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Montreal to Close the Gilles-Villeneuve Racetrack to Cyclists – Protest Ride April 24

by John Symon

April 24, 2017 (Montreal, QC) – The city of Montreal will be restricting cyclists’ access to the Gilles-Villeneuve racetrack circuit in Jean Drapeau Park for both 2017 and 2018. Although the racetrack was built for events such as the FIA Formula One Canadian Grand Prix car races, these only last from June 9-11 in 2017. For most of the cycling season, the Circuit has been available for the public to use for free. It is popular with competitive cyclists and in-line skaters who often use the Circuit for time trial training; Montreal has no velodrome.

 ©  Parc Jean Drapeau
The popularity of outdoor concerts such as Evenko’s Osheaga, also held in Jean Drapeau Park, led to a controversial decision by Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s administration to expand an amphitheater area. This means closures for 2017 of an aquatic complex used by 65,000 swimmers annually and the cutting of over 1,000 mature trees. More recently, it became apparent that cyclists would be affected, too.

“Earlier today (Friday, April 21), we learned that the circuit will be closed to cyclists from May 8 to September 4, during 14 of the 31 weeks during which the track is usually accessible to them,” reads part of a FQSC press release.

Site for 65,000-seat amphitheatre being built at request of event promoter Evenko in Jean Drapeau Park  ©  Parc Jean Drapeau
“This closure is the consequence of the construction of the amphitheater on the site where until last year musical performances took place, which forced Evenko to relocate these on the race track. We already knew that holding shows would deprive cyclists of access to the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit. But not for the whole summer…”

“This afternoon, two representatives of the Société du Parc Jean-Drapeau came to meet with the general manager of the Quebec Federation of Cycling Sports (FQSC), Louis Barbeau, and Marie-Ève ‹‹Sullivan, Executive Director of Triathlon Québec. They pointed out that the development plan required the relocation of the recreational and event activities that usually take place in the southern sector of Saint Helen’s Island. Thus, access to the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit will be affected in 2017, and even in 2018.”

“However, (park officials) indicated that they wished to offer partial access to the site during a defined time-slot, that is, on weekdays from 6-9 pm, when the timetable for assembling and dismantling events allows. More details are supposed to be communicated to us in due course. They also insisted on the deployment of an increased service offer starting in 2019. Cyclists would then have access to the entire course during training periods scheduled during the week and possibly on weekends.”

“The current situation is obviously very restrictive for cyclists, and the FQSC deplores the impact of these measures on cycling.”

Acquatic complex  ©  Parc Jean Drapeau

FQSC director Louis Barbeau also informed Pedal about this. “The news has created an important reaction on part of cyclists. Different actions are being considered at this point in time, starting with several hundred riders who will gather tonight at 5:00 PM (April 24) on the circuit to do three laps before heading to Montreal City Hall . This is only the first step taken in order to change the PDJ’s decision to exclude cyclists from the CGV this summer.”

A Facebook event, “Manifestation contre la fermeture du Circuit Gilles Villeneuve,” indicates a gathering tonight from 5-10 pm with the racetrack’s hairpin curve (épingle) as the rendezvous point. Not mentioned in the notice is that tonight sees the regular monthly meeting of Montreal city council where the public can ask questions of their elected members….click here

If the FQSC sounds conciliatory, the municipal opposition party is not. A Projet Montreal press release reads: “After the aquatic complex (closure) of Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal athletes, families and outdoor enthusiasts will no longer have access to the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit, as it will be closed for most of the summer. The reason invoked for this is that festivals displaced by major works on Saint Helen’s Island and the equipment used will paralyze the circuit.”

 ©  Parc Jean Drapeau
“It is clear that the Coderre administration privileges the interests of a private developer before those of Montrealers. This lack of coordination and vision penalizes all Montrealers. Together we can push the mayor back. Help us to make him listen to reason. Projet Montréal will present this petition to the next city council; share it!”

The 4.361km Gilles-Villeneuve circuit dates back to 1978, includes 13 turns and is located on Notre Dame Island in the St. Lawrence River. In 2009, authorities in Jean-Drapeau Park previously decided to close the circuit to competitive cyclists in an effort to “reduce injuries.” This unleashed a storm of protests from cyclists and eventual reversal of that decision.

Park Jean Drapeau consists of two islands (Notre Dame and St. Helen’s) in the St. Lawrence River and served as the site for the Expo ’67 World Fair 50 years ago. The scenic park, close to downtown, is a popular destination for many; it also houses the Montreal Casino and La Ronde amusement park.

The bicycle path linking Jean Drapeau Park to the Maritime Seaway (Digue Maritime) will remain open, but cyclists can expect detours. Pedal understands that the nearby Ice Breaker Bridge (Estacade) is open for cyclists. The swimming beach on Notre Dame Island will remain open during the construction period according to Jean Drapeau Park authorities.

There is one cycling event on the FQSC calendar, the Défi Sportif para-cycling tandem races that use the Gilles Villeneuve circuit, but the scheduled dates in 2017 are April 29-30. While the 2017 Défi Sportif tandem races are apparently unaffected by this closure, the situation remains unclear for 2018.

FQSC release (French) here.
Jean Drapeau Park release (French) here.
Projet Montreal petition (French) here.
CBC article here.

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