Tuesday, November 5, 2013

By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Downtown business owners singing the bus-lane blues

Two weeks after the opening of a new bus-only lane through Hamilton’s core, downtown merchants say their worst fears have been realized.

Business operators have expressed a fear throughout the transit experiment that making it tougher for cars to navigate the core will keep people out of their stores — and that’s what they fear is starting to happen.

Barry Sobel, whose Rainbow Bridal has been a King Street fixture for 36 years, said he is already hearing from longtime customers that traffic congestion resulting from the bus lane is keeping them out of the core, especially on weekdays.

“Saturday isn’t so bad, traffic is moving well, but at 11 a.m. on a weekday cars will be backed up all the way to Wellington,” Sobel said in an interview Saturday. “During weekdays, traffic is backed up as far as I can see.”

Late in October the city launched a one-year pilot project to test the effect on traffic congestion in the core from converting one lane of King to transit-only. The far right lane of King between Mary and Dundurn streets is now buses-only except for cars trying to turn right.

The experiment is being viewed as a test of the impact of a proposed light rapid transit rail line through the area. Provincial transit agency Metrolinx has put $300,000 into the project.

Backers of the plan say it has the potential to increase business for core-area merchants by slowing traffic, giving drivers a chance to look around and maybe discover a downtown shop they didn’t know existed.

“It gives people a chance to see that dress in the window or that guitar in the pawnshop,” said downtown Councillor Jason Farr. “This plan was well thought out but it’s also a pilot project and we know that means it will have to be tweaked a little.”

Sobel, however, wonders how potential customers are going to see the perfect wedding dress in his window if they drive Hunter or Cannon streets to avoid congestion in the core.

That also worries pawnbroker Troy Thompson, who operates G.W. Thompson Jeweller and Pawnbrokers with his father, Gord.

“It’s bad now and it’s only going to get worse,” he said. “We’re starting to hear a lot more horns honking through the week because people are getting frustrated and they’re starting to take the back roads around downtown.”

Sobel’s store, between Catharine and John streets is right at the start of the restricted lane while Thompson’s is east of the start. Farther west, at Rolly Rocket’s BBQ at King and Locke, owner Roland Dube said the restricted lane has created some confusion among his customers who were used to parking on the north side of King. (Source: Hamilton Spectator) http://www.thespec.com/news-story/4190533-downtown-business-owners-singing-the-bus-lane-blues/