Promising a greener mountain with better access for citizens, Montreal municipal officials announced on Saturday the launch of a controversial five-month pilot project to ban through traffic across Mount Royal.
The city is blocking a 550-metre section of the scenic road that crosses the mountain until Oct. 31 as part of a pilot project that is designed to improve safety and encourage active transportation at the Montreal landmark.
On Saturday morning, a police car sat near the summit, diverting cars that drove up the mountain’s eastern approach into a nearby parking lot.
Pedestrians, cyclists, buses and emergency vehicles will be allowed to cross, but personal vehicles approaching from either end will be diverted to one of two parking lots near the summit.
The city councillor responsible for active transportation told reporters at a news conference that while the move hasn’t pleased everyone, the city believes that prioritizing cycling, walking and transit will be beneficial in the long run.
“We are aware that what we’re asking is for people to change their habits,” Marianne Giguere said.
“It’s not easy, it’s not necessarily enjoyable, but we’re persuaded that this change is the right thing to do to valorize this natural and cultural heritage, this richness we have in Montreal.”
She said the city is spending about $1 million on the project, which includes both the infrastructure to redirect traffic and summer programming that includes new rest stops, a pop-up coffee shop and a range of activities including music, movie showings, concerts and educational activities.
The catalyst for the partial closing was the death of an 18-year-old cyclist, who was fatally struck last fall when his bike collided with a vehicle making an illegal U-turn.
But it has sparked criticism from some Montrealers, who said it will prevent them from accessing the mountain or visiting its cemeteries.
Opponents of the project said it will make access more difficult for people who are elderly or families with children, and questioned the wisdom of closing a popular road in a city that is already besieged by numerous construction and traffic problems.
Giguere stressed on Saturday that the project wasn’t irreversible, and noted that citizens would be invited to weigh in through online surveys and a public consultation process.
But she said it was no secret that the city wants the project to work, and would prefer to work to find solutions rather than shelve it altogether if citizens express dissatisfaction.
“We’re not hiding it, we really want that project to be permanent,” she said.
By 11 a.m., spandex-clad cyclists far outnumbered cars as they pedalled slowly up the mountain before turning and descending at a much faster rate.
At a lookout point offering a panoramic view of the city, several people who were visiting on foot noted the absence of cars and said they thought the initiative was already having a positive effect.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Michele Beaudin, who decided to walk up the mountain’s main road instead of taking her usual route up the stairs.
“I saw tons of little paths I’ve never seen.”
Beaudin, who recently returned to Montreal after 40 years in the United States, says her health — and her waistline — have benefited from living in a walkable city.
“I’ve travelled all over the world and all the big cities are doing something similar to reduce pollution,” she said.
But another visitor, Sergio De Paoli, said he didn’t see the point to closing a “workable” road.
“I’ve crossed the mountain in my car to visit the cemetery, you didn’t have to go around, now you do. Why?” he said.
He said more personal responsibility and an increased focus on respecting the rules of the road is a better way to prevent accidents between cars and cyclists.