May­oral hopes rid­ing on bet­ter trans­porta­tion

Montreal Gazette - - CITY - AL­LI­SON HANES

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.

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