So we’re getting light rail anyways…? (Updated)

I’m almost willing to place a bet on it…

When the time comes to publicly eulogize Richard Bergeron (which I hope is a very long time from now), someone will remark how the Champlain Bridge LRT is his legacy. There may even be a call to have it named after him, or some such thing, as inappropriate and random as the decision to name the dilapidated old gazebo in Fletcher’s Field after Mordecai Richler.

It would be inappropriate chiefly because neither Monsieur Bergeron nor Projet Montreal ever advocated for a Champlain Bridge light rail system; after all, their constituents reside in Montreal, not Brossard. Rather, they supported the creation of a tramway network in the high-density central core of the city, largely to alleviate congestion on our highest-use bus and Métro lines. (Author’s note: as Projet Montréal City Councillor Sylvain Ouellet mentions below, the party did in fact advocate for an LRT system – albeit somewhat euphemistically – to be included in the design of the new Champlain Bridge right after the Tories made their original announcement about a year ago. So perhaps it’s not as inappropriate as Richler’s derelict gazebo. That said, it would be odd to name a portion of an LRT system after someone – the Bergeron Branch on the (new) Champlain Bridge? Sounds weird to me anyways. Regardless, I hope that our future city benefits from a far more expansive light rail network and that we publicly recognize Mr. Bergeron’s role in pushing this idea.)

For an interesting perspective on the primary differences between light rail and trams, read this fascinating piece by Jarrett Walker.

The basic difference is generally assumed to be whether or not the vehicle travels on a separate track or lane (in which case it would be called light rail) whereas a tram shares the road with regular traffic. I’ve always thought of trams as short and light rail as considerably longer too, but there’s a lot of overlap. Mr. Walker proposes considering stop spacing – the distance between regular stops – as a better differentiator.

In our case, a Champlain Bridge LRT system may have tram-like stop spacing once it gets downtown, or where it starts in Brossard, but would be a true LRT over the bridge and through the Cité du Havre as it would, presumably, make far fewer stops. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Think about the proposed Champlain Bridge LRT system the next time you’re out waiting in the cold and two or three jam-packed accordion buses fly past you on Cote-des-Neiges Boulevard. That or a similar number of equally packed Métro trains at any a growing number of stations.

If an LRT system over the new bridge encourages more Brossardians to use public transit for their commuting purposes, great – this will help the new bridge last a little longer and may further serve, in addition to the ten lanes, to ease congestion and the subsequent concentration of vehicular emissions. But Montreal has its own public transit and pollution issues to deal with, dossiers we’ve neglected for far too long. Projet Montreal even proposed creating a sustainable transit fund, a trust of sorts, partially funded through STM general revenue and a tax on downtown parking (as well as other sources), designed specifically to fund the development and improvement of our public transit system. it astounded me to learn this wasn’t already the case.

Is it amateur hour in this city or what?

Seems like it these days. I’ve already mentioned that the Tories are shoving a bridge down our throats, without an open bid or architectural competition and, once again, preferring a European architect who builds with concrete etc., but what only dawned on me more recently are the implications of their proposal that the new bridge will include an LRT, apparently ‘as requested by the Québec government’ according to Minister Lebel. Funny, I thought Quebec City wanted control of all federal bridges in Montreal…

In any event, I highly doubt this means the Tories are going to help fund an LRT system, I figure at most they’ll include the cost of integrating an LRT track into the bridge, and leave building the vehicles, stations and the rest of the (presumed) system to the provincial government. And that’ll be Quebec’s contribution I suppose, assuming they go along with it in the end. I can’t imagine an LRT system will be delivered on the Tories’ expedited schedule. We’re treading dangerously close to repeating two fatal errors we’ve done, in separate instances mind you, in the recent past. The province was supposed to contribute an LRT to the Mirabel project so that the airport could be connected to the city. Never happened.

There’s not much out there about a planned route, nor whether the end product will tend more towards an LRT or a tram system. In fact, unless I’ve missed something, Marois and Lisée have been remarkably tight-lipped about the Tories’ bridge announcement but a week ago.

But if the péquistes want to save face and show they’re not completely out of the Montreal transit-planning loop, they’ll have to develop something, and soon too.

Or am I being too optimistic? This is Quebec after all.

Perhaps I should be more concerned about the potential for a lot of toxic filth sitting at the bottom of the river getting mixed up into our primary source of drinking water.

I suppose it’s just another reason we should build a tube-tunnel like the Lafontaine; sinking a tube into the water and atop the toxic sludge is probably the better option in this specific regard, but what do I know? Just another headache for the team that now has three fewer years to get the job done, and potentially one that, like so many others, will be ignored and passed down to future generations.

What a gift!

If this LRT ever does get built, I can imagine it running from somewhere central in Brossard (Dix-30 gets thrown about a lot) to somewhere central in downtown Montreal, perhaps on University as part of a new ‘southern entrance’ to the city that will come the heels of the Bonaventure Expressway’s eventual replacement. But this is all pie in the sky for the moment. All that’s been agreed upon for the moment is that the Fed will design a new Champlain bridge with an LRT incorporated. The rest hasn’t yet been nailed down and I can only imagine the fashion by which the Tories’ have conducted themselves thus far may not make for the most productive of meetings with the province.

There’s no debate whether we can get this done, it’s more a question of politics and political will. The PQ doesn’t like being told what to do or how things are going to roll, and it seems as though the Fed has perhaps even overstepped its bounds by treading rather forthrightly into areas of municipal and provincial jurisdiction.

As it pertains to us, all that matters is whether this is a one-off project or whether this evolves into something that actually supports the transit needs of the citizens of Montreal. This is my chief concern, as it should be your own. If this LRT system is another boondoggle, a white elephant to add to the local herd, we might never get a significant improvement to our public transit system ever again.

With low public morale comes a lack of political will.

2 thoughts on “So we’re getting light rail anyways…? (Updated)”

  1. “It would be inappropriate chiefly because neither Monsieur Bergeron nor Projet Montreal ever advocated for a Champlain Bridge light rail system; after all, their constituents reside in Montreal, not Brossard.”

    Sorry, but Projet Montreal and Richard Bergeron are strong advocates for an efficient transit system between Montreal and Brossard based on light rail technology even before the public started to worry about the condition of the Champlain Bridge.

    In January 2010, 4 years ago!, Projet Montreal proposed to convert the car lanes on the Victoria Bridge in a light rail system. The goal was to build a light rail system independently of the construction schedule of the new Champlain Bridge, and give rapidly a real alternative for transit users in case of partial or total closure of the actual Champlain Bridge. And since a light rail system already existed on the car lanes of the Victoria Bridge, the engineering complexity was not so great and the construction period would have been shorter. After we released our proposition, former Mayor Tremblay publicly agreed to make engineering studies to evaluated the Victoria Bridge solution, but he never did so.
    http://projetmontreal.org/wp-content/uploads/documents/document/2010_01_11_projetmontreal_document_1263259514_fr.pdf

    In December 2012, just after the Federal Government announced they will finally build a new Champlain Bridge, we filed a motion at the city council to request a light rail system on that bridge, and not just an improved bus lane.
    http://projetmontreal.org/nouvelle/motions-de-projet-montreal-conseil-municipal-du-17-18-decembre-2012/#pont

    As you can see, Project Montreal is well aware of the challenges facing the Greater Montreal and especially in the strategic issue of the Champlain Bridge.

    Regards,

    Sylvain Ouellet
    City Councillor
    Projet Montreal

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