The Line That Ended Expansion
News from LaPresse today that Pauline Marois wants to prioritize an eastern extension of the Métro’s Blue Line towards Anjou, with a planned initial development of three stations in the direction of Lacordaire Boulevard from Saint-Michel station.
No word yet on planned delivery of the project, no timeline though a proposed (and certain to increase) budget of just under $1 billion according to Marvin Rotrand, vice-president of the STM and leader of the Union Montréal party.
For comparison, the three station extension into Laval cost $745 million in 2007.
The Métro’s Blue Line is arguably the least effective in the system. Ridership is at its lowest, the trains are shorter and service stops forty-five minutes earlier on this branch. Unlike the other three lines which funnel people from first and second ring suburbs into the urban core, the Blue Line is peripheral and connects two high-density, low-income large residential areas with one of the richest neighbourhoods in the city (in the middle), and not where their jobs might be. Moreover, though it could be useful in funnelling people towards either end of the Orange Line, the number 80, 165, 166 and 535 buses (to name but a few), seem to remain the preferred method to reach the city from the northern inner suburbs. For everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the design, history, architecture, artwork, and technical aspects pertaining to the Blue Line (and every other line, fasset and component of the Montréal Métro), I recommend clicking here for the excellent Métro de Montréal fansite.
The line was originally conceived to extend past the Orange Line in both directions. Marois’ plan is to develop three stations towards the East, and none towards the West (insert mandatory statement about how Anglo needs are being ignored) and eventually build two additional stations terminating at the Galleries d’Anjou. I’m not sure why they’d plan to break the project into two separate developments, but I would assume that the province may want to wait and see if the initial extension drives up usage. This would not be the first time the Blue Line would be built in a separate, disjointed fashion – during the original line’s development, it was proposed that the segment connecting Edouard-Montpetit to Parc be cancelled given that ridership in between would be so low. It seems obvious to me that a five-station extension may actually serve to draw a considerably larger number of people, not to mention potentially allow the STM to re-design bus lines to potentially feed an even greater number of people, so why they’re planning on cutting it short off the bat is beyond me. The current eastern expansion will serve Rosemont, Saint-Leonard and Anjou, though plans dating back to the late-1970s wanted the Blue Line to extend towards the Northeast with a terminus at Amos (likely at Lacordaire Boulevard) which in turn would have also allowed access to the high-density, low-income neighbourhood of Montréal-Nord. This plan was modified when a Métro line under Pie-IX was proposed that would funnel people down to Pie-IX station on the Green Line. Both proposals were still on the table (even appearing on Métro maps) into the late-1980s, at which point the Liberal Government of Robert Bourassa placed a total moratorium on Métro expansion.
The principle reason for this moratorium was, among others, declining revenues and budgets, not to mention the fact that the heavily truncated Blue Line simply wasn’t pulling in new passengers nor did it ease congestion on other parts of the system. Part of the Blue Line’s undoing was that, as mentioned previously, it was still preferential and more convenient to use buses to get to and from the city (the 80 and 165 are two of my favourite bus routes; though they’re generally packed, if you manage to get a window, a pleasant and exciting voyage awaits). This may not have been the case if a planned inter-modal station at Edouard-Montpetit (connecting to the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes line within Mount Royal Tunnel) were completed. The principle technical difficulty was building a train station fifty meters under the existing Métro station, not to mention acquiring high-capacity, high-speed elevators, but the station itself was designed for the higher capacity.
If they had built this crucial component, the Blue Line could have also served to better connect the northern ridge suburbs with the city centre.
Therefore, any move to lengthen the line, east or west, should be done in conjunction with a connection to the Mount Royal Tunnel firmly in mind, so that the Blue Line could finally be used to ease traffic congestion elsewhere in the system.
Also, we’d be wise to voice two other considerations for our elected officials to consider. First, placing a moratorium on moratoriums and segmented construction. If we were to plan Métro development ten or twenty stations at a time instead of in threes or fives, we may be able to save money long-term through bulk purchases of materials, not to mention increasing operational efficiency as the project goes forward. Let’s end this self-retarding piecemeal development and plan continuous lines. The Pie-IX proposal, which would link the Olympic Park with Montréal North through Rosemont, Petit-Patrie and Saint-Leonard, should be given top priority for new line construction. Second, we might be wise to consider inter-lining the system so as to allow trains that start on the Blue Line to transfer onto the Orange, so that one could go from Saint-Michel to Bonaventure, or from Outremont Laval without changing trains. This is a very complicated proposal, but it would allow greater flexibility with the system we already have.