Merchants on St-Denis Street have sent the City of Montreal a formal notice, threatening to file a civil lawsuit unless action is taken to minimize the impact of the Réseau express vélo (REV) bike lane construction.
The legal firm Cain Lamarre, which is representing St-Denis Street businesses Concept Zone, George Laoun Opticien and Mycoboutique, sent the letter to mayor Valérie Plante on Tuesday.
The firm claims its clients are "suffering an injury that goes far beyond the normal inconvenience which usually results from public works."
Merchants have been criticizing the project, which will include one bike lane on either side of St-Denis, for several months.
They are concerned for the future of their businesses as parking and delivery space will be further limited on the commercial street, which was economically devastated by infrastructure work five years ago.
The lanes on St-Denis are part of the long-planned 184-kilometre Réseau Express Vélo project that will run throughout the city.
In the letter, merchants say they have already lost revenue since construction of the bike path began. That's on top of economic losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the letter says. It also claims the current project will make it impossible for the businesses to survive.
"The timing could not be worse," the letter says. "The city administration must at the very least minimize the impacts of its choices on merchants who are at the end of their rope, if it cannot suspend or cancel the work in question as it did in Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce," referring to the hotly contested and recently removed Terrebonne Street bike path.
If the situation continues, the merchants say they intend to sue the city for damages.
'We don't need non-essential construction'
Anne-Marie Laoun is the owner of Georges Laoun Opticien on St-Denis Street. She says the economic impacts of the pandemic, especially with potential closures coming up, cannot be overlooked.
"We're in a new world," Laoun said. "We don't need non-essential construction taking place now."
She says merchants want to speak to the city and borough administration face to face.
"This is dividing the city into bikers and non-bikers. The movement is not about that at all," Laoun said. "It's about the survival of the city as an economic hub."
Plateau–Mont-Royal borough mayor Luc Rabouin says the borough is talking with the St-Denis Street merchants' association almost daily.
"We do everything we can to accelerate [construction] and limit the impact on merchants," Rabouin said.
He says different groups have different opinions about what's best for the borough, and that now is the best time to do construction since there are fewer people out and about.
"We don't want to do another infrastructure project next year when we hope people will be able to come back, and tourism will be back," Rabouin said.
Mayor Plante said there are no plans to end the REV project on St-Denis.
"We will continue to adjust and find accommodations, but this project was developed according to the rules," she said.
The project was born out of a need for safety, Plante said. She said around 300 pedestrians and cyclists have been injured, even killed, while travelling on St-Denis since 2014.
"On St-Denis, we are trying to find a solution," Plante said, noting that a liaison officer is permanently in charge of the project, work on the Plateau was postponed until end of summer, and the Artères en chantier program that helps merchants affected by construction work will be adapted to give businesses a hand.