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Montreal gaining a competitive edge as Toronto and Vancouver adopt anti-suburbanization measures, says a new study

Montreal, June 20, 2006 – A study released today shows that the Montreal area’s competitive position is improving compared to other urban centres.

Cox says the Montreal area – in contrast to cities including Toronto and Vancouver – can congratulate itself on having steered away from anti-suburbanization measures such as limiting the growth of the metropolitan area or blocking expressway construction. Such measures undermine people’s access to housing and hold back their mobility, he states.“Montreal’s superior policies on land use and transportation infrastructure give it an added advantage over competitors that have taken a wrong turn,” says urban growth expert Wendell Cox, head of the specialized research firm Demographia and author of a study prepared for the Montreal Economic Institute.

Improved housing access

Montreal’s “median multiple” (median house price divided by median household income) has been relatively stable, standing at 3.5. This compares to 4.4 in Toronto and 6.6 in Vancouver, putting Montreal in a strong position regarding access to housing.

Cox says one factor behind this favourable situation is that Montreal has not imposed unduly restrictive land use measures, which tend to create artificial scarcities of land suited to housing or business development, thereby pushing up housing costs in relation to income.

“Since housing is generally the top item in household spending, Montreal’s relatively affordable real estate market makes the city increasingly attractive for businesses and for households that aim to own the place they live,” the U.S.-based expert noted.

Good roads are key to good transportation

With the highest expressway density among urban areas of more than a million people in Canada and the U.S., Montreal already has a highly competitive transportation infrastructure.

Cox considers, however, that more roads are needed to improve connections between shores in the Montreal area and to offer alternatives to Metropolitan Boulevard. Accordingly, he favours completion of Highway 30 and the Highway 25 bridge. He also supports the recommendation made in 2003 by the Nicolet Commission to build a new bridge to the South Shore.

With respect to public transit, Cox urges decision-makers to show realism.

“Public transit has very little chance of reducing automobile use or of attracting a large share of demand for the great majority of trips that do not begin or end in downtown Montreal,” he says. “In recent decades, no major urban area in the developed world has managed to reduce the share of cars in the transportation mix by more than 2%.”

He recommends new investments in public transit only where they can reduce travel time at less cost to government than the alternatives.

Wendell Cox is an independent consultant who has worked with the United States Department of Transportation. He has chaired the American Public Transit Association’s planning and policy committee and has been a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and of the Amtrak Reform Council. His study, titled Housing and Transportation in Montreal: How suburbanization is improving the region’s competitiveness, is available on the Institute’s Website.

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Information and interview requests: Patrick Leblanc, Director of communications, Montreal Economic Institute, Phone: 514-273-0969 (office) / 514-571-6400 (cell) / E-mail: pleblanc@iedm.org

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