Tramway Considerations for Montréal’s Birthday

So it looks like Richard Bergeron has his own ideas concerning our city’s 375th Anniversary, and has proposed 37.5 km of new tram routes ready-to-go by 2017. Apparently, a finance working group has been established, though precisely what this means is anyone’s guess. I would normally be more optimistic, but there’s a new cynic growing somewheres deep down inside me.

Bergeron has earned himself (somehow) a reputation as being something of a ‘tram nut’ (this is how he’s been reduced before – modern media can suck in its efforts to be overly personable). Back in the day, a more optimistic Bergeron was keen on a 250km, $20 billion tram system to cover most of the densely packed urban core of Montréal. If this seems like a lot of tramways, consider that as recently as 1959 we had about 378km worth of tram line throughout the city and some first and second ring suburbs. This was unceremoniously dismantled in `59 largely out of pressure from the American automobile industry (see Great American Streetcar Scandal).

Another recent proposal came about as part of a larger metropolitan transit plan, this time in 2008-2009, when Mayor Tremblay announced a far less ambitious plan of three lines of 20km. That plan was supposed to be complete by 2013.

Something tells me we’re not going to meet that deadline.

That said, Bergeron is persistent and (hopefully) involved in the new plan, though I wonder why not shoot for something far more complete, such as 375 kilometer’s worth. I suppose 37.5km will cause enough traffic headaches for the next six years, especially given how slowly and inefficiently we build these days. But no matter which way you cut it, this is something we desperately, definitely need.

Projet Montréal tram design proposal
Tram design proposal, Projet Montréal

That said, there are some key considerations we need to discuss.

For one, trams or trolleys? Are steel wheels on rails necessarily the better way to go? Or can rubber tyres provide a sensible alternative, better able to climb steep gradients? Rails will undeniably work better insofar as the tram lane is segregated from regular traffic, especially on long straight streets, such as Boul. René-Lévesque. However, climbing up Cote-des-Neiges road or Atwater might be better handled by a rubber tyre alternative. And consider as well that there are models that feature both steel wheels and rubber tyres, and can switch between.

Second, who will run this new transit system? Ideally, the STM runs the tram network as well as the buses and Métro, and as Bergeron has planned, the proposal is designed to intersect with existing Métro stations. A common fare and transfer system seems like a no-brainer, but this needs to be planned from the outset. The last thing we want is an expensive tram that requires a separate fare. This could be enough to kill the system entirely.

Third, will installing the system be enough to get people to give up on using their cars? Probably not without an expensive and effective mass media campaign and municipal bylaws regulating when cars can enter the city (however the city decides to define this is really up to them). In effect, this system may prove itself far more useful, if not overtly desired by the citizens, if we go so far so as to actually employ measures to keep people from driving their cars. Offering excellent service and clean trams is one way, convincing the citizenry they have a fundamental responsibility to each other to use public transit is an entirely different measure.

Fourth, and related to the aforementioned points, it may be wise to install trams on streets we intend to be new pedestrian axes – such as Ste-Catherine’s. Though business associations perpetually live in fear of street closures, road work and any other threat to the overwhelming predominance of motor vehicles on our city streets, the fact is that cities larger than our own have been able to mitigate environmental damage from mass automobile use by offering excellent public transit, with trams playing a vital role ferrying people quickly between the urban core and the first ring suburbs. I would not use Toronto as a model, incidentally, when there are so many European and other American examples to go by.

Point is if City Hall wants to really make this work, they have to provide an alternative they can enforce to the point where few will question the logic. That anyone today can feel justified in arguing against capital investment in new public transit initiatives is, in my honest opinion, a measure of our stubborn regressiveness. We need to exercise this demon from our collective conscience.

We simply can no longer afford not spending money on massive public transit projects. Furthermore, we need to grow some local government sack and start finding ways of compelling people to give up on the selfish act of using a car when cheaper, cleaner alternatives exist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.