Viewpoint : March 2018

Rethinking the place of cars in the city
Is it not time to take action?


On February 6, Montréal announced that in the spring of 2018, Chemin Camillien-Houde would cease to be a transit route through Mount Royal — to increase the safety of cyclists, but mainly to get back to the basics of what a park like Mount Royal should be: a peaceful, friendly area, free of car traffic and its negative effects on user safety and air quality. Despite the City’s decision, the mountain will still be accessible by car.
 
We are obviously delighted by this announcement, as are many organizations, journalists and editors, even though there are currently not enough details available to fully appreciate the project — a visual projection of what could become a magnificent park road, improvement of the pedestrian experience, enhancement of the public transit offering, etc. Since this announcement was made, several people have actually climbed on the barricades claiming that they have been denied an inalienable right and demonstrating astounding hostility.
 
At the same time, the Parliamentary Committee on Bill 165 amending the Highway Safety Code, where Vélo Québec presented an analysis, was getting under way in Québec City. This also got diehard car enthusiasts talking, claiming that cyclists should be treated the same way as motorists, regardless of the situation, and that giving cyclists a headstart by allowing them to cross at the pedestrian light or turn right at a red light in Montréal, for example, was becoming an unacceptable privilege that had no place in a Highway Safety Code.
 
Last week, a report by the Montréal Metropolitan community revealed that 142,000 more daily commutes are made to work by car today than 15 years ago, and that the percentage of workers using a car has also increased, totalling 65% of commutes.  Public transit and active commuting to work have also increased in the Greater Montréal area, but this increase is modest and does not affect the entire territory. In short, at this rate, we will never reach the objectives established in the plans developed over the past 15 years, mainly those set by the Québec government regarding the reduction of greenhouse gases.
 
I am no longer counting on the public consultations in which we have participated over the past 10 years, all of which reach more or less the same conclusion: we must review our commuting habits, reduce the urban sprawl and rethink the place of the single passenger car. The development of land designed primarily for the individual car is a costly, ineffective model — congestion is a major obstacle to our economic competitiveness — which has taken precedence over the past 50 years and which our society no longer has the means to support. Even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced with electric cars, we cannot allow the endless increase in the car fleet to continue, since a city congested with automobiles, whether gas or electric, works for no one.
 
The announcement regarding the elimination of car traffic on Mount Royal is completely in keeping with this context of change. It alone will not solve the issue of the place of the car in the city, but is sure to be followed by further measures in the years to come.
 
In conclusion, the City’s announcement puts us in a contradictory position as a society: on one hand, we claim that our governments are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — the transportation sector is responsible for only 40% in Québec —, and on the other hand, we decry the injustice of a measure taken to reduce the place of cars in the city. Is it not time to take action?


Suzanne Lareau
President and CEO