase parking capacity.

The upgrades would support

the Eau Claire Area Improvements Project

, giving cyclists and pedestrians an alternate route when the Bow River cycle path is closed for flood mitigation work.

But Wong said the Chinatown community hasn’t been properly consulted on the plan. He said city staff ignored the community’s business interests, as well as concerns of residents.

“You’re basically putting in a transportation ideology and ignoring the social, cultural, historical aspects of Chinatown,” he said.

Wong said he’s in favour of making the neighbourhood more accessible to cyclists, pedestrians and e-scooter users if it can be done without creating challenges for drivers.

“We as a BIA, we as a community, understand that things change and evolve. But you’ve got to start the consultation process literally with a blank piece of paper,” he said.

“It’s about creating a balance of what everybody can enjoy. Putting a bike lane so bikes and e-scooters can ride at the detriment of businesses is not an equal balance.”

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