New Condo developments in Montréal

Proposal for the Altitude Montréal at the corner of University and Cathcart

Above is the new Altitude Montréal condo tower, currently under construction. It will be 33 stories tall and occupy a former parking lot (yay). It’s not exactly human-scale, but, in that part of town not much is. Fortunately, at 33 stories it will roughly as tall as the Telus Tower, and so will draw the eye up towards PVM, thus continuing the ‘staircase’ groupings of office and residential buildings downtown. It will also mean more people living downtown, and that’s hard to argue with, especially when the lot being used was unoccupied and ugly. Just noticed this (Nov. 4th 2011) that the above picture features a new building at the corner of Boul. Rene-Levesque and University, adjacent to the new tower. What’s this all about?

Proposal for Place Victoria and/or Altoria condominiums

And this is the Place Victoria. No work has begun yet, but it seems likely this project will go through. The location, at the top of Square Victoria, is currently partially abandoned and out of scale with more recent developments. Moreover, the existing building is simply too short, too reminiscent of what Square Victoria used to be back before its major renovation earlier last decade. Not convinced that this is the most elegant residential building they could put up, but it’s nonetheless a strong addition to the space. Moreover, the International Quarter while not exactly lacking in condos, can nonetheless support additional residential development, ideal here given how, for a significant time, it was largely void of life. So this may be a decent example of smart condo development. It should be noted, however, that there’s a decent number of major condo projects filling up vacant lots north of Viger and east of Beaver Hall Hill, which will essentially create a whole new neighbourhood right in the middle of the city. What’s problematic is that there is little in terms of street-life in this area, and hopefully the city and the developers will see to it to introduce space for basic amenities, such as dépanneurs, grocery stores and other small scale services. We’ll see I guess.

Montréal Stories { No.3 } – The Vampire of Viger

Gare Viger and Viger Square - credit to UrbanPhoto.net

My first apartment was on the corner of Berri and Viger; I joined a few friends living in the old headquarters of an insurance company, right next to the National Archives. I moved in during Spring Break – it was the first day of a long weird trip.

The square above was right across the street, and being the naive West-Islander I once was, I figured it was harmless, perhaps an even ideal place to hang out and relax. That’s when I came to realize Montréal has a big homeless problem, and Viger Square was about as close as we get to having a bonafide Gypsy camp. My roomates told me that at the end of the summer The Fuzz came by, swept everyone into a paddy wagon, destroyed the shelters, and drove them all to the metropolitan city limits.

Not to say that I really had anything to do with the numerous homeless, anarchists, lunatics and drug-peddlers I now co-habitated with,  but proximity and a new social circle brought a fair bit of news my way, and only a few weeks in I began getting paranoid, freaked out. It turned out there had been a vampire on the loose.

Now granted, the Vampire of Viger Square had been behind bars for a few years at this point, but still, it made me wonder whether this city had pushed its homeless, its bottom rung, so far away from the public’s view that a desperation had taken hold, and they were going to make themselves heard, or felt, at any cost.

I observed them from a distance, kept casual and started changing my habits, my comings and goings. I often stayed in, especially through that spring and early summer, watching from my second floor perch, cold beers and hot, sweaty joints concocting new terrors in my brain. I took to walking around late at night with a solid pine cane, half-concerned for my safety, half-convinced I was there to bring order to the perceived chaos. A long trip of substance abuse (unusually dominated by caffeine and multi-vitamins), and increasing fear, compounded by a deteriorating appreciation of human life, brought on by reckless engagement in syndicate duties; I found my own dark world in Viger Square, where after a couple months of regular, forced interaction, became the only place I felt secure, even if it was only the security I found in the certainty of my gloom and despair.

I had previously thought where one lived was completely arbitrary, that one apartment was really as good as any other, and that location was ultimately meaningless. How very wrong I was.

A modest proposal { No. 4 } – Port Life

Memories of a sea-going life

I remember, at a rather young age, feeling disappointed when visiting the Old Port, especially when walking along the boardwalk. While the summertime crowds would grow more impressive with time, and my personal associations with the space changed as I matured, I still couldn’t shake those early impressions of loss. Perhaps it was because my impression of that space was tainted by my father and grandfather, who both reminisced as to the old days when that same space was filled with longshoremen, mariners, and a bustling open-air market in Place Jacques-Cartier. They both seemed wistful for the emotive qualities the Port used to emit, the action and frenzy of a massive industrial and commercial operation which operated almost constantly. The Port of Montréal is actually busier now than it has ever been, and is ranked among North America’s leading ports. It’s still the only major inland port in North America, still feeding and serving central Canada, not to mention the American Midwest and Rustbelt. Moreover, the Old Port of Montréal is thriving as a major tourist destination and, in my personal opinion, has only grown over the years, offering generally excellent services and events. There’s no question the Old Port of Montréal is a desirable, perhaps enviable addition to our fair city.

But, could it have more of a ‘port’ feel I wonder? What port services could be blended into the current incarnation of the Quays of the Old Port?

Port in Thaw

The photo above gives an excellent view of what’s behind Grain Silo No.5, a heritage site no one really knows what to do with. It’s a heritage oddity, given that its a former industrial building and can’t be converted into anything else without significant renovations. Regardless, its one of three principle properties owned by Canada Lands Corporation; CLC is now in charge of the ‘New Harbourfront’ initiative, which aims to develop these areas in and around the Old Port into viable communities and residential areas. Among other things, it may spur a partial redevelopment of the western tip of the Port of Montréal, while providing a foundation for a new Griffintown project. It seems pretty clear the City is looking to increase density between Old Montréal and the Shaughnessy Village area, with many new residential projects and a lot of generally good urban redevelopment along this diagonal corridor over the course of the last decade.

It seems unlikely that the Old Port will retain any current Port functions with an increased population base, as with an increase to population, sites like Point-du-Moulin may be redeveloped for commercial and cultural purposes.

From King Edward Quay

In effect, there’s only one pier left in the Old Port which seems without a purpose, or perhaps investment. The Alexandra Quay is occasionally used to take in cruise ships. When I was younger I used to do a variety of odd-jobs during the summer for the dozen or so small cruise ships which would dock in Montréal, either at the beginning or end of a gambling cruise which would either begin or end up in New York City. Our port lacks a proper passenger terminal, and its about time the City did something about it. As it stands now, the Alexandra Quay is severely cut-off from not only the City, but even the Old Port. There are no services provided at the terminal – the café closed some time ago, and the two (previously free and open) lookouts at the end of the King Edward and Alexandra Quays are not only in desperate need of repair, but are also (apparently) private, and for the exclusive use of those employed by the Port.

The city would stand to benefit from a major investment in a new passenger terminal, and could further provide a source of funding to secure increased cruise-ship traffic (not to mention regular, functional use) by establishing a passenger ferry component to our city’s public transit infrastructure. Imagine you live in Chateauguay, Dorion, Les Cedres or St-Lambert – taking a ferry to the Old Port would be a very nice way to start your day, not to mention, with crossing time relatively low, such a service would doubtless encourage many South Shore resident to leave their cars at home. And that’s just the South Shore, there’s no reason why regular passenger ferry service couldn’t be extended to the West Island, Beauharnois, Vaudreuil or Repentigny as well.

What ought to concern us as citizens is when large spaces are only partially utilized, and/or experience periodic bursts in activity, traffic or economic stimulus. When tourism dollars don’t materialize, the Old Port suffers, so a regular source of traffic entering the port year round (ie, via a passenger ferry service and additional cruise traffic) would go a long way to proving the areas economic vitality. And on a final note, before you even think it remember that winter ice can easily be broken, and Montréal is accessible by a navigable waterway year-round.

The Sail

The IBM-Marathon Building at 1250 Boul. René-Lévesque is an excellent local example of architectural postmodernism. From the West, it gives the impression of three distinct rectangular masses, as if it were several buildings piled on top of each other, or moving through each other. Its shape is scaled to a more ‘human’ proportion as it gets closer to street level, and, from the Western perspective, the building is very much in line with the other commercial high-rises of the city (which would appear behind or to the side, such as the CIBC Tower or PVM). However, from Place-du-Canada, the Eastern perspective is quite different, where the several pavilions visible from the other side are now united by a large, curving mass, which reminds me of a sail. It’s large without appearing bulky, and seems to strive towards the sky without appearing grandiose. The contrast between its sea-green windows and polished gray metal give it a futuristic, somewhat serious feel.

Five Competing Métro Expansion Proposals

Updated: October 30, 2012

None of these are of my own design; judge for yourselves:

I found this one a while back, seems like an interesting idea. It incorporates three rapid-bus systems plus a Parc Avenue light rail system, with a considerably larger Métro system in general, though with considerable focus on the higher-density regions closer to the downtown core.

The following proposal for system improvement doesn’t involve any non-Métro systems, but has considerably more lines and stations. Also notice how all three airports are connected, and how the downtown would be connected by four parallel East-West lines and seems to indicate a type of network-sharing system where multiple lines would use the same track. Further, consider the number of junction stations:

I also like this proposal because it very clearly allows access to all four corners of the Metropolitan region. Keep it in mind – this system is nothing more than a dream, though its always encouraging to see random people envisioning their ideal Métro system. If only our elected officials would get the picture and pursue a more ambitious expansion program. Imagine what could be if we were building at a rate of 26 stations every 4 years. We did it without blinking between 1962 and 1966.

October 27th update:

Another find!

Looking at this plan I can’t help but remark on the similarities in the three designs, as it seems to have borrowed from each in addition to the current MTQ plan and elements of very early designs. Among other things, closing the Orange Line loop, extending further into Laval and Longueuil, following bridges and highways, extending the Blue Line East to Anjou, connecting Ile des Soeurs and additional East-West lines to cover the downtown and a Pie-IX line are all featured in these three designs. The first plan is highly reserved and realistic whereas the second is bold (though less accurate than the others), and the third seems constrained by the dimensions of a Métro map poster. That said – check out that Brown Line – it goes everywhere! What a great idea, a ‘sight-seer’ Métro line running from Brossard through the CBD and onto the airport.

I also like the idea, oft repeated, of having additional multi-line hubs East of Berri-UQAM, such as at the Olympic Stadium, and of course the second plan’s design to link all the airports with the urban core. What’s striking is that it doesn’t seem to me like any official plan would even consider the possibility of building entirely new lines and hubs; these plans are realistic given that by 2012-2013, the metropolitan population is going to reach 4 million, and the citizens will no longer be able to rely on their cars to get around the metropolitan region. Public transit will require a massive investment in order for large cities to remain operationally competitive, we just cannot afford the same carbon footprint in the future. Thus, it makes sense to begin a massive development project and wildly expand the Métro, as soon as possible. Any of these designs are feasible as long as we demand it, but we must demonstrate clearly and effectively that we will not stand for anything less than the world’s finest Métro system. It is our responsibility, it is our heritage and a credit to our high-tech industries, but it must be kept at a perpetual ‘state-of-the-art’ status if we’re to make any money off it. The citizens need better than what is currently provided and Métro development needs to become a principle priority for the Mayor. If we were as motivated to build a Métro system today as we were fifty years ago, we could attain total metropolitan coverage within forty years, maybe sooner. That kind of long term steady investment is exactly what we need to keep our economy stable and create real, insurable employment. Public works and infrastructure projects worked in the States with the New Deal, so there’s no reason why we can’t do the same basic thing today on a localized scale. Building a massive new Métro could be money in the bank.


Métro Extension proposal by Matthew MacLauchlin

A very interesting proposal. What I like most: far better commuter rail development is integrated into the project, with multiple AMT-SMT inter-modal stations, vital for traffic dispersion. Given Matthew’s vast and extensive knowledge of the Métro, his bears many of the planned extensions, something else I like – many of the abandoned extension plans were rather well conceived. The Métro and commuter rail network would permit connections to Trudeau and Mirabel, and Matt’s plan further incorporates many closed loops (though, surprisingly, not through Laval, a likely extension to close the Orange Line). I also like how the different lines would have branches in this plan – very unique, it’s as if the colour of the lines define certain geographic areas, corridors of sorts. The magenta line running under Boul. René-Lévesque is an interesting touch, as is the aquamarine line along the northern ridge of the city, something that would be beneficial given the high population density in that sector. It seems as though his plan would opt to either follow existing rail lines, incorporate the Mount Royal Tunnel into the Métro scheme, and further would seek to re-establish rail use at Viger or Dalhousie Station.

Métro expansion proposed by Fouineux

Another fascinating proposal – I’m so impressed with what people can come up with, seriously. This plan does not involve former expansion plans – as you can see, no extension into Longueuil or Laval or Anjou. Instead, multiple ‘scooping’ lines that funnel people onto the Orange and Green lines at multiple stations. I like how this plan features many more multi-line stations, including the proposed super station at McGill with four connections. The extension into the Cité du Multimedia and Griffintown is solid because the area is still oddly detached from the rest of the city. Further, I like how this magenta section would bring a second Métro station to Parc Jean-Drapeau (though I’d much prefer the station to be called Place des Nations rather than Casino) which may finally make the at times desolate park more integrated into the urban fabric.

A question came to mind while thinking about these expansion plans. How quickly could be build any of these expansions? If we wanted it done quickly, would we mandate that the entire expansion operation be conducted at three-shifts per day? How many thousands, if not tens of thousands of people are we willing to hire and for how long? Between 1962 and 1966 we built 26 stations. How much of any of these plans could be accomplished at a similar rate?

How high will gas prices have to rise before these plans are seriously considered? With systems like these (or any amalgam of these systems, in conjunction with commuter trains and buses etc.) we really wouldn’t have much use for cars in the city anymore. It just wont be practical. Further, with Métro expansion comes Réso expansion, and in turn the area defined as being ‘city’ or ‘urban’ increases. With more area coming under the envelope of the city’s high-intensity public transit network, land prices within that area increase as an extension of the added convenience of this heightened level of accessibility. I’m convinced that a better Métro system could be a valuable marketing tool when encouraging people to move back to the city.

The problem with lobby groups…

This story from CBC’s Montréal affiliate caught my attention because its an issue I’ve been considering for some time. The Métro of Montréal was not originally designed for the disabled, and the STM has been trying to fix this problem for the last few years. You’ll notice there are elevators at the main junction stations (Lionel-Groulx and Berri-UQAM) in addition to Bonaventure Station, a principle downtown station with excellent access to the Underground City. Not exactly convenient for the disabled among us. However, its not as though the disabled are completely without transit options. Aside from the fact that most of the Underground City is accessible (with the exceptions of the Métro network) notice that the STM’s bus fleet is largely wheelchair accessible, and there is an adapted transit network, both public and private.

It seems as if the City isn’t planning on sticking to its former time-table, with three new elevators installed at three stations per year until the whole system is deemed ‘accessible’. They have taken a shaky first step several years ago by removing seats from Métro cars (which really only mean they could jam more passengers in during rush-hour since the system still isn’t suited for wheelchair access in general). The lobby group RAPLIQ wants the City to do more to make the Métro accessible, though, with elevator costs coming in at an estimated $15 million per, its unlikely too much money will be set aside to accomplish a full renovation of the system anytime soon.

What bugs me is this: exactly how many disabled people actually live in this city and have a legitimate need to use the Métro? If it were 1% that would mean there are 16,000 fully disabled people needing elevator access. Since I’m guessing the actual figure is less than 1%, we need to use the existing adaptive transit infrastructure as well as possible. Simply put, if RAPLIQ feels as though adapted transit isn’t up to par with their expectations, then perhaps the change ought to be made to the existing service, as opposed to the actual Métro stations.

A suggestion for an interim solution: individual-use lifts which can be fitted over existing staircases with a call-box to the service kiosk. It’s not ideal, and may prove to be a bit of a hassle for the STM employees called out to help people get down into the Métro system, but it will certainly be less expensive than an elevator. Moreover, the current elevators being used are awfully small, especially when compared to much larger express-elevators used in other major transit systems that can transport 40+ people at a time. If the STM wants to continue installing elevators in the Métro, then they should only consider very large capacity systems at a certain number of high-traffic systems. But, given how few disabled people actually live in this city, it makes me wonder whether this money wouldn’t be better spent on extending the system or hours of operation. That would benefit far more people, more often, than elevators.