MONTREAL -- How to sum up the mood on Notre-Dame St. on Thursday? Some merchants were confused, some frustrated—the city has just eliminated eastbound traffic on the street and all parking for several blocks, and there was a mixed reaction.

“With the shutting down of all this section that's going to be a dead end for us,” said Richard Bassila of the Nouveau Systeme Restaurant.

A shopper said it was impossible to find parking and expressed anger at Mayor Valerie Plante for the pedestrianization and bike lanes. 

“This doesn't make sense!” the shopper said. “It's as if there's 3,000 bikes—there's nothing. Next election, she's gone.”

But the city says its numbers show foot traffic is way up on the streets it’s picked as pedestrian corridors during COVID-19, including Mont-Royal and Wellington streets.

They say the streets that went car-free earlier this summer have proved the model is a net benefit for merchants, at least in this unusual season. 

“At the beginning everybody was scared, had some questions and now... you will work hard to find some people who are against [within] the merchants,” said Luc Rabouin, a city councillor for Plateau Mont-Royal. 

“The numbers are there, the clients are there, so it’s good for business.” 

The municipal opposition, however, says he doesn’t know if that’s been proven. The number of people on the street doesn’t show that it’s benefiting businesses, he says.

Saint-Laurent city councillor Francesco Miele says he doesn’t want to know “whether there’s more people on the road, I'm asking to know if there’s more customers, clients that are actually purchasing.”

Bassila, on Notre-Dame, said his sales dropped “almost 22 per cent” the night before. He claimed half of his customers called to say they couldn’t find a parking spot and were going elsewhere.

The city does admit the pedestrianization changes have been done quickly, without much consultation. It says it based the decision on positive results from similar efforts in other cities like Calgary and Paris. 

It said it had to pivot fast in the pandemic to try to save local businesses—the question for those businesses remains, however, whether this will help or hurt.