City of Westmount and merchants work hand-in-hand to cut traffic and boost business

The City of Montreal recently created car-free streets and expanded sidewalks as an incentive to get more Montrealers out, safely, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

In some cases, the move was made without consultation, leaving merchants infuriated. But the City of Westmount decided to take a different approach, consulting merchants to find a common solution.

The latest initiative is a temporary reconfiguration of Green Avenue, between Sherbrooke Street and De Maisonneuve Boulevard. Traffic along that section of the commercial artery will be reduced to one lane, leaving more space for pedestrians to practise social distancing.

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“We feel that in creating this new space that we’ll make people feel safer and give them places to wait, to eat, to mingle safely,” said Cynthia Lulham, Westmount city councillor responsible for urban planning, economic development and parks.

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The city’s $20,000 investment aims to help with economic recovery and distancing efforts.

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Lulham has been meeting regularly with merchants throughout the pandemic and wanted to make sure they were on board before moving forward with the traffic calming and social distancing measures.

“We’ve looked at the experiences of other parts of the city and one of the things that we heard from our merchants is that they didn’t want to lose parking,” she said. “Our goal is to animate Greene Avenue, to improve the merchant-experience and resident-experience.”

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The president of the Green Neighbourhood Merchant’s Association welcomes the move, not just because the number of parking spots remains intact, but because it’s a much-needed boost during what has been one of the toughest times in his restaurant’s 100-year history.

“It’s affected us greatly,” said Rob Callard, owner of Chez Nick and head of the merchants association. “I had to furlough all of my staff I’m trying to bring them back now on the wage subsidy.”

Chez Nick has been operating throughout most of the pandemic, but the financial struggle has taken its toll. It’s why any measure of assistance by any level government, including road reconfiguration, is seen as a step in the right direction.

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“I think it’s going to be very nice, it’s going to animate the street, I think it’s going to bring some colour,” said Callard. The public spaces will be decked with furniture to help shoppers rest while they wait their turn.

The city hasn’t ruled out extending the project to St-Catherine Street. While it’s a temporary measure, it could be re-installed again next if it proves to pay off.

“It sounds like an amazing idea,” said Yona Steinman, a Hampstead resident who was out shopping with his grandmother for the first time since stores reopened. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to come more in the future and an initiative like this can like make it easier for my grandparents.”

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