Hardly a day goes by that we don’t see, on-line or in printed newspapers, a letter or op-ed piece of one sort or another from a disgruntled driver of a motorised vehicle. Too much road construction, some say. Too few parking spots in the city centre, others protest. Parking (when found) is too expensive. Unnecessary delays to the flow of traffic; we should be allowed to turn right on a red traffic signal, argue many. These self-absorbed lamentations just go on and on.
And now, in the last little while, the litany of grievances has reached a crescendo. The affecting expression of indignation at the recent closing of Camillien Houde Drive across Mount Royal (as if a major city green space is where one would seriously expect to see motorised vehicles) is a vivid illustration of the sense of entitlement that festers within many automobilists. This sense of privilege has today found its way all the way to our much-loved St. Catherine Street.
In her recent Gazette op-ed piece, columnist Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed argues that the Plante Administration “needs to understand the realities of those living on the periphery of the island or off-island.” Why, then, I ask, does this ‘need’ to be done? Individuals are free to live where they choose to live, and that choice always encompasses certain repercussions. In Naviq-Mohamed’s case, one consequence is that she is a good distance from the downtown core, which is probably the reason she chose to reside on the West Island in the first place. Yet one can’t have it both ways: 50 kms. away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, and yet an easy commute with an easy park when you choose to drop in for a visit.
In the same edition of The Gazette, pro-car letter-writer Isaac Alt submits about a recent jaunt to the town centre: “The stores were jammed, as were the streets. The atmosphere was almost festive.” Yes, indeed, the streets were jammed but so were the sidewalks, which are more than overdue for a widening. If that eliminates some, or even all, parking from what should call out to be a pedestrian-friendly avenue, then so be it.
As someone who lives in the borough that bears the brunt of the constant influx of more and more vehicles into the city centre, I often wonder what it is I would celebrate the most if Montreal, as many municipalities in Europe have done, took serious measures to curtail the omnipresence of motorised traffic in our precious inner city expanse. Perhaps crossing an intersection (where four way traffic stops have not, unfortunately, been put in place) would become more pleasant, or at least less terrifying. No longer having to walk around vehicles illegally trapped, due to the impatience and lack of consideration on the part of many drivers, in the intersection’s penalty box would also be an agreeable novelty. Although, if truth be told, very few ‘penalties’, if any, are given out by Montreal’s finest. But that’s another issue.
But what I would really miss the least is the all-obtrusive horn. Originally created well over a century ago as a way to signal a possible imminent danger, the hooter is now employed by everyone and anyone behind the wheel who feel that things are just not quite going their way. This includes drivers of heavy industrial vehicles who do not hesitate to sound their excessively loud devices on practically any occasion, at the same time unnecessarily scaring the living daylights out of many on foot.
The general leave accorded most motorists in Montreal has a long history. A vintage 1906 Montreal Standard cartoon depicts a bicyclist being struck by an open top automobile and ending up inside the car in the back seat with the operator’s son! The driver, appalled by the turn of events, aggressively orders his boy to push the unwelcome visitor out onto the street!
Well, hopefully, no one is being pushed from automobiles into the streets of Montreal today. I do feel, however, that the Plante Administration should be encouraged to create, as much as humanly possible, a city centre with less emphasis on the seemingly enshrined ‘rights’ of motorized vehicles, and a greater focus on the prerogatives and safety of those on foot.
Montreal Standard, December 8, 1906