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Dundas West businesses unite to save parking

Artists, cyclists, the owner of an organic grocery store -- they're not the most likely defenders of cars or on-street parking.

Yet they're among dozens of business owners along Dundas Street West leading a public-relations war against local Councillor Adam Giambrone over a plan to cut 71 pay-and-display parking spaces from the main street in a bid to improve traffic flow, especially for streetcars.

"We're not anti-transit and we're not pro-car, but we do believe that parking is part of the mix" needed to revitalize Dundas West, said Jose Ortega, a graphic artist and co-owner of Lula Lounge. The live music venue opened west of Dufferin Street in 2002, and many credit it with leading a renewal of the traditionally Portuguese neighbourhood.

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The Latin club, where Mr. Giambrone (Ward 18, Davenport) coincidentally celebrated his 2006 election victory, will likely have to close if the plan is adopted by council this week, Mr. Ortega said. He said the business, which has yet to make a profit, is an incubator for world music, new bands and Toronto culture.

"This is the straw that will break the camel's back," added general manager - and cyclist - Tracy Jenkins, noting that many Lula Lounge patrons come from outside of Toronto and already complain about the shortage of parking.

She said Mr. Giambrone has put his position as chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission ahead of his responsibility to his constituents.

The proposal would eliminate 71 parking spaces - 27 on the north side and 44 on the south - near intersections along Dundas Street West between Dovercourt and Sterling Roads. It would also add "no standing any time" regulations at five intersections, extend rush-hour stopping prohibitions and add a handful of new left-turn bans. About 51 spots on side-streets would become pay-and-display spaces.

Mr. Giambrone, who in 2007 pushed to allow drivers to park on the strip during rush hour despite TTC objections, said the changes would eliminate congestion at intersections and speed up traffic without having to bring back a full ban on rush-hour parking.

A TTC study concluded the rush-hour exemption for Dundas West had increased delays on the Dundas 505 streetcar by up to three minutes (40 per cent), although local businesses dispute the findings. They say the study compared travel times from March, 2006, and March, 2008, but failed to take into account record snowfalls in the latter period.

"We're balancing off the needs of the businesses and the residents," Mr. Giambrone said. "This plan protects most of the parking, it creates alternatives, moves car traffic and streetcar traffic faster, and it ... continues to promote a vibrant commercial strip."

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Mr. Giambrone said the designation of new pay parking spots on side streets would help offset some of the lost spaces on Dundas.

But Sylvia Fernandez, chairwoman of the Dundas West Business Improvement Area, called that argument a "smokescreen" because no new spots are being created.

She said she can't understand Mr. Giambrone's hurry to move on the changes, considering that streetcars won't resume running on that section of Dundas Street until water-main replacement work is completed next year.

"It will seriously hinder our development," she said, noting that several of the more than 20 businesses that moved onto the strip since 2008 didn't realize the parking arrangement could change.

"As independent small business owners, we depend on the city to support us," said Nupur Gogia, who opened her Multiple Organics grocery store in June, 2008. She said on-street parking was a key consideration when she set up shop in the neighbourhood.

"It helps us promote our business, it helps us make our business accessible," she said.

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