FOR PEOPLE TO BELIEVE PEDESTRIAN SPACES CAN WORK THEY HAVE TO SEE SUCH PLACES

Great public space builds great societies. Most cities need to create more public space through pedestrian-priority streets but doing so often meets resistance, largely because people struggle to conceive of such major changes. The old approach of drawn-out public processes and shouting matches at community meetings is broken. We need another way. Enough with the deliberation, let’s try something out cheaply on a temporary basis, see if it works, keep it if it does and remove it if it doesn’t.

In a previous article, I proposed that cities create piloting programs to test bold pedestrianization proposals from the public via the following process:

1. A person or group suggests a pedestrianization project and collects a required amount of support
2. The city conducts a modest study of the proposal
3. The proposal tests the proposal with cheap materials for 6 months
4. If successful, the project is upgraded with permanent materials

Now we’re going to explore a city that actually has a program like this: Montreal. In 2015, the city created its Pedestrian and Shared Street Implementation Program and here’s just a sample of what’s been achieved in the short time since then (all images are courtesy of the City of Montreal):

McTavish Street on the McGill campus

Place Jacques-Cartier, Old Montreal

Shamrock Place

De Biencourt courtyard

Victoria St along the McCord Museum

Castelnau Street

Ste Catherine West

Prince Arthur Street (rendering/forthcoming)

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The program has applied a mixture of treatments to 40 streets, including permanent pedestrianization, seasonal or event-based pedestrianization, and more modest parklet-like installations. All this in just a couple of years.

The key behind these transformations is Montreal’s piloting system. With its 2006 Pedestrian Charter which “recognizes the primacy of pedestrians in urban space” and “promotes walking as a preferred mode of travel” as a legitimizing document, the Pedestrian and Shared Street Implementation Program aims to accelerate pedestrian initiatives to increase conviviality, safety, and liveliness. The Program, explicitly inspired by the tactical urbanism movement, focuses on streets that are commercial, near to commercial, quiet residential, bordering public and institutional buildings (including universities, museums, churches, and metro stations), and near parks.

(The document outlining how the program works is in French; see here for a rough translated version.)

The Program’s process is this:

1. A city borough works with local organizations to develop a proposal
2. The borough submits the proposal to the city
3.
A city steering committee selects proposals, based on various criteria (see translated document page 10)
4. The city assists successful applicants in various pre-installation steps, including participatory planning, space design, materials selection, and how to study the project over time
5.
In the first year, the city contributes 50% of the project costs (up to a CAD$100,000 maximum)
6.
After 3 years, a successful project is made permanent

It’s remarkable to see such progressive support for public space, support which puts Montreal light years ahead of most cities. To see how lively Montreal’s newly pedestrianized streets have been should incentivize other cities to follow suit.