When most people think of Décarie Boulevard, images of an incredibly wide, smelly, and loud street with a six lane wide trench running down the middle usually come to mind. For residents of the borough of Saint-Laurent however, the image of “downtown” comes to mind. The strip of Décarie situated roughly between Du College (just above where the 15 and the 40 meet) and boul de la Côte-Vertu (at the terminus of the orange line) is a thriving commercial artery providing residents of the borough with many commercial and civic needs. The street and its side streets are home to any service or store possibly needed for day-to-day life; grocery stores small and large, restaurants, clothing stores, bars, computer repair shops, a record shop, dentists, hair salons, etc.. Most civic amenities are also located in the vicinity of the street such as a library, borough hall, police station, courthouse, and two CEGEPs.
With the given importance of this street, it is not surprising that people would want it to look good. Therefore, in comes a revitalisation plan called “Destination: boulevard Décarie”. Prior to the street renovations, this section of Décarie would probably be described as pleasant but unusual. It looked nothing like other Montreal streets; the street furniture was unique, the sidewalks were wide and paved with red unistone bricks, and, most unusual of all, a concrete median strip ran down the centre of the street allowing parking on each side of each lane creating a total of four lanes of parking.
The revitalisation plan intends to change much of this. According to the pamphlet given out to residents and available online, the renovations “will improve the quality of the environment along Décarie…and will transform [it] into a fashionable destination for shopping, dining, and strolling”. The renovations will see the concrete median strip widened and replaced with grass and more trees, the already generous sidewalks will be widened by a little over two metres, lampposts will be modified to provide better lighting, and new street furniture will be added to the existing stock. A subsidy programme will also give money to businesses along the street to improve storefront signage.
A photo of Décarie taken September 2006
One of the most significant changes involves parking. The parking spaces along each side of the median strip will be removed to allow for the wider landscaped strip and the wider sidewalks. Local storeowners were upset with this, however, the plan projects an actual increase in parking spaces (from 463 to 500) by increasing side street parking and through the re-orientation of parking spaces in a nearby parking lot.
New landscaped median strip
I recently visited the street to see how the renovations were coming along. Work seems to be progressing quickly; the median strip has been torn out and completely replaced and half of the sidewalk replacement is finished on one side of the street. The other half is almost completed and work on the south-bound side will probably begin soon. Overall, the new sidewalks do not look as good as I expected. The old unistone sidewalks felt large and generous (albeit somewhat barren in places where there were no terraces or sidewalk sales) whereas the new sidewalks, although wider, feel narrower and less inviting due to the three types of materials used. Along the street, typical narrow cement sidewalks have been installed. Next to that, a strip of coloured concrete bricks runs the length of the sidewalk where trees and benches are also located. Further in, the unistone bricks have been reused and fill in the rest of the space and create an area for terraces and sidewalk sales. The overall result isn’t terrible but I did expect it to look better.
After the renovations (compare to artist depiction on sign pictured above)
So, will the revitalisation plan make this section of Décarie a “destination”? Probably not. The street is too far away from most other parts of the city for people to want to make the long commute there. Furthermore, Décarie wasn’t in bad shape as it was (there were few vacant storefronts and there was a good variety of shops) so those who use the street will probably continue to do so and those who use other streets or shopping centres probably will not replace them in favour of Décarie. It will be interesting to see what the next few years bring to this little corner of the city and what kind of long-term effect the revitalisation scheme will have on the street.