Citizens vs. bureaucrats – Upper Lachine and the MUHC traffic mess

UPDATES:  

Feb. 13, 2013: added new links & stats

Also: Marlo Turner Ritchie of the St-Raymond Residents Association reminds people to keep in mind the following dates:

KEY DATES: 

March 7. Deadline to let the OCPM know that you want to submit a brief or make a presentation. 
March 11. “Show up and speak your mind!” at 7 p.m., St. Raymond Community Centre, 5600 Upper Lachine Rd. between (Old Orchard and Oxford avenues) 

Feb. 11, 2013:

The St-Raymond Residents Association is holding a meeting tonight, from 6-8 p.m. at the St. Raymond’s Community Centre, so people can learn about the OCPM process.

The new English superhospital has me wondering if democracy truly exists for Montrealers, especially those residents of NDG’s St. Raymond neighbourhood (an area of NDG located below the railway tracks) who want the city to revisit its decision to close Upper Lachine Rd. between Decarie Blvd. and Prud’homme to all traffic save pedestrians and cyclists.

NDG city councillor Peter McQueen, who represents Projet Montreal and lives in the St. Raymond neighbourhood, is circulating a petition, both on paper and online, to delay the Upper Lachine Rd. closing and has collected over 1,000 signatures. McQueen recently took city urban planners and politicians on a tour so they could get a sense of the impact the closure will have. Citizens are writing briefs to present at Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) hearings about the MUHC superhospital project and the effects it’s having on the St. Raymond’s neighbourhood. They’re setting up neighbourhood information kiosks to get the word out as well.

Tonight at 6 p.m. the St-Raymonds Residents Association is holding a planning meeting at the St. Raymond’s Community Centre to get ready for the OCPM’s meeting this Feb. 12

What’s  unclear is whether these efforts will have any sway on city bureaucrats.

Some folks just want the closure delayed. But others don’t want the closure to happen at all. This makes me wonder how much real consultation was done with St. Raymond’s citizens and merchants and why the City of Montreal appears to be so inflexible when citizens want a say in decisions that will affect their lives.

Upper Lachine Rd. is sort of the main street of the St. Raymond’s neighbourhood, which until recently was traditionally working class. Its shops include a popular Italian bakery, there are restaurants, banking, a community centre, a senior’s home, a park, a pharmacy, dry cleaners, a church, the list goes on. Closing one end of Upper Lachine Rd. to vehicles and buses is akin to shutting off the heart of the community.  The street will be harder to access on one side. Upper Lachine Rd. has long been a busy commercial street. You don’t usually hear people say they want to turn one end of a commercial street into a dead end. Merchants worry about losing customers (business is already down by 42 per cent, Marlo Turner Ritchie of the St-Raymond Residents Association reported from the Feb. 12 OCPM consultation meeting)  and some residents feel that they’re already cut off from the rest of NDG by railway tracks. Now they’ll also feel psychologically cut off on the eastern side – the side that leads to Westmount and to downtown. Sure there will ways to get downtown and to get to Upper Lachine Rd. but this change affects St. Ray’s drastically.

Sure, there’s an illusion of consultation. The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), along with partners the City of Montreal, Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough, and the Groupe immobiler santé McGill (MUHC’s private partner for the construction of the Glen Site) formed a Good Neighbourly Relations Committee with local residents and merchants. The MUHC also holds information meetings. Supposedly the purpose of this community outreach is to keep people in the loop about what’s happening with the project and in the process “address construction-related issues and questions and find solutions together.”

Question period at monthly CDN-NDG borough council meetings is supposed to be another opportunity for citizens to express concerns and get heard. And right now the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) is holding public consultation meetings about the effects of the megahospital on the St. Raymond’s neighbourhood and neighbourhoods bordering on the new superhospital.

But if you’re a St. Raymond’ s resident who wants to stop the city from closing Upper Lachine Rd., good luck. It seems the MUHC, the CDN-NDG borough and city councillors may not have the power to help you – it all comes down to city bureaucrats.

CDN-NDG borough mayor Lionel Perez says the borough has “little say” when it comes to the Upper Lachine closing Isaac Olson reported in the NDG Free Press.

At both MUHC and OCPM meetings Alain Trudeau of the city’s major projects department has been consistent. He repeats over and over that the decision to close Upper Lachine Rd. was made in 2005 and it’s final.

At a public information meeting the MUHC held last November, NDG community activist Sharon Leslie asked if the decision to close Upper Lachine Rd. could be revisited:

I heard a variety of answers but it still wasn’t clear to me whether that question can be revisited. When the MUHC project was proposed there was considerable support for it because of gaining the hospital and also because it was hoped there would be positive economic spin-offs for the local community. If Upper Lachine Rd. is closed, however, how will people get there easily to facilitate those activities we’re talking about? That’s the concern of people who live in that area and others of us, I’m north of Sherbrooke but I still go there sometimes. It will be much more difficult to get to so I’d like still to understand will there be opportunity for the expertise of citizens to contribute to a really crucial decision that will change the dynamic of NDG forever.

Trudeau replied that keeping Upper Lachine Rd. open would be too dangerous.

I’d like to remind (people) that in 2005 when we had the public consultation on the coming of the new MUHC Glen site, we already discussed in 2005 the closing of Upper Lachine. And if you remember the report of the OCPM, saying the city should work to try to find a solution not to close Upper Lachine. So what we did in 2007 we had an incredible meeting (in St. Raymond). That night we had the transport (Transports Québec) department, the city was there, the MUHC was there…We tried to find a solution avoiding the closure of Upper Lachine. We want to make this intersection work with the addition of new movement coming from de Maisonneuve and also Decarie and you have to understand right now Decarie is going north but it will be going north and south and de Maisonneuve is going west but it will be going east and west and in order to make the intersection work the engineers arrived at the conclusion to close one of the branches of the intersection. The decision was presented further in 2007 and 2009…

When you say closing Upper Lachine we say closing to vehicles. It will be open to pedestrians, open to cyclists. At the same time we built a new connection. Everybody who lives in the neighbourhood knows that connection is open and existing and working. It’s the extension of Crowley. I think people who live St. Raymond still have access coming in and out and I think as we mentioned previously we will have this new space which will become a lieu intéressant in the city and I think the citizens of St. Raymond will be pleased with the solution.

Instead of answering concerns about the closing of Upper Lachine Rd. and the lack of a real opportunity to revisit the city’s decision, it seems Trudeau and city planners and project managers want St. Raymond’s residents to put on happy faces and celebrate a new meeting or park space that will be created from Addington to Decarie Blvd. on Upper Lachine following the road’s closure and demolition of the St. Jacques St. Bridge over the Decarie Expressway. They’re even encouraging residents to come up with ideas for a new space many residents say they do not want.

As one resident posted on Facebook following a January OCPM meeting:

Yesterday was a very hard and disappointing day for me. The theme of the consultation was the traffic plan and the city is hell bent on closing Upper Lachine. They say they have no choice. Pictures were shown of what the space will look like after they close it. The thing that really concerns me is the dead space that will be left from Addington to Decarie on Upper Lachine. The city presented pictures of a “unique” park space that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the city and they want citizens’ ideas for what this space could be. The problem that I keep coming up against is that nobody lives in that space. So no matter what you do to animate the space during the day, what will it be at 10:00 pm at night?

City planners need to adjust their rose-coloured glasses-and their PR.

I don’t know if the OCPM hearings will make any difference. There doesn’t appear to be any effective consultative process happening for area residents, especially when it comes to City of Montreal decisions. How do you call back decisions made by engineers and city planners? How do you call city bureaucrats to account when their decisions may make your life miserable?

If there’s any lesson here, Montreal desperately needs a better way to air and resolve citizen concerns. City council needs to stand up for citizens before St. Ray’s loses its heart.

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Citizens vs. bureaucrats – Upper Lachine and the MUHC traffic mess

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