Police officers monitor a "flash mob" protest on St. Jacques St.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know my opinion on so-called “flash mobs”. The term is poorly defined (mostly because the groups most associated with the term find it demeaning and refuse to describe themselves that way), but most people seem to have settled on the definition of a bunch of strangers meeting in a public place, doing something strange and then leaving.
That “something strange” is open to debate. In some cases, it’s harmless fun for fun’s sake. In others, it’s a highly-choreographed stunt. I wouldn’t really describe every seemingly spontaneous public performance as a flash mob, but as long as people are having fun I’m not going to complain.
My issue is that, because “flash mob” is popular among youth, various groups with agendas are trying to use it to their advantage. In some cases, the intentions are honorable, like fighting cancer. But it’s also been used to promote beer, or create “viral videos” to drum up interest in some convoluted advertising campaign.
Now, it seems, it’s also being abused for political activism.
In the past month, it seems there’s been a rather large shift in public perception of the Turcot Interchange reconstruction project. All three major Montreal political parties have come out against it for not being green enough. The STM has come out against it. Over 100 individuals and groups have had something to say on the subject. You half expect Jean Charest is going to appear at a hearing and declare his government is outraged.
What gets me is that the Turcot project isn’t particularly evil. Yes, it involves a small number of expropriations and the public consultation process should have been done in the planning stage instead of after. But the core idea of the project – replacing a spaghetti network of aerial highways with a simpler, cheaper and easier-to-maintain ground-based interchange – was actually supposed to improve the city’s image, getting rid of what had almost universally been called an eyesore and a tired relic of 50s-era design, while improving the views of people who live in St. Henri.
The ministry of transport eventually acquiesced and agreed that there should be reserved bus lanes and other measures to encourage public transit, which should have been in the design regardless. But now they’re being asked by the green lefties to keep that eyesore in the sky. They argue that there would be more noise and dust if the cars were at ground level, and that it would cut off St. Henri from NDG (even though St. Henri is already cut off from NDG by a giant cliff).
I originally liked the idea of the Turcot being brought down to ground level when I first heard about it. There’s very little worth protecting directly under the interchange, and the savings on maintenance and improved views seemed to make it a no-brainer. Now I’m conflicted. Neither side has convinced me that their version is better for the environment, the neighbourhood and the city.
A special blog has been set up to keep people informed (separate from the anti-Turcot mobilization blog), and links to a del.icio.us feed of 62 articles about the Turcot project, sorted by language, subject and publication.
This week in St. Henri there was a public consultation meeting for the Ministry of Transport’s Turcot project, which will see the Turcot Interchange (Highways 15, 20 and 720) reconstructed primarily at ground-level (saving money for maintenance, clearing some views and helping easing tensions of driving through an intersection built on decaying stilts).
The project would also see reconstruction of Highway 15/20 through Ville Emard (which would be lowered significantly now that giant ships aren’t passing through the Lachine Canal anymore), and more interestingly Highway 20 through Turcot Yards, which would be moved next to the Falaise St-Jacques along with new train tracks:
This would free up a giant lot to be developed (though nobody’s come up with a good idea of what to do on it).
Though the MTQ has been holding consultation meetings, there are organized protests against the project, most notably from the Village des Tanneries, a small neighbourhood in western St. Henri whose residents are afraid their homes will be expropriated by the government and they’ll be stuck without fair value for them.
Other concerns include:
- That the Falaise St-Jacques, a protected eco-territory, will be made inaccessible by putting a highway and railway next to it. (Of course, it’s already inaccessible, mostly because it sits on a cliff.)
- That residents in neighbouring cities and boroughs (Westmount, NDG, Montreal West, Lachine, Sud-Ouest, Ville-Marie, Verdun, etc.) are not being sufficiently consulted by their municipal and borough governments.
- That not enough is being done to ease traffic on local streets, especially in Montreal West (where a new highway access from Brock Ave. is being planned), Ville Emard’s Cabot neighbourhood (where accesses are being reworked to the 15/20 at de la Verendrye to simplify access to industrial areas for trucks), and NDG (where the MUHC is being built at the old Glen yard with no apparent direct access to the highway, and where the St-Jacques onramp to Highway 720 East is being made more complicated).
But when it comes down to it, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. A giant space will be made available and nobody will have to cross a highway to get there. The highway will have a natural barrier on one side, eliminating the need to make those ugly artificial sound walls on that side. And it’ll be much cheaper and easier to maintain the highest-trafficked highway interchange in Quebec.
It should be an extremely popular project. Unfortunately, citizens are getting short-changed at public meetings. This is entirely the boroughs’ faults. They’re saying it’s the MTQ’s problem and cutting off debate at council meetings, without mentioning that the MTQ is coming to the boroughs to take the pulse of citizens’ issues.
Let’s not let bureaucracy get in the way of progress, shall we? Let’s work together to make this work and see the creation of a new neighbourhood when this is all done… in 2015. Maybe.