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St-Pierre residents look to experts for solutions

by Étienne Lajoie November 14, 2017
St-Pierre residents look to experts for solutions

Revitalisation St-Pierre organizes panel to talk about the issue of sustainable mobility

One by one, the residents of St-Pierre—a small enclave neighbourhood within the Lachine borough—raised their hands when David Marshall told them it was time for a question period.

The three sustainable mobility experts, invited by Marshall and his colleague Isaac Boulou for a panel, listened to the residents whose demands have fallen onto deaf ears over the past few years.

The first question, asked by a woman who lives in the neighbourhood, was representative of what residents have been wondering for years: “Will someone ever listen to us?”

Marshall is the director of Revitalisation St-Pierre, an organization made up of St-Pierre residents and urban planners—like Marshall—whose goal is to revitalize the neighbourhood.

On Nov. 9, a few residents and community workers from Lachine gathered in a small room on the second floor of the St-Pierre community centre for the third of a series of panels organized by Revitalisation St-Pierre to discuss the future of the village-like area.

Present to give their thoughts on St-Pierre were transport economist Zvi Leve, Montreal health public department member and doctor Patrick Morency, and Concordia professor of environmental engineering Maria Elektorowicz.

The three panelists had very different perspectives on the issue of neighborhood revitalization. Each tried to help residents make sense of the future of their 5,400-person neighbourhood. St-Pierre was its own town until 1999, when it joined the then city of Lachine.

In recent years, a lot of cars and trucks have begun to drive through the neighbourhood along its main street. St-Jacques Street—which runs from east to west through the neighborhood—has become a bypass route to get onto the new Highway 136 that runs parallel to Highway 20 East.

“Instead of respecting St-Jacques Street as a commercial hub, it has become a highway,” Marshall said. According to Morency, sustainable mobility means giving community space back to the people.

“We shouldn’t subordinate the mobility and security of people to facilitate the flow of large trucks,” Morency said during the panel, earning applause from attendees.

The doctor was amazed by the lack of security for children attending Martin-Bélanger Elementary School—located next to the neighbourhood’s entrance—as they regularly have to cross St-Jacques.

St-Pierre residents already witnessed tragedy first-hand this summer when an 80-year-old woman was hit and killed by a truck as she tried to cross the St-Pierre and Notre-Dame intersection, next to the St-Pierre interchange, according to the Journal de Montreal. She was caught in the middle of the intersection because the time allotted to pedestrians to cross wasn’t long enough.

In an email to The Concordian, Montreal Port Authority director of communications Mélanie Nadeau wrote that the port has seen a 10 per cent increase in traffic from 2015 to 2016. Approximately 55 per cent of the traffic entering or exiting the port is by truck, according to Nadeau.

This is especially worrisome for St-Pierre, because 60 per cent of trucks that drive through the neighborhood are heading for or coming from St-Laurent, Pointe-Claire or Lachine.

“The main street of a neighbourhood can’t become a trucking route,” said Lachine mayor-elect Maja Vodanovic in June. Vodanovic was previously the borough councillor representing St-Pierre.

Elektorowicz said the borough has two main advantages: its proximity to the Lachine Canal and to Concordia’s Loyola campus, which is less than three kilometres away from the neighbourhood’s centre.

While the neighbourhood might be close to the canal, it is increasingly difficult for residents to reach it because they have to cross the St-Pierre and Notre-Dame intersection where the pedestrian was killed this summer.

In June, Marshall said his organization had been trying to get a sidewalk installed on the eastern part of the intersection for the last six years. This would allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross more safely. Plans to build the sidewalk were completed in 2015, but the sidewalk is still not built.

Just prior to the plans being accepted by the borough, Marshall said a young cyclist was killed while crossing the intersection.

Again in May 2016, a 58-year-old cyclist was hit by a car but survived, La Presse reported.

At a borough council meeting in August, Lachine councillors voted in favour of asking the Ministère des Transports to tear down and rebuild the St-Pierre interchange, which is one of four barriers that make the neighbourhood an enclave.

“When we rebuild the interchange, we really have to make sure there’s a passage for pedestrians and cyclists to make the link with the Lachine Canal,” Leve said.

Morency—who first visited the neighborhood 10 years ago—said politicians shouldn’t wait for the interchange to be rebuilt before securing the intersection for pedestrians and cyclists.

Morency advocates for a reallocation of resources to invest in cycling paths in St-Pierre. “We’ve got to invest in projects that will improve public security instead of deteriorating it,” he explained.

The lack of security and increase in traffic has taken a toll on residents and business owners. For example, cars cannot park on St-Jacques Street, so it is hard for people to reach businesses, Vodanovic explained. In June, the neighborhood’s only bank, a Desjardins on St-Jacques, decided to close up shop. At the time, the self-described “cooperative financial group” claimed that only 5,000 transactions were made every month, and it needed between 10,000 and 12,000 to turn a profit.

There are no easy solutions in St-Pierre. Last June, Marshall told The Concordian that 10 per cent of the population moves away from the neighborhood every year.

“On a population of 5,400 people, that means you have got 500 to 600 people coming and going every year,” he said.

“That also means that a student starting in kindergarten here, by the time they’re in grade five or six, nearly half the class is different. For children, that poses all sorts of difficulties, social development-wise, in terms of their friendships [and] social engagement,” Marshall explained.

Leve said politicians and organizers—like Marshall—should look for solutions within the neighbourhood itself.

Julie Pascale-Provost, a CEGEP teacher and the newest borough councillor representing St-Pierre for Projet Montréal, was one of the last attendees to question the panelists.

“Before Turcot and the St-Pierre interchange, where do we start?”

Photo by Kirubel Mehari

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