I spent a little bit of time in Montreal over the holidays. I was struck by several huge differences between Montreal’s treatment of downtown streets vs Ottawa’s.
In the following photos, notice that the traffic signal lights are pushed off to the side of the road. Their cases and mounting brackets are dark coloured, and very unobtrusive. They are mounted low, not high in the sky. The pedestrian signals, which are relatively rare in downtown Montreal compared to Ottawa, were mounted snugly close to the traffic signals.
The discreet treatment of traffic signals means that the downtown streets are not dominated or given solely over to handling motorists. Infrastructure there is unobtrusive. Motorists actually have to pay attention to their environment and are not treated like incapable morons or automatons that need a dozen signals hung out over the street, repeated at least three times per intersection, and encased in gaudy yellow cautionary frames that scream for attention.
Here is downtown Ottawa’s Bank Street. It was recently reconstructed at great expense, and the primary impression looking down the street is the red, amber, green lights suspended on giant arms and bracketed with yellow plastic shields.
Even though it was eight am on a semi-holiday Wedn morning, turning motorists discouraged me from slowing down (in a cross walk, no less) enough to take the following picture along Slater. It is fuzzy … so substitute your favorite image of a downtown Ottawa street: it won’t look much different.
To summarize the key differences:
Montreal: discrete traffic signals; Ottawa: dominated by traffic signals
Montreal: medium height street lighting that is over the sidewalks; Ottawa: high height street lighting that focuses on the street and ignores the sidewalks. Our new “mainstreet” lighting policies now encourage pedestrian scale lighting in addition to the high overhead stuff. Bank St is thus far the only “medium height” lit street, and even then, there is additional high lighting at intersections and ALL the lights are focussed on the street.
At some intersections in Montreal, the ped sidewalks continue right over the intersecting streets with no curb, no step, no break, no interruption to pedestrians. In Ottawa, peds always must give way to the motorists’ surfaces for even the most minor side roads, and increasingly for service entrances to parking garages.
In Montreal, wiring is buried. In Ottawa, our city-owned utility seems to love the artistic impression stringing wires on dead tree trunks. Privately owned competing utilities, eg, gas lines, must of course be buried.
In Ottawa, sidewalks can be separated from the street by large steel fences. A mid-block location is shown above; in other cases these fences are right by intersections. No jay-walking here! I did not see any fences keeping peds coralled in Montreal.
And which city had the most vibrant sidewalk life? Montreal caters to it; Ottawa focuses entirely on getting cars and commuters in and out as fast as possible.
The contrast speaks volumes.