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With Spring Approaching, Montreal’s Pedestrian Street Debates Resurface

In Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, some restaurants are opposing plans for a scaled-back pedestrian zone this summer


The businesses that dot Hochelaga-Maisonneuve’s main commercial artery, Ontario Street East, seem to disagree on whether pedestrian-only zones help or hamper their survival amid the pandemic. After news broke that the borough was planning to limit the boundaries of the street’s pedestrian circuit to between Pie-IX and Nicolet for the summer of 2021, a concerned local launched a petition to reverse the decision that’s seeing support from restaurants and bars left out of the newly downsized pedestrian plans.

“Without explaining the logic of this division, which seems random to us, the borough and the SDC Hochelaga Maisonneuve are favouring a handful of merchants to the detriment of some others who will not be able to benefit from the many advantages offered by pedestrianization,” the petition reads (originally in French but translated here).

Since launching on March 3, the petition has amassed 2,200 signatures, as well as the support of local eateries and bars. Among them, craft brewery, taproom, and local hangout L’Espace Public, shared the petition on Facebook, saying (in French), “The vitality of SHLAG’s main commercial artery and the survival of certain flagship addresses (including ours) depend on it! ... Let us live in solidarity during the last act of this pandemic of shit, which wears us all down.” The petition, it said, was started by a client and friend. Vegan restaurant Antidote Café also posted about the petition, with a similar message of despair about not being able to erect as large of a terrasse under the new rubric, alongside a photo of what might be at stake should the decision be upheld.

Last summer, Ontario Street was closed to traffic between Darling and Pie-IX, which is approximately double the space of what seems to have been earmarked for this year, according to the streets outlined in a newsletter sent out by the Société de développement commercial Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (the neighbourhood commercial development organization), last Tuesday, and referenced in the petition.

Meanwhile, Journal Métro reports that it has been contacted by a number of non-hospitality-related business owners who aren’t as keen on the idea of another year of sprawled pedestrian-only zones. This is the case for Bric à Brac bookstore, which told Journal Métro that the block on car traffic cost the shop 20 to 30 percent last year, as well as stationery store Papeterie de l’Est, which reportedly had contemplated leaving its locale because of it.

Last summer’s pedestrian overhauls of streets like Wellington in Verdun and Mont-Royal in the Plateau seem to have been, for the most part, embraced by restaurant owners who, under the setup, were afforded more space to expand their terrasses onto streets while complying with mandates for two metres of social distance between patrons. However, in the Sud-Ouest, plans for the partial pedestrianization of Notre-Dame West received blowback from some restaurant owners who said it would pose a problem to delivery drivers and diners who visit from farther-flung locations. Those plans were promptly stemmed.

A consultation with Ontario street’s SDC members is scheduled for March 11 to discuss the summer plans.