Bike lanes may be little more than narrow strips of asphalt, but on rue Saint-Denis, they have become fodder for a tense debate over the future of the neighbourhood.
After a group of shop-owners threatened to sue the city to remove a controversial bike lane through the Plateau over fears that it could hurt business, the borough’s mayor, Luc Rabouin, and a local entrepreneur are saying their fears are misguided.
The cycling lanes on St-Denis are part of the Réseau express vélo (REV) project, which will see the integration of 184 kilometres of bike paths across Montreal, including 17 paths that will be accessible year-round.
Supporters say the lanes are a good thing that will revitalize the street, keep people safe, and help beleaguered merchants.
You’ll still be able to park on both sides of Saint-Denis when the REV is complete. The only things being removed are two lanes of traffic.
According to Nacouzi, of over 300 parking spots on Saint-Denis, only 26 were sacrificed to make way for pedestrian crossings.
“In a single parking spot for a car you can put about ten bikes, so this is ten customers instead of one,” he said.
Some merchants have argued that, unlike cafés or small shops, their businesses need street parking to survive, but Nacouzi said his business also relies on vehicular traffic, especially for the robotics day camp for kids he operates called Les Ateliers Kikicode.
“People tell me ‘you have a café, you’re not a destination shop, but yes I’m a destination shop,” he said. “For the coding, people come from Gatineau, even this weekend I had people coming in from Granby.”
Plateau–Mont-Royal borough mayor Luc Rabouin said the city did extensive consultations with Saint-Denis merchants about the REV about a year and a half ago.
“We went door to door,” he said. “Every merchant was consulted about what had to be done to improve the vitality of the street [...] Not all the merchants were in favour, but the majority of them were in favour.”
The city has promised an additional $1.2 million in economic aid to help the merchants on Saint-Denis through this difficult time.
“We are now working to find a way to give them a coup de pouce during this tough period for them," said Rabouin. "We are working to reduce the impacts and support our merchants because we know that we need them.”
Rabouin didn't comment on the group of rue Saint-Denis businesses threatening to sue the city.
The Sûreté du Québec (SQ) released Quebec road accident stats for 2021, showing a 6.06% increase in fatal collisions compared to 2020, when lockdowns and travel restrictions forced many people off the roads.
According to Thursday's statement by the SQ, the Quebec police force responded to 245 deadly car accidents in 2021. In those 245 accidents, 262 people were declared dead, a 4.8% increase from 2020.
Combined, the Mauricie and Lanaudière regions had the most deadly traffic accidents (47), closely followed by Montérégie (40), Estrie and the Centre-du-Quebec (33), the Capitale-Nationale and Chaudière-Appalaches (26), the Bas-Saint-Laurent and Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine (26) and Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and the Côte-Nord (26).
Deadly accidents also occurred in the Outaouais and Laurentides regions, as well as the Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Nord-du-Québec regions.
"The figures presented are above the average of the last five years," the Sûreté said in its release. They also released information about the key factors surrounding many of these accidents.
"The Sûreté du Québec maintains its efforts to ensure the safety of road users," added the Sûreté. "We would like to remind drivers that they must adopt safe driving behaviour and exercise caution to reduce the risk of being involved in a collision."
20% of road deaths occurred in instances where victims were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision. According to police records, 24.5% of deadly road accidents were caused by reckless driving or speeding.
Impaired and distracted driving were also reported as dangerous behaviour, causing 14% and 7% of deadly accidents, respectively.
In fact, Environment Canada put out a special weather alert for the following areas:
Châteauguay - La Prairie
Longueuil - Varennes
"A system from Colorado will move into Western Quebec late in the day on Sunday and reach eastern parts of the province on Monday morning," the alert says.
It says the storm could start with snow and then turn into freezing rain overnight on Sunday.
"Forecast precipitation types and amounts will become more certain as the event draws nearer and warnings will be issued as needed," Environment Canada says.
Meanwhile, MétéoMédia is predicting up to 25 centimetres of snow in parts of Quebec. It also predicts strong winds gusting up to 80 km/hour in the Greater Montreal area. This could even lead to power outages.
What road closures can drivers expect this weekend?
Quebec's transportation ministry issued a press release outlining several obstacles on Greater Montreal roads throughout the December 3 weekend.
Between Longueuil and Montreal, Highway 25 northbound will be closed from exit 90 (R-132, A-30, La Prairie, Varennes) on Highway 20 west and the entrance to rue Notre-Dame Est / Curatteau — a stretch that includes the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine tunnel. The closure is set to start Saturday at 12:30 a.m. and last until Monday at 5 a.m.
On the South Shore, expect the following closures starting at 11:30 p.m. on Friday:
Ramps leading from R-132 east and west (Exits 89-N) to Highway 25 north
East and west entrances to boulevard Marie-Victorin
Entrance to rue de l'Île-Charron
In Boucherville, at the Highway 20 / Highway 30 Interchange, the ramp leading from Highway 20 to Highway 30 west / Vaudreuil-Dorion will be closed between Friday at 10:30 p.m. and Monday at 5 a.m.
Between Montreal and Brossard, at the end of the Samuel-De Champlain Bridge towards the South Shore (Highway 10 east, Highway 15 south), there's a partial closure of two out of three lanes, Saturday and Sunday from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In Montreal, two traffic lanes on Avenue Papineau southbound between rue Sherbrooke and rue Ontario will be closed for maintenance from Friday at 9:30 a.m. to Monday at 6 a.m.
Note that some or all construction work may be postponed due to the weather.
For the past four years, Valérie Plante and her Projet Montréal party have led Montreal through police scandals, extreme weather events and a pandemic.
Now, with a mayoral election underway, Plante is fighting to keep her job.
In July, MTL Blog sat down with the incumbent mayor and covered everything from the SPVM to bike lanes, accomplishments, regrets and more.
MTL Blog interviewed Valérie Plante and Balarama Holness in the run-up to the 2021 municipal election. Denis Coderre did not respond to an interview request.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Why do you think that Projet Montréal is the party to lead Montreal after the pandemic?
Montreal Mayoral Candidate Valerie Plante On Why She Deserves Another Mandate
We're the right party to do the job because not only do we have a vision for the city, but also we have the courage — and whatever it's about, recognizing systemic racism; or changing a big street and adding secure bike lanes because it was a crazy number of accidents that happen and no one would do anything about it; or preventing a huge green space from being built on.
What I believe in is a green and inclusive economic recovery. We have such a great opportunity, but we need to think outside of the box. I think we're really good at this.
We're rigorous. We're pragmatic. We have this idea of making sure that Montreal stays this dynamic inclusive city, but for that to happen, we need to compete with tons of big cities around the world who have exactly the same objective. That objective is to keep families in the big cities, to bring people like students and investors and talents into their city.
The way to do it is to have this strong, this human scale, big city with strong neighbourhoods, and that is Projet Montréal.
What specific plans do you have to reform the SPVM if you were to have another mandate?
There are a lot of questions being raised towards the SPVM, and it is happening here in Montreal, but it's also happening in other places in Canada and North America. My wish is to always have police that are close to the community and people need to feel safe.
Some of the things we want to continue to work on are to make sure that the tools that the police officers have are the right ones and serve the right needs.
For example, we've decided to invest massively into creating more mixed patrol, where you have, for example, in one car, a police officer, but you also have a social worker because we know that a very significant number of calls are related to social issues.
It's important to have that type of collaboration. Another tool that we want to bring quite fast is the body cams. It would be one of the ways — I don't think it's the only way — to bring more transparency into some of the operations that are being done.
There have been calls to defund the police. But in the last municipal budget, you increased SPVM funding. Has there been progress on talks to redirect SPVM funds toward community resources?
I think a few things about defunding. First of all, the budget is under the responsibility of the City of Montreal, where everything related to community organizing is financed by the Government of Quebec. That is very important to keep that in mind.
Montreal has put more money to support local organizations, especially in the northeast, because we know that community organizations are such a big help. They are part of the solution. We can not put them aside. They have to work closely with the police officers.
The other thing is there has to be a balance. When we know that there's an increase in violence in Montreal, we need to also be responsible and make sure that when it's about finding criminals with guns, we need police officers. They have to be there and have the right tools.
When I talk about a balanced approach, it's about making sure that, depending on the type of case they face, they have the right tools. It's not always with a gun. Sometimes it's more with a mixed patrol like I was saying before. But in some cases, we also need to have the right number of police officers doing the job to limit or to decrease the number of violent incidents.
We see video after video of Montreal police officers conducting violent arrests. We see report after report from Montrealers who say that they are scared of the police. How will you address this distrust?
It's a serious issue and that's why during this mandate, we're the first administration to ask the SPVM to collect the data on street checks, and we asked to have an external evaluation to get some recommendations.
What came out of that was that there are racialized people and Indigenous people who are more targeted. It's a fact, and for us, it was important not to minimize anyone's experience.
There has to be more training. There have to be different tools. Again, I don't want to minimize anyone's personal experience, but sometimes when we see a video, we see a specific moment and so it is important to have the full story.
Then we can also make sure that it doesn't happen again or we take the right sanction because again, the balance is there.
But the idea that some Montrealers don't feel equal or don't feel safe is something that preoccupies me a lot.
Denis Coderre has said that "Montreal deserves better." What do you think he means?
I don't really like talking about my opponents so much because they can define themselves as much as they want, but ultimately we definitely have a very different vision of what makes Montreal a fantastic city.
For me, a fantastic city is a city where the quality of life is amazing and because of that, investors want to come. Tourists want to visit. Students are like, "this is where I'm going to go study, and maybe I want to raise my family there." This is what a great city is in the 21st century.
I think Mr. Coderre is more in a previous way of seeing a big city. We're not there anymore. I'll leave him to the past vision. I'm looking forward.
Well, there's a lot of things that I'm proud of, but I will choose one. I think it combines everything that I believe in, and it's creating the Grand Parc de l'Ouest. It's going to be the biggest municipal park in Canada.
Every occasion to fight climate change is important, and we're an island, and we have so little green space remaining.
Students, families and investors are looking for places where it's nice to live. In Montreal, we have beautiful parks, and now we have a new one.
The Grand Parc de l'Ouest will be my biggest accomplishment. I'm so proud of that.
What's your biggest regret?
I do have a few regrets as well. One that comes to mind was last year when we decided to implement temporary bike lanes.
It started from a good place. We wanted to give more space and the possibility for people to move around in a safe way.
We did not consult enough. We were not able to accompany well enough, some of the businesses and the population.
I hope that people didn't turn their backs on some of those projects, because I think they're great. They're important. But it was not done at the level of quality in terms of consultation that I like doing.
We got some reader-submitted questions on social media.
I would probably say in two years because there's been a deficit in investment in our roads, but we also need the support of Quebec because bridges and highways are under the control of Quebec City and the federal government. But I'm working on it!
2. What will you do to continue progress on safe cycling?
What we will continue to do is the right planning, like we did with the REV on Saint-Denis.
Though there were some people not happy, it was a great consultation and great work, well-planned and now, it's fantastic.
We want to plan more of those because ultimately there has to be a better share of the public way, right? We need to come up with a secure way for pedestrians, cyclists, and car drivers to use our streets.
3. What can you do to make Montreal more pet-friendly?
We're the party that was against breed-specific regulation. We're really proud of that.
I decided to take the calèches out of the city, and I've been talking to my colleague, Mayor de Blasio in New York, and he was like, "How did you do this?" Because in New York, it's a different story.
But I'm proud we did that because ultimately, we want to make sure that if you own a pet, you need to be responsible. You're making sure that he gets all the attention needed. We want to make sure that nobody fears animals as well, so that's why we decided to build more dog parks.
The way we're seeing how to be a pet-friendly city is to work with the organizations that have the expertise and the knowledge and to help us to navigate through this.
4. Does Valérie Plante put her cereal before the milk or after the milk?
I always put the milk after! I didn't even think there was another way! See, I didn't even think of that!
I don't like it when it gets mushy, so I pour the milk after at the right level.
Because Quebecers have to mostly stick to domestic travel for the time being, the police force is expecting even more people to take to the roads this year.
And the additional traffic can be deadly.
The SQ says "the construction vacation period is the time of year when fatal and injury collisions are highest."
It counted eight deaths due to collisions in its jurisdiction during the two-week vacation period last year, according to the news release.
"We remind you that helmets must be worn by all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts and that it is strongly recommended to wear a personal flotation device at all times when boating," the provincial police force added.