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Downtown businesses strongly oppose cycle tracks on Ainslie Street

Chocolate shop owners believe the region's plan to eliminate on street parking in favour of cycle tracks will be devastating for downtown businesses

The region's plan to trade on-street parking for cycle tracks on Ainslie Street is pitting Cambridge business owners against cycling advocates who believe building separated bike lanes is critical to getting more people into the core.

Not according to Reids Chocolate shop owner Ted Drew-Smith, who says the business community's concerns have largely been ignored by the Region of Waterloo since community consultation on the massive road reconstruction project began last fall.

The region provided an update on its plans for the Downtown Cambridge BIA on Monday and will continue the conversation tomorrow during an in-person meeting at Cambridge City Hall starting at 6:30 p.m.

Anyone heading to that meeting will learn what's in store for Ainslie Street in 2026.

The project includes replacement of sanitary and storm sewers, watermain, traffic signals, street lighting, road resurfacing, concrete curb and gutter, and sidewalks between Concession and Simcoe streets.

The most controversial part of the plan will eliminate about 18 on-street parking spots to add cycle tracks on either side of the street, next to sidewalks, along the entire stretch.

The region is expected to take its final recommendation to council for approval this summer.

Drew-Smith says the goal to make Cambridge a more pedestrian and bike friendly city is a worthy effort, but most businesses in Galt believe the timing is wrong until more parking options are available.

"Our biggest complaint is if people do not see a spot in front, they keep driving," he says. "We have a lot of older customers, a lot less able bodied customers. They tell me they just won't come downtown anymore."

Reids gets about 50,000 customers in its Ainslie Street shop annually. Drew-Smith expects that number could drop by as much as 20,000 if the region's plan goes through.

To compensate for the lost spots on Ainslie, the region says it will ask the City of Cambridge to add six on-street parking and "delivery-only" spots to Dickson Street. 

But Drew-Smith says that doesn't help their mobility-challenged customers who count on the few spaces close to the store to do their shopping.

Project engineer David Di Pietro told attendees in a virtual public meeting last November the region is committed to improving the way people move around the city and said a plan to add cycle tracks on Ainslie aligns with the region's climate goals while giving priority to people instead vehicles.

During a meeting with the region's active transportation advisory committee in March, he said about 70 per cent of participants at that November meeting expressed support for cycle tracks.

But since the meeting welcomed only 35 attendees, it fell far short of representing the feelings of the community, Drew-Smith says.

A petition placed on the counter at the chocolate shop last Wednesday opposing the cycle tracks tells a different story. So far it has collected close to 300 signatures.

The region's claim that the Downtown BIA supports the project is also misleading, he says.

The BIA wants the road reconstructed, but is opposed to the bike lanes.

Di Pietro was not available for comment for this story but will be in attendance at tomorrow's meeting.

Cycling advocates who have been pushing the city and region to create a safe route through the core for more than a decade believe it will not only put the region on a better trajectory to meeting its greenhouse gas reduction target, but benefit business as well.

In an email to CambridgeToday, Tom Strickland, who represents Cambridge on Waterloo region cycling advocacy group CycleWR said their members did a "substantial review of the parking situation" on three weekdays and a Saturday. 

"While obviously nothing is as convenient as a parking spot right in front of your store, during the week there are reliably available parking options within 175 metres for every part of Ainslie," he wrote.

The situation is slightly worse during the Saturday market when people have to walk 240 metres from Dickson to Main to find reliable parking.

"There are also significant options to add 'delivery only' parking spots to the side streets to help with that issue."

Drew-Smith doesn't buy the argument that a more pedestrian and bike friendly city will get more people through their doors and says most businesses in Galt's core feel the same.

The chocolate business, he says, is heavily reliant on holiday and special occasion shopping. It doesn't make sense for anyone on a bike, especially in the warmer months.

The region's answer to that was to suggest customers consider saddle-bag coolers and ice packs.  

The region's response to concerns about the impact on delivery trucks was met with an equally disheartening response, Drew-Smith says. 

He points to an illustration of a dolly that was shown on a slide during Monday's meeting when he was told delivery drivers will simply have to make more trips.

"I do feel bad for the cycling community," Drew-Smith says. "But nobody down here is asking for this."

Reids' owners say they love the downtown and want to continue to operate the Ainslie Street shop their parents opened in 1981, but this has forced them to take a hard look at other options.

"Until you address the parking problem, I don't think you can have cycling lanes," Drew-Smith says. "A lot of people don't realize it's one or the other."

"Trying to shoehorn something in just because they're ripping up the road is not a winning strategy in my mind."