From the category archives:

My Montreal

So, I’m of two minds here about Heather Backman being let go from the CHOM morning show.

On the one hand: Not very classy of Bell Media to lay her off right after the 5-year anniversary party. I know there’s never a good timing for a layoff, but this was especially poorly timed, IMHO.

On the other hand — personal opinion here — Heather B. was a terrible morning host. I like and respect Terry DiMonte most of the time. He’s a pro. But Heather as his sidekick was just cringe-worthy. Most of the time she played into this stereotype of being a vapid airhead, which — if it was an act, was demeaning to all talented female broadcasters everywhere — and if it wasn’t an act, YEESH. Half the time, even Terry seemed to be trying to bite his tongue to avoid telling her off for some moronic comment or another. I have no idea how she got to the 5-year mark on the show in the first place. I had predicted she wouldn’t last 5 weeks. And CHOM made it worse by painting her as a ditzy idiot in station promos, an image she played into. Whether they thought that their demographic wanted to hear this (ew) or whether they’re really that tone deaf, I am not sure. But it was painful to listen to either way.

There are so many talented women in the radio biz, and most of them don’t get the opportunities they deserve. I’d like to see a female morning show co-host or even (wake up, Bell, it’s 2017) host in the future. But Heather just wasn’t it.

Best wishes to you, Heather. I hope it all works out for you. But I can’t say I’m too upset in terms of the impact this will have on my morning sanity. A little less yelling at my radio will be good for me.

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My street in the Plateau Mont-Royal is being dug up again.

It’s the fifth time that this particular intersection has been dug up in the past three years. Or maybe it’s the sixth. In all honesty, I’ve lost count. The area has been under construction so constantly since I moved there in 2011 that I’ve taken it as the default for the area. Residents have gotten fed up, with endless road closures, random power and water shutoffs with no warning, and constant noise and dust from the ongoing construction. With all this construction, not once have I or other residents ever received any kind of notice.

Local businesses have closed in droves. My neighbourhood is a shell of its former self. Each time the road is filled back in and the construction crews remove the barriers and orange cones and clear out, I don’t even dare to hope that it’s really, truly, over. By now, I know better.

This time, it’s the installation of traffic lights — ostensibly a precursor to turning my street into a “velorue” — a pilot project that even the Projet Montreal borough government who invented the idea doesn’t seem quite clear on. (Despite being pressed repeatedly on the concept by the media and local residents, all Luc Ferrandez and his councilors will say on the subject is that it will be some sort of cycling paradise, but they remain stubbornly unable to provide any practical details on how exactly they will work. It’s like the Donald Trump version of city planning: We don’t know what it is, but it will be “good, great, the greatest, uuuuuuge.” I’m a cyclist and I am generally in favour of pro-cycling infrastructure projects, but this idea just seems so ill-conceived and poorly thought out that I can’t bring myself to get on board. But I digress.)

Anyway, back to the traffic lights. This begs the question of why they couldn’t installed the last time the road was dug up to widen the sidewalks. Or the time before that, to fix the broken water main. Or the time before that, to replace the pipes. Or the time before that, to tear down an abandoned building and put up condos. Or the time before that, to … well, who even remembers anymore? And so on, and so forth.

Sign on Rue Rachel, July 2014, reading "Soon the businesses will be closed due to construction that has lasted more than a month."

So this morning, I was leaving for work, trying to navigate around the construction as usual. Today was worse than usual, since even the pedestrian access was cut off. The construction worker out front of my apartment suggested that I ‘detour’ completely in the opposite direction of where I was going — doubling my 10-minute walk to a 20-minute walk.

The conversation went something like this (paraphrased and loosely translated from French):

Me: “Can I get through?”
Him: “By car?”
Me: “No, on foot.”
Him: “No, it’s blocked off. You will need to go around.”
Me: “Do you know when this will be done?”
Him: “We’re installing traffic lights. There weren’t any here before.”
Me: “Yes, I know. Any idea why they couldn’t have been installed the last time the intersection was dug up? This is the fifth or sixth time in the past three years, at least.”
Him: “We don’t have any visibility into those other projects. We only deal with traffic lights. There’s no coordination between departments, madame.”
Me: “Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?”

And that, in a nutshell, sums up everything that’s wrong with the way we do construction in Montreal. The city doesn’t talk to the borough. The borough doesn’t talk to the city. The water department doesn’t talk to the electrical department, which doesn’t talk to the road paving department, which doesn’t talk to the pothole fixing department, which doesn’t talk to the traffic light department.

In one particularly egregious example, a city beautification crew came through and planted flowers along the median in the morning, only to have all their work dug up by another city crew in preparation for roadwork that very same afternoon. I’m not making this up. I wish I were.

Montreal has become so known for its endless construction, in fact, that Josh Freed has (semi-jokingly) proposed that we make the orange cone the official city symbol. At least one retailer, Main and Local, has taken him up on the idea.

Actual map of construction projects on the island of Montreal

The usual excuses all take the same form: Montreal is an old city with ageing infrastructure in urgent need of repair. Years of neglect have caused us to fall behind on these repairs, and we have to spend a lot of money making up for it. And yet, much older cities seem to manage just fine with far fewer construction nightmares. I’m sure most of Europe would laugh at the idea that Montreal is an “old” city. And yet, they manage to maintain and repair their centuries-old infrastructure with a minimum of headaches.

No, the problem isn’t one of age, it’s one of management. Namely, those four little words: “It’s not my job.”

Look, with a little bit of planning, we could blitz construction projects each year. Start one tenth the number of projects at a time, put crews on them to run them efficiently, manage the power and water and bike lanes and traffic lights and paving all together, finish them up within a couple of weeks, and move on to the next. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to launch hundreds of construction sites simultaneously, and close every single autoroute, road, bridge, sidewalk and intersection at the same time and allow those projects to drag on for months and years.

No other city in the world does construction this way. They all think we’re insane.

Conspiracy theories abound as to why it happens this way in Montreal. The construction industry is controlled at least in part by organized crime. The construction companies are colluding. The politicians are taking kickbacks. And so on, and so forth. Most of those things are true, at least to some degree — just read the transcripts of the Charbonneau Commission if you’re not convinced. And there’s no easy way to stamp that out overnight.

But I’m also a proponent of the theory that you should never attribute to malice what can be chalked up to mere incompetence. And let’s face it: The level of incompetence in how construction is planned in this city is staggering.

Mayor Denis Coderre doesn’t seem too inclined to do anything about it, either. He flits around the city taking selfies and planning big vanity projects for Montreal’s 375th anniversary. Meanwhile, the official opposition Projet Montreal seems more concerned with punishing car owners and local businesses by closing more roads, adding more construction projects, and making it harder for anyone to live or work or visit the city — and the complains when businesses move out to suburban multiplexes like Dix-30.

And so, the orange cones aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. This problem affects all of us.

But when it comes to fixing it? “It’s not my job.”

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Montreal proposes new laws for cycling

09.21.2015

I’ve long held that the highway code is outdated in that it prioritizes the safety of drivers over the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. Now, some lawmakers are finally catching on. This week, the City of Montreal released a series of recommendations to the provincial transport ministry on how we can make our laws better [...]

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Has Bixi oversold its memberships?

05.06.2015

Bixi’s back with a vengeance this season. Last fall, the city of Montreal took over management of the financially-burdened company and announced that it had adopted a plan to fund and keep the beloved bikeshare service going for at least 5 years. This season’s launch was accompanied by celebrity bike designs, launch parties, and even [...]

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Excuse Watch: Luc Ferrandez on Plateau Snow Removal

01.28.2015

Luc Ferrandez, the borough mayor of Plateau Mont-Royal, is short on action and long on excuses when it comes to snow removal this winter. Here’s a summary of some of the best ones he’s come up with so far: January 12: We’re not trying to save money; it’s just that too many blue-collar workers called [...]

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Quebec schoolboard elections: Why you should care

09.22.2014

Folks, this is important: Quebec is having school board elections in November, and for the first time, the position of Chair is directly electable by the population. My wonderful aunt, Suanne Stein Day, is running for re-election as LBPSB Chair. It’s because she’s wonderful, and not just because she’s family, that I’d urge you to [...]

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Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques goes Quebec Solidaire

04.08.2014

There will almost certainly be a recount in my home riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, won by QS’s Manon Massé by a margin of only 91 votes over Liberal Anna Klisko. Obviously, I would have preferred a Liberal victory over a Quebec Solidaire one here. The QS is staunchly pro-sovereignty, militantly anti-English, and has pie-in-sky ideas about [...]

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Montreal needs a reality check on customer service

11.25.2013

We Montrealers have a love-hate relationship with our service industry. On the one hand, we bitch and moan about surly store clerks and wait staff. On the other hand, we have the unfortunate habit of viewing it as a point of pride. We’re not like those Americans who greet the public with overenthusiastic fakery, we boast. We’re better than that. Our service sector may be grumpy and indifferent, but câlisse!, at least it’s honest.

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How do you solve a problem like Bixi?

10.09.2013

Montreal’s bike-sharing system is used by thousands of people, myself included, to get around. Montreal is a city where the ubiquitous orange cone is practically a symbol, with road closures and sinkholes and traffic nightmares and transit service outages the norm as opposed to the exception. In this context, Bixi is often the least stressful [...]

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Resign, resign, they shall resign

11.04.2012

Quebec Solidaire co-spokesperson (and general pain in the ass) Amir Khadir has stepped down from his party’s co-leadership role, though he will remain MNA for his riding of Mercier. I’ve narrowly escaped being represented by him by about half a block — though my local Pequiste MNA on this side of the street is not [...]

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