Every Day Should Be Car-Free Day

September 23rd, 2010 by ant6n

Rue Ste-Catherine in Montreal has been full of people at every occasion they are allowed on the street, including the current car-free week. Since it is a really bad street for cars, would it be a good idea to turn it into a pedestrian mall all the way?

As part of “In Town Without My Car All Week Long!”, held from September 20 to 24, a portion of Montreal’s downtown around Rue Ste-Catherine was open for pedestrian traffic yesterday. Ironic that the official map calls the areas “closed”; I’d probably call them “open”:

Despite being part of a “week” without cars with activities surrounding car free living, the cars were apparently only banned for one day. Which is unfortunate; people seemed to like it. The street really came alive, and the make shift park added a lot of atmosphere; it was kind of Zen.

There has been some talk about pedestrian malls in the blogosphere lately. On the one hand, New York has been expanding it’s pedestrian zones, starting with Times Square last year, and adding newest stretch just yesterday. On the other there are voices saying that pedestrian malls might be hurtful, that some cities actually revived their downtown by bringing back cars, and that pedestrian malls don’t work in North America (compared to Europe or even Australia).

Ste-Catherine during a normal work day - 1 car per 20 pedestrians

The main problem seems to be that a typical downtown of a North American City is a mono-functional office-space-oriented place, which is only alive from 9am to 5pm. After that, everybody goes home. And if you cannot take your car back to downtown, people apparently rather stay back in the suburb. If nobody lives downtown, there shouldn’t be a reason for anybody to be downtown, right? And without people and without cars in the streets, people will start feeling unsafe and continue to avoid the area.

The Gay Village was closed to traffic from May 26 to September 13

But on Ste-Catherine, complete pedestrianization might actually work. Not many people live along the street. Not only does it run through the downtown office center, it also has a vibrant night life, from the Gay Village on one end, to the 2nd Chinatown/Concordia Ghetto on the other.

Some street festival/concert in the Concordia Ghetto

The street is always full of people, many more than there are cars. In fact, as a car user, you should really know not to drive on Ste-Catherine, because it is essentially useless as a car artery. Traffic flows really slowly due to too many traffic lights, and is interrupted half way by all sorts of festivals, pedestrianized areas, or road closures because of construction.

If not the pedestrians, some construction will surely block the path, anyway

At this point, hasn’t the street shown its viability has a people-only space? Haven’t drivers given up on this street at this point, anyway? Can’t we finally ban the cars for good, and maybe add a bike lane? Don’t we want every day to be car-free day on Ste-Catherine?

2 Responses to “Every Day Should Be Car-Free Day”

  1. Keith Campbell Says:

    Love your blog. I learn a lot from it as exiled Montrealer.
    I’m very much be against pedestrianizing Ste Catherine for a variety of reasons.

    1) I don’t think the comparison to NYC pedestrianization is apt – that’s a mega urban place that needs rest from the craziness. Montreal only has a few areas with that NYC style intensity and Ste Catherine is one of them, and the slow moving traffic adds to that atmosphere rather than detracts from it. The same thing applies to the very slow crawl up the St Laurent strip. My favorite memories of montreal are on both streets on Saturday nights with horns honking and the big crush of machines and people, whether after hockey games or during sexy summer afternoons.

    2) slow moving traffic vs no cars is a bit of a false choice. nobody’s suggesting Ste Catherine should be a fast moving artery when Rene Levesque is nearby.

    3) Ste Catherine’s the great retail street. In another echo of NYC, imagine coming out of a store laden with shopping bags and not being able to hail a cab in the winter.

    Pedestrian streets are touristy toys I feel, like the Prince Arthur restaurant strip

  2. Leanne Franson Says:

    I agree with Keith. The slow moving traffic means it is livable. You can wave to people going by, who are checking out the people walking. I TOTALLY agree with Keith’s description. And that “Pedestrian streets are touristy toys” … I have lived around the corner (on De Bullion) from Prince Arthur strip, and been bitched at by groups of people watching street performers, for walking through with a backpack or my bike, as I was trying to get home after work with groceries. When I am on Ste Catherine’s street where you point out, I am buying a tv at Future shop, Very large art supplies (like multiple sheets of 30×40″ illustration board, and blocs of watercolor paper) for my self-employed illustration business, dropping off artwork at the Illustration Quebec office, and other items for which frankly, I need a car, not to walk along grassy boulevards with wandering tourists. And yes, I may only drive two or four blocks on Ste Catherine (from Rene Levesque or De Maisonneuve, used as arteries to actually get to and fro to the point on Ste Catherine I wish), but I still want to drive on Ste Catherine for these things.

    Every place in Mtl that they turn into a “no car” zone just congests other arteries (which are ALL narrow in Mtl), and increases the pollution as people go round and round looking for parking, or are rerouted in heavy traffic (all siphoned due to detours) going 6x the necessary distance from point A to point B on one way streets, narrowed to “calm the traffic”.

    And in case you think I am a crazy biased suburban car lover, in fact I have never owned a car in Montreal, have been using my bike (4 seasons) as transportation since 1982, member of communauto since 2001, lived exclusively in the downtown/plateau areas since 1983: rue MacKay, de Bullion, corner Square Victoria/St Jacques, Marquette, Messier and now Parthenais. As a bike driver and resident, this is becoming a congested touristy city, often taking 20 mins of idling to drive 6 blocks.

Leave a Reply