I’m Richard Shearmur, professor at the McGill School of Urban Planning. I can vaguely be classified as an urban planner (I am professionnally accredited as such) and as an urban and regional economic geographer.
This is my first foray into blogging, and I intend to comment on urban-related issues. There are so many of these issues that it is almost impossible to know where to start – my intent is not to make grand statements nor change the world, but rather comment on the details I notice around me.
I should state, up front, that I recognize and appreciate the efforts being made by Montreal planners, employees, contractors, elected officials, citizens and community groups to remedy many of the issues I will comment on: indeed, I hope that highlighting some issues may be of modest assistance (and perhaps vaguely entertaining) to them. These people also do many wonderful things, which I also hope to comment upon. Still, it is not because I appreciate and support these efforts that I walk or cycle around the city blindfolded: without a blindfold, I inevitably come across things that surprise or irritate me.
Biking in the city
What sorts of things surprise and irritate me? Well, for instance: I cycle a lot in a city that purports to be bicycle friendly: yet cycling in Montreal consists in finding one’s way round dead-end cycle paths, being funnelled into pot-hole riven gutters (see the new Quebec high-way code), and being expected to make the sort of detour that no self-respecting car driver would consider (last Sunday the bike detour round a construction site consisted in pushing one’s bike across a grassy knoll – corner of Gilberte-Dubé & Gaétan Laberge, 10.30am, 31st May 2020).
Walking in the city
I also walk: this too is an extreme sport. Have you noticed how cars are efficiently directed through intersections, but that pedestrians are accorded only the smallest amount of time to cross safely? That this small amount of time is further curtailed by the understanding that cars have a 2 or 3 second grace period to cross an intersection after the light turns against them? That sidewalks are often in even worse condition than the roads? And that side-walks, like bike lanes, come to mysterious dead-ends or to incomprehensible diversions around construction?
I rarely use public transport ( I cycle) – but I remain flabbergasted by the difficulties many people have in accessing metro stations. The elevators that opened at Snowdon in 2018 station are welcome – but it took three years to install them! At that rate metro stations will be fully accessible to people living with mobility challenges, young children or heavy shopping bags by about 2200 – and in the mean-time the problem faced by any of these people lucky enough to board at Snowdon is how to get out of the metro network at their destination!
Real-estate and development
The epic success of the new Montreal inter-city coach terminal – which was originally right above the Berri-UQAM metro station but which was moved (about ten years ago) approximately 400m away, is also mind-boggling: why have a coach station easily accessible to people carrying bags, accompanied by children, or merely not wanting to wade through the snow, when a new one can be built which ensures everyone needs to struggle to get to it? Maybe because coach travellers, especially those arriving to catch a coach by public transport, are less well-off and powerful than other communities of users? Surely not.
And there are wider issues of economic development, social housing, corruption that merit discussion and that I may touch upon. But these issues form part of my more ‘professional’ concerns. The blog will mainly focus on other issues that cross my mind from time to time…