Cyclists, pedestrians kicked off Gilles-Villeneuve racetrack to accommodate promoter

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Cyclists, pedestrians kicked off Gilles-Villeneuve racetrack to accommodate promoter

Access to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve will be restricted in the coming months to accommodate events hosted by a private promoter, leaving many cyclists, runners and in-line skaters in the lurch.

The circuit will be closed from May 8 to Sept. 4 to make way for events, like the popular Osheaga music festival, itself displaced by construction on neighbouring Île Sainte-Hélène.

"It's kind of a disappointment," said Michel Morrissette, who runs Cycle Technique, a bicycle shop.

The racetrack is perhaps best-known as the site of the Canadian Grand Prix. But when it's not being used for F1 it is popular spot for amateur athletes of all types. 

"We are really close by, so we have a lot of people who come from elsewhere who park here, hop on their bikes and head towards the circuit," said Morrissette.

The Société du Parc Jean-Drapeau (SPJD) — the group that runs the park on Île Sainte-Hélène — is undertaking several large-scale projects there, including a 65,000-seat amphitheatre being built at request of event promoter Evenko.

The SPJD also runs the racetrack on Île Notre-Dame. It announced Friday that it would let Evenko use the racetrack for its events while construction on Île Sainte-Hélène is underway.      

While Evenko cancelled its Heavy Montreal festival because of the construction, it still plans to hold ÎleSoniq, Bal en Blanc and concerts by The XX, The 1975, Metallica and Guns N' Roses this summer on Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.

Alain Vaillancourt, Projet Montréal's sports and leisure critic, says the city is prioritizing a promoter over its residents.

"The more I look into it, the more I would say that they have definitely privileged Evenko — the private events, the construction of the amphitheatre — over Montrealers and the use of the facilities for everybody," he said. 

Vaillancourt, who uses the circuit to train for triathlons, added that the SPJD gave residents and sporting groups very little notice to plan or relocate ahead of summer training.

Projet Montréal has launched a petition to keep the circuit open and plans to deliver it to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre at the next municipal council meeting.

"This is the only place on the island of Montreal where you can come cycling and be without cars," Vaillancourt said.

"There's thousands of people who use it, and people aren't going to know until they show up. This is in two weeks."

Aquatic complex also closed

The SPJD also sparked anger a few weeks ago when it was announced that the aquatic complex on Île Sainte-Hélène would close for the season due to construction and dust from its projects.

The rowing basin will also be affected and paddlers and rowers will not be allowed to hold competitions during concert events. 

The complex isn't expected to reopen until 2018.

The SPJD says visitors will still have access to Jean-Drapeau beach and a new bus route will be created to shuttle them there.

The South Shore cycling path — which connects Île Notre-Dame to Longueuil — will continue to be operational throughout the summer. A 2.5-kilometre training circuit for high-level cyclists will be set up on weeknights when event schedules allow.