Published in the Montreal Gazette on August 26, 2013

“Contrary to Mr. Bergeron’s contention, the reduction in parking spaces is very obvious. So much so that our sorties came to a screeching halt when parking became too much of a hassle. For the most part, we now only go downtown when we absolutely have to.”

So wrote Myra Smith of St-Laurent in the August 16, 2013, edition of the Gazette. In fact, there have been many letters recently about the automobile versus mass transit (Letters, Gazette, August 17, 2013).

I would like to bring my own perspective to this seemingly endless Montreal debate.

Since retiring from my professional life in 2006, and as a resident of the city centre, I spend a good part of my days walking around the downtown area. While I don’t gather statistics about car parking availability in the core of the city, I do know that visually at least there is an abundance of parking lots about.

In fact, just this past July, I had the opportunity to take a photo from the identical window from which I had I had taken a picture in February 1975. Guess what? The same parking lot was still sitting there some 38 plus years later.

(below, and below: Mountain Street in 1975 and in 2013 through the same window, and with the same parking lot!)

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It strikes me that Myrna Smith’s claim that there is less parking available now in the downtown area than there was before is a somewhat simplistic assertion. Indeed, part of the problem today is the undeniable fact that there are so many more automobiles in our streets than in times past. As it happens, I had the occasion a short time ago to see on the website of the City of Montreal Archives an aerial view of the Decarie Interchange in 1970. It’s staggering to observe how fewer cars there were then as opposed to today. Surely we do not expect the city centre to be able to accommodate everyone’s automobile.

(below, Decarie Interchange,1970)

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Which leads me to this observation that I offer with the greatest of deference to Ms Smith. She lives in St. Laurent, a borough that is blessed with not one, but two Metro Stations leading directly to the downtown area. Why would anyone want to bring their own personal and cumbersome means of transportation into town when this public option is available to them? 

Another letter writer, Richard Gauthier, of Pierrefonds, held forth in Saturday’s paper: “Just stop gouging us, because we need to drive cars.” I can only assume that Mr. Gauthier has never driven in Europe where gasoline and various automobile taxes are twice as high as here in Montreal. For instance, in order to reduce traffic to the core of the city, London introduced in 2003 a congestion levy of £10 ($16) per vehicle, per day. The charge aims to reduce vehicle overcrowding and serves as a fund to help develop the British capital’s Underground (Tube) network. It is also interesting to note that the toll does not cover parking expenses incurred while one is within this electronically very well-monitored zone.

There appears to be a misapprehension amongst many that tighter controls on vehicles coming into the city centre will lead to a financial downturn in that same locality. Yet, other municipalities which have adopted similar policies have shown that this is not the case. Many urban areas, particularly in Europe, but elsewhere as well, have limited automobile access to the city core while at the same time promoting car-free zones within that same area. From my own personal observations, such cities appear to thrive with the streets densely populated with delighted shoppers.

Unfortunately, compared to other jurisdictions, Montreal seems quite permissive when it comes to accommodating private vehicles in the downtown area. The very few pedestrian malls that there are within the city centre re-open, prematurely in my opinion, to motorized traffic immediately after Labour Day when a more logical date would surely be at the end of Thanksgiving Weekend. We even have a so-called car – free day that starts after morning rush hour and ends before the evening one begins so as not to disturb automobile drivers.

It’s long overdue that certain Montrealers stop taking it for granted that they have an inalienable right to come into town whenever and wherever they please lugging along a ton of machinery with them. The only way this can be discouraged that I know of is by making it more expensive and more difficult for them to so.

 

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