Uptown Saint John street ‘reimagination’ to add bike lane, crosswalks, more one-way blocks

A street that runs through the heart of downtown St. John’s will get a makeover in the next few years, with the goal of making it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists and, advocates say, a model for other streets.

Charlotte Street, already one-way from Union Street to Duke, will become a one-way southbound street for three more blocks, from Duke to St. James.

A bike lane will run the entire length of the street, the city says.

Pedestrian crossing protection will also be added, including curb extensions, raised crossbars and lights on crossing signs.

Councilor David Hickey, whose ward includes Charlotte Street, said he hopes projects like this become the norm in St. John’s. (Submitted by David Hickey)

A new elementary school is planned near the south end of Charlotte Street, and most of the crossing changes will be made in that area.

Con. David Hickey, whose neighborhood includes Charlotte Street, said in an interview that he is excited by the new developments, which he hopes will help promote active transportation and set the standard for street reconstruction in the city.

“We want to make sure that St. John’s Heights is a safe and comfortable place to use a bike, to walk … instead of just having both sides lined with cars,” Hickey said.

The “Charlotte Street repagination project” was brought before council this week and passed unanimously. City staff will begin creating more detailed plans for council approval and begin issuing contracts for work in late 2023 or early 2024.

Cyclists accept the changes

The entire project is expected to last several years and be completed in several stages.

Plans for a bike lane in particular have one local cyclist waiting for the changes.

“I think it’s exciting, and I hope so [the city] seize this momentum and continue to make St. John’s a bike-friendly city,” said Callum Young, who bikes or walks to work every day.

He said he spends a lot of time planning routes. He’s always prepared for close calls with cars, and he said he’s had plenty of them.

Callum Young is cycling down a road with snow in the background
Callum Young commutes to work in St. John’s every day, and says he’s excited about the new bike lane on Charlotte Street, but hopes the city continues to build it. (Submitted by Callum Young)

“You definitely have to be protective about the cycle modes, you definitely have to put a lot of thought into the types of roads you’re going to ride,” Young said.

He said that cycling is a perfect way to get around the city, but now St. John’s has a bad reputation in the cycling community for its lack of bike lanes.

“It’s a great first start, but I hope the city continues to integrate different types of courses throughout,” Young said.

Martin Palkovic is president of Cycling Saint John, a non-profit group that focuses primarily on trail maintenance in Rockwood Park, but also advocates for bike lanes.

A loss of parking

“I would describe it as coming up,” Palkovic said of the current St. John’s bike network. He said he’s excited about recent improvements like the bike lane on University Avenue and now the one coming to Charlotte Street.

He said that many people are discouraged from cycling in the city because it can be dangerous, so the bike carts have to be built first to convince otherwise.

“Without roads, nobody would drive cars,” Palkovic said.

A parking sign on Charlotte Street
With the addition of a bike lane, Charlotte Street will lose 25 parking spaces, which has a business owner concerned. (Graham Thompson/CBC News)

With the addition of a bike lane on the west side of the street, 25 parking spaces will be eliminated between King Square South and Queen Street North.

“We can’t get all the on-street parking on that street and incorporate something like a bike lane along its entire length,” Tim O’Reilly, the city’s director of public works and transportation told the the advice

The section of Charlotte Street targeted for freed-up parking is mostly residential, but one business owner expressed concern.

“I think they need to consider the businesses in the area as well when they’re planning these things … because parking uptown is a problem for sure,” said Mario Brideau, owner of Mario’s Picture Framing and Citadel Gallery.

He said he was not aware of the proposed changes to Charlotte Street and wanted to be consulted.

“I embrace change,” he said, adding that he absolutely supports bike lanes, but wants more parking for area businesses.

Most of his customers are from out of town and travel to him by car. He suggested a parkade.

Brideau was not the only one to raise this concern.

At the meeting on Monday evening, Con. Gerry Lowe asked if city staff had considered the new 150-unit residential building going up at the corner of Queen Street North and Charlotte, which is being developed by Historica Properties.

“To me, it very well could affect what we do from Duke Street to Queen Square South. It’s a big development,” Lowe told council.

“If we had the big development that Coun. Lowe is talking about, there will be no room to bring even a car on the peninsula as we squeeze the parking lots,” said Mayor Donna Reardon.

“Which is all good, it creates that balance for us.”

O’Reilly said the city is starting to look at streets differently, and pedestrians and cyclists are becoming higher priorities.

“Sometimes we have to make decisions about what use is the highest priority when looking at a road width,” he said.

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