“Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck gettin’ dirt and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity?”
Can’t imagine that vintage rockers Lovin’ Spoonful had Montreal in mind when they released their classic Summer in the City decades back, but many necks are already out of joint here.
Motorists, not to mention cyclists and pedestrians, best be aware that Montreal has once again morphed into Cone-y Island with all the dirt and grit that entails.
There were few upsides to the pandemic the last two summers, but with the downtown core relatively devoid of office workers, students and tourists, there was little in the way of traffic and whatever road construction there was didn’t induce the usual migraines.
But with the return of life to the city centre and the continuing crumbling of the infrastructure, that has changed. And it will affect most, regardless of mode of transportation.
The detour signs and orange cones have again sprung up like an infestation of hives.
Pick a thoroughfare: Sherbrooke St., René-Lévesque Blvd., Côte-des-Neiges Rd., Ste-Catherine St., Pie-IX Blvd. And I’m starting to suspect that the area around the McTavish pumping station, between Docteur-Penfield and des Pins Aves., closed to traffic seemingly forever, is actually being used by some Indiana Jones-like archeologists to uncover our very own Temple of Doom. But whatever is being done there won’t be completed until 2023, according to city planners.
It’s not just downtown being affected. Pick any part of the city. And that’s after trying to get into the city through a network of fast decaying highways.
Once again, we will all have to resort to our inner Magellans to figure out ways to navigate through the city. Even the operators of Waze or most other navigation apps must be driven to the brink keeping up with the latest road and bridge closings. And let’s just say that the city’s mobility squads, implemented in 2017, have done little to improve traffic flow, and worse, sometimes even contributing to more immobility by double-parking next to offenders.
It’s not for nothing that Montreal auditor general Michèle Galipeau lashed out at the city in her annual report this week for its woeful record in co-ordinating construction projects that create gridlock, particularly during the summer. She called the situation unacceptable.
Even though Montreal is only responsible for 30 per cent of major roadwork projects — with the remaining 70 per cent done by other government agencies and the private sector — Galipeau attributed problems to a lack of communication on the part of the city. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, which leads to farcical situations where we see detour signs pointing us to other detour signs and leading us back to where we started. At least we would have a fighting chance in a maze.
Former Montrealer David Engels, who figured he could handle whatever our streets tossed his way, learned otherwise fast. “Horrible,” he summed up in an email. “The traffic is obnoxious … the roads are the worst I’ve ever seen anywhere, forcing you to slow down to five miles an hour so that you don’t burst a tire or break your shocks. There are holes everywhere. Potholes are not an appropriate term. Crevasses would be more accurate.”
Little gets city satirist Martin, a.k.a. actor Matthew Giuffrida, more agitated than gridlock. That’s what we thought. But news that The Ring, a steel-tube installation 30 metres in diameter and weighing more than 23,000 kilograms will soon hang above the Esplanade PVM at Place Ville Marie, has driven him over the edge. Particularly because it will reportedly cost $5 million and be paid for by, among others, Tourisme Montréal, the Quebec government and the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. The rationale for The Ring is that it will revitalize downtown by bringing people to gawk at it.
“What’s wrong with Montreal and building stupid structures? Wasn’t the Ferris wheel on Pie-IX good enough? Find me one person who’s happy with spending $1.2 million on a Ferris wheel that doesn’t even spin?” Martin rants in his video. “And now this ring. Oh but wait a minute, it’s going to revitalize the city, it’s going to attract people to the downtown core. You want to attract more people downtown? Maybe stop locking down the downtown core for half the f—ing year! Maybe you do the roads, make them nicer, so people can drive through the downtown core! We have potholes where I can see the core of the f–ing Earth!”
Martin goes on to bellow that $5 million would be far better spent on the unhoused or creating affordable housing. Or giving bonuses to health-care workers, “our heroes.”
Regardless, there will continue to be citizens begging for some “serenity now” (as espoused by the Seinfeld gang) until there’s some mobility … hopefully in this millennium.
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