Edouard Blais has lived in both sides of a railway in Montreal that, cutting through the densely populated Parc-Extension neighbourhood, creates a divide between residents, homes and businesses.
People like Blais have crossed those tracks at the Parc commuter train station, near de Castelnau Street West and Ogilvy Avenue, whenever a path was open to pedestrians and cyclists.
However, it was repeatedly closed by Canadian Pacific, the track's owner, and then opened again by citizens who took matters into their own hands.
The crossing had also been left open for train customers to switch platforms, but it was finally shut down in May by the rail company over safety concerns as negotiations continued with the city.
Blocking the crossing turned a five-minute stroll into a 20-minute trek for residents just looking to access key businesses, including the largest supermarket in the area, and community spaces like Jarry Park.
A residents' group formed after the recent closure, lobbying the train company and city to ensure there is a safe, level crossing for everybody to use.
The fence was left in place all summer, until finally the city vowed to renovate the crossing in a way that allows the trains to zip by without blowing its whistle.
The crossing was officially reopened last week, allowing people to walk or bike through whenever the crossing guard is up.
When trains are approaching, lights flash and the automatic arm lowers, blocking the passage.
"I think it's a good thing," said Blais. "You have the Provigo on one side and Parc Jarry on the other side."
City celebrates new crossing
In a statement, Villeray—Saint-Michel—Parc-Extension borough mayor Laurence Lavigne Lalonde said the newly renovated crossing "will not only open up the sector, but it is also of great importance for accessing local businesses and services."
Renovating the crossing to meet safety standards came after an agreement was made with the greater Montreal region's transit authority, Réseau de transport métropolitain (Exo).
"The opening of the Ogilvy-level crossing is excellent news for our commuter train users and residents of the area, who will be able to cross the tracks safely," said Marc Rousseau, Exo executive director of operations, in a statement.
But some residents wonder why it took so long — leaving some to cut or climb the fence to get to nearby businesses and homes.
Among them is Charlie Dawes.
"There's something wrong in the systems that it took, really, decades," he said. "People have been breaking the fence to cross anyway."
Plante administration accused of dragging feet
The project cost about $500,000 and the opposition at city hall says the Valérie Plante administration should have completed the project sooner and for less money.
Coun. Mary Deros, with Ensemble Montréal, said the battle with railway companies over these crossings finally went to court and the project has had the green light for more than two years.
She said the project should have been done right away, but added that she is "happy it came in as a very nice Christmas gift."
Another crossing is planned to connect Université de Montréal's new Outremont campus to Parc Extension, and Deros said the sooner that comes, the better.
Coun. Sylvain Ouellet, with Plante's Projet Montréal team, said these types of projects take time and can't be built over night.
"With the contracts, with the rules, you know it's really really strict," he said. "It's lots of little steps that are quite long compared to the construction period itself."