Early next month, the Ville-Marie borough council will decide whether or not to go ahead with a proposal to pedestrianize Ste. Catherine Street in the Gay Village for most of the summer. The plan is being pushed by the Village’s merchant association which has successfully organized several temporary pedestrianization schemes over the past two years, including one that saw Ste. Catherine closed to traffic during the 2006 Outgames. If the merchants get their way, Ste. Catherine would be pedestrianized from Berri to Papineau in the months between St. Jean Baptiste Day and Labour Day.
This is exactly the kind of flexible approach to pedestrianization that Montreal should be taking. Although pedestrian streets have gradually fallen out of favour in North America after a brief period of popularity in the 1970s and 80s, they have been used successfully to reduce traffic and improve neighbourhood quality of life in cities around the world. Copenhagen has pedestrianized most of its city centre and Paris has taken a similar approach to the congested shopping streets around Les Halles. Even more innovative is Hong Kong’s pedestrianization program, which evaluates pedestrian behaviour on streets in busy neighbourhoods in order to create a hierarchy of streets, some of which are permanently closed to cars and others of which are pedestrianized only at certain times of the day.
Full-time, year-round pedestrianization works very well for short, narrow streets with intense daily activity, like La Gauchetière Street in Chinatown. Prince Arthur Street is much quieter in the winter than in the summer but it’s still used as an important pedestrian link between St. Laurent and St. Denis. On wider streets with less concentrated activity, though, part-time or seasonal pedestrianization might be a better option, especially in a city of climate extremes like Montreal. Streets are already closed hundreds of times each summer for street fairs and festivals, some of which last for weeks. This is a natural extension of that tradition. If the Village’s summer pedestrianization is a success, it could serve as a model for other commercial streets across the city.
A public information session on the pedestrianization proposal will be held on Thursday, February 21 at 7pm, at 888 de Maisonneuve Blvd. East, in Place Dupuis, fifth floor.