St. Clair right-of-way draining cars from the neighbourhood, report says

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St. Clair right-of-way draining cars from the neighbourhood, report says

A new report seems to support what fans of the controversial St. Clair streetcar right-of-way have claimed all along: It's been a boon for transit riders, cyclists and pedestrians.

But the report also notes a 10 per cent drop in the number of cars using the corridor during rush hours — a detail some local shop owners say is hurting business.

The dedicated, raised streetcar line runs from Yonge to Weston Road, and reduces traffic to one lane in each direction. It was completed in 2010 but some businesses say they continue to suffer because fewer drivers use the street.

"I've noticed a big difference in my bottom line," Winston Hosang, the owner of Ellington's Music & Cafe, told CBC Toronto.

"I really feel for the new businesses coming in on St. Clair, because if you haven't been here for over 10 years, your chance of survival I would say is pretty slim."

But Coun. Joe Mihevc, who represents a large swath of the territory the line passes through, called it a boon to the local economy.

"St. Clair has been part of a renaissance in the past 10 years," he said.

"Fifteen years ago you would see businesses on month-to-month leases. Now you see two, three, five-year leases. By and large the street as a whole has undergone quite a dramatic transformation and made it a very hip and hopping street."

The interim report, from an outside consultant, was released to the TTC board last week.

Mihevc, who's been vocal in his support for the line from the start, called for the report  to settle the debate over whether the right-of-way was good or bad for the community.

The report says public transit use has risen by about seven per cent since the line was completed in 2010. It also notes a three per cent increase in cyclists. The number of pedestrians is up too, the report found, by about four per cent.

But it doesn't indicate whether drivers have switched to transit, or simply abandoned St. Clair for other streets like nearby Dupont Street and Davenport Road. It also doesn't measure the economic impact on local businesses.

These issues will be addressed in the final report, due out early next year, Mihevc said.

Local butcher Antonio Mazza, who's owned the Macellaria Atlas for 50 years, said the line has hurt his business because of the reduced number of parking spaces on St. Clair. 

But when asked about solutions, he shrugs.

'We complained but nobody cares,' butcher says

"We complained but nobody cares," he said. "What are you going to do?"

Up the street, at The Wailer, a reggae bar, manager Gregory Taylor maintains that in addition to discouraging traffic, the raised streetcar line has effectively split the community.

"Now, this is north St. Clair and that's south St. Clair," he said. "It's been more of a disruption. It's taken away a lot from the businesses and it's never come back."

'I think it's better than before'

But there is some support for the line from local businesspeople. 

"When they established this track, it closed down many businesses, but eventually it improved," said Ali Babaei, the owner of ABR Rug Gallery for the past 20 years.

"We are getting more people coming into the store. I think it's better than before."

Although he has no evidence that the line is sparking a local economic renaissance, Mihevc said he's convinced it will serve as an example to other developing neighbourhoods.

"You have nothing to fear on Finch Avenue, on Sheppard, on Eglinton East, on Eglinton West, streets that will have at-grade LRT," he said.

"These projects will revitalize their communities. There's nothing to fear in them," Mihevc added.