Path to prosperity or road to ruin? City admits new pedestrian lane needs 'tweaking'
LONDON, ONT. -- City Hall admits it has more work to do, after suddenly closing a lane of traffic on Richmond Row.
Six blocks of the west lane was closed between Kent Street and Mill Street to permit proper physical distancing on the sidewalk.
But businesses surviving on delivery and takeout were alarmed to see parking spots eliminated.
"Why didn’t anybody talk to us? Why didn’t anyone ask us if this would be a good idea?" asked Ilia’s Korakianitis, owner of Dimitri’s Greek House. "This is going to affect our small businesses struggling to survive right now."
Korakianitis was shocked to see the pylons being installed. Ninety per cent of his revenue during the pandemic is through takeout and delivery.
"For safe measures we bring food out to their car, and now we can’t do that," says Korakianitis.
"It can be tweaked, says City Hall’s Manager of Downtown Projects, Jim Yanchula.
Yanchula admits communication of the change could have been better, but city staff were responding to the sudden influx of people walking along Richmond St. and lining up for patios.
"A bit of a bumpy takeoff on our new reality, but we are committed to working with all those who it affects negatively," explains Yanchula.
Under typical circumstances, the city engineer would only have the authority to close a lane for a maximum of seven days.
But earlier this week, Council temporarily transferred sweeping powers to civic administration to expedite the economic recovery.
Yanchula says the lane closure is one of the first uses of those powers.
It saved months of delay, but bypassed the typical process for public input.
"This is the trade off of a delegated authority. The normal process for something like this would be to have a council request go through, hire a consultant, do a study, wait for the results of the study, bring it back to Committee, bring it back to Council," he adds.
Others say London has already waited too long for the extra space for pedestrians and cyclists during the pandemic.
Cyclists including 'London Ontario Bicycle Mayor' Shelley Carr flocked to the new lane within minutes of its completion.
"It’s not just about bikes, it’s for people who want to socially distance if they don’t have enough space on the sidewalk," says Carr.
"Oh, I think this is excellent!" exclaimed Dennis Winkler, General Manager of Wink’s Eatery.
Winkler says many Richmond Row merchants want wider sidewalks, but he understands the concerns about parking and takeout spaces.
"The City has to keep in mind that maybe there is a reasonable way to put in some reasonable parking. There’s a big lot behind here, maybe (they should) do a deal with the landowner," suggests Winkler.
City staff have committed to discuss making adjustments to the lane at a meeting on Tuesday.