Obviously, a city is a complicated place. Any municipal project involves causing inconvenience and aggravating someone. It’s always difficult to establish a park, crosswalk or or pedestrian thoroughfare that satisfies everybody.

Often urban planning conflicts are the result of the relative permanence of city infrastructure. A pedestrian thoroughfare may upset some businesspeople who miss the parking, and congest traffic along parallel routes, but brings delight to it’s users who enjoy the experience of walking on the street (though, studies have shown that pedestrianization is good for business – the attraction of more people outweighs the loss of a few streetside parking spots). Mont Royal Boulevard in Montreal experimented with pedestrianization in the 1970s. The road was great on a sunny weekend afternoons but during weekday afternoons, it wasn’t very busy. On the flip side, the transformation interrupted traffic and bus routes, congesting nearby residential streets so much that Mont Royal was deemed better as it was – a regular car-traffic street.

The solution today seems obvious. Pedestrianize the street on the weekend, and maybe weekday afternoons, but leave it open during weekdays. This seems such a simple, straightforward solution. But the bureaucracy and rigid infrastructure of the city makes this difficult, and it’s easiest to do it one way – or the other.

Flexible city infrastructure could solve this problem. We have the technology now, let’s do it! Traffic lights should turn to stop lights at night in the quiet corners of the city, major commercial streets should have automatic barricades that can go up on nice days, bike paths that become void in the winter should be active if it’s been unseasonably un-snowy. Fortunately they do close down Mont Royal on many weekends during the summer, and these weekends are multiplying so much that in the future, I’m sure it will be every weekend.

Montreal is in fact brilliant with its experiments with pedestrianization. Ste Catherine’s east of Berri to Papineau is completely pedestrianized in the summer. This is a beautiful and successful project, made even better with the ceiling effect created by the purple beads that cover the street for many blocks, transforming the space into truly a laterally extended outdoor room. The flexibility expressed in this project is impressive – in the winter the street returns to its normal thoroughfare status  — though I’m sure it would be just as successful in the winter.

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