COVID-19 has changed how we move around. In response, Montreal is changing its streets

The city is reclaiming street space for pedestrians and cyclists, taking advantage of reduced automobile traffic to help Montrealers stay two metres apart from one another while out and about.

Plan will pedestrianize 3 major streets, add safe bike lanes and pedestrian space on many more

Cyclists converge at Laurier Park in the Plateau Mont-Royal borough in early May. (Ivanoh Demers/CBC)

Montrealers are walking and cycling more during this COVID-19 pandemic, but it's not easy to stay two metres apart from one another while crammed onto narrow sidewalks or crowded bike paths.

So the city is reclaiming street space, creating more space for pedestrians and cyclists this summer by taking advantage of reduced automobile traffic.

Starting in June, long stretches of Mont-Royal Avenue, Wellington Street and De La Commune Street will be reserved exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists. Major changes are also planned for St-Laurent Boulevard, St-Denis Street, Christophe-Colombe Avenue, Rachel Street and Gouin Boulevard.

"With reduced car traffic in the last few weeks and the fact that many Montrealers have adopted walking and cycling for their daily commute, it made us rethink how we share public space," said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante Friday, noting that car traffic is half what it was before the pandemic.

The changes are not permanent, Plante said.

Rules for on-street terrasses will be also relaxed, and additional street space will be provided to give local businesses more room to interact with customers outdoors.

The city's plan involves building a "network for active transport" that adds safe cycling lanes and wider pedestrian spaces to some of Montreal's major arteries, connections between the city's major parks and more residential streets closed to motorized traffic.

Watch Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante discuss the city's plans for its streets:

Montreal to temporarily open up more space for cyclists and pedestrians

2 years ago
Duration 3:37
As car traffic dwindles due to the coronavirus pandemic, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced an ambitious plan to temporarily overhaul streets for the benefit of cyclists, pedestrians and business owners.

Plante said that in addition to 127 kilometres of bicycle paths that were already planned, some 200 kilometres of "active safe routes" for cyclists and pedestrians — such as dedicated lanes, widened paths or slow-traffic zones — will be added around the island for the summer.

Even though some of those lanes will be temporary, to address the particular needs of the crisis, Plante said the 1,200-plus kilometres of active transport lanes will make the city's cycling network among the most extensive in the world.

Another objective of the plan, she said, is to ensure there are places for people to move in higher-density neighbourhoods that have less green space — while relieving pressure on the city's parks.

"For a lot of people, the only option is to go in a park," Plante said. "If we give them more options — if there's other things to do than sit in the park — then I feel like we're talking."

Plante said the changes to commercial streets have come at the behest of merchants.

The city canvassed around 17,000 merchants and asked about their concerns, and a common refrain was the need for space to deal with the realities of physical distancing.

"There is one thing the city can do to help, and that is to give them more space," Plante said.

People walk along a Montreal street where parking spaces have been reclaimed for pedestrian use to create more space. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The changes will create "hundreds of thousands of square feet of public space that can be used by business owners," she said.

Specific plans for various arteries are still being finalized, said Éric Alan Caldwell, the city's executive committee member in charge of mobility. Changes are possible if issues emerge.

The goal is "not to remove car traffic," Caldwell said. "Clearly in every case we have to find the right mix," he said, one that accommodates pedestrians, cyclists, public transit and the delivery of inventory.

The first phase of the project will start in early June, with a second phase later in the summer.

Here are all the planned changes:

  • Pedestrianization of Mont-Royal Avenue and creation of a pedestrian and cycling corridor on Rachel Street in the Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough. These axes will link Mont-Royal, La Fontaine and Maisonneuve parks.
  •  Creation of a multifunctional corridor along Christophe-Colomb Avenue. This axis will link the St. Lawrence River to the Rivière des Prairies. In addition, through local links, Frédéric-Back and Jarry parks will be connected to the network.
  • The usual summer pedestrianization of Ste-Catherine Street East will take effect. Sainte-Catherine Street West will also be redeveloped, with details to come.
  • Addition of a unidirectional cycle path on St-Laurent Boulevard, as well as space for pedestrians and creation of street patios, where permitted by the public health department.
  • Doubling of the cycle path on St-Urbain Street to allow more bicycles along that artery.
  • Start of work on the Express Bike Network (REV) on St-Denis Street.
  • Creation of a transit mall on Ontario and Hochelaga Streets.
  • Pedestrianization of de la Commune Street and addition of a bicycle path. At the same time, the Ville-Marie borough is working to transform parts of this historic sector into "shared streets."
  • Pedestrianization of Wellington Street in Verdun.
  • Creation of an active mobility corridor on Notre-Dame Street in the southwest of the city between Peel Street and Place Saint-Henri.
  • Improvement of the Camilien-Houde bike route to allow extended hours and frequency on weekends and integration of pedestrian corridors on Côte-des-Neiges and Queen Mary Boulevard.
  • The city plans to make Gouin Boulevard a one-way street in order to free up space for pedestrians and cyclists. The axis will also open up the districts most affected by the current crisis.

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