Located in the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, Prince Arthur Street is known to Montrealers for its stretch of road, open year-round to pedestrian-only traffic. This segment is bordered by the two major commercial thoroughfares of Saint Laurent Boulevard and Saint-Denis Street, though the latter is situated beyond Square St-Louis, a small picturesque park. The glory of this once widely recognized strip continues to fade however, as its prime location acts more like an unobstructed transportation corridor for pedestrians and cyclists to reach the ever popular shops, restaurants, bars and clubs lying beyond this road.
Montreal is known for converting certain stretches of road into pedestrian-only spaces during the summer months, particularly on Sainte-Catherine Street near Quartier des Spectacles in the entertainment district, and in the Gay Village. These seasonal pedestrian malls function successfully, as people benefit from multiple outdoor terraces of adjoining cafes and restaurants, the variety of commercial establishments around them, and the convenience of a multitude of transportation options, including communal bike shares, metro stations, bus stops, and several parking lots. Though Prince Arthur shares many of these qualities, the street’s decline brings into question the quality of its pedestrian public space as well as certain external factors.
The street has a rich history. It was once the center of the Jewish garment worker’s labour movement until the process of gentrification transformed the area in the mid-1970s, replacing eclectic shops with many Greek restaurants, and a few other unique cuisines. Eventually, the suburbanites that came to enjoy this ethnic food no longer had to travel far, as franchises began opening up in their own neighbourhoods, with the benefit of attached parking lots. Furthermore, the rise in property taxes increasingly hindered local businesses as people also began to lose interest in the repetitious menus and cuisine. In 2012, an article with the Montreal Gazette cited Josephine Mazurek’s restaurant, noting the decline in business along the strip. Today, like several others, her Polish restaurant Mazurka is gone.
Despite its prime location, greater problems remain, particularly the matter of getting people refocused and reacquainted with the street. During the winter months, Prince Arthur transforms into a wind tunnel due to its sparse, empty landscape. During the summer, most establishments have set up terraces on the wide sidewalks, but many buildings remain empty with "for rent" signs displayed in their vacant windows.
A comparable street is located further north on Avenue Duluth. Though accessible to cars and with parking available on the street, its walkability is notable. The extra wide sidewalks are complete with street furniture in the form of benches, planters and trees, as well as lighting and garbage bins, while still providing easy access to a variety of restaurants. Though Prince Arthur has lamp posts, trees and recycling bins, the general lack of seating and the vast expanse of space sends the message of a transportation corridor rather than a place to stay.
As a result of the street’s poor urban design, pedestrians often do not take the time to enjoy the space. Though street performers can be found at different ends of the street, and the terraces may fill up with people, there still lacks a certain versatility in the street's use of space.
With a dwindling of businesses on the strip, and the lack of appeal to pedestrians that it is meant to cater to, what can Prince Arthur Street do to improve its state? Have streets in your city faced the same problem? If so, how was it resolved?
Credits: Images by Caitlin Dixon. Data linked to sources.