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.