Ste Catherine Street causes controversy – Back around 1760, it was just a dirt road, leading to a few orchards and farms, according to historian Paul-André Linteau in his book “Sainte-Catherine Street – At the Heart of Montréal Life,” who also wrote that it was then called Sainte Geneviève. Other authors point to Jacques Viger, the first mayor of Montreal in 1833, as the one who called it Sainte Catherine, after one of his daughters-in-law.
These days Sainte Catherine Street is at the centre of a battle being fought at city hall, but with many players and in various fronts: merchants, people who work there, residents, and of course politicians and activists fighting for multiple models for urban development.
This week, reports appeared, highlighting what seems to be the plan that the city administration has for Ste. Catherine St., and it appears that such program doesn’t make many people happy. It is important to remember that it all started a couple of years ago when the former mayor announced that given that water pipes and sewers running beneath the street had to be replaced, a complete overhaul of Ste. Catherine would be undertaken. Projet Montréal and Mayor Valerie Plante who took over just a year ago, intend to alter some of the aspects for the future Ste. Catherine. And it seems that the changes introduced are going to create much controversy.
Ste Catherine Street will loss 140 parking spots
The changes announced back in April and confirmed this Monday when City Council commissioned a feasibility study, would include the narrowing of the street to only one lane for car traffic, and another for deliveries. A total of 140 parking would be eliminated between Bleury and Mansfield, the first phase of the street’s overhaul, but when all parking spaces are removed in the western section up to Atwater Ave., a total of 484 parking spots will be gone, if this plan goes ahead, and opposition to it doesn’t prevent this.
Reactions to the changes on the part of businesses as well as from those who work in the area have been understandably adverse: although using public transit is generally recommended when coming downtown, that might not always suit everyone. People doing shopping who carry large items will prefer to travel by car, the same may apply to the elderly with some mobility problems. And, at least shoppers, may opt to visit suburban malls instead, a prospect that, if generalized, may be lethal for downtown stores.
Sidewalks will be widened to 6 meters, in an apparent move to privilege pedestrian circulation over motorized one. However, opposition at city hall and retail businesses have argued that the elimination of parking space as planned for the central part of Ste. Catherine will cause irreparable damage to this, the most important commercial street in the city core. Others argue that although for many years, indeed since the private car became omnipresent in the urban landscape of North America, motorists had all the privileges: roads were built, streets widened to accommodate them, highways multiplied sometimes cutting through entire neighbourhoods. Now it seems that pendulum is going in the direction of favouring pedestrians and cyclists, for a long time neglected. However, the question to ask now to the Projet Montréal Mayor and her councillors is whether moving the pendulum into the other extreme will do any good to the people of Montreal, in particular, those who work or live in the downtown area. A middle ground, in this case, is highly needed: Ste. Catherine St. is a great place to stroll during the summer or spring months, but in the middle of a five-month winter, it is not that wonderful. This street is lively and pleasant to walk because of the many amenities it offers, and those depend to a great extent, on the availability of restaurants and stores on Ste. Catherine. Making the street too restrictive to access may end up “killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.”