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COVID-19: Isolation vs Economy

Scales

In North America, we’ve reached an odd point in our collective COVID-19 experience. Government leaders, in daily statements, are trying to strike a balance of two diametrically opposed positions. On the one hand, they hammer home the importance, for everyone’s benefit, of staying home. While also dropping hints about getting the economy restarted. Unless we can all work from home via the Internet, and that may be tricky for so many people (dentists, plumbers, lion-tamers) restarting the economy is going to have to wait. 

It’s one thing to gripe about the tedium of self-isolation, and quite another to break the law and ignore the safeguards put in place

I understand that for some people the concept of self-isolating is becoming a nuisance. In fact, I dare say most people would much rather return to their work-a-day lives instead of quarantining. Socializing, meeting friends for a drink, attending religious services, are all things that people have given up in the interest of overall societal well-being. And, be the good Lord willing, we will be able to return to these activities sooner rather than later. But not now.

It’s one thing to gripe about the tedium of self-isolation, and quite another to break the law and ignore the safeguards put in place. Some people, who refer to themselves as anti-isolationists, have flouted calls to stay indoors and have in defiance attended large gatherings. Many wield such astute signs as Self-Isolation = Communism evidently in an effort to, successfully, display their vast ignorance. Not only are these rallies illegal, but they are downright dangerous. And not only to the actual participants but to those with whom they may come in contact later.

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One woman, when interviewed, said that she was fed up with being inside all day every day. Well, now, clearly that’s a good reason to disregard the law and logic to meet-up with others and endanger many. Surely the virus can tell who is fed up and will not affect them. Just being fed up is not a reason to abandon common sense. If just being fed-up made you immune to something, I suspect we’d have a cancer-free world as I imagine all cancer patients must be pretty fed-up with it.

But let’s say the government does decide to slowly reopen the economy. Perhaps, as some have hinted, starting with the construction industry which employs thousands.  While the rest of us continue to maintain social distancing, is it realistic to expect such personal space adherence by workers on construction sites? If the threat of the virus is still real enough to demand isolation for most, how can workers on construction sites be at less risk?

For that matter is using public transit during this pandemic a good idea for anyone?

Some of those who work on construction will no doubt take public transit to get to and from their jobs. After spending the day in close proximity to fellow workers, is it a good idea for them to get on buses and Metro trains? 

For that matter is using public transit during this pandemic a good idea for anyone? I am a fairly regular strap-hanger (not since isolating, of course) and I just can’t picture being able to sustain a healthy distance on a bus or Metro car even with the reduced number of riders since COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

I believe that when the time comes that health professionals inform government leaders that the virus is no longer a threat to the day-to-day functioning of society we should undertake a return to normal in one shot. Rip off the Band-Ade fast, don’t peel it off slowly. Until such time, say at home. There’s no point in reopening the economy if there are no people left to benefit!

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Sucking The Life Out Of Downtown Montreal One Parking Spot At A Time

Union

We are now well into the month of December. While many may lament the too early appearance of Christmas decorations in stores in November (October?), all bets are now off. Seasonal shopping is in full swing; decorated windows, street lights, and pretty much anything that does not move are now deemed fair play.

But now Sunday is the second busiest day, after Saturday, for shopping in downtown stores.

I can recall a time when downtown Montreal was a ghost town on Sundays. That was prior to 1985 when the Lord’s Day Act was struck down allowing stores to remain open. The streets were deserted with no stores open, and subsequentially no restaurants given the lack of sidewalk traffic. It goes without saying parking spots were plentiful.

But now Sunday is the second busiest day, after Saturday, for shopping in downtown stores. Not surprising really, most people have the day off, our society is more secular and restaurants eagerly await tired shoppers.

Yesterday I drove my wife downtown, dropped her off, and went in search of a parking spot. It was 11:30 A.M. which meant I had a full ninety minutes until the parking meters kicked in. In an ironic twist, when Sunday first became a shoppers’ dream, the parking meters were free all day. But it was soon discovered that taken spots were, for the most part, store employees who, arriving earlier than shoppers, snapped up the spots and held them all day. So the city broke-down – he said with tongue in cheek – and enforced the use of parking meters on Sunday. This led to downtown houses of worship crying foul that members of their congregations now had to pay to pray. So the city went back to the drawing board and decided that parking meters would only come into effect at 1:00 P.M. on Sundays to allow church-goers a chance to park free.

… why are so many evidently free streets reserved for something that may or may not occur?

Alas, at 11:30 A.M. yesterday there was not a parking spot to be found. Actually, that is misleading, there was in fact street after street of parking meters that were, for reasons unknown, deemed out of use (capped with the dreaded red bag). Other streets had been reserved for movie-making crews to park trucks and set-up equipment.  While many of the already rare parking spots were serving as meeting points for seemingly countless police vehicles keeping watch over a couple of demonstrations.

Did I mention this was one of perhaps three prime Sunday shopping days?

I understand that routine maintenance work is a necessity, but why are so many evidently free streets reserved for something that may or may not occur? I spoke with a contractor not so long ago. This gentleman is a foreman for a company that does much road maintenance for the city of Montreal. He told me that his company had been awarded a contract to carry out repairs of some sort on a downtown street. He explained that his company got the contract because they guaranteed they could do the job in one day. Only one single day of traffic disruption would be tolerated, or fines would be levied.

Unfortunately, it took the city at least two weeks to get around to removing the red bags. That’s two weeks of parking revenue lost …

His crew arrived early on the appointed day and found that both sides of the street had parking meters with red bags indicating no parking. They were able to get down to work right away and by day’s end were done and dusted. Unfortunately, it took the city at least two weeks to get around to removing the red bags. That’s two weeks of parking revenue lost (except for the tickets given to those frustrated drivers who took the chance and got nailed), and two weeks of inconvenience.

It is no secret that Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante is at odds with downtown merchants and drivers with her massive restructuring of Ste. Catherine Street which, when completed, will have eaten up several hundred parking spots. The work is not yet complete and already long-standing businesses are going belly-up due to drastically reduced access to their establishments.

I fear this will backfire and only lead to shoppers taking their business elsewhere, to malls and outlets that provide ample free parking.

I believe the mayor has an image of Montreal that is comparable to several European cities, Madrid and Oslo among them when it comes to reducing the number of cars. However, Montreal is a whole lot closer to US cities where the car is king.

If it is the current administration’s intention to wean people off their cars by making them less welcome downtown, (i.e. getting rid of parking spots ) I fear this will backfire and only lead to shoppers taking their business elsewhere, to malls and outlets that provide ample free parking.

As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. If the city has any desire to see downtown Montreal flourish, they should encourage people to shop there by providing adequate parking, instead of trying to force them to use public transportation.

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Valérie Plante: Not Your Typical Mayor

valerie-plante

When Montrealers elected Valérie Plante as our first female mayor last November there was much excitement. Not just because of her gender, but because she was a new voice. Her predecessor, Denis Coderre, had ruled in a very heavy-handed manner. Making many decisions that would come back to sting him and ultimately lead to his downfall, including the FormulaE race debacle.

Unfortunately for Mayor Coderre the race proved to be a flop and the city took a bath. Even with the fee, Plante was lauded for scrapping the project as promised.

Life was good for Ms. Plante in the immediate aftermath of the election. She canceled the remaining FormulaE races that Coderre had agreed to, which was a campaign promise she made. Of course, there will be a cancellation fee that some estimates put it in the millions of dollars, but Mayor Plante is not worried: “What we know is that whatever the cost to cancel the race, I believe it’s worth it, because at this point, it doesn’t pay off.”

This event was intended to bring spectators to the city, something along the lines of the annual Formula1 race that pumps millions of dollars into the city’s economy each June. Unfortunately for Mayor Coderre the race proved to be a flop and the city took a bath. Even with the fee, Plante was lauded for scrapping the project as promised.

She did not fare quite as well however when she increased taxes beyond the cost of living, which she promised not to do. But she is hardly the first and will no doubt not be the last politician to fiddle and fudge when it comes to taxes.

If she gets her way one of four main east-west conduits in the downtown core will be reduced to one (yep one) lane for traffic while the sidewalks will be doubled in width. 

But an odd notion has started to cross the minds of many Montrealers: based on some recent ideas and proposals, Mayor Valérie Plante seems to have something against downtown Montreal. A bit of an axe to grind for some reason. Not a typical position for a mayor.

Aside from acting in a Coderre-like manner by deciding unilaterally, i.e. without any public consultation, to stop through traffic over Mont-Royal, traffic that may well be on the way to downtown restaurants and bars, she now wants to revamp St. Catherine Street, one of the main commercial roads in the city, turning downtown into a mall.

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If she gets her way one of four main east-west conduits in the downtown core will be reduced to one (yep one) lane for traffic while the sidewalks will be doubled in width. The mayor has floated this trial balloon in the latest salvo against downtown. St. Catherine Street is already suffering, evident by the many empty storefronts that seem to appear every day. How can making it more difficult to get to these businesses possibly do anything but hurt them?

… that people who are paying for a vehicle are loath to pay again for public transit. If you make public transit free, then you may be talking.

The mayor claims public transit is the key. Get more folks on the buses and Metros. I agree that Montreal has a pretty good transit system, but I think I speak for many with whom I have brought up the topic when I say that people who are paying for a vehicle are loath to pay again for public transit. If you make public transit free, then you may be talking.

I use public transit because my wife takes the car to work. She could use the bus and subway, but it would take over 90 minutes each way. Not a feasible option. When we travel downtown we use the car; rather than paying for the numerous expenses and then leave it sitting at home only to pay bus fare, we drive.

Many frustrated potential patrons are forced to take their business out of the downtown area to the parking-friendly suburbs. 

I would humbly suggest to the mayor that an increased number of parking spots, even if metered, is the realistic way to go. Trying to find a spot on a Saturday evening so we can spend our hard-earned cash in a downtown restaurant has proven difficult, although several streets are for reasons not apparent deemed no parking while other have meters that are covered in red bags denoting no service. Many frustrated potential patrons are forced to take their business out of the downtown area to the parking-friendly suburbs. The pipe dream of public transit will only face the possibility of becoming real once the fare has been eradicated. No one wants to double dip – paying car fees and transit fares.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Montreal Buses and Pride Month

In honour Pride Month several Montreal buses were repainted in rainbow colours. The wheels on the bus go round and round …

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Montreal To Allow – Recognize? – Rear Bus Door Entry

The Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is introducing a new wrinkle that is aimed at getting people on buses faster. They will allow passengers with unlimited passes – weekly, monthly, four-month or yearly – to board buses via the rear door. Commuters with a single fare or those paying cash will still have to use the front door.

However, I feel it incumbent upon myself to hereby inform the STM that this system has unofficially been in use at many Metro stations for years.

There are restrictions aplenty; only the long articulated vehicles – commonly known as bendy buses – are involved, and only at Metro stations, and only between 5 a.m and 7 p.m.

Wow, that will no doubt result in a massive reduction in boarding time. However, I feel it incumbent upon myself to hereby inform the STM that this system has unofficially been in use at many Metro stations for years. When long lines form waiting in inclement weather – wet, cold, snowy or all of the above – it is not uncommon for folks to hop on through the back door, even on non-bendy buses.

CBC.ca

Now if we can just build a Metro station turnstile that is too high to jump over and too low to get under we may be getting somewhere.

I suspect the new system will have a means of checks and balances to weed out those just scamming a free ride. Undercover conductors to verify passes and transfers will be required. I believe that the majority of riders will observe the honour system, but there are always a few who take advantage.

It won’t surprise me if this does not result in a great improvement, given people have been doing it to some extent for years. Now if we can just build a Metro station turnstile that is too high to jump over and too low to get under we may be getting somewhere.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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UPDATED: Happy Birthday Montreal; Thanks For The Free Transit

Today marks the beginning of Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations. A whole summer of activities is planned and it all kicks-off today. I have written about my take on the festivities before. As a way of encouraging folks to participate, the Société de transport de Montréal will waive all bus and metro fares all day today. Yep, you can ride the system all day-long for free. A nice gesture.

… how long it will take for someone who has paid for a monthly pass for the month of May to realise that they have already paid for service today.

Now call me a cynic if you will, but I am just wondering how long it will take for someone who has paid for a monthly pass for the month of May to realise that they have already paid for service today. Everyone without a monthly pass is getting something for nothing today, but if you bought a monthly pass, you paid for 31 days of use. When in fact there are only 30 days when fares are charged this month.

I sense a class action lawsuit being launched, claiming two one-way fares  – or $6.50 – for every monthly pass sold. I imagine we are on the precipice of some lawyer getting his or her name in the media by suggesting this. Hardly in keeping with the spirit of the gesture.

Happy Birthday Montreal!

UPDATE: The answer to how long it will take for someone to publicly bitch is … drum-roll please … one week!

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Montreal Buses: Some ‘Change’ needed

bus

Montreal, like many North American cities, is coming to grips with an ageing infrastructure. Water mains, roads and overpasses that were all built around the same time as the population grew are now in need of repair or replacement. Seemingly endless road closures beset citizens and tourists all summer, but the fact is there is no way to carry out the needed work without drastically altering many commuters favourite routes. Some of these detours are weeks long, some months while a few are going to be in effect until 2019! You just can’t make, or repair, an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

I estimate that 98% of my purchases are made using a debit card. I can go for weeks without spending cash simply by using the Interac system.

Sensibly those who are overseeing this massive project are encouraging commuters to take public transit whenever possible. It is early days yet, but I am interested to learn if that suggestion has been followed or if people have remained in their cars. Downtown Montreal, at the best of times, is not a terribly car-friendly place. Bixi –  the bike-sharing service – stands, and restaurant terraces take up hundreds if not thousands of parking spots during the summer.

I am fortunate enough to be able to walk to most places that I need to get to on a regular basis but occasionally I do take public transportation if I am in a hurry or it is raining or very cold. The Montreal transit system is pretty good for the most part, but can always do with some updates. The Metro is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, it was built to help move the millions of visitors around the city and to and from EXPO67. The current network is much larger than was the original half a century ago, but more stations are needed as the population spreads to the suburbs.

stm_machine

No place to receive change or insert bills

As an occasional user of the transit system I do not purchase a monthly pass, but pay cash as needed. Herein lies my gripe. Just a few years ago the system of tickets and passes was overhauled with new machines being installed on all buses over time. The problem is that the fancy new technology is incapable of giving change. I can put a five dollar bill into vending machine and buy a chocolate bar for $1.75 and get back $3.25 in change. Why can’t I use a five or ten-dollar bill on the bus and get back change? I estimate that 98% of my purchases are made using a debit card. I can go for weeks without spending cash simply by using the Interac system.

I never seem to have $3.25 in change but can almost always find a five dollar bill. I am not suggesting a return to the days when bus drivers made change and actually sold tickets; I understand this made them easy marks for robbers. But a change-making update to the relatively new machines would increase this blogger’s use of the system.

You can take the Metro and a bus to the Casino de Montreal; I suggest the Societe de Transport de Montreal overseers do so and have a look at all those machines that provide change to gamblers. Surely some of that technology can be adapted for use on buses. Ideally the ability to pay by debit card would make things a whole lot more convenient, but I understand that would require buses to be WiFi equipped.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Escalators are for Standing; Stairs are for Climbing

The London Underground is a massive network of lines that move millions of commuters each year. The system is so busy that there is always research into methods to improve the experience of getting from here to there.

When descending to or coming up from the trains commuters often find themselves stuck in human traffic jams. To facilitate access escalators are abundant; moving folks up and down. The norm in the Tube, as the system is affectionately referred to, is for those who want to stand on the escalator and let it do the work to keep to the right, thereby leaving the left side open for those who want to expedite things by walking up the escalator.

However this division actually reduces the number of people on the escalator at any given time. While it affords those in a rush the opportunity to dash up, it holds back average uses. It is not efficient. In a trial at Holborn Station, several escalators were deemed ‘standing only’; no express lane. The result was a 30% decrease in line-ups to get on the escalator.

Over the last several years people using Montreal’s Metro have adopted the stand to the right method. No signs were posted, but a voluntary implementation in most stations. I don’t know about London, but in Montreal most escalators have stairs right beside them. It seems to me that if you are in a hurry, running up the stairs would make sense. Leave the escalators to those with time.

DCS_Grad_2 DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Montreal’s Reemerging Streetcar Tracks

Tracks

It’s the end of pothole season. That’s not to say they have all been filled, just that with seasonal change freezing then thawing then freezing shenanigans over, there will be no new potholes. But don’t assume your car is safe!

At one time Montreal, like many other cities, had a network of streetcars as its main public transportation system. By the time I became a user of public transit these urban trams had been replaced with buses and a Metro system. But relics of the old network can still be seen today. The photo above, taken yesterday at the corner of Lambert-Closse and St. Catherine Streets, clearly shows the old tracks under newer asphalt.

I’m all in favor or urban archeology, but I prefer the kind where folks have to dig to find artifacts, not the kind where the past inflicts itself on us.

I imagine that when it was decided to do away with the streetcars someone must have pointed out that the miles of track would have to be dealt with as well. Remove them? Don’t be silly, just slap a few layers of asphalt over them, cover them. There won’t be that many cars anyway.

Well, like a nasty infection, sixty or so years later these tracks are back with a vengeance. Years of snowplows and other vehicles have not only worn through the oft replaced asphalt, but have also honed the once again exposed tracks to razor sharpness. I’m all in favor or urban archeology, but I prefer the kind where folks have to dig to find artifacts, not the kind where the past inflicts itself on us. I’m sure the tire companies have some say in this as it can only be good for business.

DCS_Grad_2 DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

 

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Imposing Your Music On Others: Then and Now

STM_Sound

It was not all that long ago that a ride on a public bus was likely to include at least one, as we called them back then, ghetto blaster. Of course boom box soon replaced the original derogatory term. It never ceased to amaze me that the louder the music, the lousier it was. I like music, and I must admit I like it loud if it is good. But the crap most of these kids blasted was god awful at any decibel level.

Then along came smart-phones and hi-tech headphones and ear-buds and before you knew it public transit was once again quiet. Everyone was in their own little world. But now our level of tolerance seems to have dropped. Pictured on the left above is a sign that I noticed on a Montreal bus requesting that folks not impose their music on others, even if wearing headphones. On the right is an example of how it once was. Wow. What a switch. Have we become so intolerant that even a bit of leakage from a pair of Beats by Dr. Dre’s or BOSE upsets us? Geez Louise!

DCS_Grad_2 DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

 

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