The city of Montreal is making considerable changes to Ste. Catherine St.

Valerie Plante's administration is going to limit car traffic to one lane for a seven-block stretch of the street, between Mansfield St. and Bleury St.

The right hand lane would be reserved for deliveries, and 144 parking spots along that section will also be eliminated.

City Hall interim opposition leader Lionel Perez criticized the parking portion of the plan, noting that the 144 spots are just for one phase of the Ste. Catherine St. renovations. 

"If we do the same thing from Mansfield all the way to Atwater, the total adds up to 484 parking spots we're going to eliminate," he said. "I don't think they want to go ahead with two different Ste. Catherines, one for the west and one for the extreme west, so are they going to remove 484 parking spots? If so, that's basically saying they want to discourage people who only want to come by car."

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante denied wanting to discourage car users from heading downtown, promising there will be parking in private lots for long-term stays and meter parking on side streets for shorter stops. 

"I wouldn't say leave your car behind, but I would want to tell them there's many options," she said. "You can take the subway, you can take the bus, in a few years we'll have the REM. Let's say you want to use your car for any kind of reason, there will be a place for you to park."

The plan does not include a bicycle lane, although cyclists will be encouraged to use the street.

Trees will be planted every nine metres, and the sidewalks will be greatly enlarged to 5.7 metres wide.

The change will take place after underground infrastructure work, which is already underway, is completed.

"We have a fantastic opportunity to do something great with Ste. Catherine, to make it shine again like it was before, to make sure people who come to Ste. Catherine can come for shopping but also just for the experience," said Plante. "We've seen that around the world, that people are looking for that kind of experience when they visit a city."

Plante didn't rule out a future that would have the roadway turned into a pedestrian-only avenue. 

"Who knows, maybe in five, 10, 20 years, hopefully before that, we as a society will decide as a society will decide we want to close it and make it pedestrians all year long," she said. 

Perez said he has "serious reservations" about the economic effects the plan could have on downtown. 

"The economic reality of Ste. Catherine and its merchants today, with the tremendous competition of e-commerce, (Brossard lifestyle centre) DIX30 in the South Shore, we have to create that signature element," he said. "We need that defining, bold statement that will entice people to want to come downtown to go shopping. We have nothing that's presented here that shows that experience."

As outlined in Projet Montreal's platform, the city is also expected to set out a timeline to turn McGill College Ave. into a public square, although that will have to wait at least four years: the REM is scheduled to begin excavation work on the east side of the street in the fall, and work to change the street between McGill University and Place Ville Marie will begin in 2022.

Montreal is also planning changes to Phillips Square, which is already being renovated, Dorchester Square, which was supposed to be renovated in 2016 but has been much delayed and Saint James Square.

Business owners who have already put up with a lot of construction are not pleased with the change of plans from what was first announced.

Many said it was already difficult enough for customers to access the area and said business over the winter was half of what it was in previous years.

Fadi Assaleh said that many people drive downtown to shop, and if they can't find a place to park they'll just stay in the suburbs.

"People come to spend their weekends downtown, to spend the day downtown, on a sunny day coming from out of town. The private parking will be more expensive and it will be full as well so what are you going [to do] to accommodate these people? They said they would find other parking. Where? On the roofs?" said Assaleh.

The city is planning to install 139 electronic signs directing drivers to parking locations.

Sixty companies along Ste. Catherine St. have closed in the past five years.

Plante said the city is doing what it can to ease the burden on businesses that construction has created. 

"We're dedicated to making sure we don't open and close and open and close the streets because that's very painful and hard for business owners," she said. "We're dedicated to doing it as fast as we can, but at the same time, it's a very complex site. There's a lot going on under Ste. Catherine St., I can tell you."

Truck drivers, meanwhile, are excited about having a dedicated lane for themselves. Jacques Desjardins said he frequently has to double-park to make deliveries because he cannot find parking immediately outside his destination.

"It would be more easy for me because usually I have to double park and then find space to work. It'd be faster and I like it," said Desjardins.

Many small business owners said they wanted to hear more details from the city of Montreal, saying to date they have heard very little.