It is one of the iconic streets in the downtown area, it links the Mount Royal in the north, with the old quarter of the city. Peel St. was the prestigious address for elegant townhouses and mansions in its Golden Square Mile section where there are now some of McGill buildings. Below Sherbrooke, it has been a vibrant commercial and corporate centre, while below St. Antoine due to its proximity to the port, Peel St. was home to important industries. At one point, that section of the street, then known as Windsor St. (south of Notre Dame was known as Colborne St.), was also the site of a CN cargo rail terminal.
Peel, named after the then British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, was officially inaugurated on August 23, 1854, and today it still keeps much of its functional diversity, except for the industrial segment which has given way to new residential developments in Griffintown. These days, however, Peel St. is the focus of attention by local residents, merchants, and anyone interested in urban issues. The City of Montreal held a series of consultations regarding future plans for the popular artery, in particular, its most central section between Sherbrooke and René Levesque.
The consultation, which took place at Espacio Mexico, one of the cultural institutions located in the street, was well attended: merchants somewhat worried about how the proposed changes may impact their businesses, residents, and others with interest in the future of the city.
The city presented three different scenarios for that central section of Peel St. all of them sharing some common features: its transformation into a one-way street, from south to north between René Levesque and Sherbrooke (a change everybody agreed upon: the road is too narrow and in fact the new plan would make it even narrower), a more pedestrian-friendly design, meaning wider sidewalks, and the elimination of parking spaces.
The first scenario contemplates two bike paths, wider sidewalks, but no space for terraces (not good, restaurant owners immediately decried). The second scenario proposes only one bike path (one-way, southbound), wider sidewalks, space for terraces. The third scenario will have no bike paths, more extensive walkways, and space for terraces. To make up for the bike paths lost in scenarios 2 and 3 (only in the section between Sherbrooke and Dorchester Sq.) a northbound bike path will be installed on Mansfield St. (in case of Scenario 2) and two bike paths (northbound and southbound) will go on Mansfield St. Some people proposed that if scenarios 1 or 2 were adopted, the bike paths be seasonal.
The discussion was conducted in groups which presented their conclusions at the end of the meeting: all agreed that the third scenario was the best, or as someone put it “the least bad” since indeed the audience, although in favour of some of the changes, was not much impressed by their inevitable consequences. One primary concern was how long the renovations will take considering that when such significant works have been done (i.e. on St. Laurent Blvd., Bishop St., and St. Denis St.) the inconveniences to merchants and residents have been considerable.
On the positive side, the city seems to be listening and, we all hope, it will take into account the citizens’ concerns. We all agreed that some changes will certainly improve the area (brighter LED lighting on sidewalks will be installed, trees will be planted, efforts will be made to bring activities to the revamped street), after all Peel is one of the most visited streets, and we would all like it to be a beautiful, inclusive, and well-kept area.
Feature image: The area above Sherbrooke will retain its character, but with wider sidewalks