Montrealers will have more space to travel on foot and bike this summer as the novel coronavirus health crisis continues to bear down on the city.
Mayor Valérie Plante announced on Friday the city will temporarily transform part of its streets into a “safe active transit circuit,” composed of more than 100 reconfigured kilometres for cyclists and pedestrians.
“We want to encourage people to go outside and move, but safely,” she said, adding the fight against COVID-19 has transformed how residents get around.
As part of the plan, some streets will get new bike paths or expanded sidewalks for pedestrians. Others, such Mont-Royal Avenue in the Plateau-Mont-Royal, will no longer accommodate car traffic.
The warm months will be different for residents amid confinement measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 and that means fewer people will be travelling, according to Plante.
“It will be a very different summer for all of us,” she said. “Most of us won’t be able to travel and most of us will have to stay in the city.”
With more people likely forced to stay in Montreal over the summer, Plante maintains that strong measures are needed to enforce social-distancing measures and ensure the city’s streets and green spaces are accessible.
“We can see that the scope of the crisis of Montreal requires strong actions in order to respect social distancing while allowing people to have a breath of fresh air,” she said.
The plan means less space for cars or parking on some streets, but the mayor said there has been a significant decrease in traffic since the pandemic began and the city has to “re-balance the sharing of the road.”
Aside from giving people more space, Plante said the changes will make commercial arteries more dynamic and help support businesses when they reopen. The city also consulted with merchants about the plan, she added.
“It’s not something we’re imposing on anyone,” she said. “It’s been a collaborative work.”
The reconfigured streets will be rolled out in two phases, starting in June and then expanded throughout the summer. With previously announced bike routes, temporary corridors and the city’s existing 900 kilometres of bike paths, cyclists and pedestrians will have access to more than 1,200 kilometres of routes to get around.
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Montreal is the epicentre of the virus’s outbreak in Canada, with more than 20,000 cases to date. There have been more than 2,000 deaths attributable to COVID-19 on the island.
Environmental groups applaud initiative
The city’s decision to open up its streets to cyclists and pedestrians during the pandemic has garnered support from environmental groups.
Greenpeace Canada said in a statement that it hopes other cities around the country will follow suit.
“Montreal is showing that cities are key players that can quickly bring about changes that will respond to the COVID-19 crisis, fight climate change and improve air quality,” said spokesperson Patrick Bonin.
Équiterre, which operates in Quebec, also applauded the decision to give more space to residents who opt for active transit.
“This plan allows Montrealers to appreciate and rediscover the city in an active and secure manner,” said director of government relations Marc-André Viau.
— With files from the Canadian Press