Summer Streets

Ste. Catherine Street. Photo by Kate McDonnell

Two years ago, when Ste. Catherine Street in the Gay Village was pedestrianized for the summer, it was organized like a festival, with a corporate monopoly on outdoor beer sales and over-the-top decoration (and not in a fabulous way, just in a tacky commercial one). Even worse, the Village is not the liveliest place on weekday afternoons, so the street felt a bit forlorn before the sun went down.

But the enjoyment of experiencing a street free of cars outweighed all of the drawbacks. The Village’s summertime pedestrianization was successful enough that it has continued for the two summers since.

Now it has spread to other streets. This year, for the first time, St. Paul Street in Old Montreal was closed to traffic, something that should have been done a long time ago. Despite being one of the narrowest commercial streets in the city, and despite the tourist crowds that throng it all summer long, most of the space on St. Paul was taken up by cars. Walking along it meant a choice of squeezing past fanny-packed day-trippers on the narrow sidewalk or dodging cars on the street.

St. Paul Street. Photo by Kate McDonnell

I’m very happy that seasonal pedestrianization has been finally embraced in Montreal. The challenge now is to ensure they remain useful to those hoping to actually, you know, get around. The biggest problem I had with the inaugural Village pedestrianization, as well as with the permanently-pedestrianized Prince Arthur Street, is that they treat the streets as entertainment zones than as multifaceted urban spaces. Something as simple as accommodating bicycles would go a long way in helping avoid that situation.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Friday August 27 2010at 02:08 am , filed under Canada, Public Space, Transportation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

3 Responses to “Summer Streets”

  • mare says:

    Pedestrianization of streets is very common in the Netherlands. Almost every city has a commercial centre that is only accessible by pedestrians. The back of the shops can often be accessed by trucks, but a lot of the restocking is done through the front before 9 AM. Unlike in Montreal, shops don’t complain, the shop locations are very sought after and shop owners pay premium rents. The shops are often chains, so these streets in different cities look very much the same. But people that walk unencumbered by cars apparently spent more. Parking is possible in a lot of above and underground parking garages.

    Shopping malls in the burbs also exist, but they aren’t experienced as “gezellig” (a very Dutch feeling, a bit like cozy) as the city centre.

    In the past some streets also allowed bicycles, often by having a red bicycle path painted on the middle of the (curb-less) street. It turned out to be a really bad idea, and those streets all went back to pedestrians-only. Roaming children, people with huge strollers seeing a “deal” in a show window on the other side of the street, and dogs on long leashes caused a lot of (near) collisions and angry cyclists and pedestrians alike. Even though the bike path was clearly indicated, pedestrians just “forgot” about it.

  • Lookit says:

    I am not gay and I don’t hang around the gay village but if you talk to people about that area, there’s a sense that the area has become really boring and not worth visiting. I can’t articulate exactly the working but I’ve read this from several people within that community, perhaps the pedestrianization thing has contributed to this.

  • @Lookit: I’ve heard the same things about the Village and I think it has to do with its gentrification on one hand and its loss of purpose on the other. There isn’t really any need for a gay village anymore, which means that the Village now exists mainly as a gay-themed entertainment and tourist district. Eventually, like many “niche” neighbourhoods, it could end up like Little Italy in New York: all of the Italians are long gone and all that’s left are a few touristy restaurants.

    @mare: For Montreal, the problem is that most of the commercial districts are very linear, and most streets are just too wide to be effectively pedestrianized. In European cities, it’s the secondary commercial streets running between larger arteries that are pedestrian-only, but there are few of those in Montreal. The best example is de la Gauchetière in Chinatown, which is of course already a successful pedestrian street. The other is Prince Arthur. Mackay is another street that could work, since it has heavy pedestrian traffic most of the time and it links de Maisonneuve and Ste. Catherine, but I can’t really think of any other streets that would be good candidates.