Montreal has been making great progress in creating pedestrianized streets and enhancing pedestrian priority areas. The number of pedestrian-friendly areas has grown to nearly 56 projects, making Montreal the focal point for pedestrianization in Canada. Montreal stands in marked contrast to other Canadian cities that have had limited success in implementing pedestrianization.This surge in pedestrian-friendly initiatives can be traced back to Montreal’s Transportation Plan (2008) which implemented a Pedestrian Charter that is now having an impact across the city. Part of the rationale for the Pedestrian Charter is that Montreal’s urban density of some 3,600 people/ per square kilometer is among the highest in North America.The City of Montreal has embraced pedestrian-friendly development with a spirit of experimentation, recognizing the importance of community acceptance and that one approach does not suit all conditions.The result is a variety of solutions that are being fine-tuned over time. Montreal’s experience is once you start the process, pedestrian-friendly projects reinforce each other resulting in a new, wide spread network of interesting sites employing a variety of solutions.
Rue Prince-Arthur which was transformed into a pedestrian mall back in 1981, was one of the first experiments with this type of urban revitalization in Montreal. This early example was successful for about 20 years, famous for its affordable BYOW ethnic (mainly Greek) restaurants catering to tourists, but had lost its appeal for local residents over the years. Recently the street was allocated $3.8 million for new streetlights, furnishings, public art and a multipurpose space for holding events. Rue Prince-Arthur serves as an example that urban revitalization is an ongoing process rather than a static destination. It also proves that pedestrianization is not a panacea for failing streets, but can rob an area of vitality if the underlying business environment is imbalanced and rents go too high.
In 2017 as part of the 375th anniversary, several important projects were initiated. Here are a couple of noteworthy projects in progress in various areas in and around downtown.
Picture 1: The Streetscape at Sherbrooke and McTavish Streets
La Promenade Fleuve-Montagne is a 3.8 kilometer walkway which connects the St. Lawrence River to Mount Royal. The intent is to create a high-quality pedestrian experience which guides visitors to some of the most important heritage/tourism sites in downtown Montreal linked as a scenic route.The photos above show the improvements at Sherbrooke and McTavish Streets near the McGill University Campus. The walkway begins at the St. Lawrence River and goes up to the foot of the mountain ending on Pine Avenue.
Here is the route:
- Start at Rue de la Commune at Place de Youville on the St. Lawrence River.
- Head north up McGill Street in Old Montreal to Viger Street and on to Square Victoria
- Up Côté du Beaver Hall through Square Philips in front of The Bay Department Store
- Walk west on Ste-Catherine Street – this area is the subject of major renovations now being undertaken to above and below ground infrastructure with completion of this phase scheduled for 2021, and then up McGill College.
- McGill College Avenue ( transforming either the east or west side traffic lanes into a pedestrian walkway from Ste-Catherine Street to Sherbrooke)
- Sherbrooke Street – north sidewalk widened from McGill College to McTavish and includes more greenery and new” digital infrastructure”.
- McTavish Street (between Sherbrooke and Pine) – has been transformed into mixed-use pedestrian-car thoroughfare. In the photos note the use of high-quality materials such as the Quebec granite pavers and BIXI bike station.
- Pine Avenue – enlarged north sidewalk between McTavish and Peel, adding a rest area west of the Peel entrance to Mount Royal Park and improving the Peel-Pine intersection
Parts of the promenade feature wider sidewalks, clearly marked pedestrian crosswalks, rest areas for pedestrians and more plants and greenery. The quality of the materials used in the road reconstruction on McTavish Street is impressive – granite pavers, attractive benches, recycling bins and a BIXI bicycle rental stand . Nearby Avenue du Musee, located between the buildings of the Musee des Beaux Arts, has become an outdoor sculpture gallery.
Old Montreal – Rue Saint-Paul
Picture 2: Rue St-Paul has experimented with different types of pedestrianization over the years
In 2015 Montreal invested $35 million into transforming Montreal’s oldest street. Rue St-Paul is the heart of Old Montreal, first organized as a road in the 1650s and later named in 1672 for Montreal’s founder, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve. It is perhaps the most beautiful street in Montreal and one of the most heavily visited by tourists and Montrealers alike.The City is slowly turning Rue St-Paul into a pedestrian zone, a process that has been an ongoing source of controversy and experimentation. It was one of 5 “pedestrian-friendly ” streets announced for implementation that year. The intent is attract more people to this historic street by lowering sidewalks flush with the roadbed,widening them at certain locations and reducing the speed of vehicular traffic to 20 kms/h. The renovation will also restore the historic feel of the street by repairing and reintroducing cobblestone pavers as well removing some asphalt-covered street intersections, as for example at the intersections with Berri and Bonsecours.
St-Paul is about 2 kilometers in length, and therefore, the work will be completed in three phases starting in 2016, with construction suspended in 2017 so to not disrupt activities during the 375 anniversary celebrations:
First Phase (to be completed by November 2016) – between Place Jacques-Cartier and Berri Street , including Berri Street between Champ-de-Mars and de la Commune
Second Phase – between Place Jacques-Cartier and Saint-Suplice Street.
Third Phase – west of St-Suplice to McGill Street , including the area around Place Royale.
Picture 3: Creative place making along Rue St-Paul has resulted in a variety of attractive and unique spaces.
The project has been controversial with some business owners. Plans to fully pedestrianize the street in 2008 were dropped by the City of Montreal after complaints from merchants. Recently, the removal of 142 parking spaces, which will be re-established elsewhere, has been an issue. In addition, during construction the road will be fully closed to traffic, but road crews are scheduled to work 7 days a week to reduce the renovation time of each phase, and contractors will receive a bonus if the work is completed according to schedule, but penalized if not.It is unfortunate that Montreal has not been able to accomplish full pedestrianization on St-Paul as this narrow street becomes very congested during the peak summer months. Hopefully the business community will come to realize that pedestrianization is good for business and that vehicular traffic and pedestrians should not share this iconic street.
Picture 4: Every summer the Gay Village on Sainte Catherine Street East has been lit up with a canopy of pink lights over the car-free street.
Sainte-Catherine Street is the primary commercial arterial street running east-west through Downtown Montreal. It is about 11.7 kilometers in length and was constructed starting in 1801. In January 2018, the City of Montreal started on the renovation of the 2.2 kilometer downtown section of Saint-Catherine Street West.The construction is needed primarily to replace the 100-year-old underground infrastructure. However, the city also plans to use the opportunity modernize Sainte-Catherine by expanding sidewalks to make the street more convenient in every season, installing LED streetlights, offering free Wi-Fi access along the commercial strip, and with the potential to be easily converted into a pedestrian mall as needed. The street will be enhanced with street furniture specifically designed for it, and a row of trees will be planted every 9 meters in continuous tree wells to ensure their healthy growth.
Over the years Sainte Catherine Street has experimented with full pedestrianization during the summer months, particularly in the Gay Village east of Downtown. Starting in 2008 when St. Catherine St. E. between St-Hubert St. and Papineau Ave. became a pedestrian-only street during the summer, it has remained closed to cars every summer since.
The experiments with pedestrianization of Sainte Catherine Street should be commended. Few other cities in Canada would attempt to limit vehicular traffic on a major commercial street. All the examples provided here show that Montreal has overcome the fear of change and is trying to find ways to improve the lives of its citizens by making pedestrians a higher priority. The limited attempts at pedestrianization in neighbouring cities like Ottawa and Toronto reflect more a cultural as opposed to an environmental constraint. Montreal’s experience demonstrates pedestrianization does work in Canada, and it is hoped Montreal’s influence will be felt in those communities and elsewhere.