Downtown Montreal |  The orange bag party has lasted long enough

Downtown Montreal | The orange bag party has lasted long enough

A small revolution is preparing in the metropolis. Montreal just announced the creation of a “Smart City Office”. Last but not least !

Posted at 5:00 am

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With a budget of $10 million, this office could help solve site coordination problems within three years. A promising pilot project is already underway in the two most central parts of the city.

Those words, I wrote them in an article… in 2014.

Everyone who has frequented the city center since then knows the result: the major reform of the construction sites has failed.

Miserably.

Worse, the situation has deteriorated to the point where many motorists now avoid approaching the heart of Montreal at all costs. They’re sure they’re stuck in a maze of orange mousetrap-like cones, and they’re not wrong.

A study presented Thursday by the Montreal Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce (CCMM) finally brings words, statistics and clear pictures to this mess.

Some dates mark the ghosts, and with good reason.

We learn that 94% of downtown roads have been closed or partially closed at some point in the past year. Not a perfect score yet, but we’re not far off!

We also note, with supporting graphics, the psychedelic sequencing of work on several major arteries. Like Rue Saint-Urbain, which was gutted nine times between 2014 and 2022, often in the same places.

We can do things intelligently in Montreal. This was already evident a quarter of a century ago with the emergence of the spectacular Quartier International around Victoria Square, where the working order was planned according to the rules of the art. Also at the Place des Festivals.

But in recent years we have felt a form of collective letting go in terms of site management.

Home builders encroaching on public roads with their equipment and vans? Not seriously ! As long as they paid their residence permit to the city, nobody cares.

Orange cones and traffic signs remain abandoned for weeks after a construction site has ended? Why not ? The better the better!

Michel Leblanc, President of the CCMM, denounced the “defeatism” that seems to have gripped the authorities. A “dangerous” abdication for Montreal’s reputation and image.

I totally agree with him.

The Smart City Office launched by Denis Coderre in 2014 did not meet the expectations of site coordination. Valérie Plante, who presented herself as the “mayor of mobility” at the beginning of her first term in 2017, also failed.

The situation remains unfortunate and was the subject of a series of reprimands by the city’s Auditor General as recently as May 2022.

The Plante administration defends itself by saying that the city only produces a third of the mostly private construction sites, especially in residential construction.

This is true. But it’s the city that issues the permits, and they issued them 96% of the time last year.

The result is a free appearance that not only harms drivers, but also pedestrians and cyclists, who have to avoid numerous obstacles on footpaths and cycle paths.

What to do to raise the bar?

Montreal plans to host a major “roadworks summit” next spring, inviting private contractors and any organization that can open roads. Most of the coordination problems identified by the CCMM are being addressed there, I was told Thursday at Valérie Plante’s office.

It won’t be too soon. Actually it’s very late.

The city is also in the process of refining the foundations of its next city plan, which is expected to be ready in 2024. It will create more space for pedestrians and green spaces. And at the same time less to motorized vehicles.

These ecological goals are commendable and the Plante management was elected with a promise to achieve them. But cars won’t magically dematerialize until all those precautions are in place, which could take 10 years. Taxis, buses and vans must continue to operate.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the increase in construction sites is actually good and great news. Private investment is high. Long-neglected public infrastructure is being expanded. Montreal renews its guts and climbs towards the sky.

But the heart of the metropolis will face major challenges in the coming years as its office towers leave. It would be a shame if poor site management made recovery even more difficult.