Standing in front of empty storefronts, Denis Coderre was clear on what to do with the bike path on rue Bellechasse.
Ensemble Montréal’s mayoral candidate has announced that he will repeal part of the path along the main artery of the Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie borough.
The reason? Bringing life back to approximately 800 parking spaces that were removed when the trail was set up by the Projet Montréal administration of Valérie Plante.
“We need fluidity, to ensure that the bikes can still pass,” he said during a campaign stop in mid-September. “We are able to live together. We are not anti-bicycle, we are pro-mobility.”
The conflict between parking and other street uses, such as bicycle paths, is not unique to rue Bellechasse.
Through the city, companies and residents say that finding on-street parking is already a challenge, and that measures like pedestrian streets and bicycle lanes only exacerbate the problem.
In Côte-Des-Neiges — Notre-Dame-De-Grâce, a bicycle path on rue Terrebonne was strongly contested by citizens who lost their parking. After weeks of back and forth, the borough has finally abrogated the project.
However, many Montrealers wish to restrict car use in the city. Nearly half of Montrealers, or 48%, are in favor of limiting one car per household, according to a recent study CROP survey.
That same poll found that 60 percent of Montrealers were in favor of drastically restricting cars that use fossil fuels from entering downtown.
How much parking is there in the city and do Montrealers really need more?
According to the city of Montreal, there are between 475,000 and 515,000 street parking spaces in all the boroughs.
Among them, only 17,367 of them are equipped with meters. Another four percent is reserved for holders of residence permits.
Experts say the way elected officials manage parking policy shapes the streets of a city and has a ripple effect on all other forms of transportation.
Maybe parking shouldn’t be easy
Experts say there is a way to make parking more convenient for drivers, while encouraging Montrealers to adopt greener modes of transportation. (Warning: it may not be popular.)
The idea is to completely eliminate free street parking.
“We call free parking a fertility drug for cars,” said Todd Litman, of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia, noting research showing that free parking makes people buy and drive cars.
He said there is a great “injustice” in putting car storage priority over improving roads for those who walk, cycle or use public transport.
“And then the motorist says, ‘but I need this parking space‘, but they don’t really need it,” he said. “If they really needed it, they would be happy to pay for it.”
The price should be high enough that most people choose other forms of public transportation. In return, Litman said those who are always willing to pay would find it easier to park.
“We’re not saying there shouldn’t be parking,” Litman said. “We’re just saying that parking should be paid for directly by users rather than indirectly by taxpayer dollars.”
Kevin Manaugh, an associate professor in McGill’s geography and environment departments who studies how cities balance environmental and economic priorities, also encouraged the idea of eliminating free parking.
He said the ideal would be to have one or two empty slots on each block, so there is always space available.
“I recognize that some people need to drive cars, and cars will always be part of our multimodal transportation system,” Manaugh said.
“But we all have to recognize that this is one of the most ineffective [forms of transportation] in terms of space, in terms of fuel, in terms of energy, in terms of the danger it poses to others, ”he said.
“Anything that can discourage the use of cars in urban areas should be embraced and celebrated. “
Asked that parking in Montreal is already frustrating for many, Manaugh replied that it was not exactly a flaw in the system.
“[Parking] should be difficult, ”he said. “It shouldn’t be an easy thing to use in an urban setting when there are so many other options for walking, cycling or using public transportation. “
He said suburban areas, which have fewer alternatives to the car, would need a different approach.
European cities make parking difficult
Parking is a source of heated debate and featured prominently in Montreal’s election campaign.
Despite its importance, parking is not something people really pay attention to until it affects them personally, said Natalie Gulsrud, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen who studies urban green infrastructure.
“It’s incredibly boring so most people just don’t get going and then political decisions are made and everyone is upset,” she said.
Montreal would not be the first city to reconsider on-street parking. Gulsrud said that from the 1960s until the mid-2000s, Copenhagen regularly reduced parking in the city center.
“We realized that there were too many parking spaces and that it was stifling public life,” she explained.
Today, paid street parking in downtown Copenhagen can cost between C $ 4.25 and C $ 6.50 per hour during rush hour, depending on the region.
By comparison, paid on-street parking in Ville-Marie costs $ 3.50 an hour in the city center and $ 1.50 in the eastern part of the borough.
While the city has stopped cutting parking spaces in recent years, Gulsrud said some of the city’s local politicians now want to cut up to a third of the remaining on-street parking.
Paris, for its part, is preparing to remove half of its parking in the street, up to 70,000 spaces.
Instead, the French capital plans to work with underground car parks, to open their spaces to public use at a fixed price.
Gulsrud said this was a “pragmatic compromise” as it leaves the streets open to the public, but with that comes the high cost of building an underground car park.
But she warns cities shouldn’t reduce parking without explaining why some people choose to drive in cities.
“A lot of times once you’ve had that sunk cost of buying the car, it’s the cheapest way to get in and the most easily accessible way to get to a city,” she said. declared.
“If we start to make it more expensive or less accessible, then we need to make sure that we have affordable housing close to where people work and development focused on public transport to get them there. “
What is on offer in Montreal?
None of the main parties in the municipal elections are proposing to eliminate free parking, but the idea has already been launched by members of Projet Montreal, according to a new book.
In Save the city, Daniel Sanger, a staff member of Projet Montréal for nearly a decade, wrote that a coalition of party officials, including the former mayor of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, Luc Ferrandez, attempted to urge the administration to take bolder measures.
The proposals included “the elimination of all free parking in central areas of the city and higher taxes on private parking”.
However, the proposals received a “cold reception” from Plante and Benoit Dorais, chairman of the city’s executive committee, according to Sanger.
Ferrandez later cited parking taxation as an issue when he publicly resigned from Projet Montreal in 2019.
In a statement to CBC News, Projet Montreal said that when parking is removed, it is often for safety reasons or to make the streets greener.
“It is really as a last resort that we remove the parking spaces and we always try to compensate for the losses elsewhere in the neighborhood,” said a party spokesperson.
As for cost, the party said it favors the San Francisco model, which is based on supply and demand. If parking is infrequent in one area, the price is lower, while high traffic areas would have a higher price.
Project did not respond to a request for comment on Sanger’s version of events.
Christine Gosselin, former Project Montreal advisor in Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie, told CBC that parts of the city are more suburban made it difficult to govern.
“It is a somewhat schizophrenic city, with a central nucleus having a type of urban organization that predates the car… whereas the suburbs and the semi-suburbs [areas] were built entirely for the car, ”said Gosselin.
“This environment produces different needs and different realities for its citizens, and it is very difficult to reconcile.”
Gulsrud said Copenhagen has the same problem of urban and suburban realities, but that hasn’t stopped the city from moving forward.
“We still have the functional green mobility city that we have,” she said. “What is to say is that these political choices that people make at the polls in Montreal, to come during your election, really matter.”
Mouvement Montreal said the city should maintain the current number of on-street parking. Its platform also offers to make parking free in town on weekends.
“It is of the utmost importance to have a smooth transition to car-free transportation, while recognizing the need for our city to remain universally accessible to all,” Movement said in a statement.
Ensemble Montréal did not respond to CBC’s request for comment on this matter.
In its platform, the party said it would “swap” bike paths and parking, make paid parking free for self-service vehicles (like Communauto) and offer reduced parking rates for those who do. carpooling or using an electric vehicle.