Montreal’s iconic Mount Royal Park, the three-headed hill in the centre of the city that offers panoramic views of the island, has become the latest flashpoint in the battle over the role of the car in Canada’s urban centres.
The city’s new administration, beloved and reviled for its policies perceived as anti-car, angered thousands of Montrealers when it announced in February that access to the mountain by vehicles would be limited under a new pilot project.
Opposition leader Lionel Perez claimed victory on Tuesday, however, when the city said it would hold public consultations before launching its controversial plan.
Perez said in an interview he believes Mayor Valerie Plante and her director of big parks, Luc Ferrandez, have it out for the automobile.
“I think Mrs. Plante and Mr. Ferrandez have clearly indicated they are anti-car,” he said.
“I think there has been a cascading effect regarding this file, and that Ferrandez didn’t properly evaluate the opposition that would come from their proposal.”
More than 26,000 people signed an online petition demanding the city abandon its pilot project and a group of citizens filed a request to force the administration to hold public talks before access to the mountain road is dramatically scaled back.
Plante and Ferrandez want to prevent drivers from using a road that cuts through the mountain because, they argue, the span was never meant to be used as a main artery.
They say their goal is to protect the park, preserve its natural beauty and return the space to citizens.
In a recent Facebook post, Ferrandez said, “compromising a park’s beauty and the peace of those enjoying it just to save a minute or two is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution.”
Opponents of the plan say the road offers citizens a beautiful, quiet and scenic drive over a treasured part of the island and that limiting cars would negatively affect access to two cemeteries and cause traffic jams on the streets around the park.
The administration says it will slice the road in half by springtime and allow cars to drive up each side of the hill to reach Beaver Lake and the cemeteries where some of the country’s war dead are buried.
But drivers would be forced to make a U-turn and head back down without being able to drive through the mountain.
Youssef Amane, a spokesman for the mayor’s executive committee, said the city’s plan to limit access to the mountain by car has not changed.
“The timeline still holds true,” he said via email. “So we are not backtracking in terms of limiting car transit on (the mountain road).”
Amane said details about the city’s plan for public meetings on the project will be announced soon.