Pellerin: Montreal shows it’s smart by focusing on people rather than cars

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Did you know that Ste-Catherine Street is now mostly pedestrianized? Me neither, and I almost passed out. It was once a rite of passage for Quebec teenagers to survive jaywalking there.

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You never know how much you’ve missed Montreal until you go back and realize, damn smoked meat, how long has it been? In my case, long enough for the city to have transformed from a barely organized death trap to a most enjoyable paradise of safe and active transit. By North American standards, anyway. And it is a beautiful tribute to a strong and stubborn woman, Mayor Valérie Plante.

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I understand that it is far from perfect. She is currently running for re-election and nothing like a campaign to highlight the flaws of an incumbent. But damn it, she transformed my beloved hometown for the better by making it safe and enjoyable for walking or cycling.

I drove with my teenager from Ottawa and parked (for free) at the Montmorency terminus in Laval. From there, we hopped on the metro and went to Plateau Mont-Royal to enjoy a bowl of café au lait on St-Denis. The number of streets open to pedestrians amazed me. And the cycle paths on St-Denis, my God! Where we previously had four manic lanes of traffic, we now have two protected and wide bike lanes, space for patios and two lanes for motor vehicles. And guess what? This Sunday morning, there were more people on bikes than in cars.

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We rented BIXI bikes ourselves. There are stations everywhere – and when you download the app, it will tell you where the closest is. We went from the Plateau to the current mountain to downtown via the ghetto and the McGill campus, almost all the way on protected paths.

Unbelievable. There are no helmet regulations (except for electric bikes, which everyone ignores in Montreal fashion) and I wasn’t at all nervous about it precisely because we were on protected paths. If you are not at risk of being hit by a car, there is very little reason to wear protective gear. Which was just as good, considering I was wearing a skirt and flip flops. After 45 minutes of smiling pedaling, we docked our bikes at the university near Ste-Catherine and continued on our way.

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Did you know that Ste-Catherine is now mostly pedestrianized? Me neither, and I almost passed out. It was once a rite of passage for Quebec teenagers to survive jaywalking there. Fortunately, there is still a lot of work going on, which helped me reorient myself, because what is Montreal in summer without an impressive collection of orange cones?

The fact that Montreal is slowly transforming into an active transportation paradise did not come easily or without controversy. When she ran for mayor in 2017, Plante campaigned on a platform of transparency and collaboration with the public. And it turned out that not everyone was happy when she started slamming bike lanes everywhere. In particular, on Saint-Denis Street (Bank Street in the Plateau Mont-Royal), merchants were worried about the disappearance of parking spaces. Reminds you of something?

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Obviously she kept going and today there is quite a bit of happiness on this street, at least the part that I saw. It will be interesting to see the voters’ verdict later this fall.

Especially since it doubles the stake: last month, Plante unveiled an $ 885 million plan to electrify and diversify transport in his city, with a view to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. BIXI electric bicycles already represent 20% of the fleet.

Meanwhile in Ottawa it’s all we can do to allow e-cargo bikes on our streets and we have ditched bike sharing because it costs money and we are terribly stingy when it s. It’s about spending tiny sums on cool stuff to fight climate change and improve human happiness. Can you hear my eyes roll from where you are?

Oh, and you know what else? Roads also cost money, but somehow we still have a lot of public money for that. I hope that Valérie Plante will be re-elected to show other politicians that it pays to bet on people, not on cars.

READ MORE: Pinder: Walking against the “windshield” bias – a story of two Bank Streets

Brigitte Pellerin is an Ottawa writer.

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