Youngsters in Gatineau will be able to play more safely on their streets after city council passed a motion to begin a year-long pilot project encouraging free play on 50 residential streets and four blocks throughout Gatineau.
Signs will soon be posted on affected streets to alert motorists of the project, which aims to promote an active lifestyle in a safe, accessible environment. Gatineau is the largest city in Quebec to adopt the plan, but hardly the only one.
In 2014, Beloeil, a suburb east of Montreal, adopted a free-play policy on 48 residential streets after a father complained to city council that police had threatened to fine his six-year-old for playing street hockey. The idea then grew to other municipalities.
Only streets where the maximum speed is 40 km/h are being used in the Gatineau project, and each will be clearly identified with traffic signs. Additionally, free play will only be permitted when lighting and visibility allow, typically beginning at 9 a.m. and until 30 minutes after sunset, while physical distancing measures between participants from different homes remain in place.
According to Renée Amyot, president of the Gatineau Commission, Ville en santé, hundreds of residents asked that their streets be considered for the pilot project, signalling “a desire by many to use the street as a free and safe playground.”
The pilot, she added, “will allow us to observe the effects of free play on authorized residential streets, and then assess the possibility of increasing the number of streets in order to meet the interest of the population.”