I live in a part of Montreal that, were I writing a real estate advert, I would refer to as downtown-adjacent. As such I find myself in the downtown area on most days; perhaps doing chores, having a beer, or just out for a walk to fend-off Pandemic induced cabin fever.
Our mayor makes no bones about her desire to reduce the main downtown shopping artery, Ste. Catherine Street, to a huge pedestrian mall. Her plan was to gradually, over several years, cut-back traffic to one lane, widen sidewalks and – here’s the killer – eliminate hundreds, if not thousands of metered parking spaces.
With an election due in the autumn of 2021, and construction work moving at a snail’s pace, I believe many merchants, those dreading the alterations, believed that the mayor would be voted out prior to squeezing the last bit of life out of Ste. Catherine. Before too much damage could be done, Mayor Plante would be ousted and a more downtown-friendly replacement installed in office.
But then along came COVID-19.
The mayor has taken advantage of the need for social distancing to essentially carry-out her plan, albeit in a ‘temporary’ manner. They have installed stanchions to indicate that the sidewalk now extends halfway across the street, the one remaining lane disappears on weekends, and cars are banned.
The fact that these wider sidewalks would be more appropriate in a city with three times Montreal’s population aside, they pose a new threat to those using them. As the sign points out, these are for walking, they are not for riding bicycles. Montreal is awash with bicycle lanes, one a mere block north of Ste. Catherine that mirrors the east-west flow. Yet on a daily basis scofflaw cyclists zip along, weaving in and out of pedestrians strolling along the wider sidewalk.
Methinks that the time has come for the city to put an emphasis on pedestrian safety; folks out trying to avoid COVID-19 should not be subjected to cyclists assuming any paved surface is a bike lane. Before someone gets seriously injured, or worse, the city needs to crack down on cyclists, however, the mere mention of this often brings cries of rebuke. Surely the city’s ‘sacred cow’ approach to cyclists can be suspended in the interests of safety for all.