When Projet Montreal was elected in the Plateau Mont Royal last winter, the candidates promised active, animated, and human-centered streets. Sidewalk cafés and terraces are a much beloved part of the summer scene, but this year, rather than forcing pedestrians dance around dining tables placed willy nilly on the sidewalk, the borough is asking restaurants to put their terraces out in the street.
The borough insists on maintaining a 1.8 meter clearance on the sidewalk. Seems reasonable when you consider how much foot traffic you get on Mount Royal avenue and The Main during the summer, not to mention those who travel with strollers or wheelchairs.
So the borough is banning the practice of crowding either side of the sidewalk with tables. Instead, they are offering restaurants the option to set up semi-permanent terraces on the outer strip of sidewalk and spill over into the parking spots in front of their business.
Saint-Laurent restaurateurs are all in a sulk about the new regulations and associated costs and are threatening that there will be no terraces at all on the Main this summer if things don’t go back to business as usual. The co-owner of Globe and Buena Notte is spearheading the protest. As I see it, there are 4 distinct complaints:
1) Costs: The permit for a terrace occupying the street parking spot w0uld cost about $10,000 per season, an amount that doesn’t quite compensate for the loss of income from parking meters, according to borough counselor Alexander Norris. The Plateau newspaper suggests that restaurants would have to invest an additional $15-20,000 in building and furnishing terraces, as well as storing the structures in the winter.
The costs might sound forbidding until you get a hint of how much money some of the bars and restaurants are actually making from their terraces: the owner of McKibbons pub told CJAD they’d lose $2000 a night from closing their terrace, which they plan to do to protest the new regulations.
One Mount Royal avenue restaurateur went so far as to complain that summer is a slow time for business and, with no guarantee of nice weather, restaurants shouldn’t be forced take this kind of financial risk. Plus, they complain, Prince Arthur street restaurants get away with much vaster terraces without the costs.
A more legitimate complaint about the new system is the application and inspection process which can delay the opening of terraces for weeks despite unseasonably beautiful weather.
2) Parking: Some restaurateurs fear that losing the parking in front of their door would be catastrophic. Where would their clients from the South shore park, they beg? I guess if your customer base can fit in the two parking spots that border your restaurant, business must indeed be tenuous.
3) Comfort and Safety: The thing that seems to be infuriating Saint-Laurent restaurants the most is that they can no longer have terraces adjacent to their restaurants. They say they fear for the safety of their clients, having out eat out in the street and, more legitimately, worry about serving staff crossing the busy sidewalk with hot plates.
4) Closing Time: Terraces on Mount Royal Avenue a must close at 11pm on weekdays and midnight on weekends, a regulation that doesn’t exist in any other borough. The borough mayor says this rule is in response to complaints from the area’s residents.
Which complaints are legit?
I love the idea of spilling sidewalk life into the street, and I don’t take the no-terraces threat very seriously. My bet is that some forward thinking place will go ahead and build an amazing terrace and immediately be inundated with clients. Their neighbours won’t be able to contain their jealousy and soon everyone will be coughing up for the permits and reaping the profits.
Yet I also understand why the bars and restaurants are uneasy about opening satellite terraces across the sidewalk from their business, and I wouldn’t want to wait those tables. At the same time, when walking down the sidewalk feels like setting foot in a fancy restaurant, pedestrians often end up in the street anyways.
The Ville-Marie borough has a similar regulation which allows restaurants to occupy the parking spots in front of their business. However, they do insist on a continuous right of way for pedestrians. The image below shows a terrace on Amherst, where the café has taken over the entire sidewalk and built a boardwalk for pedestrians in the parking spot:
Personally, it seems acceptable to me. I don’t mind a bit of sidewalk-variety, although I’m not sure how easy it would be to maneuver in a wheelchair. I might go a bit crazy if I were in a rush to get somewhere and I had to weave around dozens of such terraces. But if I were in a rush to get somewhere, I suppose I wouldn’t take the Main.
Top image by François Hogue cc flickr