We need concrete action on Dalle Parc

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Dalle Parc is not a very sexy name.

It translates to mean slab, as in a park on a slab of concrete.

But, oh, what a beautiful concept: a wide, expansive overpass rising above the new Turcot Interchange, exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists, with grass and trees planted on it. It’s essentially a park in the sky, a peaceful bridge over snarled traffic, and a much-needed link between two vibrant, but long separated, neighbourhoods, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and St-Henri.

Dalle Parc, or Dalle Jardin as it is also called, was originally unveiled as part of the Transport Québec’s roughly $4-billion plan to redo the nexus of crumbling ramps and overpasses that make up the Turcot. It was the crowning jewel atop an otherwise humdrum highway project, the only truly human and visionary element it included.

But, alas, it was a mirage. Or a lie. Or false advertising, as many other writers have rightly noted. Somewhere along the way, the bean counters at the Ministère des Transports (MTQ) nixed the plan. It was suddenly too expensive, even though its $40-million price tag constitutes a mere 1 per cent of the Turcot budget. 

It’s a pity that an idea with so much potential was cast aside — but perhaps that’s just typical of the unoriginal thinking over at the MTQ. It’s an outrage, however, that the Dalle Parc was just quietly dropped, as if people would simply forget about the missing piece of the puzzle that finally helped the Turcot gain enough social acceptance to move forward.

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But citizens will not forget. They should not forget. They have been mobilizing to press for Dalle Parc to be built despite the repeated rejections of the MTQ and the government. Petitions are gathering steam and protests have taken place to demand that the promise be kept. A deal is a deal, after all, and the public will not be played for fools.

While this is reason enough to build the park, there are other compelling reasons to make it happen.

Most obviously, the passage would promote active transport and sustainable mobility, two things the city of Montreal and the province of Quebec say they are striving for as they seek to promote public health and fight climate change. They need to turn their nice words into concrete action.

No other decision by the MTQ so clearly illustrates the need to retool the department’s mentality. It evidently needs to be given a mandate to consider cycling and walking as modes of getting around in the 21st century, instead of remaining fixed on cars and trucks. If its mission had been renewed for the new millennium, it could start incorporating room for cars and bikes in more of its projects. Had this happened sooner, perhaps there would have been a cycling highway in the Turcot itself, as many had requested. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

In a city where greenspace is all too scarce, and parkland comes at a premium, creating a park suspended in thin air, making a grassy, leafy corridor out of nothing, would be a stroke of brilliance. Our political leaders talk a lot about design principles and public spaces, they pay lots of lip service to sustainable solutions in this era of global warming. Then when they have one within reach, they simply discard it. What a missed opportunity.

Also, what a lost chance to create something new, memorable and exciting in Montreal. The Dalle Parc, despite its uninspiring moniker, has the potential to be a landmark that would draw residents and tourists alike. It’s an innovative public space along the lines of New York City’s High Line, a long, narrow, elevated garden on a reclaimed freight line that is drawing tourists from around the world. Seoul, South Korea, just spent $33-million creating a similar walkway on an old highway overpass. Now London is building a park linking Camden and King’s Cross on a disused railway line. If Montreal wants to show it’s truly a world-class city, it would build the Dalle Parc and show that greenspace can — and should — be incorporated into new road projects, too.

How can we say $40 million for the park is too expensive when we just spent the same amount of money lighting up the Jacques Cartier Bridge, the marquee project of Montreal’s 375th birthday celebrations? The bridge lights are fanciful and fun, but not at all functional. Dalle Parc would serve a real and useful purpose, as well as stand as a symbol of the Montreal of the future: green, united, sustainable, smart.

What a birthday present Dalle Parc would be for Montrealers. There’s still time, for our elected decision-makers in Quebec and Montreal to push to make this happen. There is too much at stake to leave such a transformative idea in the hands of penny-pinching bureaucrats who may or may not get around to it after the main work on the highway is complete. We need a leader with vision for a sustainable city to champion this idea and turn the dream of Dalle Parc into a reality.

ahanes@postmedia.com

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