Montreal

Montreal paints rosy picture of Camillien-Houde pilot project, but conflicts remain

The preliminary report into the seasonal road closure is positive, but it points out that drivers are still not respecting the rules.

There are still areas to be improved, admits Coun. Luc Ferrandez, who's in charge of large parks

Cars and cyclists will once again share Camillien-Houde Way as of Nov. 1, when the city's pilot project comes to an end. (Charles Contant/CBC)

On the last day of the controversial pilot project that shut down Camillien-Houde Way for the past five months, Montreal executive committee member Luc Ferrandez says he is pleased with the preliminary results.

Most motorized vehicles have been prohibited from using the road as a shortcut over Mount Royal since June 2, which has angered and frustrated many drivers on either side of the mountain.

The pilot project comes to an end at midnight, for now. The question is — will the city make the measure permanent?

The thoroughfare was closed to private vehicles in response to the September 2017 death of Clément Ouimet, a young cyclist killed when he collided with an SUV making a U-turn near the lookout at the northeast end of Camillien-Houde.

Since June 2, only cyclists, public transit buses and tour buses can travel right over the mountain, from either direction.

Ferrandez, who is in charge of large parks on the executive committee and is also the borough mayor of Plateau-Mont-Royal, said an initial report on the project shows it went well — although there were problems.

"I didn't say it was a total success. There are still things to improve," said Ferrandez. "There's a huge [dissatisfaction] on the part of the population, too — I'm not denying it. What I'm saying is there are facts about which I was extremely happy and sometimes surprised."

The public consultation into the closure, hosted by the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM), will relaunch Nov. 8. 

Those who want to express their thoughts on the project have until the end of November to do so, through this website.

A final decision on whether the closure will be made permanent is expected to be made over the winter.

The findings

The preliminary report states that traffic didn't increase on streets around the mountain — something citizens were worried about.

There were no collisions either, despite a higher number of cyclists in the area.

Police ticketed an average of seven motorists a day for breaking the rules, Ferrandez said.

Pedestrians used the road more, and 6,000 people a day visited Café suspendu, a terrasse and café that was set up at the top of the mountain during the pilot project.

Ferrandez said there was an intangible effect, too — the tranquillity that descended on the area.

"We could have thought that it was gone forever, but you just reduce the number of cars, you reduce the speed, and all of a sudden the magic operates. You feel the mountain. You feel the nature."

But despite that idyllic picture, the report also observed that there are still issues with co-habitation between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Drivers and cyclists were both observed performing dangerous maneuvres, the city says.

After Ouimet's death, the city added more signage and enforcement against U-turns on Camillien-Houde Way. (Sylvain Charest/CBC Montreal)

"My hope was that reducing the volume of traffic, the number of problems would go down. That's not exactly what happened. There are still conflicts in that area. We'll have to keep working on it," Ferrandez said.

What do road users think?

Cheryl Berger, who lives in Saint-Laurent, used to take Camillien-Houde to get to Mile End but avoided the area altogether once the pilot project began.

She said taking alternative routes was a problem because there is construction in the area that added time to what was once a simple trip.

Berger said she is ready for the road to reopen. As a cyclist, driver and pedestrian, she believes she sees the challenges from all perspectives.

While there's no doubt cyclists will be safer if the road stays closed, she said, it's important to stop making the issue adversarial and that we all learn to share the road.

"I think we can learn to co-exist in this city. I think as long as we're trying to have a dialogue and open communication, that's great."

She wants to see medians installed on the road to separate cars from cyclists and pedestrians.

Cheryl Berger and Antoine Malo, who both use Camillien-Houde Way, agree that motorists, cyclists and pedestrians can learn to share the road. (CBC)

Antoine Malo is a cyclist and former road cycling coach at Espoir Laval who used to coach Ouimet.

He said he is often on the mountain between 6 and 7:30 p.m., to train young athletes. The traffic made that experience worse, he said, calling the pilot project "a blessing."

"I feel a lot safer, considering there was less traffic and the speed limit was reduced. I was really feeling that the cars were finally [paying attention to] the fact that there are cyclists who are there just to enjoy the mountain and be on the road for training."

He would like to see the road stay closed, at least for next summer, and echoed Ferrandez's observation that without the cars, being on the mountain truly felt like being in nature.

He said the way drivers exit the lookout still has to be addressed. And while he disagrees with Berger's idea of installing medians, he does agree with her opinion that all parties can work together to make travelling on Camillien-Houde safer.

- With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak

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