There may not be that much snow on the ground in Montreal today, but the city looked more Christmasey earlier this month. That’s when local country folk rock and roller Jesse Stone and some musician friends braved the cold on Mount Royal’s lookout to bring some holiday cheer to the people who were there and now, via video, the rest of us.

This pop-up show consisted of one song with one message: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. So what better time for us to share that message with you.

Enjoy!

The Plante Administration really isn’t wasting much time implementing their election promises. The pit bull ban is gone, so is the Formula E, and now cars won’t have a mountain shortcut to get from one side of Montreal to the other as part of a pilot project this spring and summer.

The city will close Camillien Houde to cars between Beaver Lake and Smith House (the big lookout) while allowing buses and bikes to pass. This stems from a promise to do something about bike safety on the mountain in the wake of the death of cyclist Clément Ouimet last summer.

Their strategy seems to be get as much done as possible early and let Montrealers grow to like the changes over the next few years. Since this is the first time Projet Montreal, or any left-of-centre political outsiders for that matter, find themselves in power here, it makes sense.

But is this particular plan a good idea? One that we will come to appreciate in four years’ time? Yes, but only if it goes further.

Winding Highway in the Middle of the City

Not everyone is happy with this pilot project, as expected. Even some Plante supporters aren’t for the plan. Some feel this was too hasty and decided without enough consultation while others wonder why they didn’t just make a separate bike path. Most criticism, though, centers around additional traffic on other routes.

Living in Montreal my whole life but not being a driver, I have traveled that stretch by car and taxi many times. It always felt like I was in a racing video game, even with cautious, responsible drivers behind the wheel.

The lack of stops turns it into a highway by default. And at that, it’s a highway that winds and curves its way up and down a mountain. It was a bad idea to begin with, albeit a convenient one.

Yes, this will mean more cars on other roads, but the safety concerns for both cyclists and drivers outweigh the inconvenience. Also, public transit users will still be able to take advantage of this shortcut as buses will still go through.

This is a needed move. My only concern, though, is that it doesn’t go far enough.

The Shortcut is Gone, But the Risk Remains

Blocking off a chunk of Camillien Houde will mean fewer cars, but not no cars. Now, all those who drive up the mountain will be doing so to visit a part of the mountain such as Smith House and then return.

Well, almost all. There will inevitably be those unaware of the change who will make their way up expecting to end up on the other side only to find out they have to turn back.

If this seems like just a minor problem, it won’t be. The only thing worse than drivers barreling down a winding pseudo-highway is frustrated drivers trying to make up lost time barreling down a winding pseudo-highway.

A Proposal

The #11 Bus at Parc and Mount Royal about to travel over the mountain

There is an easy fix, though, and it’s one I hope the Plante administration considers:

  1. Stop all car traffic at Parc and Mount-Royal on the eastern end and Beaver Lake in the west.
  2. Create two lanes, one in each direction, for city buses and emergency vehicles, two separate lanes for cyclists and, if possible, a space for pedestrians.
  3. Add more buses on the route and create stops: one at the Camillien Houde lookout midway up from the east, one at Smith House and one at Beaver Lake for now and maybe more later. All stops should be wheelchair accessible.

If people want to visit the mountain and are unable to do so on foot or by bike (or just don’t want to), they can do so by bus. There’s already a parking  lot at Beaver Lake. For this plan to really work, the city would need to make another one near Parc and Mount-Royal. You can drive to the mountain, but not over it.

If this seems like a permanent change, then good. A pilot project can only go so far and risks alienating people without fully showing the payoff.

Eliminating the mountain shortcut will draw the same ire if you cut cars at Smith House or at Parc and Mount-Royal, so why not go all the way and fully eliminate a pseudo-highway that was a bad idea to begin with.

* Featured image of the Camillien Houde lookout via WikiMedia Commons

Since the Denis Coderre administration seems to be all about conservation these days, I thought I would conserve a little web space and tell two Coderre-related stories in the same post. Are they related in any other way? I’ll let you be the judge. Here goes…

Coderre to Consider Charging Montrealers For Water Use and Trash Collection

According to a task force Montreal City Hall put together last February, the best way to encourage business in the city is to charge residents for water usage and trash collection. The group presented its recommendations last Monday and Mayor Denis Coderre is considering them.

The group wants the city to fast-track water meter installation in commercial buildings and introduce them, along with fees for picking up garbage, to residential buildings. The committee also proposed that the city have construction crews work 24/7 to complete projects on major arteries and bring in an overall customer service attitude when dealing with businesses.

While the last two suggestions sound like things that will, in fact, help local businesses, the first two come across as a cash grab. Instead of dealing with problems that affect business, the think tank is suggesting that the city get extra cash from residents.

One thing residential water meters and fees for trash collection have in common is that they can both be sold as a way to help the environment. While it’s true that some people who live in this city waste water and throw away too much trash, it’s also true that the city really doesn’t care, unless they can make a buck off of it.

Banning single-use plastic bags is an environmental policy. Charging five cents for a single use plastic bag is a greenwashed cash grab, pure and simple.

You can point to lower water consumption in places like Toronto all you want, but we all know that’s not the point. It’s collecting cash, this time, officially at least, to help out the business community.

If it’s about money, before changing the very concept of major city trash pickup and water delivery, we should be sure there isn’t an easier way to make or save some public cash.

Coderre’s Obsession with Pieces of Granite as Public Art Continues

Yesterday, a new work of public art was revealed in Lasalle. It has three things in common with the last piece of public-funded art Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre touted: it involves placing slabs of granite in the middle of nature, it is quite expensive and it is unpopular.

The Au Grand Dam installation in Parc des Rapides (screengrab from CTV Montreal)
The Au Grand Dam installation in Parc des Rapides (screengrab from CTV Montreal)

Au Grand Dam cost $680 000 and features large slabs of concrete and marble placed somewhat haphazardly on top of each other in the middle of the beautiful Parc des Rapides overlooking the equally beautiful rapids of the Lachine Canal. While some, like former Prime Minister Paul Martin, tout that it represents the history of the canal and exploration in Canada, others see it as a bit of an eyesore in the middle of such natural beauty.

Public funding for the arts is important. Especially when it comes to helping out emerging or underground artists do their work and not starve in the process.

While this particular installation smacks of cronyism, it does have some historical and possibly some artistic merit. However, it seems to be part of a pattern that Montrealers got wind of a few months ago. Back in June, Denis Coderre announced that he would be placing much smaller and much more expensive ($3.45 Million) pieces of granite (without marble, this time) in the shape of tree stumps on Mount Royal and other locations.

While we can question or even mock the Coderre Administrations seeming undershaped granite in nature-focused approach to public art, we must also ask if there is anywhere else the money could be spent. Anywhere our municipal government desperately wants funds to the point they would charging residents for basic services to get it.

Can you think of a place?

* Featured image by Angus (Flickr Creative Commons)

I think Montrealers owe Gerald Tremblay and even Jean Drapeau an apology. Sure, they may have been corrupt, but at least they had the basic decency to make their abuse of city funds look, on some level, beneficial.

Denis Coderre won’t even extend us the courtesy of trying to pull the wool over our eyes. He’s paying, or rather Montrealers are paying, $3.45 million for granite shaped as tree stumps on Mount Royal, supposedly in celebration of our city’s 375th anniversary.

Drapeau: Corruption in the Details

Drapeau’s administration was responsible for building the Olympic Stadium. Yes, there were trucks driving in and out, then around the block, then back in, counted twice and paid twice or multiple times (page 6).

Was it grossly over budget and behind schedule due to corruption? Yes. Is it occasionally functional at best and a bit of an eyesore? Absolutely. Was Drapeau able to make a good case for building the thing in the first place? Yes he was.

The idea of a city the size of Montreal having an Olympic stadium that also can double as a baseball, football and concert venue is a good one. Or, at very least, it’s an idea that you can logically argue is beneficial. The corruption and waste, in this case, was all in the details.

Tremblay and the Arts: A Different Opinion

The most glaring example of corruption in the Tremblay administration (and there are many to choose from) has got to be the Quartier de Spectacles project. We’re talking no-bid contracts given to connected developers who chose to ignore rather vocal input and opposition from the existing artistic community, local business owners and historical preservationists and move ahead with their unpopular and badly conceived projects.

It took a court case and media shitstorm to stop the expropriation of Café Cleopatre, but the rest of the project has already become reality, or most likely will.

Was this a case of politicians doing favours for their friends at Montrealers’ expense. No doubt. Could Tremblay realistically argue public benefit? Unfortunately, yes.

I don’t for a minute buy the argument that we need to push independent artists out of their venues and tear down historic buildings in order to accommodate corporate art backers and uber-mainstream culture in order to be an international arts city. In fact, I find that angle repugnant and an insult to the very core of what makes Montreal artistically unique.

However, I will grant Tremblay one thing. While I didn’t and still don’t see any benefit in his plan, he was completely justified to argue that there was. One of those things where time will tell, I guess.

Coderre: Lost in the Woods

At first glance, Coderre’s granite tree stumps look…like a fucking terrible idea. An eyesore, really. Who needs fake nature when you’re surrounded by real nature?

Then you hear the price tag. Then all you hear is the price tag. How could the city be paying so much? Clearly someone’s getting the proverbial brown envelope, probably a friend of the Mayor. At least I hope someone is. If this isn’t corruption, then it’s catastrophically bad urban planning, which is probably worse.

mordecai richler gazeebo

This isn’t just some overpriced project like the Mordecai Richler Gazeebo which will cost $724 000. Sure, that’s way too much. Sure, Coderre rejected an offer of a free gazeebo to go with this plan instead. But at the very least, despite being worth nowhere near what Montreal will pay for it, a restored Gazeebo on the mountain named after one of Montreal’s most celebrated authors is a good thing.

This also isn’t like the public tree-shaped benches costing in the thousands opposition party Projet Montreal, who voted against the granite stumps on the mountain, installed on streets in the Plateau. Overpriced? Sure. Unnecessary? Yeah. But at least a tree-like bench on a city street, it can be argued, serves a purpose.

A place to sit? A good thing. Fake nature on an urban street? Sure. Kinda cheesey, but sure. But fake nature in the middle of a beautiful space full of real nature. It’s not just an unnecessary waste, it’s unwanted.

If you want to sit down on something natural, sit on a rock or, wait for it, an actual tree stump. If you want to sit on something made by humans, use a bench. There are plenty of them around the mountain and they didn’t cost a fraction of what these granite stumps will.

If you really want the sitting on nature experience but would prefer not have to sit on the actual nature that is all around you and think the city should pay $3.45 million for you to be able to do just that, then, hopefully, most likely, you don’t exist. If you do, then Denis Coderre would really like you to speak up right now.

Sure, some of these fake granite (parts of) trees are scheduled to appear in other spots in the city, like the campus of Université de Montréal (which also has quite a bit of nature in it, if I remember correctly), but it’s the ones on the Mountain that are particularly galling.

Coderre is taking a public beating on this one, from all corners of the political spectrum. And rightly so. This isn’t just corruption. This isn’t just out-of-touch, overpriced decadence. It’s something people wouldn’t want, in most cases, even if the price tag was $5.

Denis Coderre forgot the first rule of corruption: try to make it look like you are doing a good thing. If you’re going to screw us, Mr. Mayor, at least let us think that we’re enjoying it.