Forget higher fees, don’t close sidewalks at all
September 1, 2012
Who would have thought that sidewalk closure fees would be such a hot topic? The City of Calgary’s proposal to hike sidewalk closure fees has sparked some discussion and pushback in recent days. However, there is one aspect of sidewalk closure that has been sorely absent and I believe is the most important – business interruption.
Last year I was approached by a small business operating on 17th Avenue that had its customer traffic, and therefore revenue, fall off a cliff because the side of the street it was on had been closed off due to the construction of a new building next door. This small retail business was on the verge of having to close its doors. Why? Because people never got to that side of the street anymore. Nothing could be done – the sidewalk was closed for the duration of construction and the business was told to deal with it.
That is unacceptable.
A higher fee for sidewalk closures won’t drive traffic to a business. A higher closure fee won’t keep a business from going under. A higher closure fee won’t offer support to the business to cover lost revenues.
The notion of a higher fee for closing a sidewalk misses the point. Sidewalks should not be closed. Period. While it does impact walkability, which seems to be the key reason for the higher fee, it also causes business interruption. We can’t afford business interruptions particularly among our small businesses. We need our businesses to be thriving and vibrant if we want to continue to grow jobs, incomes and tax base. Doing anything such as closing a sidewalk that impairs those outcomes is like throwing a wrench into the gears of the economy for that affected block. We can’t be so short-sighted.
There are a variety of options to closing sidewalks including covered walkways which are springing up at a variety of construction sites across the city. But let’s think even bigger than this. Let’s begin to recognize that construction can affect businesses on both sides of a street for any closure. Any future construction projects that happen should be put through a process of ensuring that businesses along any affected stretch are engaged, consulted and measures put in place so that they do not affect the business operations of their neighbours. That is not only proper courtesy, but it creates strong goodwill going forward and ensures that businesses will not experience an interruption of their operations or revenues.
So while I applaud the City for recognizing that sidewalks should be closed for shorter periods of time, I suggest a totally different view: that sidewalks shouldn’t be closed at all, and that any construction project that disrupts a street creates solutions that enable the businesses and operators along that stretch of road to continue to have traffic walk by their doors, and enable the business to operate without interruption or impact. Building covered bridges and sidewalks to future neighbours might just be the best investment that any new building owner or tenant ever made.
Adam Legge is president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber