Bridges to Babylon: the Jacques-Cartier Bridge

Sunset on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge - work of the author, June 2011

It’s funny, I look at the above picture and wonder how it’s possible that the Sun seems to be setting on the East side of the Bridge, and then I remember that Montreal’s Sun rises in the South. It’s amazing how we’ve survived this long working with a sense of direction based on initial observations by surveyors in the 17th century. It’s a mistake in planning and design that we carry to this day, and influences more minute details about life in Montréal than I think anyone cares to imagine. We’re unique because of a mistake, an accident, perhaps even idiocy – it’s hard to say.

I also look at the photo above and think to myself – why don’t we have this instead:

Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Crossing - not the work of the author

If you’ve ever crossed the Jacques-Cartier Bridge’s pedestrian crossing, you know it’s rather severe limitations. Despite having both a bike path and a pedestrian path and a newly installed suicide prevention barrier (which kinda gives it a Gitmo-esque feeling, albeit without the razor wire), the bridge doesn’t seem to attract much in the way of pedestrian traffic, unless its closed for the fireworks! When this is the case, more than 50,000 people tend to use it, not necessarily crossing it completely, but at the very least walking across a portion of it. Imagine if the Cartier Bridge were returned to its original design, which incorporated tram rails (though they were never used) and equal sections devoted to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It just so happens that the bridge is book-ended by Papineau and Longueuil Metro stations – a tram running along the bridge connecting both stations seems elementary, and could potentially allow for a reduction of vehicular use, which would undoubtedly help to prolong the lifespan of the bridge. Moreover, by re-focusing bridge use so that it is comfortable for pedestrians to cross, you also develop a stronger relationship between communities on either side, and can help foster a conceptual understanding of Longueuil being a walkable extension of Montréal proper.

Then I look at a picture like this and think, couldn’t we build a box over the roadway, or stack two roadways one-atop-the-other with a five-lane wide pedestrian/cyclist ‘plaza’ extending across the bridge?

Street-level, Jacques Cartier Bridge - not the work of the author

Major repair work is required for both the Champlain Bridge and the Mercier Bridge, which is apparently going to have its entire deck re-surfaced, something which hasn’t been done since the bridge was built in the mid-1930s. The fact that there hasn’t been new South-bound bridge construction since the 1960s is another problem altogether, and unless we begin major new infrastructure projects by ourselves, we’ll have to wait until the provincial and federal governments can get their collective shit together. And remember – talk is so very cheap these days.

This seems to me to be part of a larger problem here in Montréal; we’ve become excessively dependent on sponsorship from two levels of government outside of ourselves and can’t do much in terms of large-scale infrastructure planning over a long period of time. Consider how we plan to develop the Metro, piecemeal segments and politically motivated extensions where three local mayors have to compete for the public’s support. With the bridges in the state that they’re in, a Yellow Line extension deep into the South Shore may be an ideal first move for the STM, but I doubt that construction will be as fast as it was in the mid-1960s, when 26 stations were completed – each with its own architect mind you – in four years.

Without well-stocked local coffers and a large though balanced tax-base to provide new investment funds, both the city and metropolitan region are handicapped by requiring outside sponsorship, and therefore must engage in the kind of backroom politics that have created the extreme amounts of corruption and collusion currently found in the halls of power. Moreover, this atmosphere of corruption and nepotism make it unlikely the voters would support city-administered revenue-generating endeavours, such as citizen’s bonds, municipal shares and various other investment tools the city ought to be using to stimulate funding for infrastructure projects and economic development. In short – the reigns of power aren’t in our hands, and we’re held hostage by this.

Perhaps it’s time to start a ferry service.

Who’s got a canoe?

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