Don't let Formula E critics get you down, say mayor, race fans

This week's Formula E race has businesses worried about revenues, residents complaining about the inconvenience and city councilors fretting about the cost — but Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is not letting the naysaying distract him.

Mayor Denis Coderre argues race will help Montrealers feel pride for their city

The race is scheduled to take place July 29 and 30. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

This week's Formula E race has businesses worried about revenues, residents complaining about the inconvenience and city councilors fretting about the cost — but Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is not letting the naysaying distract him. 

Coderre dismissed, this weekend, mounting criticism about the race. He suggested, instead, it will help make the city a better place to live.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says the event will position the city as a leader in green technology on the world stage. (CBC)

"Like Expo 67 you will always have some complaints, but when you put together what we've done in the last four years, the pride is back in Montreal and the reason why we are now a player is because we're ... doing those kinds of of decisions," said Coderre, who is up for re-election in November.

Montreal is paying $24 million to host the event, with $14 million of that going towards infrastructure and road work that Coderre argued needed to be done anyway. 

​The race begins Thursday, shutting down large parts of east-end Montreal, where electric cars will zip around city streets at speeds reaching 225 km/h.  

Worried residents, businesses

Formula E began in 2014 as a way to showcase electric car technology, and in the years since, manufacturers have made strides to improve battery power and durability. Coderre believes the race will help convince Montrealers to buy electric cars.

But the merits of the race have to contend with a long list of concerns expressed by those affected by having a race track set up near a densely populated residential neighbourhood.

People who live near the circuit — which runs along the southern border of the Gay Village — are concerned it will take them longer to get in and out of the zone around the race track.

The Formula E circuit is shown in yellow. Nearby streets coloured in red is where parking will be forbidden. Green represents where permit-holders can park only. (City of Montreal)

And businesses near the track report that road closures are hurting their bottom line.

La Mer, a fish store on René-Lévesque Boulevard, said it experienced a marked drop in business since the concrete barriers marking the track went up, limiting access to the shop.

Bar owners on a section of Ontario Street were told to dismantle their sidewalk terrasses for eight days in order to keep the street clear for emergency vehicles and to improve traffic flow during the race, even though the street isn't part of the race course.

​The race is also displacing the homeless people who hang out around Montreal's Gay Village and Old Port. 

Duane Mansveld, social intervention worker at Maison du Père, a men's shelter and residence downtown, said race organizers have a social intervention worker informing the homeless population of what's going on.

While homeless people are used to being displaced during the summer due to all the events and festivals taking place, Mansveld said everyone is happy that they are being informed beforehand.

"I thought it was very considerate of them to think of the homeless community and how it can disrupt their lives," he said.

Good for the city, say race fans

The slower cars and lingering question marks haven't dampened the enthusiasm of motorsport fans in the city. They are encouraging fellow Montrealers to put their skepticism aside and check out the race. 

"This is your city, you have a world-class event in your backyard, as a Montrealer you should be going to check it out," said Greg Prokopenko, who works at Momentum Motorsport in Kirkland.

"Racing in Montreal is in our DNA. Our only Formula One champion from Canada is a Quebecois," he told CBC's Daybreak on Friday.

Another fan, Sébastien Gregoire, told CBC he hopes this event will shine a spotlight on the industry as a whole.

"The future is electric and we all know that. I think it's relevant for what is happening to the world right now, to look at electric cars."

Gregoire, who works in sales, says he expects the race will attract a lot of people to the city.

Greg Prokopenko, left, and Sebastien Gregoire spoke about the upcoming race on CBC Daybreak. (Gregory Todaro/CBC)

"I think it's going to bring a lot of audience to these technological advances," he said. "I think Montreal is a very good city for this. We have a beautiful, cultural city, it's going to bring something very good."

He did say that he would've preferred the race track to be located closer to Parc Jeanne-Mance instead, to increase the visual appeal on TV and show off Montreal's signature geography.

The city has a three-year contract to host Formula E race, with an option to extend the contract by another three years after that.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak