What else is wrong
with Westmount Park /3
A discussion of the 2020-21 Revitalization Plan for Westmount Park
By Wanda Potrykus
“Olmsted had seen rural residents flocking to the city, attracted by the appeal of urban living, but felt that cities did not have enough natural landscapes. In his eyes, access to nature was fundamental to city dwellers’ spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing. He, therefore, planned the park to highlight the poetic charms of the natural scenery. In addition, he saw the park as a place where people from every social class could rub shoulders, contributing to democratic life in the city.”
Public parks are for the use of everyone
Although the quote above was written about Montreal’s Mount Royal Park, which attracts more than 5 million visitors per year, the sentiments it expresses can be applied to many of Westmount’s parks as well, especially Westmount Park, whose popularity increases year by year with visitors coming from all over the island of Montreal, although the exact number of visits and their provenance is not currently recorded.
According to a 2018 Gazette article quoting Louise-Hélène Lefebvre, the City of Montreal’s director of large parks, Mount Royal and sports, Montreal spends more per hectare on its parks than any other major Canadian city, approximately a third more than Toronto and almost three times as much as Calgary. This is driven, in part, because Montreal has less green space per capita than other cities, so its parks and green spaces attract more users and thus cost more to maintain.
“Montreal ranks dead last among major Canadian cities for green space, with just 250 hectares per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with the median of 473 hectares per 100,000 residents for Canada’s large cities as a whole,”
– Marion Scott, Montreal Gazette, November 15, 2018
Westmount parks already attract many visitors
The 2009 Fauteux Report on the park commissioned by the City confirmed Westmount Park had already reached saturation capacity and lack of available adjacent land prevents Westmount from ameliorating that situation. Judging from the visible absence of ongoing park maintenance, it’s also possible Westmount is not spending the requisite monies needed for additional park upkeep since in recent years many residents feel a substantial part of what’s visibly wrong with the park is the lack of maintenance of the land and its structures (the greenhouses, the comfort station, the gazebo, the paths, etc.).
The 2009 Fauteux Report on the park commissioned by the City confirmed Westmount Park had already reached saturation capacity and lack of available adjacent land prevents Westmount from ameliorating that situation.
Westmount’s expenditure for park maintenance, however, is part of the City’s public works budget and is not broken out separately, so it’s hard for the average resident to discover how much of the budget is being used for park maintenance and improvements.
Montreal, on the other hand, opted not to insist on more publicly accessible green space and parkland being added to the downtown core (specifically in the Westmount-adjacent Children’s Square development at Atwater and René Lévesque, as well as in neighbouring new residential developments) when it had the chance to do so in recent years, to the detriment of its residents.
The result being even though Westmount has significantly higher green space per capita as regards its number of residents versus the amount of acreage devoted to its parklands (10% of Westmount is green space) many Westmount parks, quite understandably, are becoming a destination of choice for a significant number of Montreal island residents and this is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, pandemic or not.
A walk in the park
Stantec, the consultant firm hired by the City to propose a ‘Revitalization’ plan for Westmount Park, entitled their November 18, 2020 proposal A Walk in the Park. In some ways, the title couldn’t have been more apt, as it only takes a walk through the park to realize how much it has deteriorated in recent years.
‘… many Westmount parks… are becoming a destination of choice for a significant number of Montreal island residents and this is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, pandemic or not.’
However, their proposed solutions are not meeting with unmitigated approval from residents. Time and space preclude an in-depth discussion of all the elements of their proposal here. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are a compilation of my and several other residents’ opinions but understandably are not exhaustive. Readers are encouraged to learn more about the proposed plan and comment on the City’s website. Detailed information can be found here.
About that straighter walking path from Melville to de Maisonneuve
I must admit to being one of those Westmount residents that objects strongly to the Stantec plan to reintroduce a modified version of the previously defunct De Maisonneuve (formerly Western) Avenue that will, once again, carve the park up into two pieces, even without the high bank or visual barrier their plan is also proposing to add to their vision of a much wider combination cycle and pedestrian path.
Visually it will certainly be distressing. Plus it will end up being an invite to accommodating an increasing number of motorized vehicles – electric bikes, hoverboards, even motorized scooters and yes, smallish motorbikes (125 ccs) that are even now occasionally seen on this path. If this plan goes through there will once again be a de facto roadway through our central park. New York is busy getting rid of its throughways and as we already live in a city mostly carved up into grid-like pavement and road sections, is that why people clamour for more?
To me, the current green swathe of Westmount Park is a welcome relief to the eyes and the mind. Why do some pedestrians object to a few more minutes of that? Is their time so valuable that one or two extra minutes being exposed to greenery really too hard to tolerate?
‘… the current green swathe of Westmount Park is a welcome relief to the eyes and the mind. Why do some pedestrians object to a few more minutes of that?’
So, please let’s not compound the original error made by constructing a bike path straight through the park with its resultant use as a speedway, rather than designing it from the get-go as a more meandering traffic calming pathway through the park. Plus, accept it’s much healthier, mental-wise, for us all to walk, and possibly cycle, on more curved or meandering paths.
Safety, not speed, first!
“The QE clinic gets approximately 10 injuries a summer from these bike-pedestrian intersections – 40% children.”
– Dr. Mark Roper, January 15, 2021
In the comments section on the City website devoted to the proposed revitalization plan, Dr. Mark Roper, a local GP whose McGill family medicine offices are in the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex, advises us that the existing cyclist/pedestrian intersections in the park result in at least ten injuries per summer – 40% of which involve children. And these are only the ones who end up at his clinic. I have witnessed and helped several seniors as well as children who have been involved in accidents along this path and on the pedestrian crossings that intersect it, who preferred to go home rather than to the hospital or clinic and I am sure I am not alone in observing this.
Plus this is not counting those cycle/car/pedestrian collisions occurring at the problematic junction of Lansdowne/De Maisonneuve and the entrance to the cycle path in front of Westmount Park Church. The cyclists are moving too fast, don’t always stop at the red light, and senior and young people can’t always get out of the way in time. Plus if the recently proposed change to parking on Lansdowne takes place, more cars/trucks will be making the left turn into the turn-around here, putting even more cyclists, children, pedestrians and dogs at risk.
Protect your brain – walk on curved paths – ditch the phone
Sure there will be always those that want a quick short-cut through the park en route to somewhere else. However, that is not the point of a park and the City should not be pandering to those who prefer to walk in a straight line to save a few steps and even fewer minutes, and who are clamouring for a quicker path through the park so they can spend as little time in it as possible.
Moreover, curved pathways are good for challenging the brain and there are plenty of grid-like streets around the city to walk on to accommodate anyone’s wish for straighter paths. Be thankful there are some meandering ones like the existing ones through the park. Your brain will appreciate it even if your mind doesn’t.
“Gait performance under a straight-path condition is considered a low-challenge activity, whereas curved-path walking can provide meaningful information about the ability to walk in daily life, including adaptation of walking patterns to negotiate obstacles, change directions, or plan a path. Because decline in executive function is an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and a proven risk factor for falls…”
– Berg WP, Alessio HM, Mills EM et al. Circumstances and consequences of falls in independent community-dwelling older adults. Age Ageing1997; 26:261–268 agsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1111/jgs.13973
Of course, I do understand the current attractiveness of the cycle path to pedestrians. It’s newer, has less uneven, muddy and slippery places and it is straight, just great for running, or walking with your eyes and attention on your phone or your walking companion, and not on your surroundings. It provides time to catch up on messages and conversations.
‘… the City should not be pandering to those who prefer to walk in a straight line to save a few steps and even fewer minutes, and who are clamouring for a quicker path through the park so they can spend as little time in it as possible.’
In the winter it is cleared of snow, so it seems a lot safer as fewer cyclists are using it although the numbers of winter cyclists, especially in the 2020-21 winter season with its more clement weather conditions, are increasing. But don’t try and walk the cycle path at rush hour, either a.m. or p.m., or you might well get mown down or at the very least yelled at (or worse). Joggers appreciate it for the same reason… speed. However, better maintenance of existing pathways could help make them more palatable.
The proposed new straighter pedestrian path is going to be very crowded
What most residents haven’t realized yet is that the current Stantec plan calls for the elimination of a couple of heavily used east-west alternative pedestrian pathways in the park. This includes the one skirting the lagoon. It will disappear due to the naturalization of the waterway and the ongoing issue of runoff from the paths polluting the water. Plus the existing east-west path from Lansdowne to Melville north of the Lansdowne dog run will also disappear.
“So what,” you might respond, “we’ll have the new pedestrian path”.
But let’s think about this for a moment. Instead of a choice of three pathways through the park at the Lansdowne entrance, there will only be two – one angled northwards towards the comfort station, the children’s playground and the library, and the new one straight east to Melville located right next to the bike path. Two meandering east-west pathways will be disappearing.
‘What most residents haven’t realized yet is that the current Stantec plan calls for the elimination of a couple of heavily used east-west alternative pedestrian pathways in the park.’
Thus everyone, even if they’d rather walk on the existing far more scenically pleasant paths east (or west) through the park, whether they want to or not, will be forced onto the straighter and therefore much busier path because the other two are being eliminated.
Beware of what you wish for
Thus I am projecting that instead of saving a minuscule amount of time and a few steps, the would-be transiting pedestrian and/or jogger will be slowed down considerably as they will have to navigate a variety of obstacles such as parents with strollers, toddlers on trikes and scooters, slow-poke seniors, dog walkers (sometimes with multiple dogs on leashes), as well as couples and groups, who currently already refuse to acknowledge or allow easy passage of those trying to pass them on the existing paths through the park.
‘… everyone… whether they want to or not, will be forced onto the straighter and therefore much busier path because the other two are being eliminated.’
The permutations are endless, the blockages unavoidable, and spill over onto the busy neighbouring cycle path inevitable. I doubt much time will be saved, the cost to create the path and re-landscape the entire area will be considerable and the would-be ‘fast-transiters’ will be thwarted and complaining yet again.
From a visual and personal perspective, I’d much rather be detoured into the park with its ever-changing vistas, than forced to walk on a new pathway squished between the swiftly moving transport machines on the busy cycle path and the hard iron railings delineating the edges of the soccer fields, with a steep bank blocking the view of the park green space north of the cycle path.
Visually it will be somewhat similar to walking on a repurposed railway line with nowhere to escape but up the steep embankment. Not too practical or inviting. Plus run-off from the high bank could create pools and slippery areas on both paths once again, so it’s not a real solution, is it?
About those ‘at risk’ trees
Westmount’s current Commissioner of Parks, Councillor Cynthia Lulham, is telling residents, “No trees will be cut down or sacrificed for the proposed new pedestrian pathway.” This seems hard to fathom as some residents have counted +/-20 trees in the region of the existing cycle path that could conceivably be at risk if this new combination cycle-pedestrian path goes ahead. To claim no existing trees will be affected seems magical thinking at best and outright disinformation at worst. Or are we just not getting the complete picture?
Frankly, the 2020-21 Stantec Westmount Park revitalization plan needs a major re-think.
Got your own opinion?
Should you have your own opinions as to what’s wrong or right about Westmount Park, you can comment on the City website and/or below this article, as well as by signing and/or commenting on the online NatureScene: Support Nature in Westmount Park Now petition.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WestmountMag.ca or its publishers.
Wanda Potrykus is a writer, editor, translator and poet. A graduate of McGill, she has spent most of her career in marketing communications, PR, event and media relations specializing in international aviation, telecommunications, education and the marketing of the arts.