So I just saw this post from the West Island Gazette concerning the problems commuters can expect what with the commencement of major renovations to the Turcot Interchange next year. Apparently, the MTQ will allow an eastbound lane on highway 20 to be used exclusively by buses, which will certainly be a benefit to West Island commuters. However, there is also a proposal to cut back on one lane on St. John’s Boulevard so that it can be used exclusively for buses; this will no doubt add to the gridlock experienced by West Island motorists on its North-South Axes. The illustration above is a proposed roadway designed to serve as a new North-South axis connecting highways 20 and 40 in addition to Gouin and Pierrefonds boulevards, on the western edge of residential expansion on the West Island. Doubtless, construction of a large suburban boulevard would certainly lead to additional development further West, on effectively what is one of the few large open tracts of raw Montréal wilderness left on island. I can imagine the land between this proposed road and the Anse-a-l’Orme Trail could see a rapid and degenerative transformation within a few years unless certain protective practises were adopted, such as those observed in the United Kingdom with respect to the established green belts. In spite of this danger, this new roadway would at the very least help minimize congestion in the West Island. And if I’m not mistaken, this seems to be the same location for the once proposed highway 40 to highway 440 link, a project which has been dormant since about 1977. See more about that here.
This plan would see a major highway built to run from the 40 up along the Timberley Trail, across Ile Bizard (effectively bisecting the island) towards Ile Bigras and then through Laval-des-Rapides to join Highway 440. Now while I’m generally not in favour of new highway construction, if we were to go forward, developing with ecological and economic sustainability in mind, we can built efficient roadways and integrate public transit systems as well. The biggest issue for me is that Montréal is missing key links to create an effective ‘ring-road’ system, and this route could alleviate congestion on highways 40 and 440, not to mention the other North-South axes serving the West Island. With an southern extension, it could intersect with Highway 20 as well, which would be even more efficient.
That said, planning highways through residential zones with ecosystems that need to be preserved presents additional complications which need to be taken into consideration. As an example, given the experience with the previous pedestrian crossing at Woodlawn and Highway 20, we know that highway traffic needs to be isolated from residential traffic, and so such a project would necessitate a service road, underpasses and overpasses, not to mention a couple of bridges as well. We also know that building an elevated highway is problematic, and not only because they’re eyesores that can negatively impact land values on either side. Moreover, additional new residential boulevards will be required to help with alleviate congestion on the three current principle arteries. As an example, Jacques-Bizard/ Sommerset should be extended to connect Gouin, de Salaberry, Brunswick and Pierrefonds Blvds with Highway 40 while Antoine-Faucon should be developed into a boulevard in its own right, to connect with the Anse-a-l’Orme trail.
Planning with this in mind would be made easier if the West Island communities consolidated their efforts into a single collaborative transit and transportation authority designed to administer road and highway development, public transit and transportation infrastructure. Imagine a West Island version of the STM, STL or RTL, with the added responsibilities of planning and executing the construction of new roadways (with public transit in mind). West Islanders need to plan for roadway construction with new development in mind, but this shouldn’t preclude us from integrating ecologically sustainable public transit systems into our new roadways. No matter which way you cut it, we need to be masters of our domain, and can no longer depend on others to solve our planning and transit problems. A West Island transit authority could do just this.
Depending on how you define the West Island, it’s population ranges from 225 to 300 thousand people and there is plenty of room to grow. It’s largely flat with long, wide boulevards and streets and there is a considerable amount of daily internal movement, making public transit a necessity both within West Island and between the West Island and the City of Montréal. Furthermore, West Island residents commute in large numbers; the two most used AMT commuter train lines both serve the West Island. Despite the generally good public transit coverage offered by the AMT and STM, many West Island residents feel public transit options are limited and roadways are as overly congested as the express buses and trains running between the city and suburbs. With all the new highway work projected over the next few years, residents have a pressing reason to unite and begin developing sources of revenue to build new roads, highways and public transit alternatives. Simply put we need our own lobby and leverage group, and taking on this responsibility will, at the very least, allow us to develop a system appropriate to our own needs.
Consider the following:
A) West Island residents have a legitimate reason to ask for a Métro connection to the West Island, ideally to Fairview along the Highway 40 corridor. Whether this comes to be as a new line or an extension to an existing line (such as the Blue Line, which could pass through Airport on the way to St. John’s Blvd), we have a large enough population to make good use of it, and this in turn would cut down on commuters using their cars or the multiple existing express bus lines. That said, unless the West Island municipalities are willing to develop a significant portion of the construction capital by themselves, the STM will have to focus on its chief customers; that is to say, the residents of the City of Montréal. A unified West Island transit authority would be in a better position to administer such a large project, and the transfer of public transit responsibilities to the new body may in turn liberate additional funds from the STM to help in the development of a new Métro line. But we need to be able to stand on our own two feet.
B) The West Island’s geography and urban planning have produced a large area defined by its flat topography and wide streets – ideally suited for a large surface tram or trolleybus network. Two dozen lines could cover all the principle North-South & East-West axes, in addition to express lines running along the highway service roads and a ring-route using Lakeshore, Beaconsfield, Senneville, Gouin and des Sources boulevards. Such a system would mean the STM and AMT could move away from using express buses given that the trams would connect to major transit junctions, such as the Dorval Circle area, Cote-Vertu Métro station, Bois-Franc station etc. The STM could then re-focus its West Island operations away from the major thoroughfares and instead better serve the vast expanses of suburbia. Trams have the advantage of carrying more passengers than regular buses and are quieter, more efficient and could more effectively shuttle West Island commuters into the higher capacity systems, such as the Métro and AMT commuter trains.
Either way – just like Laval and Longueuil, the West Island has particular transit and transportation needs, and we should form a collaborative organization to support the sound development of a better local system. We should do this not out of frustration but because we need to take responsibility for our own development, and such a large enterprise gives us real economic power, not to mention potential political leverage. We should do this ultimately to help empower ourselves, and potentially improve public transit throughout the region as a result of our inspired leadership.
This is something that we can accomplish and it would be a great credit to our community. We’re only going to get bigger, so we can’t rely on outside agencies and land speculators to dictate development any more. The West Island needs to recognize it is a viable community now, with a history and a culture all its own. We aren’t merely a local Levittown, a random collection of houses built according to market directives, and so we need to start thinking bigger, and thinking more precisely about what we can achieve and build for ourselves, together. We may be inclined at some point in the future to unite the independent communities of the West Island into a single urban agglomeration to best represent our needs and desires on a larger scale. Frankly, I think it’s inevitable that this will happen. Building our own transit agency is a good stepping stone to realizing this goal, not to mention a strong foundation on which to base it. And if we were to embark on such a plan, there’s no doubt in mind we can conspire to make public transit the preferred method of getting around the West Island and for commuting into the city. It would help stimulate our economy and ultimately lead to better living and healthier lifestyles. These are but a few reasons, I’ll elucidate the rest later on.