Monday, September 22, 2008

Car-Free Day in Montreal 2008

Today, September 22th was the Car-Free Day. It is a world-wide event but was not that big in Montreal. Here on a 7-blocks section of Ste. Catherine and surrounding streets car traffic was banned - but only from 9:30am-3:30pm, so the 9-5 working masses probably didn't notice it. Delivery to Complexe Desjardins and the car rentals in the area were not affected either. Here is an impressive picture of the event in Berlin.

In the closed area, a number of organizations and companies had booths. I talked a bit with Transport Durable, who had photos from tramways all over the world and some very profound articles on their website.

I enquired at the Transport booth of the City about the state of the tramway realization in Montreal - the first loop (downtown, Berri-Uqam to Griffintown) is planned for 2013 but the financing is not ensured yet. Consultations will go on until 2011, only then construction can start. The person I spoke with was favorable of converting Ste. Catherine to a pedestrian street after this summer's experience, since the merchants realized that it was an opportunity to generate business rather than diverting their customers.

This project reminds me of the closing of Kaerntner Strasse in Vienna: Once one of the most busy streets in that city, the merchants were blocking pedestrianization. Only when the metro was constructed that street had to be closed and voila - there were no traffic problems as feared. Since then it has been closed to traffic (that was in the sixties) and today it makes Vienna a major tourist attraction with many flagship stores. Many other streets have followed its example.

Oddly enough in a car-free event, in a part of the closed-off section many (electric) cars could be found, along the electric bicycles and Segways. I asked to try both Segway and electric bicycle, but my request was declined, reasons given were insurance issues and that the city would not allow it.

Finally at 6pm I returned to do my part in this street theater: Die-In Montreal 2008. Around 40-50 cyclists pretended to lie dead on the street on a downtown intersection. The resulting photos illustrate how many cyclists are killed every 2 years by car 'accidents' in Quebec, according to SAAQ statistics.

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