Mayoral hopes riding on better transportation
Valérie Plante’s electoral hopes are riding on mobility as the issue that will unite Montrealers — urban and suburban, business leader and worker, driver and cyclist — behind her bid to be the city’s next mayor.
With less than a week to go until voting day and the latest poll showing her candidacy gathering steam, it was the theme the Projet Montréal leader hammered home Monday during an interview with the Montreal Gazette’s editorial board. (It will be incumbent mayor Denis Coderre’s turn Wednesday.)
Mobility — i.e. moving Montrealers around more efficiently — was her answer to a number of the questions put to her during the session: from the greatest challenge confronting the city, to how to keep the economy booming, to her top priority if she winds up in the mayor’s office after Nov. 5.
By now, Montrealers are surely aware of Plante’s signature campaign pledge: a new Pink Line of the Montreal métro extending diagonally across the island from Lachine to Montreal North.
Plante acknowledges this is a long-term goal. And at an estimated cost of $6 billion, she admits it will only happen with significant investment from other levels of government. But Plante makes no apologies for dreaming big. She said that’s the kind of major project that mobilizes Montrealers and the kind of vision that sets her apart from her opponent.
Coderre, for his part, has criticized the Pink Line as expensive and superfluous once other planned transit projects are built.
But it can’t be an accident that the final destination of Plante’s proposed new métro line is Montreal North — Coderre’s home turf. She made a point of noting that it now takes commuters an hour and a half to get downtown from this part of the city on public transit. She’s putting Coderre in the position of having to tell the voters who helped sweep him to city hall in 2013 that they don’t need a faster option, no matter how much of a pipe dream a new métro line may be.
Plante’s plan to improve mobility in the short term is to create a new anti-traffic squad to deal with the sources of congestion in real time. A car is illegally parked in a bus lane? Get it towed out of the way! A construction site is left abandoned for days or weeks? Get it completed! And, yes, better co-ordination and management of construction projects is another part of the puzzle for Plante.
She’s right that nothing unites Montrealers like their frustration over gridlock and orange cones. Likewise, there is no issue that divides Montrealers like the ways they use to get around.
The war between drivers and cyclists (and increasingly, pedestrians, too) is tricky territory for a mayoral candidate to navigate. It’s a topic that has the potential to pit Montrealers against each other — and, consequently, against a candidate or a vision they perceive as contrary to their ability to get around. It’s also perhaps the best illustration of the urban-suburban divide that has bedevilled Montreal since it became one island, one city, then was partially dismantled again.
Here again, mobility is Plante’s solution for bridging this chasm. Recognizing the particularities of each borough — that the PlateauMont-Royal is not PierrefondsRoxboro and vice versa — and empowering borough administrations to make decisions based on their own transportation priorities is another issue that sets Plante apart.
“I don’t see it as one fit for all,” she said.
Plante wants to step back from what she criticizes as the “centralization” of authority under Coderre, all the while paving the way for “harmonization” of transportation objectives like, say, ensuring a bike path doesn’t end suddenly the moment it crosses into another borough. So, essentially, she seems to be trying to allay suburbanites’ fears
that she is going to try to “Plateau-ize” Rivière-des-PrairiesPointe-aux-Trembles, as some have suggested. “It’s not going to be easy,” she said. “I want to work this out with them. I don’t want to impose.”
Mobility is also one of the key ways Plante tried to appeal to the business community in this sprint to the finish of the campaign.
Projet Montréal’s policies focus largely on measures to help local businesses, freelance workers and startups. But the concerns of big enterprises were perhaps best voiced at the start of the French mayoral debate, hosted by the Chambre de commerce de Montréal métropolitain. President Michel Leblanc wondered who would be the best mayor to maintain the momentum of the booming economy, a subtle nod to Coderre.
Once again, Plante pointed to mobility as the key to attracting investment and continuing the pace of economic growth. Major companies thinking of setting up shop, whether it’s Amazon or Ubisoft, are looking for a city that is vibrant enough to attract top talent, affordable to live in — and easy to get around. And she believes her plan will help attract them.
“Mobility is good for society and the economy,” she said.
Certainly, mobility is the issue Plante hopes will propel her to the mayor’s office on Nov. 5.
“I want to be the mayor of supporting mobility,” she said.
It can’t be an accident that the final destination of Plante’s proposed new métro line is Montreal North — Coderre’s home turf.