Montreal’s road-work charter: a small step for citizens, a giant leap for Montreal

On 11th May the City of Montreal announced its (very welcome) road-work charter. For a moment I had a dream.

The dream of coordination

I dreamt that road works would now be coordinated, along the lines outlined for New York.

I dreamt that all City departments (transport, infrastructure, parks, water, waste management…) would enter their road-work plans into a geo-localised database as soon as a budget request was made (at least 12 to 18 months before the work happens).

I dreamt than, when the budgets were allocated, the approximate timing of all road work would be identified.

I dreamt that care would be taken to not dig up the same stretch of road or sidewalk multiple times.

I dreamt that multiple concurrent roadworks on different roads in the same neighbourhood would no longer gum up all pedestrian, bike and car circulation.

Ugh.. Part Deux..
Traffic cones, Montreal. Source: “Ugh.. Part Deux..” by caribb is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

And then I really began to dream…

I dreamt that other entities that do construction work in public spaces – private developers, the autarkic Caisse des Dépôts (a para-public investment fund which seems able to plan and undertake major infrastructure works without any oversight, consultation or serious urban design input) – would also participate in this system.

I dreamt that no permit to occupy public circulation space would be given until proper coordination with all other construction projects had been sorted out.

And of course I dreamt that when emergencies arise – some work cannot be planned 12 to 18 months ahead of time – they would be dealt with within this framework, with specific protocols so that longer-term plans could be slightly readjusted to minimize inconvenience to citizens.

Coordination is technically (nor organizationally) straightforward

In short I dreamt that existing information – which is currently scattered across departments, public (and semi-public) organisations, and multiple budgets – was going to be centralised, mapped, and used for coordination purposes.

This would save public money (no need to dig up roads multiple times), and increase the ease with which all Montrealers (not just motorists, but pedestrians, cyclists, people living with mobility challenges….) circulate within their city. If a cost were put on the delays caused by uncoordinated interventions in public space, it would be considerable. Even a mere two hours per Montrealer per year would, if time is valued at $25 per hour, amount to $100 000 000 dollars annually (far less than the cost of a GIS package, of a well-designed spreadhseet, and of communication between agencies)

The system I dreamt of is technically easy to implement: it is the organizational silos, antagonisms and cowboy culture (each company, agency and department defends its autonomy and internal (in?)efficiency, at the expense of the city’s overall efficiency and of citizen comfort) that stand in the way of this. This is paradoxical, because each company, agency and organisation is ostensibly in the business of building or maintaining some type of infrastructure that is meant to benefit the city’s occupants!

New Montreal board game rewards corruption
Board game, imagined by David Loach as he was stuck at a construction site in Montreal: a constructive use of traffic jams? See: https://montrealgazette.com/opinion/columnists/brownstein-this-montreal-board-game-rewards-the-corrupt

So what does the charter actually do?

Ok, that was my dream. What does the charter actually do?

Well, it is a set of standards and basic rules that each contractor needs to adhere to so that the construction site is safe, so that people know which sidewalks are open and which are not, and so that signs and bollards are cleared up once construction is finished.

This is of course very welcome, and I am delighted that Montreal, after implementing more oversight of construction work two years ago (the Escouade Mobilité), is moving forward in this area. What is amazing, though, is that such basic site-by-site provisions were not already in place and respected.

There is a long way to go before dreams of coordinated road-works become reality. At least Montreal is moving in the right direction!

Published by Richard Shearmur

I am a professor at McGill's School of Urban Planning. I perform research on innovation, on how we locate work activities (in a world where people often work from many places), and on urban and regional economic geography. I used to work in real-estate, and teach a course on this. I am an urban planner, member of the Ordre des Urbanistes du Québec and of the Canadian institute of Planners.

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