Montreal’s Mayor Reclaims a Famous Road From Cars and Trucks

Once a year, members of the professional cycling elite travel to Montreal to battle one another on a notoriously tough circuit defined by multiple ascents up Mount Royal on Camillien-Houde Way. Soon the road will permanently be the domain of cyclists — and pedestrians — of all abilities, as part of an ambitious program by the city’s mayor, Valérie Plante, to get people out of cars.

Under Ms. Plante’s leadership, Montreal is building a reputation for successfully promoting cycling as transportation, not just sport or recreation. This week, she announced that Camillien-Houde Way would no longer be a busy and convenient shortcut for motorists in the city’s downtown.

It’s the most recent of Ms. Plante’s moves to defy motorists angry over measures favoring cyclists and pedestrians, a stance that sets her apart from some other big-city politicians in Canada.

Ms. Plante said in the announcement that the road, which currently resembles a highway lined with concrete and steel barriers, will be permanently closed to cars and trucks. In its place will be a gravel pedestrian path, like the others that snake through Mount Royal Park, and a paved cycling road large enough to accommodate the bike race as well as emergency vehicles. More trees, new landscaping and a new lookout will also be introduced.

“Olmsted, who created the park, was totally against having cars in it,” Ms. Plante told me, referring to Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who also designed Central Park in New York and who died before automobiles came to dominance. “The city used to belong to cars only, and now we’re just kind of rebalancing the whole thing.”

The announcement came days after the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal, which was won on Sunday by Adam Yates, a British rider who is currently ranked eighth by the International Cycling Union. Yates made his winning move on the defining feature of the race circuit: the taxing climb up Camillien-Houde Way. Riders must make the ascent 18 times in the race, which has a total elevation gain of 4,842 meters.

The race and its sibling event in Quebec City are the only two North American events in cycling’s WorldTour, which includes the Tour de France. In 2026, Montreal will host cycling’s world championships on a variation of the Grand Prix circuit including the revised Camillien-Houde Way; the city previously hosted the 1974 championships and the 1976 Olympics.

Since becoming mayor in 2017, Ms. Plante has introduced a flurry of cycling measures, including a 184-kilometer network of bike paths on main arteries, with curbs and medians physically separating cyclists from motor traffic. Last fall, the city announced plans to add 200 kilometers to the so-called express bike network.

On top of that, Ms. Plante’s administration closes 10 streets to motor vehicles each summer.

When the bike network expansion was announced late last year, the city estimated that cycling had risen by about 20 percent in 2021. Even on days with less than ideal weather, cyclists are a notable presence downtown.

Other politicians in Canada have taken a different approach. Vancouver recently removed most of the bike lanes that were added to Stanley Park during the pandemic. Ottawa’s new mayor, Mark Sutcliffe, came to power in part by campaigning against the cost of his main opponent’s plan to improve the capital’s cycling infrastructure. And this summer, Mr. Sutcliffe went on a crusade against the National Capital Commission’s decision to close a parkway along the Rideau Canal to vehicles. In both cases, the actions appeared to be in response to complaints from some drivers.

Of course, Montreal also has a strong motoring culture. The city’s biggest annual event is a Formula 1 race, and large luxury car dealerships line the perpetually busy expressways.

Ms. Plante acknowledged that her cycling and walking plans had not been embraced by all drivers.

“There was a bit of resistance at the beginning because people didn’t know what to expect and they were scared,” she said. “But for me, everything we put forward is about answering the climate change crisis that we are going through. People wanted politicians to take action.”

She added that she believes the projects, coupled with tree plantings, have improved the quality of life in neighborhoods by making streets safer. (The plans to close Camillien-Houde Way, she said, were prompted by the death of an 18-year-old racing cyclist, Clément Ouimet, in a crash with a motorist making an illegal U-turn.) Nevertheless, Ms. Plante acknowledged that some motorists believe bike and pedestrian measures have worsened the city’s traffic congestion.

“I’m asking a lot of them to change their habits, and that’s not always easy,” she said of drivers, adding, “Depending on public transport options, it’s not always possible for them.”

“But the fact is that it’s not the bike lanes that create traffic in Montreal,” she continued. “It’s the fact that the number of cars have doubled in the last five years in the Montreal metropolitan area. People buy more cars — a second, a third, a fourth car. That’s the issue.”

She added: “I know it can be frustrating. People are used to having more space for their cars in the city. But it’s not a bike lane that is responsible for that.”

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A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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