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Shaping Downtown Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Accessibility for All

Traffic in downtown Montreal, Canada

The development of the city center and the region are inseparable. Montreal's downtown is rapidly losing ground to the region's other job centers, and if this trend persists, it will look more and more like the scarcely visited downtown areas of many American cities.

The cause of this phenomenon is simple: for about fifty years, and before the adoption of the Metropolitan Construction and Development Plan by the Montreal Metropolitan Community, urban planning on the regional scale displayed a lack of coherence. The Montreal region has the largest amount of white zoned land in the province of Quebec in comparison to its long-term land needs. This decentralization process manifests itself as a scattering of employment sites around the Island of Montreal without physical barriers limiting land use surrounding the island.

It is therefore essential to develop public transportation in Montreal and to improve pedestrian infrastructure downtown if we want to preserve the commercial, economic, and cultural vitality in the heart of the city. This would entail increasing the amount of services offered, the number of metro access points, and favoring mixed-mode transportation.

We believe that the development and redevelopment of the public domain should first and foremost aim towards the appropriation of space by human beings, and therefore pedestrians. It is in this manner that developments in the entertainment district of the Quartier des Spectacles, following the example of the International District, seek to make the pedestrian experience more interesting and stimulating. This in turn increases travel by foot and therefore the sphere of influence of metro stations.

Pedestrians on busy Saint Catherine Street in Montreal, Canada

And the same goes for Saint Catherine Street, which should necessarily be accessible on foot, bike, taxi, or public transportation as well as by car. The downtown, which claims to be a daytime and nighttime destination, should be accessible to everyone, at all times, and by all forms of transportation used by those frequenting the greater Montreal region.

It is not only useless, but irresponsible to invest large sums of money in order to make this area a regional and international destination if, ultimately, it is only accessible to a limited clientele – either tourists or residents living in the city center and its surrounding neighborhoods. It is also unrealistic to think that a family of two adults and three children living in the suburbs will take public transportation to come attend an outdoor concert during one of the festivals held in the Quartier des Spectacles.

It is above all unrealistic to think that the availability and ease of parking are not taken into account by families, couples, older people, or those less mobile when choosing whether or not to go to Montreal's downtown. These factors are essential, as demonstrated by the success of the Étoile auditorium in the Dix30 shopping center.

The centrifugal force of urban fragmentation is in the process of eroding what remains of downtown Montreal's centrality in the region. Parallel with this, the number of parking spaces in the city center is predicted to significantly decline over the course of the coming years. In the very short term, the current offerings could undoubtedly respond to parking needs. But in the middle and long terms, the limited number of spaces will become an "access barrier" – something that will considerably limit the number of potential visitors to the area.

Is this the strategy that Montreal wants to advance to inject life into its downtown?

Why should cities aim to preserve the popularity and accessibility of downtown areas?

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.