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Montreal Ste-Catherine Street revamp begins

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As anyone living, working, or studying on Ste. Catherine Street should have noticed, this main commercial artery in the downtown area will undergo an overhaul which was actually planned during Mayor Denis Coderre’s administration. The Ste-Catherine Street revamp replacing obsolete water and sewage pipes underneath and all the construction work involved became an opportunity to rethink its character. For Montrealers, this renovation has provided the occasion to express their opinions on the changes they may want to see on this iconic thoroughfare. 

Works in the section between Bleury and Mansfield streets are already underway, the next two phases should involve the segment between Mansfield and Bishop Streets, and step 3, the last section, from Bishop St. to Atwater Ave. 

Sainte-Catherine street road sign in Montreal

The consultation process on phase 2 had two main activities, the participatory workshops which took place between November 16 and 19, and an online survey that ended this November 22. For phase 3, there will also be consultations to be announced later. The survey on phase 2 addressed issues such as what is pleasant about that section of the street: stores, restaurants, bars, events, its atmosphere. There were also questions about what type of recommendations people would make regarding the street: more green areas, creating space to gather and celebrate, improvement of parking, cycling infrastructure, etc. On these recommendations, there is room for a contrast between different visions.

Ste-Catherine Street revamp

The greening of Ste. Catherine is something that everybody may agree on, as long as it means planting trees (in fact there are whole sections of this street where trees have been removed without being replaced, I have addressed this sad situation in a previous article). The addition of ornamental flower pots in the summer may also contribute to the greening of the area. However, people get less interested if by adding green space, the city planners mean reducing sidewalk, road, or parking space to put grass and plants. Ste. Catherine is primarily a commercial artery, a place where people circulate, not a place where people would stay put. This characteristic of the street should eliminate or reduce the options of adding more space for people to gather or for holding events. 

St Patricks Day Parade 2018 on Ste Catherine street

The idea of taking space to hold celebrations or events has usually been hotly debated, indeed Ste. Catherine is a place for celebrations, some of them are programmed, like the St. Patrick Parade, the Canada Day Parade, or the Santa Claus parade. Massive sidewalk sales organized by merchants in the summer are also in this category of scheduled events. Then there are the spontaneous celebrations: Canada hockey team wins gold at the Olympics, people would go on Ste. Catherine to party, the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup –doubtful– people for sure would converge on this famous street. There is no need then to earmark a particular site for such eventualities. 

A potential contentious point is going to be whether to reduce parking space on the street further either to accommodate cyclists or to enlarge the sidewalks. The idea is to make people use public transportation to get downtown. Still, again, that idea which in general is very dear to the current city administration has to be confronted with the reality of Montreal –a winter city. This is a place where, especially for the elderly, going shopping or to a restaurant, can better be done by car. Any new vision for old Ste. Catherine St. must also take into account this reality.

A timeline for all these changes? Well, renovations for sure won’t happen too soon. The section between Mansfield and Bishop is set for 2022-2024, the section from Bishop to St. Marc for 2014-2016, and the final section up to Atwater Ave. is scheduled for 2026-2028.

By: Sergio Martinez – info@mtltimes.ca

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