One Montreal borough's war on the car -

One Montreal borough’s war on the car

‘The plan is to get people to stop taking two tonnes of metal to work everyday’


The Montreal borough of Plateau Mont-Royal is many things to many people: a formerly bohemian yuppie respite; a congenial melting pot of English, French and many other backgrounds; a trendy, boozy hotspot for tourists and university students. However, the eight square kilometers of this central Montreal burg is fast becoming known as something else: the scourge of the suburban driver.

Starting this fall, the Plateau will be home to what its administration calls “traffic calming initiatives” that will make driving through the neighbourhood a wee bit trickier. They include reversing the direction of certain streets, narrowing others, widening sidewalks, and installing a bevy of bicycle paths throughout.

The changes will make room for what Plateau mayor Luc Ferrandez describes as “secure, pleasant and user-friendly streets,” though these will come at the expense of convenience for commuters. That’s because the Plateau is a major thoroughfare for the vast (and ever-growing) suburbs on the north shore of Montreal—something Ferrandez, an avid cyclist, has watched for years with pursed lips.

His solution, which he has been working on since his upstart Projet Montréal party won last November’s municipal elections in the Plateau, is hardly piecemeal. It will make it near impossible for commuters to use the neighbourhood’s smaller, triplex-lined streets as de facto bypasses for the seven main north-south arteries. (Nearly 652,000 cars travel through the Plateau everyday, 83 percent of which are en route to somewhere else.)

“Since 1992, the city has been saying that something has to be done about the traffic, noise and pollution, and they did nothing,” Ferrandez says. “Everyone is convinced that small steps don’t work anymore. It’s time for a massive response.”

The three-pronged project includes making a large section of Laurier Ave., a main east-west route, one way. Currently, Parc Lafontaine Ave., which runs the western length of one of Montreal’s largest and most picturesque green spaces, cuts into the northern section of the park in a swooping curve that critics liken to a race course (Maclean’s can certainly attest to this phenomenon). Under the new plan, it will be squared off at Rachel Street with proper crosswalks.

The direction of Roy St. will be reversed from east to west in order to direct traffic to St-Denis Street, a designated main artery. Similarly, commuters looking to use a well-known shortcut along Christophe-Colomb—the tiny street is currently host to some 800 cars an hour during peak times according to traffic studies—will be stymied by alternating one way signs. Roughly 10 km of bike paths around the Plateau will be added in the process.

While he cites a variety of environmental and health concerns surrounding the use of cars, Ferrandez says one of the main issues is safety. Plateau-Mont-Royal, according to a Montreal Public Health Department study, has the highest number of traffic-related accidents per square kilometer on the island and the second highest per 100,000 residents. Projet Montréal’s plan is to keep traffic to the main thoroughfares, which will inevitably become all the more clogged. Which is exactly the point, it seems.

“The long-term plan is to get people to stop taking two tonnes of metal to work everyday,” says Projet Montreal’s Daniel Sanger. “The theory is that you don’t always make things easier for car traffic. In fact, sometimes you make it harder.”

Not everyone agrees. “I think they’re sick in the head,” says newspaper publisher and downtown gadfly Beryl Wajsman, a vociferous critic of anti-car initiatives in Montreal. “Most people drive everywhere, and that’s a good thing. It means they’re doing something. Cars are the economic engine of a city.”

Still, the plan has the support of Montreal’s Public Health Department. “It’s rare that we see something at such a large scale,” says Dr. Patrick Morency of the MPHD. “What’s interesting is that they are doing it all at once. We need more of this.”

It’s coming. Several surrounding neighbourhoods have made their main thoroughfares pedestrian-only during the summer, including parts of Ste. Catherine and Old Montreal’s St-Paul Street. Neighbouring Rosemont-Petite-Patrie is planning similar initiatives as those the Plateau is undertaking over the next year. And for years, Westmount, TMR and Outremont have used their own traffic-calming plans to confound drivers—albeit to a lesser extent than what the Plateau is planning.

These neighbourhoods are able to do so thanks to Montreal’s highly decentralized government structure, in which each of the city’s 19 arrondissements manages its own traffic plan and secondary roads. “We never could have done this if city hall was in charge,” says Ferrandez.

Ironically enough, the raft of pro-pedestrian plans in Montreal come just as two enormous highway projects are getting off the ground—projects that will greatly increase nearby suburbs’ capacity to funnel cars into the city from the north (and, inevitably, through the Plateau.) A recent Statistics Canada survey, meanwhile, suggested that while 68 percent of Canadians have ready access to public transportation, just over 40 percent use it.

It’s exactly the reason why Ferrandez laughs when people label him anti-car. “We’re never going to eliminate cars,” he says. “All we can do is stop the growth.” He even has a car himself, which he uses to go cross-country skiing.


One Montreal borough’s war on the car

  1. Good for the Plateau! This is exactly what you would hope local elected officials would do to serve their own citizens.

    And the provincial government building all sorts of highway access from the North is ridiculous when the downtown is already bursting.

    The only potential problem is the gridlock could make it hard for emergency vehicles; will there be reserved bus lanes that they could grab in a pinch?

    Chapeau, monsieur le maire.

    • Unfortunately, creating reserved bus lanes is not within a borough's jurisdiction so it is not possible to integrate them into the plan. There is just one for the moment on ave. du Parc but there should be many more. The other problem is that they cause problems for bike riders because, in general, Montreal bus drivers are quite antogonistic towards cyclists. Business owners don't like bus lanes because they take up all the parking on one side of the street at rush hour.

      • There is also a brand new express bus lane during rush hour periods on St-Joseph boul. which is an East-West artery that runs through the heart of the plateau mont-Royal borough. This new express reserved bus lane is another reason bi-directional bike lanes were added to Laurier Ave. one block North, to draw bike traffic off St-Joseph onto a safer street. This is yet another example of the Plateau administration working in close co-operation with the city centre, its bike lane department and public transit corporation, to improve mobility within and through the borough (contrary to critics’ assertions).

  2. This is excellent news. For too long our neighbourhood has been used as a freeway for other people's cars. Plateau residents have been demanding moves like these for years but until now, it's been all talk and no action. At last we have a local government that is taking our concerns seriously — and taking concrete steps to protect our children, pedestrians, cyclists and public transit users from the noise, pollution and danger of through traffic on residential streets. If Luc Ferrandez and his team keep this up, they will be unbeatable in the next election.

  3. Is this the absurd quote of the century or what: “Most people drive everywhere, and that's a good thing. It means they're doing something. "
    This Wajsman guy needs to get laughed out of town.

  4. These anti-car biggots take advantage of the freedom, wealth and benefits generated from the use of private auto use – note the hypocrite Farrendez uses a car not for work but for recreation! – but not the consequences.

    If this crowd hates cars so much let them give up their laptops and other toys and go live off the grid in the woods. See how long they would survive without modern conveniences that have been generated by populations that have high individual car use.

    • JFJ – Where do you live? Because in a lot of cities, cars are more a burden than a blessing, due to lack of parking, need to move them for street cleanings, etc. We get around by walking, using the metro, taking a bus, or riding a bike. Having a car that you only use to leave the city isn't really that out of the ordinary (and those of us who don't have cars often end up renting them for a weekend for the same purpose).

      That said, infrastructure is not sufficiently built up now for people living in the suburbs and rural areas to get along without cars. But city programs to discourage traffic (which can be utterly atrocious) are not meant as a big FU to suburbanites. They are designed to try to improve the state of things where we live and work.

    • Always the good old point of let us live in caves or get back to the beginning of the century.
      The problem is simple : more and more cars in our streets just can't be handled forever by adding capacity. Physical space is limited.
      What the Plateau is trying to do there is controlling how car go THROUGH the neighbourhood, north to south, not preventing it, just putting it at some place so the rest can be configured for other users of the same space. Those people, I am one of them working in high tech videogame industry, are not cavemen, just people who made an other choice that is as much respectable as driving every day.
      As for the freedom, wealth and benefits : it would be totally impossible for drivers to go around if it wasn't for the population using public transportation, hence unclogging the street, and don't get me started on the wealth I generate which is eaten by hidden cost of the car centered way of Life…

    • Luc Ferrandez actually does not own a car; rather he uses Communauto when he needs a car. and, btw JFJ, your logic is rather odd: you suggest the wealth of a society comes from 'high individual car use' when actually it's is a bit more likely that 'high individual car use' is the result of a wealthy society. We can be rich and comfortable and not drive everywhere.

    • In a dense urban setting, cars from elsewhere to choke up the traffic lanes and the air are an unfair burden on the residents, who are inadequately compensated for this burden.

      If people want to be selfish enough to drive four empty seats 15-40 km from the burbs to clog up the streets around where they work, and then back again, every single work day of their lives, that does not mean that the locals have to smile and put up with them. They have every right to discourage such selfishness in order to improve the quality of their own lives You don't like it? Guess what — you don't live there and you don't get to vote. Don't live so damn far from where you work. Figure out how public transit fits into your commuting plans. Or live with the inevitable pushback consequences of your selfish behaviour.

  5. We can have progress without cars. There are many other much more sophisticated, comfortable and efficient ways to move people through cities and between suburbs and downtowns. The change is going to be truly difficult for a small minority, but for most car addicts the only difficulty will be psychological.

    I live in the Plateau and already this administration has made significant improvements. They've cleaned up a problematic recycling solution by replacing open bins with closed bags, which so far seems to have cut down on litter on residential sidewalks. Ferrandez is demonstrating so far that he is a capable manager who is able to bring effective and practical changes to the borough, not just an ideologue.

  6. It's clever to cast the Plateau traffic disaster as a trendy ideological war by bikers on drivers; it's really a symptom of policy gridlock and bad planning at the provincial level – and Montreal's tepid response.

  7. Wow, what an amazing post is that!…thanks for sharing with us.

  8. I live in the suburbs, I don't own a car, and probably won't any time soon, but I definitely think that the anti-car issue in Montreal has gone way too far. I am personally VERY tired of people complaining about cars coming in from the suburbs. I think what urbanites don't understand is that public transit is pathetic outside the city, and if you want to get anything done in the day, you need a car. For example, before I moved, I had to make four bus/metro transfers to get downtown everyday. Now I have moved specifically to a location that would only require 3 transfers. It takes me 45 minutes to get to the grocery store when it would take me 5 minutes if I had a car. I'm not saying I am pro-car, but I just think there are other solutions than changing street directions etc. If anything, I think this will confuse people and possibly cause more accidents to those who have grown up in Montreal their whole lives and just know where everything is, such as, people who grew up in the Plateau when it was a poor degenerate neighbourhood, and not full of boho yuppies,.and then made somethings of themselves and moved to the suburbs.
    And there are solutions, such as trying to increase carpooling, which i think would be a much better solution than trying to eliminate cars all together. People will always use them so we should be looking for ways to reduce them and make each ride more efficient than just complaining about them and then making drivers' lives more difficult. If anything, closing streets is just going to make traffic in the plateau WORSE. The STM also needs to make more direct bus routes in suburbs to make them more appealing to its residents, with buses that actually go places. Making 4 transfers like I had to do, when buses only come every 30 minutes, well, I can say I understand why people have cars.

    • Hi Marta – you make some interesting points. For a year, I had to live near Gatwick Airport and commute an hour via bus and train to London, and I'm sympathetic to your situation. Still, there are 2 things to consider in your argument.

      1. The lack of services near you is really a fault of the community [suburban, urban or rural] that you live in – why are there no grocery stores nearby; can you and your neighbours agitate for one? If that gap is such a problem, why did you choose to live there? If it's a question of affordable housing, I really sympathize (I certainly can't afford to buy in the Plateau!), but your town or area should still offer you basic services, so that coming into town is a choice, not a necessity.

      2. As shown time and again in the US, people won't carpool unless they get both the carrot (like express lanes plus lower costs plus a safe and easy system), and the stick (such as an increasing hassle to commute, higher fuel prices, tougher policing on mobile-phone use by drivers, etc). Both seem to be needed to effect change. I would like to see a before-and-after comparison, and I imagine you would too!

    • It’s not all about the suburb’s (or cars, for that matter); the changes encourage all people who work in downtown Montreal not to drive to work, whether you live just north of downtown (on the Plateau M-R, in Rosemont, Outremont, Ville Mont-Royal, Parc Ex, or Ahuntsic), or if you live further a field in Laval or the Laurentians. If you have bad public transit stop voting for the same mainstream parties who have proven, over and over, that they don’t have the courage to change anything, who are all talk and no action. This new party (Projet Montreal) originates precisely out of the mounting frustration with this inaction and fear of change on the part of mainstream parties. It’s to be expected that the Plateau would be the first place to vote for this upstart party that ran on the slogan “we will do it” (i.e. not just talk about it), afterall they are the borough the most effected by the accumulated side effects of this collective inaction on the part of mainstream parties. There are some basic facts that help explain it too, i.e.: 1. the PMR borough is the most highly densified (population per square kilometer); and, 2. it has the lowest car ownership rate (50%) in all of canada. It is also, 3. has one of the most highly educated populations; and, 4. the most highly mixed socially (over 30% living under the poverty level). It also, 5. contains the postal codes with the highest concentration of artists. It is no surprise than to note that they are also responsable for electing Thomas Mulcair federally (at a time when no other area in Quebec voted NDP); and, elected Amir Khadir provincially, the only MPP elected from the progrressive left alternative party Quebec Solidaire. So, its not about cars, or about the suburbs, or even about ideology, its a refute of imobilism, combined with a refusal of impotentcy. It’s an affirmation of our capacity to act in our commun best interests, it is about the future.

  9. to Marta who complains that she is "VERY tired of people complaining about cars coming in from the suburbs……. " and that "public transit is pathetic outside the city…"

    Marta we do have some choice about where we live… not everyone wants to live in the Plateau, but even those who live in the suburbs can choose to live near decent public transport. It's your choice…. i pay more to live in the city but i don't have to spend $500 a month on a car. I think that's a good deal. You spend less on your suburban housing but become a slave to the car. I think that's a bad deal.

    • To Marta and Cal: while I am a proponent of denser housing and choose to live on a metro line, of course not everyone will fit in the downtown core! Residents of the suburbs need to make a fuss to force improvements to the communal transportation services they have access to. What if you had access to a high-speed commuter train that ran regularly and took 10 mins to get downtown, on which you could take your foldable bike if you wanted to? No car, no parking, less traffic, and less noise and crap air for everyone. That would be a nice carrot. Think I'm dreaming? There are quite a few European cities which have done exactly that (I've lived in some of them).

      As Lisa suggests, the stick is unfortunately also necessary – else no fuss, and no change. Driving downtown has to be a miserable pain in the ass to remove it from its default status. And now I think I'm going to go and look for an apartment on the Plateau…!

  10. Hey you live in Quebec, don't expect real changes soon! Badly shaped urbans areas both the 450 and 514 like our authorities never thought of what would happen in 20 years! Both can live happily but since Tremblay is in charge, the city is just getting worst!

  11. Let's put a wall all around the plateau and close the gates!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Small error: Roy Street is currently a one-way heading west. It would have to run east in order to funnel traffic to St-Denis.