CITY: Pedestrians take over city’s downtown

If your back-to-school shopping included a new pair of sneakers, Friday, Sept. 22 is the day to put them to use. For the fourth straight year, the city of Montreal will be participating in International Car Free Day, known locally as “En Ville, Sans Ma Voiture!” or “In Town, Without My Car!” by transforming its downtown core into a pedestrian paradise.

“It’s becoming a tradition,” said Melanie Nadeau of Agence Métropolitaine de Transport. “The first year, we had complaints from some downtown businesses, but now we’re getting more support. People know it’s coming back year after year.”

Nadeau was optimistic about the effect of Montreal’s event among those staged simultaneously in 1,500 cities and towns across Canada and the rest of the world.

“Its large and centralized location makes a real impact,” she said.

Montreal’s car-free perimeter, ranging from De Maisonneuve Blvd in the north to Rene-Levesque Blvd. in the south and from McGill College in the west to St. Urbain in the east, is the largest in North America.

The goal of the annual event is to educate citizens about the negative impact of cars on quality of life and on the environment. But the onus to move to a more sustainable means of transportation does not fall solely on the traveller. Québec Transport Minister Michel Després wants the day to “promote a joint process of reflection concerning the behavioural changes needed to improve urban transportation.”

“‘In Town, Without My Car!’ gives everyone a wonderful opportunity to think about the environmental impacts related to car use, the importance of making responsible choices in terms of sustainable development and more specifically, what we can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Claude Trudel, chairman of the Montreal Transit Corporation’s Board of Directors. “In this context, the STM is convinced that the use of public transit is undoubtedly an excellent way of contributing to collective efforts in this area.”

This year, “In Town, Without My Car!” will expand and diversify in terms of themes and activities. The downtown perimeter will be divided into three districts: Environment, Health and Sports and Active and Public Transportation. Corresponding activities, such as a children’s ecological and education rally, salsa lessons and an acoustic concert by Les Respectables will be held free of charge.

In past years, pedestrians have enjoyed strolling down a traffic-free Ste-Catherine, but even this will be improved upon in 2006. A section of the street between McGill College and Phillip’s Square will be laid with grass to give Montrealers the unique opportunity of enjoying a park in the middle of a downtown road.

Greening McGill and the McGill Environmental Students’ Society will expand the city’s green perimeter by staging their own set of events on lower campus in the name of Car Free Day and Envirofest, respectively. Encouraged by the Senate Committee on the Environment, the McGill administration approved the transformation of lower campus roads into pedestrian and cycling paths for the day. Lower campus will host a variety of information tables, recreational space, arts and crafts and food and drink stands.

Participants are encouraged to bring bicycles for travel or repair, hockey sticks for organized games of street hockey and mugs for drinks, but Saima Sidik of Greening McGill says that the event is flexible.

“Bring anything you want. The goal is to make it fun and entertaining.”

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