Editorial: Mount Royal must revert to its original parkland role

It takes courage and vision to introduce changes and we congratulate Mayor Valérie Plante and her administration for some of the measures they’ve introduced in their first hundred days in office, though not necessarily with the way they’ve done it.

First and foremost is the pilot project to stop through-traffic on the Camillien Houde Roadway so it will no longer be used as a short cut for cars heading west from Park Avenue to Côte-des-Neiges, or east in the opposite direction. The move was sparked by the traffic death of cyclist Clément Ouimet, who was killed this winter after colliding with a vehicle, driven by an American tourist, which made an illegal U-turn. Of course better signage and a separation barrier preventing U-turns could prevent more accidents of the kind. But Luc Ferrandez, the unfairly maligned executive committee member responsible for large parks and large projects, has come up with a solution: He announced and created quite a furor by saying that this spring and summer only buses and cyclists will be able to use the roadway along its complete length. The idea is to cut back on the 1,000-vehicles per hour that cross the mountain during morning and afternoon rush hours. By creating two dead-ends, Ferrandez expects traffic to diminish by 80 per cent. Impact studies are being conducted to test such issues as how much time is saved by using this short cut. As a result of quite a bit of negative reaction, it appears the studies may well drag on and that the change will not be implemented until the fall. The proposal
could have been better prepared and better
presented. But as for overall efforts to reduce
vehicular traffic on the mountain, we say, bravo!

Many readers will remember the good old days, when the No. 11 tramway picked up passengers at the chalet at the corner of Mount Royal and Park and, apart from walking, cycling, or skiing, that was the only way to get to the top. Then, in 1958, Mayor Jean Drapeau, in seeking to adapt to the tremendous increase in private automobile ownership, broadened the streetcar track known as Remembrance Rd., and turned it into the Camillien Houde Way. That was a time when the car was becoming king in Montreal, and many will recall the creation of one-way traffic on formerly two-way streets to ease congestion and the unfortunate widening of St. Joseph, by getting rid of the boulevard that ran down its centre and cutting down the mature trees that ran along its length, to accommodate more vehicles.

The romance with the private vehicle has gone too far and older sections of the city cannot tolerate the volume of traffic that seeks to navigate its narrow streets, built a century ago for pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages, and tramways. That was a major pre-occupation for Ferrandez and his Projet Montréal team in their Plateau base, which is why they continue to be elected with strong majorities, and why residents there are overwhelming happy with efforts to make the neighbourhood more livable, and continue to
re-elect his team. Stroll down Mount Royal and you will see thriving businesses. Yes, St. Denis merchants, which rely more on visitors, are having
a tough time, but that is a consequence of drawn-out reconstruction projects and even the trend of more Montrealers shopping and going
out in their own neighbourhoods, such as in
burgeoning Griffintown, and Sherbrooke W.
Online shopping hasn’t helped.

The mountain is a precious and much beloved natural resource that deserves to be protected, from pollution, noise, and vehicular encroachments. Yes, some seniors and people with physical handicaps will miss riding to the top in a car, with a stop at the roadside lookout, but drivers will still have access to the parking lots near Beaver Lake. From there it is a nice walk to the lookout at The Chalet. Visitors who are more mobile will retain full access to it, by foot or bike. Perhaps the city can arrange for some kind of shuttle service to get people from Beaver Lake to the Chalet.

We applaud the efforts to experiment with changes, such as this pilot project, which will keep the mountain the way it was supposed to be when planned by Frederic Law Olmsted and begun in 1874. To emphasize its mountainous topography, he called for shade trees at the bottom of the carriage path that climbs the mountain, so that it resembles a valley. As visitors went higher, the vegetation was to become more sparse, to create the illusion of exaggerated height.

In spite of changes from original plans, and the destruction that resulted from holding the 1976 St. Jean Baptiste celebration on the mountain, it remains an urban oasis of trees, bushes, natural recurring plants, small wildlife, and trails. It was never a good idea for it to be dissected by a highway, to cut across the city, or simply provide drive-by views that are available from other vantage points. Let’s give this pilot project a chance.

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