To get through a pandemic summer, make way for pedestrians in Quebec. The City is increasing the number of pedestrian streets and plans to double the number of temporary spaces. Changes welcome, but deemed insufficient by organizations and experts consulted by The duty.
“A more global change is taking place. The street is no longer seen as a simple place of transit for cars, it becomes a place of life in its own right, a place of sharing and socialization “, notes the director of the organization Vivre en ville, Christian Savard.
Cartier Avenue and Saint-Jean Street kicked off on May 15. At the request of merchants, Mayor Régis Labeaume authorized the pedestrianization of these two commercial arteries located respectively in the Montcalm district and Old Quebec (including a part in the Faubourg Saint-Jean-Baptiste), every weekend this week summer. A way to allow pedestrians to respect a distance of two meters since queues are now forming in front of stores since the deconfinement.
Quickly, other hands were raised, and the capital now has no less than six pedestrian-only streets on Saturdays and Sundays. Added to the list: rue Saint-Joseph in the Saint-Roch district, the 3e Avenue in Limoilou, rue Saint-Vallier in Saint-Sauveur and most recently rue Maguire in Sillery.
“We are really happy with the direction the administration has finally taken. It had become more than necessary to make room for pedestrians. Even before the stores reopened, it was difficult to get around by keeping your distance. We ended up getting off the sidewalk and walking down the street, but it was absolutely not safe, “said Michel Masse, president of the Citizens of Old Quebec Committee.
The street is no longer seen as a simple place of transit for cars; it becomes a place of life in its own right
However, just a month ago, the interventions of Mayor Régis Labeaume concerning any urban development in times of pandemic did not bode well. Following in the footsteps of other organizations, Mr. Masse even wrote an open letter in early May to urgently demand the installation of health corridors, as in Montreal.
“The sidewalks are quite wide on Cartier. Creating corridors wouldn’t change much, ”said Mayor Labeaume, who was not very cheerful at the idea of reducing or closing lanes for motorists.
“It is mainly because traders raised their hands that the municipal administration leaned for pedestrian streets,” notes Geneviève Cloutier, director of the Center for Research in Planning and Development (CRAD) at Laval University. . She believes that the Labeaume administration had a “certain flair” at this time, seeing in the attraction for pedestrian streets a way to attract people to Quebec this summer to shop safely in these commercial arteries.
But there is also a desire on the part of the City to seize this difficult context to make a difference, she adds. “For the first time, we want to open up the parks for barbecues and the consumption of alcohol; it shows, in my opinion, a desire to change the perception that Quebecers have of public space and that they reclaim it. “
The mayor also announced that he would double the number of ephemeral places on the territory, from 25 to 50. He also intends to allow bars and restaurants to encroach on pedestrian streets to install their terrace – when the Legault government will have given its approval to their reopening.
Wind of change?
Has the pandemic created a wind of change within the Labeaume administration and a desire to make less space for the car for the benefit of pedestrians? Not quite, experts say, the change was already underway. “We weren’t starting from scratch. Quebec is certainly not the most “walkable” city, but it is not a revolution either, what we have been experiencing in recent weeks. Rue Saint-Jean was already pedestrianized each summer. Rather, the pandemic has accentuated and accelerated this trend of change, ”notes Mme Cloutier.
She also gave the example of the tramway project, whose last route presented at the beginning of May greatly favors the movement of pedestrians and cyclists, to the detriment of motorists who are being cut off from the traffic lanes.
“There has been something in the air for several years. It’s just that there are pitfalls, a lot of resistance, which means that we don’t advance as quickly as if we were on the Plateau Mont-Royal, “she underlines.
“What is new in this context is the daring of traders. They usually tend to believe that customers mostly come by car. There, they tried the experience of becoming pedestrian commercial avenues. They dared to think outside the box and it worked, ”says Jeanne Robin, spokesperson for Piétons Québec.
It regrets, however, that these urban developments were motivated only by the interest of the commercial sector. “Citizens and organizations had already asked for more space for pedestrians, and the City had turned a deaf ear. “
In his view, residential streets should also be redesigned in times of pandemic, in order to leave more room for walkers, but also for children so that they can play on the street. “How about shared streets, where pedestrians have as many rights as motorists. Several were born in Montreal during the crisis. We also have one here for several years, rue Sainte-Claire in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste district. Why not do more? “, She suggests.
For his part, Michel Masse, of the Committee of Citizens of Old Quebec, fears that the closure of cars on shopping streets on weekends only is not enough. “We will have to monitor the needs during the summer and perhaps adapt. Quebec attracts a lot of people, I will not be surprised that, even on weekdays, it is difficult to stay on the sidewalks while respecting the distance measures. Will the City accept to refuse access to cars 7 days a week? I’m curious to know. “