“We are once again on the map, and we should be proud.” With those implausible words uttered a few weeks ago, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre vividly illustrated yet again how horribly out of touch he is with the daily concerns of fellow citizens, and soon-to-be municipal electors. At this late point in his mandate, he might know better.
In fact, Denis Coderre, a purportedly, self-proclaimed proponent of the ‘Vision Zero’ road traffic safety project, should realise by now that the last thing our city drivers need is still another event that glorifies speeding on the streets of the metropolis. Observant residents already note, day after day, enough of this kind of perilous activity on our congested urban thoroughfares. Regrettably, those of us who live in the city centre witness for ourselves the reckless road passions that such happenings as the Formula E race arouse in those not actually participating in an official capacity in the competition.
Some jurisdictions have long done away with these troublesome pursuits. For instance, for five consecutive years, Birmingham, the United Kingdom’s second largest metropolitan area, made available the streets of its city centre to host an equally controversial car-racing contest. Styled the Birmingham Superprix, the trials took place annually from 1986 until 1990, when it was finally ended due to growing frustration with the event.
On February 26, 1990, former Birmingham Labour M.P., Clare Short, described the race in the British House of Commons as “noisy and disruptive.” Short went on to say: “I needed a pass; the whole area is fenced off, like a prison camp. One cannot enter without authorization. We were all sent letters asking whether we wanted to go and whether we wanted passes to get into the road races. I received a permit because I had promised months before to visit my constituents.”
Interestingly, and Montrealers should take note, the Birmingham Superprix, despite the good financial intentions of its promoters, never made money, even though it had five summers to try to do so. That inescapable fact was just one of many reasons that caused the competition to be terminated. Now most of Birmingham’s city centre is a tranquil, car-free pedestrian zone, reflecting a contemporary governance that truly embraces the ‘Vision Zero’ philosophy.
Montrealers are a patient lot. On October 22, 1910, an “Indignant Citizen” urged this in a letter to the now defunct Montreal Star: “After witnessing a hundred hair breadth escapes and hearing of the many actual deaths due to automobiles running at high speed on our crowded thoroughfares, I feel impelled as one of the half-million citizens who owns the streets, to ask your aid in regaining our rights to use them. They are rapidly being taken from us by the fifty or a hundred chauffeurs who have come to think that St. Catherine street was made for them to show off the speed of their powerful cars and for enjoying the sport of chasing and frightening almost to death some of our most respected citizens.”
Now, nearly one hundred and seven long years later, Montrealers still find themselves at the mercy of old school politicians who fail to see that indeed the times have changed.
No, Mr. Coderre, Montrealers do not need costly international racing competitions – electric or otherwise – held on our historic streets. They only feed a culture of vehicle recklessness, which is already deeply rooted in the behaviour of many of our drivers. Quite the opposite, in fact, most voters want a city administration genuinely and pro-actively devoted to making our avenues safe and our thoroughfares pleasant for all who choose to saunter along them.
Such a development, should it take place, would be long overdue.
Below, Birmingham’s Bristol Street, before and after 1990 Superprix –