Controversial changes are coming to McGill College Ave.
McGill College Ave. changes – The Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM), was holding an information session this Thursday, October 11, on the projected changes for McGill College Ave., a rather short but iconic street in the heart of downtown. This past April, the City of Montreal had made public its intentions to revamp the whole avenue that goes from Cathcart to Sherbrooke, making it “a public space,” i.e. a pedestrian area, probably with the intention of transforming it into another hub for public events, a sort of smaller version of the nearby “place des festivals.” The city will take advantage of the current excavations on McGill College Ave., to allow the construction of the McGill REM station, to redesign the avenue. The problem now is whether the city plans for the street are what people really need.
McGill College Ave. changes
Following a trend that is now becoming standard in many cities around the world, the basic idea in the projected change to McGill College is to repossess the streets for pedestrians. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that notion: for decades cities designed roads to serve motorists, the pendulum now has moved in the opposite direction. But then the question is whether we can elaborate urban policies based on whimsical impulses or on more rational thinking.
It is necessary to ask then whether converting McGill College Avenue into a pedestrian area responds to the needs of Montrealers –especially those who use it– or is it merely the following of a fad. And perhaps it would be interesting to remember what the city document itself, says about the importance of the place: “Avenue McGill College is rich in history. For a century, almost without interruption, promoters, property owners, citizens and designers have envisioned a multitude of projects to transform the street. In 1984, this avenue was at the heart of one of the first public stances taken to change a development project. Avenue McGill College, as we know it today with its magnificent views of Mount Royal, was protected thanks to citizen action.” The reference is to a proposed development in 1984 which in fact would have resulted in a narrower avenue, the blocking of Mount Royal from Ste. Catherine St., and the building of a gigantic mall in the area. The citizen mobilization against the project not only ended the ill-conceived plan, but it also meant the end for the control of the city by the autocratic party that Jean Drapeau had led.
The newMcGill College Ave. changes seems to have some important problems: first of all, except for the small segment of the avenue between Ste. Catherine and Cathcart where a number of restaurants with terraces are located, the rest of the street toward Sherbrooke (except for a Second Cup Café just north of President Kennedy Ave.) only has corporate buildings with no venues able to provide some kind of “street life.” Could it be that the city creates a public place but then, nobody goes there? Some people have suggested that scheduling public events there would attract people, but the closeness to the Quartier des spectacles and the Place des Festivals makes it difficult to justify such type of events. A second objection comes from the fact that this avenue has two huge parking installations: Eaton Centre which has already access through McGill College, and Place Ville Marie, whose access and exit is through Cathcart, but cars coming from there usually take McGill College to go to Sherbrooke or some other east-west street. Closing the avenue to vehicles will result in more traffic on Cathcart (a narrow two-way street) and on the adjacent Robert Bourassa and Mansfield St.
The discussion is now open and so is the consultation; unfortunately, the current administration has a tendency to make its mind before any consultation (remember the closing of the road on Mount Royal, coinciding with the closing of Dr, Penfield for repairs, which causes serious traffic problems on Sherbrooke St.). Public consultation at the OPCM will take place on November 6 at 7 p.m. at 1550 Metcalfe, 14th floor. Registration deadline to participate and submit a presentation is November 1, at 4 p.m.