A Rolling Threat?

In Buzz, October 2021 by Mackenzie TewksburyLeave a Comment

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Proposed DTR protected bike lane threatens local business owners’ livelihood.

At 12:20 on a Friday afternoon, the patio at The Cardinal is already full. This is not unusual—in fact, it’s typically busier. This anchor-tenant West Street unassuming dive bar attracts locals and tourists alike for a damn good hot dog on the daily. 

Its status, simply put, is legendary. And it’s how owner Jason Howard makes his money. “If I don’t have my lunch business,” says Howard, “I’m in the red every single month. That’s a battle I don’t want to fight.” 

But the battle he will fight is for his businesses—and for his patrons’ and employees’ ability to continue to park on the streetfront they’ve long been able to. You wouldn’t think a spot we just dubbed as legendary would be worried about such a battle. But parking is at a premium and herein lies the problem.

That problem? Bicycle advocacy nonprofit Oaks & Spokes is partnering with the City of Raleigh to build a two-lane protected bike lane on the north side of West Street, across the street from The Cardinal and neighboring local businesses who rely on those parking spots for access.

Oaks & Spokes Interim  Executive Director Mary Sell says this bike lane is a part of the Downtown North-South Greenway Connector Project that will connect the greenways together. 

“Harrington and West streets will effectively become an ‘urban greenway’ connecting two future proposed greenways, providing improved pedestrian and cyclist connectivity from the Five Points neighborhood all the way to Dorothea Dix Park when fully implemented,” says Sell. 

As such, Sell suggests the transition will incentivize new customers. “It will only impact parking on one side of [West] Street, maintaining on-street parking for area businesses while providing the opportunity to attract new customers who may prefer riding and feel safer in a separated lane,” she says. 

But business owners on this street have expressed serious concerns about parking. For starters, that two-lane bike lane will be protected by hard permanent plastic barriers. And most of the businesses don’t have full parking lots and rely heavily on street parking for their employees and customers. 

And, if you recall, on this block of West Street stretching from Wade to Peace, removing these streetside parking spaces leaves almost nowhere to park. And no access = no consumers—especially when there are so many other nearby lunch spots with easy front-door parking.

Dean Bailey, owner of King’s Auto Service Inc., who has been on West Street for over 20 years, says having parking on only one side of the street is not enough. “I’ve counted these cars every day for the past month,” says Bailey. “There’s 56 parking spaces that would be lost on our street. The math just doesn’t add up.” 

Likewise, Layered Croissanterie owner Kawsar Chavez says she, her staff and her customers rely on on-street parking every day. “Our staff is growing, and we [already] didn’t have anywhere to go. So we parked further down the road, but if the bike lanes go in, there really will be nowhere to go.” 

This isn’t the first time a protected bike lane has threatened businesses in Raleigh. The City of Raleigh built the same kind of protected bike lane on the other side of West Street in front of Morgan Street Food Hall and Heirloom Brewshop

For Heirloom owner Chuan Tsay, the bike lane was a painful transition for his business. “No one talked to us about it prior to the bike lane,” he says. “It just kind of showed up during quarantine last year. It took away all our curbside pickup.” 

That loss almost devastated his business: “In the first month of COVID, we were down 90%, and the curbside pickup became a really big part of what little business we had. We had to take it away,” he adds. “It was pretty impossible. … Most of our traffic is destination. For people to drive out here, it’s a commitment, then to get there and not have enough parking, it was tough.”

But despite that reality, he understands the other side. “I really appreciate the push for alternative transportation,” says Tsay. “It’s really necessary. In other cities like Chapel Hill, what I’ve seen is a real protected lane that’s not just by pylons. It’s a parking lane, plus bike lanes. That’s a great compromise.”

For their part, West Street tenants Howard, Bailey and Chavez emphasized the need for a compromise or an alternative as well. “I’m pro-bike lane,” says Howard. “I’m not anti-bike lane. I’m all about people riding bikes. But we have to balance that out.” 

But without a compromise, West Street business owners fear they will have to question what’s next for their business. 

“You’re going to cut off this side of the city,” says Randy Wood, owner of Knuckle Up Boxing Gym. “If customers don’t have anywhere to park, they won’t come here. If they don’t come here, I don’t have a business.”

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