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Designs for a reimagined University Avenue approved by council Monday will eliminate street parking in front of downtown’s Whiskeyjack Boutique, and its owners couldn’t be happier.

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Going against the grain in a city typically hungry for more parking, boutique co-owner Allison Mistakidis appeared before Windsor council on Monday to support cycling infrastructure along three kilometers of arterial road at the cost of 84 parking spots.

“Losing 84 parking spaces along this corridor is worth the trade-off of more cyclists and pedestrians using badly needed cycling infrastructure,” Mistakidis said. “Not only do I own this downtown business, I also work downtown, and I’ve always been able to find a parking space in nearby garages.”

For more than two years, she and co-owner Katie Stokes operated Whiskeyjack Boutique on Maiden Lane West, a short block downtown between Ouellette Avenue and Pelissier Street. The lane had no parking and “minimal” vehicle traffic prior to a semi-permanent street closure in the fall of 2020 and remained closed to vehicles following April 2021, Mistakidis said.

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The pedestrian-friendly atmosphere is what made the lane a “gem,” and Mistakidis said and Stokes hope to create a similar space with pedestrian-focused events and street closures on University Avenue.

“Our downtown and the University Avenue corridor has the opportunity to transform into something very special, and as business owners on the street we enthusiastically endorse the design and can’t wait to see the positive impact it will have on residents.”

The Booster Juice on University Avenue East is shown on Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
The Booster Juice on University Avenue East is shown on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

City council approved designs for University Avenue that will see bike lanes and boulevards join the west end to Windsor’s core. The road’s four-lane stretch will drop to two with turning lanes “as needed,” a staff report said, and on-street parking from McDougall Street to Crawford Avenue will be removed to fit cycling lanes. The transformation is expected to cost $45 million.

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Not all business owners are on board. David Bezarevic, owner of the Booster Juice on University just east of Ouellette, said he fears the loss of three free 15-minute parking spots out front would “cause a great inconvenience and obstacle to our regulars, newcomers, and online order delivery drivers. ” Replacing those parking spots with bike lanes would “take our quick grab-and-go service to inconvenient levels.”

While Bezarevic encouraged new cycling infrastructure, he said the parking spaces serve as a delivery bay, since his business has no alley access.

Jerry Ferrari, whose son Jeff owns G&G Jewelery next to Booster Juice, said customers have used the three parking spaces for pickup and drop-off out front for three decades. To lose those spaces would be a “tragedy” for business and “may force us to leave downtown, or worse, go out of business.”

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Allison Mistakidis, co-owner of Whiskeyjack Boutique on University Avenue West is shown in front of the business on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. She supports the city's proposal to improve pedestrian traffic on the street.
Allison Mistakidis, co-owner of Whiskeyjack Boutique on University Avenue West is shown in front of the business on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. She supports the city’s proposal to improve pedestrian traffic on the street. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Both Ferrari and Bezarevic asked that council incorporate a bike lane next to the short-term parking spaces.

“If you decide to remove these essential parking spots, you leave us with absolutely no choice but to close our downtown location and move elsewhere,” Bezarevic said.

When asked by Coun. Kieran McKenzie about downtown parking capacity, senior city transportation and planning engineer Jeff Hagen said there is “good availability, especially in cross streets nearby.” Parking spots on Freedom Way are 40 to 50 meters from the Booster Juice and G&G Jewellery, and spaces on Chatham Street are about 120 meters away, “which is on par with the length of the parking lot at Devonshire Mall.”

In response to a question from downtown Coun. Rino Bortolin about consideration for nearby loading zones in more detailed project designs, Hagen said that, for the most part, what’s being proposed along the curb is a no-parking zone in which loading and unloading would still be allowed. It would not impact protected cycle tracks.

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Representatives from the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, manager of the Capitol Theater on University, asked in a written submission that the design include a drop-off zone for patrons, signage in the proposed bike lane to yield right of way to pedestrians crossing, and curb cuts to address accessibility requirements. Hagen told council those details can be addressed during the detailed design phase.

Allison Mistakidis, co-owner of Whiskeyjack Boutique on University Avenue West is shown in front of the business on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. She supports the city's proposal to improve pedestrian traffic on the street.
Allison Mistakidis, co-owner of Whiskeyjack Boutique on University Avenue West is shown in front of the business on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. She supports the city’s proposal to improve pedestrian traffic on the street. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Bortolin moved the recommendation to approve the proposed designs. He added to his motion that city staff engage area business owners and stakeholders block by block as they move forward with detailed designs.

“Seeing something this progressive and this strong of a project move forward is great,” Bortolin said.

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“There is ample parking downtown. This would create a whole new atmosphere in that area — I’m very eager to see this come forward at budget time.”

Coun. Fabio Costante, whose Ward 2 contains a significant stretch of University Avenue, said the street has “significant potential” and is integral to achieving aspirational goals about pedestrian transit and cycling infrastructure set out in the Active Transportation Master Plan.

“I can’t underscore the importance of the redesign of this road and what it could mean for not just existing residents, but for prospective businesses and residential development,” Costante said.

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Council also approved designs for Victoria Avenue, another wide roadway with low traffic volumes. Those changes include the addition of Windsor’s first multipurpose “flex space” suitable for street festivals, farmers markets or other special events. Those areas could be configured for pay-and-display or app-based parking when not otherwise in use.

Victoria is wide enough to retain most of its street parking and accommodate one-way cycle tracks on both sides. Upgrades to that street will cost $4 million.

The anticipated project price does not include the costs of other work carried out at the same time, like any necessary sewer reconstruction, streetscaping, utility relocation, or lighting and signal upgrades.

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