Un Projet Pour Pierrefonds – Building a Bridge to Ile-Bigras

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I remember a little while back the PQ announced they would not go ahead with a planned ‘urban boulevard’ along the western edge of residential development in the West Island, part of a planned route that would link highway 40 with the 440 in Laval, cutting across Ile-Bizard. Have a look at the image above and trace your finger along the grey edge of development from the 40 to the 440 and you get an idea of the scale and potential impact of such a route. Yes, it would offer a new connection between the West Island and various northern suburbs, but on a high-capacity scale where currently nothing but pastoral low-density bedroom communities exist.

Seems like overkill to me.

I breathed a sigh of relief – finally, one thing our government has done I actually agree with. Quite frankly I think we need to discourage the construction of high-capacity autoroutes, especially if they happen to cut across some of the remaining natural wilderness we still have in this city. I understand why, from a very top-down perspective it would make sense to create additional ring-roads, especially to divert highway traffic away from already congested roads. But in this case, I fear the potential for environmental degradation and endless suburban sprawl is too great. Besides which, as you can see here a bridge could more-or-less connect the 40 with the 640 with a span the Ottawa River joining Hudson with Oka, offering a far larger arc and a method to both bypass the islands, intersecting with key north-south highways further away from already jammed residential areas.

But this is off point.

Of course, there are the more practical issues to consider that may explain why this project was kiboshed – like Pauline Marois’ multi-million dollar Ile-Bizard estate, most of which is located on land allocated by previous governments for the proposed highway extension.

How Ms. Marois came to build such a magnificent house on land that’s supposed to be the property of the transport ministry is a good question I’d sure like to know the answer to.

Regardless, the big winner here is what remains of the West Island’s once fabulous wealth of wilderness. Low-density development should slow down anyways, what with all this talk of a local housing bubble.

Thinking about these recent developments gave me something to wrap my head around.

We still need a means to get from the West Island to the 440, Western Laval, the North Shore suburbs etc. The issue is why we seem locked-in to planning large, complicated, high-capacity thoroughfares when far smaller, simpler, bridges could be used to efficiently connect residential traffic schemes in one suburb with the virtually identical designs across the water.

In sum, the Back River shouldn’t be the barrier it is, and multiple small bridges could be used to provide a ‘back-door’ from the West Island into ‘West Island-adjacent’ communities northwest of Montreal.

And though such constructions would not facilitate commuters heading towards the highways, it may serve to better connect the West Island in general with the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes Line, by providing access to the four stations further west along the line.

Currently, the West Island uses two AMT stations, even though four other stations could be within car, cab or bus-ride range of a considerable population of West Island residents – as long as we built some small bridges to connect otherwise disparate suburbs. I honestly believe some two-lane causeways is all it would take to introduce far, far greater interaction between several diverse communities and further serve to more evenly distribute AMT Deux-Montagnes Line users, not to mention offer new opportunities to expand the STM’s West Island transit scheme into Laval and Deux-Montagnes/St-Eustache. From where I live in Pierrefonds, Deux-Montagnes is roughly as close as Fairview Pointe-Claire.

More bridges on the back river offer superior traffic diffusion and may serve to get commuters heading north along our three primary vertical axes as opposed to heading south towards the already over-capacity highways.

Here’s what I mean.

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This is an aerial perspective of the train bridge that links Pierrefonds with Ile-Bigras and the Laval Islands (and by extension, western Laval and Deux Montagnes & St-Eustache just beyond), a bridge which is primarily used by the AMT and ever-so-rarely by CN. Once upon a time this rail link provided regular service between Montréal and Ottawa and the vast number of little towns along the way, but nowadays service is nearly exclusively to support the commuting class, on a schedule appropriate to their needs. It has created a problem for some West Island commuters, in that if for whatever reason you should miss the inter-modal station at Roxboro-Pierrefonds, and wind up in Ile-Bigras or Deux-Montagnes, you would need to call for a lift or a cab, as service in the opposite direction drops off after a certain time, and there’s no public transit options available that inter-links with the STM. The cost could be as high as $60 and take as long as an hour, depending on where you eventually got off and highway traffic.

This predicament illustrates our over-dependence on high-volume traffic systems at the expense of low-volume, tactical and in our case far more convenient connections. A simple pedestrian crossing attached to the existing bridge and an illuminated pathway is all it would take to save thousands of commuters from this operational inefficiency and further permit traffic diffusion by providing an alternative for everyone now within walking distance of Ile-Bigras, meaning fewer cars jamming up the intersection of Pierrefonds and Gouin boulevards during rush-hour, a problem which far too frequently results in major traffic jams (and on that note, aside from making this strip of Pierrefonds boulevard uni-directional towards the train station at rush hour, why not see if we can extend Pavilion Street through to Gouin Boulevard through part of the landscaping firm’s outdoor nursery here – both of these measures would allow for superior traffic diffusion between the confluence of major inter-suburban boulevards and the principle arteries of the residential expanse north of Gouin).

But on a broader scale it would be better still would be to extend Riverdale Boulevard north of the tracks towards the northwest, intersecting with an extension of Perron Street towards the CN Bridge, ultimately connecting to Chemin du Mistral on Ile-Bigras and then on to Chemin du Bord-de-l’Eau in Western Laval. Far less expensive than a highway and does a better job connecting Pierrefonds with its neighbours, resulting in new commuting possibilities, access to more schools and services, not to mention new business opportunities. The vast, exclusively residential riverside hinterland of Pierrefonds would suddenly have enough through-traffic to support numerous local small business initiatives. There’s no question Pierrefonds would change, I would even argue somewhat dramatically so. Making it easier to get around, and providing new trajectories and traffic patterns with the aim of opening new yet hyper-localized vectors of exchange, would serve to change Pierrefonds by making it more useful, more usable, and further still, more economically sustainable. By adding little bridges a bedroom community can transform itself into a hub of activity.

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As you can see here, there’s a seasonal ferry running from the northeastern part of Ile-Bizard to Laval close to the Ste-Dorothée AMT station at a point in the river so narrow it truly boggles the mind a bridge hasn’t been built. Doing so would allow for residential development on former farmland in an otherwise difficult to access part of Ile-Bizard. A pedestrian crossing from Ile-Bigras to Ile-Bizard would serve to provide even better access to the crucial AMT link to the city – all of which permitting public-transit-focused residential development. A better kind of bedroom community, one in which the train station is always within walking distance.

And a bridge seems to have once been planned to extend Marceau Street to Rue Cherrier in Ile-Bizard, as you can see here in another logical place.

Consider the numbers – there are 14,000 people who live in Ile-Bizard, and they are connected to Montreal via one bridge, two bus lines and a seasonal ferry that can carry but a few cars on a ridiculous two-minute trip that could completed in a matter of seconds in a bus or car. A bridge built at that location could provide 14,000 people access to the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes Line, and Ile-Bizard is one of the few places left in the West Island that can support new low-density development while still retaining a sufficient proportion of undeveloped wilderness.

There are 68,000 people in Pierrefonds, more than half of whom live in the higher density eastern sectors, of which maybe ten thousand people could be better served if they had direct ‘within walking distance’ access to Ile-Bigras or Ste-Dorothée train stations. Providing high-density public transit systems within walking distance of where most people live in turn could provide a host of new small-scale business opportunities focused on a suddenly more vibrant street life it what would otherwise be but a bedroom suburb.

If I’m lucky maybe we can make this an election issue – Pierrefonds needs a new role and direction as part of Metropolitan Montréal.

5 thoughts on “Un Projet Pour Pierrefonds – Building a Bridge to Ile-Bigras”

  1. The problem with a bridge where the train railway is, is there is a bottleneck where Gouin Boulevard and the train railway meet at 5th Avenue. I often seen the train warning system guard rail smashed and broken down by cars or trucks who could/would not stop for the train.

  2. Salut Patrice –

    Thanks for commenting.

    I’m not crazy about the 440 extension either, and wouldn’t want a highway cutting Ile-Bizard in half, and I recognize that yes, building a small bridge may lead people to consider building a larger one.

    But, this being Québec, I think a smaller bridge might be more feasible in the short term. The seasonal ferry makes no sense to me at all, especially considering how short the distance is between Ste-Dorothée and the northwestern edge of Ile-Bizard. I mean, it looks like I could throw a football across the water (ok, maybe not quite, but still, it’s less than 100 meters).

  3. Hello,
    Great, detailed analysis. However I disagree with the bridge between Ile Bizard and Laval, even though the idea of a pedestrian passage to the train station is a nice one. It was planned a couple years back but we figured out that it would then become a trojan horse for the 440 ravaging through the Parc Nature to get to the other, West end of the island. Even a small pedestrian bridge opens the mind for a bigger bridge, in a “facts-on-the-ground” way. The initial 440 plans were made when we were very far from the green perspective we have acquired since the 60s, when it was at first put to paper. I also love the idea of upgrading the Ile Bigras infrastructure, in fact I mentioned exactly that on my Facebook page a couple days ago, but I would like to hear the opinions of people living near that zone to know if it would impact them in a negative way. Thanks for engaging in those ideas, it makes for an interesting debate.
    Patrice

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