In response to the dialogue in your paper about traffic changes on the Heights and some residents' stances on the HOV lane, the Heights merchants wanted to ensure that folks understand that we are part of this wonderful community, too. We, too, contributed to the "public feedback" that determined what traffic solutions would be the most beneficial for the entire community.
There are many challenges to running a small independent business on a neighbourhood shopping street. Property taxes at 4.3 times the rate that residents pay, and competition from shopping malls and big box stores are two big ones. But our biggest problem, by far, is traffic and parking challenges.
Many Heights residents don't remember that in the 1970s through 1990s, our property values were among the lowest in Burnaby. Prostitution and massage parlours were evident, there were many business vacancies, and litter and graffiti were common sights.
The Heights Merchants Association, our community partners, and the city have worked very hard for more than 20 years to turn the Heights around.
Residents often tell us that the chief reason they moved to the Heights is because of its shopping district. Yet we must not take this local shopping street for granted.
In 1996, we were dealt a big blow when parking in front of our businesses was taken away. The busiest period at the end of the work day became our slowest. And nothing has replaced that loss of business since.
Creating the high-occupancy vehicle lane did not eliminate rat running in the Heights then, and extending the hours will not help it today. The biggest reason that drivers rat run is because they can. There are few impediments, and it is easy to access the Skeena tunnel. Adding a half hour to the HOV lanes will not deter drivers from that convenience.
But the HOV lane will hurt the businesses that serve our community. It creates a noisy, polluted and dangerous freeway atmosphere where thousands of people walk, every day, and no buffer of parked cars to protect them. The poor supply of street parking encourages drivers to go the mall - and today, many malls are rebuilding themselves into an outdoor "street" without the nuisance of moving traffic to diminish the atmosphere.
With the Evergreen Line coming down the pike and Lougheed Highway designed to carry high volumes of traffic, there are alternative traffic routes to explore. Why not remove the HOV lane and restore our parking so that we can all enjoy a cheerful sidewalk atmosphere that other districts, such as Commercial Drive, have?
More than a third of our merchants live on the Heights, too. We also object to rat-running. But having an HOV lane does not solve that problem, and increasing its hours won't make it better.
It will only compound the difficulties for businesses to sustain themselves in a community that is attractive because local merchants, too, are a part of this special place.
Isabel Kolic, Executive director, Heights Merchant Association