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Pellerin: What Quebec can teach Ottawa about pedestrian-first streets

Moving people safely and sustainably results in happier and healthier cities. We just have to do it.

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Last weekend I went to Quebec City and Montreal and you know what I found in addition to the ridiculously high snow banks they still had in the provincial capital? Great examples of sustainable mobility and people-centred investments for Ottawa to follow — even if in one case it’s already kind of too late.

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Now that political infighting appears to have abated, with Quebec Premier François Legault saying he’ll support the project if it has “social acceptability” without defining what he meant by that, the Quebec City tramway looks like it will actually happen. And it’s great for many reasons.

The project, whose cost is estimated at roughly $4 billion, will be just over 19 km long, with 29 stations including two that will be underground. The electric tram will ride along at speeds between 18 and 22 km/h and operate 20 hours a day between Cap-Rouge and D’Estimauville via Ste-Foy and of course downtown. Connectivity with other road networks (bikes, buses and private vehicles) is part of the original design, as you can see in a shiny new promotional video available in French.

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And you know what else? This tramway is designed to run outside, in all seasons. Very much unlike our Ottawa LRT which easily melts in the sun and freezes in the cold when it’s not dissolving in the rain.

No, wait. That’s not it. The most significant aspect of the tram is that it will run right there on the road, using dedicated lanes, and stop only to pick up and drop off passengers, thanks to said dedicated lanes, which will have priority over everyone else. The shared street redesign will also include increased vegetation (trees!), wider sidewalks with more and bigger pedestrian islands, and fewer lanes for cars.

It’s so neat, in fact, that it feels like the city where I grew up is actively trying to woo me back.

Meanwhile, in one neighbourhood of my other hometown of Montreal, Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie, speed limits in alleys have just been reduced to 10 km/h, following a recent collision that killed a pedestrian. Over the last few years, more than 140 alleys in this central neighbourhood have been declared “green,” meaning that they are outdoor living spaces for happy humans instead of shortcuts for drivers in a hurry.

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Oh, and also? Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante just announced a $12-million investment over three years to pedestrianize 10 additional streets.

This follows the huge success of last summer’s pedestrian streets, which are nothing short of spectacular. My faithful reader will remember I wrote about them in these pages last September, enthusing about how a city that used to be a barely organized death trap had become a most pleasant paradise of safe, active transit.

The announcement for more pedestrianized streets did not fail to catch the attention of safe transportation advocates in Ottawa. Chris Hircock, whose organization School Streets Ottawa wants to see safer streets around schools, rejoiced mightily on Twitter.

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“I am encouraged by Montreal’s commitment to pedestrianize its streets,” Hircock told me by email. “I think that Ottawa is ready for the same, which is why I am advocating for a School Streets program.

“This program would temporarily open community streets to kids during school pick-up and drop-off times, allowing them to safely walk and ride to school. Walking and riding to school together adds vitality to our communities and is part of equity-focused transportation where vulnerable users get priority.”

I’m all for putting the kids first, but the beauty of safe streets in general, and pedestrianized streets in particular, is that they are good for everyone. Very much including shop and restaurant owners who, at least in Montreal, now understand it’s people, not parked cars, who spend money in their establishments.

Moving people safely and sustainably results in happier and healthier cities. Yes, even in Ottawa. We just have to do it.

Brigitte Pellerin is an Ottawa writer.

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