What can Montréal Learn from Ottawa’s Confederation Line?

Tunney’s Pasture LRT terminus conceptual rendering

Well this is good news for public transit enthusiasts in Canada.

Ottawa’s finally getting a light-rail mass-transit system. The Confederation Line is to be completed in 2018, using part of the OC-Transpo transitway, along a 12.5 kilometer stretch linking east and west Ottawa. The thirteen-station system is unique because unlike Toronto’s tram system, Ottawa’s will employ the use of stations, all of which are designed to be safe public spaces integrated into other existing transit systems. Ottawa’s new Confederation Line will be multi-modal in that they’ll provide access to the north-south O-Train, the Ottawa Via Rail station and the existing bus rapid transit and local bus systems. The new system will be designed to optimize the use of bicycles and will be able to transport 10,000 people and hour in both directions. Future developments will permit service at a peak of every two minutes and a maximum of 18,000 passengers per hour. End to end journeys will take twenty-four minutes and I can imagine, if it’s successful new lines may soon be planned.

This may well revolutionize transport in Ottawa, in that it will offer a quick and efficient method to cross the densest part of the city and simultaneously hook up it’s many currently disparate key components along a single East-West axis.

I’m particularly interested by the development of three stations which will be located underground inside a tunnel, which will permit an extension of Ottawa’s limited underground city. From what I understand, this system is going to involve some of the same people who developed Vancouver’s Canada Line – a fully automated elevated and subterranean monorail that connects Vancouver’s downtown with the airport.

Suffice it to say, this is a big deal, though I’m disturbed by how long its going to take to actually get the project off the ground. Remember, Montréal somehow managed to build 26 stations in four years – and that was for a a subway system, a far more complex job than the installation of an LRT. Regardless, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

I wonder if we could use something like this here in Montréal?

Montréal differs in that we do not have a primarily segregated expressway used by articulated buses to rapidly move large volumes of people around the city as Ottawa does. This new LRT will be able to travel at high speeds through the urban core without necessarily interacting with traffic. I’m not sure traffic could be avoided in the same fashion in Montréal.

That said, I believe Montréal could make good use of an expansive light-rail/tram system, but for a variety of reasons we could not copy Ottawa’s model. And nor should we, the Métro is the primary mass transit system in the urban core.

What I would propose for our city is a limited LRT development designed to do two things. First, as a method to spearhead new kinds of public transit access between the downtown and surrounding area (through specific transit corridors) and second as a means to replace buses in the city proper, ideally freeing STM buses to re-deploy to the suburbs and off-island municipalities.

Concerning the first part, a more-or-less concrete example of what I’m thinking about. There’s been an idea floating around for a little while to place a LRT line on the Champlain Bridge (or it’s ice-bridge) to connect Brossard with downtown Montréal, likely by using a route that would stretch from the Quartier Dix30 (located at the intersection of highways 10 and 30) to cross the river, Nun’s Island and Quartier du Multimédia and terminate at Place Bonaventure. It would place an LRT along a high-traffic corridor and deliver the city directly to nearly 80,000 people living in Brossard alone.

Or another example, an LRT as airport-link. It’s another very specific kind of connection we currently lack (the former being the obvious lack of connectivity with the massive South Shore) and that may be best solved using a specific transit mode. The Van Horne Institute put out this report suggesting an elevated light-rail system, comparable to Vancouver’s Canada Line, would be the best method of quickly connecting the airport with the central business district, principally using the Ville-Marie Expressway corridor. Thus, it would another train line in a transit corridor, but would avoid the problem of trying to integrate ADM needs with the strain already placed on the AMT. Further, the Van Horne proposal includes the use of multiple LRT stations, some of which would be inter-modal designs allowing connection to the STM and AMT.

The latter proposal has an interesting element to it – it could access Trudeau airport through an already existing underground terminal. The plan they propose would involve an eventual extension of this line under the airport, popping back up to eventually make it as far as Fairview shopping centre. Thus, their proposal really isn’t overly different from the Canada Line in its both elevated and subterranean qualities. Unfortunately, it would not be possible to integrate said system with the Métro, as they’d require different track systems (among a multitude of different reasons).

Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 11.55.52 PMProposed LRT line between Trudeau Airport and Montréal CBD – from the ADM and VHI

But that might not be the worst thing in the world. An LRT system has the added benefit of being able to operate on existing roadways inasmuch as completely separated railways. Thus, an LRT to and from the airport could theoretically use a reserved lane on the Ville-Marie Expressway inasmuch as a reserved lane on the Champlain Bridge, which would limit new LRT related infrastructure development. Further, if the system is designed to principally operate on existing roadways, we could gradually expand from two very focused LRT lines to a broader, more integrated system allowing another level of access within the urban core.

Imagine an LRT system operating on Cote-des-Neiges, Saint-Antoine, Pie-IX, Parc Avenue, Sherbrooke (incidentally, on that note, I’d like to see an LRT line run the length of Sherbrooke, from Loyola and Montreal-West train station to the Olympic Stadium and Parc Maisonneuve, but I digress). These are traffic-heavy streets that could benefit immensely with a high-capacity LRT system, ideally operating (where possible) on reserved lanes.

Suffice it to say LRT systems on these streets could not only drastically reduce automobile and bus congestion, but would further provide a kind of Métro ‘back-up’. Could be very useful if we ever need to execute a large-scale renovation of the system.

In any event, food for thought. One thing’s for sure, car culture as we know it today will soon become a thing of the past. There’s simply not enough cheap oil left and the entire idea is predicated on a notion of abundance that simply no longer exists. Worse still, every year we maintain the status quo, congesting our streets and boulevards with polluting, road-destroying automobiles, we pay more and more for our inefficient lifestyles. Ergo, providing a comprehensive public transit network across multiple modes won’t just ultimately become very convenient, it is an absolute necessity for future city living.

There’s no question in my mind the great cities of the future will be those who adapt early and demonstrate by example.

One thought on “What can Montréal Learn from Ottawa’s Confederation Line?”

  1. well, a few things. the system that ottawa is throwing up is grade separated for very long stretches, basically, from downtown all the way to tunney pasture, along an existing brt dedicated right of way. along the rest of the route, it looks to be partial grade separation, similar to lines in los angeles, charlotte, and what toronto has planned. i think montreal would have a tough time doing this sort of thing, as grade separation would be possible on only a few major arteries, limiting us, in effect, to reviving a street car system. that is, unless we get an administration that acts courageously on transit (say, one willing to close down bleury to vehicular traffic in favor of a dedicated rail right of way). asking for a useful lrt line/system in montreal means asking for a large number of other things.

    as for getting to their airport, the smart move is obviously to use the existing heavy rail infrastructure and simply to ramp up service and add a proper people-mover.

    also, an aside, vancouver’s ‘canada line’ isn’t a “monorail” system, it has trains running in each direction; it’s a full-fledged alrt line.

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