During the recent almost-total COVID-19 shutdown, many venues were affected. Not only stores, restaurants, bars, cinemas and, places of worship were closed, but parks as well.
Montreal is blessed with many large green spaces, several of them on or around the mountain (truth be told it’s more of a hill than a mountain, but that’s what we locals call Mont-Royal). Closing a large park is easier said than done. There are, thankfully, no fences around the parks, no gates to close. Notices were posted at key entry points, but many people enter from other areas.
So someone somewhere got the bright idea to simply close the adjacent parking lots. This was a much more manageable task that reduced the number of people in Parc du Mont-Royal at any given time to almost nil. Even almost stir-crazy self-isolated people were not keen to schlep up the hill to the park. The equation is simple: take away parking spots and people will be less than keen to visit. When the intention was to limit or eliminate park visitors during the pandemic the removal of parking was a great success. Kudos to the mayor.
However, why is it that the same mayor can’t figure out that a similar effect will be felt by store and restaurant owners in the downtown area where she has also removed a huge number of parking spots? Let alone the usual havoc caused by roadwork and emergency repairs to burst pipes, the systematic removal of hundreds of parking spots – metered spots that generated revenue – has caused many owners to fear for the future of their establishments.
In January, before the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote about the mayor’s plan to widen the sidewalks on the main downtown shopping street. This would involve the removal of numerous parking places. Then along came the pandemic and the need to widen many sidewalks to allow proper physical distancing arose. Like manna from heaven, this afforded the mayor the opportunity to rush ahead with her project, if only via the installation of temporary bollards and cement blocks.
I suspect we will never see the return of these parking spots. I fear for the economic future of downtown Montreal as more and more commercial developments are slated for areas outside the core. Projects that provide free parking, ample free parking. If the big stores decide to vacate the downtown area can the smaller places survive?