MONTREAL – Montreal’s iconic Ste-Catherine Street will be getting a 21st-century facelift that includes slashing the number of driving lanes and parking spaces in order to make more room for pedestrians, the city announced Thursday.
The plan will reduce a 670-metre stretch of the artery from two driving lanes to one, plus a shoulder for deliveries, while increasing the width of sidewalks by 60 per cent.
The four-year project also includes eliminating parking from the segment and planting nearly 100 trees.
The city is hoping the new look will help to revive interest in the aging commercial thoroughfare, which has been losing ground as tourists flock to other parts of the city.
“We have a fantastic opportunity this time do to something great with Ste-Catherine, to make it shine again like it was before,” Mayor Valerie Plante told a news conference.
She said the city hopes the work will increase the number of visitors to the city centre by 400,000 a year in the decade after the project is completed, and boost the percentage of the city’s tourists who visit the area from 60 to 80 per cent.
“(We want to) make sure that people come for shopping but also just for the experience,” she said.
But not everyone was impressed with the vision presented Thursday.
The leader of the municipal opposition said the plan lacked boldness, noting it did not include the previous administration’s promise to include heated sidewalks.
“We have to create that signature element, that defining bold statement that will entice people downtown to go shopping,” Lionel Perez told reporters after the city’s announcement.
“We have nothing that’s presented here that (gives) that experience, something that will distinguish the core of downtown Montreal compared to other cities.”
Perez also criticized Plante’s administration for choosing to eliminate parking altogether, and questioned whether she would later choose to extend the no-parking zone to the entire 2.2-kilometre stretch that is slated to be redeveloped in coming years.
“If so, that’s basically saying they want to discourage people who only want to come by car,” he said.
But Plante, who has drawn opposition criticism for a plan to ban vehicles from driving across the city’s Mount Royal, denied her redesign is anti-car.
She said the plan includes developing electronic signage and a mobile phone app that will direct drivers straight to available nearby parking garages, which she says will improve traffic flow.
“You won’t have to turn in circles to find a space because we will direct you to a space that is available.”
The administration also sought to reassure local merchants, some of whom have said a construction nightmare of orange cones and torn-up streets will kill their businesses.
The city said a program to be put in place to support merchants will include holding events on the street to ensure pedestrian traffic doesn’t dry up.
It has also raised the possibility of compensating retailers, with details expected to be announced by the summer.
The head of the downtown merchants’ association said he is satisfied the plan will help business in the long run.
“The construction period is going to be difficult for retailers, but after that, to have more people walking on the street is going to be good, for sure,” Andre Poulin said.
The $123-million redesign is the first phase of a larger redevelopment that coincides with necessary repairs to the city’s century-old sewer and water pipes.
As part of the longer term revamp, Plante also announced plans to revitalize several public squares and to transform a segment of McGill College Avenue into a pedestrian-only thoroughfare.
The first phase of construction is expected to last until 2021.