A few things every Montrealer ought to know about Mirabel International Airport {Updated – May 2014}

Recent news is that the unelected government agency responsible for Montreal’s airports will seek to demolish the iconic main terminal of Mirabel International Airport, effectively shutting the door on ever using it again. The terminal has been abandoned, but maintained, since passenger flights ceased using the airport in 2004, and apparently this costs somewhere in the vicinity of $5 million annually.

I’m of the mind this is a colossal mistake and I’ve modified a previously published article to point out why. Enjoy.

1. We still need it.

Montréal is a major international tourism destination in addition to being a key port of entry for immigrants and refugees. Our city is growing as is interest in our city, this is undeniable. As we stimulate our development and continue on our path to becoming a truly global city, we will require an airport that can handle a steadily increasing number of passengers. Such an airport will grow, by necessity, to serve a steadily increasing population base and will stimulate industrial development around it.

I’m looking at this with a long-term perspective. Traffic congestion around Trudeau airport is bad as it is and without major changes to local transport infrastructure will only get worse. There’s no room to build additional runways or terminals and, because the airport is surrounded by residential housing, the airport has a curfew limiting its hours of operation. It’s more-or-less at capacity.

And at a certain point in our city’s future, the land the airport currently occupies will be more valuable as residential housing than as an airport. Demand for on-island residential property will increase with the cost of oil, and all the factors that once made Trudeau airport’s location ideal for air travel will, in the future, make it an ideal place to own a house.

Mirabel, by contrast, is located in a rural area with plenty of room to grow. Built away from the city, Mirabel can operate twenty-four hours a day and purpose-built infrastructure can be implemented so as to make access to the airport efficient and effective across the metropolitan region. Similar infrastructure redevelopment in Dorval is proving exceptionally difficult to implement.

When considering what to do with Mirabel, we should be thinking about our future needs.

2. It’s becoming more accessible.

The lack of access that lead to Mirabel’s demise is either currently being implemented, in use, or otherwise still on the drawing board.

Highway 50 from the National Capital Region (population 1.4 million) has been completed, and it intersects Highway 15 near Mirabel. There are many more international flights available from Montreal than from Ottawa and this is a market a resurrected Mirabel could have access to.

The AMT runs trains between Montréal and Mirabel, on a track which can access the Deux-Montagnes Line (and by extension Gare Centrale), in addition to the Parc Intermodal Station. The train station at the airport has already been completed. We’re closer to realizing high-speed rail access to the airport than we realize – the problem is that we’re focusing on the wrong airport. Completing Highway 50 so that it connects with Highway 40 near Repentigny will allow a northern bypass to mirror the now completed Highway 30 southern bypass of the Island of Montreal. And what better way to justify the construction of a new South Shore span than by simultaneously completing Highways 13 and 19? This way, the Montréal metropolitan region would be served by four East-West Highways intersected by a similar number of North-South Highways. A ring-road would be created, and Mirabel would finally be able to adequately serve the entire metropolitan region. And that’s just the highways. While the Fed claims high-speed rail is an expensive dream, the government of Ontario is pressing ahead with the development of a new high-speed rail system connecting Toronto with London.

I’m convinced this is precisely how high speed rail will be (re)introduced to Canada – the provinces will get the ball rolling on specific, tactical, routes which will ideally blossom into a federal system. So why not do the same here?

A bullet train running between Downtown Montreal and Mirabel could lead to the creation of a high speed rail link between Mirabel and Ottawa. A high speed train travelling at 320km/hour could run the distance between Ottawa and Mirabel in about thirty minutes. From Gare Centrale to Mirabel, the trip could be done in less than half that time.

Imagine a future Montreal in which international travel was as close to you as the nearest Métro station and didn’t require finding parking or calling a cab?

Imagine a future in which Mirabel didn’t just serve Metropolitan Montreal better, but the National Capital Region as well?

3. Competing with Pearson

Competition is economically healthy, so why not develop an airport that can compete with Toronto’s Pearson? Low jet-fuel prices and longer-range aircraft made stopping at Mirabel unnecessary in the 1980s and 1990s and gave rise to Pearson Int’l Airport in Toronto as chief Canadian gateway. Today, fuel prices are high and unstable. Mirabel is 600km (give or take) closer to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and a number of important cities on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. I think we could use some competition in terms of which city is the true eastern gateway to the country, and I’d honestly like to see what would happen if we pushed ahead with Mirabel to take business away from Pearson. It’s what capitalism is all about right? Better public transit access to strategically situated airports able to adapt to new technologies will define the gateways of tomorrow, and for this reason Mirabel is superior to Pearson in many respects. Let’s see what the free market has to say about it. Again, Pearson, though large, is nearing capacity and constrained from large-scale growth by what has already grown up beside it. And we can’t grow unless we have the infrastructure to allow for growth. So whereas the citizens of Toronto may one day have to plan an entirely new airport even further away from the city centre, all we have to do re-connect our airport to our metropolitan ‘circulatory system’. The advantage will soon be ours.

4. Mirabel wasn’t designed to fail – we let it fail.

Fixing it is still a possibility, but we need to act quickly so we can save what’s already been built. We don’t want to have to start from scratch at some point in the future because we lacked foresight today – that’s criminally negligent economic policy. We spent a lot of money in the past and haven’t seen a decent return on our investment. So, invest anew – but invest in fixing the problems already identified first and foremost. Whatever the initial cost, it cannot compare to the potential return a fully operational Mirabel would provide in terms of direct revenue and indirect economic stimulus. There are no mistakes, just innovative solutions. If we were really smart, we’d recognize that planned regional transit and transport projects can be brought together under a larger program to provide the access necessary to make Mirabel a viable solution to our airport problem. Ultimately, it’s all inter-related and could stimulate a multitude of key sectors of our local economy.

We were once a daring and imaginative people, we had bold ideas and planned on a grand scale. Somewhere along the way we became convinced we were no longer capable of performing at the same level, and settled into a holding pattern of socio-political malaise. Today we are restless, and we are daring to ask how we came to be, and where our former power came from. Of late, it seems that we’ve regained our swagger, our attitude. So let us push those in power to dream big once more, and push for the long-term, multi-generational city-building we were once so good at. We have it in our blood, but our pride is still damaged. Let us regain our spirit by turning our past failures into tomorrow’s successes.

Covering Over Modernity

VM97-3_01-028

This here’s a photo of what Montreal looked like back in the early 1930s.

To situate yourself, first you’re looking ‘Montreal east’ – that’s the Jacques-Cartier Bridge under construction, and by my guess I think the airplane was flying near the intersection of Rue de la Montagne and Boulevard Saint-Jacques, or Mountain and St. James as it was colloquially referred to back then.

This is Montreal right before the Depression really began to be felt in Canada, and right after about fifty years of considerable and near constant economic growth for our city.

This is Montreal back when Canada had but one metropolis.

This is Montreal back when it defined what metropolis meant in the Canadian context.

If you stare at this photo long enough you’ll see all that remains, and there’s a lot all things considered.

But consider as well that just about everything in the lower half of the photo is gone.

You can see the transition here (not my work, but hat’s off to the responsible party).

In the contrast you can see the effect of monumental construction projects and just how much space is actually eaten up by the Ville-Marie Expressway.

The depopulation of the central core of our city is clear, but so too is the amount of space we demand on an individual level also glaringly apparent. Back in the 1930s there was a lot more happening, so much more life, packed tighter together. At the top of the picture is more-or-less the limit of the ‘urban’ montreal of the day, and it wouldn’t have extended much father in other directions either.

This is back when NDG was the suburbs.

Montreal’s population was recorded at just under one million people in 1931, and you can imagine the majority of those people would have lived and worked in the area photographed above.

Montreal witnessed a steady decline in population between 1971 and 2001, from our all-time high of 1,766,000 to 1,583,000 at the start of the new millennium. The city lost 183,000 people, largely to suburbanization, during that thirty-year period. Concurrently, the city deindustrialized (as other major North American cities did at the time) and gave up considerable tracts of land to highways and parking lots, facilitating the new white collar workers who worked in the new corporate office towers of the urban core.

It’s unfortunate, because we’ll never have this kind of urban density again, and as a consequence I doubt we’ll ever be able to truly replicate the urban lifestyle aesthetic of our first metropolitan era.

René Lévesque Boulevard as it appeared circa 1962, looking east from about Bishop

René Lévesque Boulevard as it appeared circa 1962, looking east from about Bishop

This is downtown Montreal at the beginning of the 1960s. Here you can see the effect cars had on redesigning the city, as what was once an elegant and small street (Dorchester) was transformed into a major urban traffic artery. Dorchester, now Boul. René-Lévesque, was widened starting in the mid-1950s to make way for the new commuter class driving in from neighbourhoods located much farther away than had ever previously been convenient. As ‘Gilded Age’ mansions were torn down they were replaced with massive new buildings, such as the Tour CIBC (seen above, the slender slate-grey tower), Place Ville-Marie etc.

In all the renderings of exposed highway trenches developed for the city, they all sort of look like this - like canals in an American Venice

In all the renderings of exposed highway trenches developed for the city, they all sort of look like this – like canals in an American Venice

Hand-in-hand with the redevelopment of Dorchester came the construction of a major east-west highway, today known as the Ville-Marie Expressway. The Ville-Marie was a success in one manner of thinking because so much of it was put underground (as opposed to above ground, such as Metropolitan Boulevard north of the mountain), meaning it could be eventually covered over again. Unfortunately this took a lot longer and had a more deleterious effect than city planners had imagined. In the 1960s, when planning and construction of the Ville-Marie began, there was this idea, as you can see in the above rendering, that the new ‘sunken’ highway would take the form of a post-modern canal, stimulating new growth immediately next to it. This didn’t really happen as developers were disinclined to build right next to an open highway trench. Moreover, planners back in the 1960s failed to realize just how unappealing an open highway trench would actually be for all the people walking around above.

View of exposed sections of Ville-Marie Expressway, from the Tour de la Bourse, circa 2000

View of exposed sections of Ville-Marie Expressway, from the Tour de la Bourse, circa 2000

This is what the Ville-Marie looked like right before the first serious efforts to recover the lost land actually began. Notice that parts weren’t completely open – the tunnel roof is visible – but that for whatever reason no efforts had been made to reclaim this space. This would change at the start of the new century with the planned redesign of Victoria Square and the development of the Quartier Internationale.

The exposed section, recovered. Notice the CDP Capital building lower left corner, and the enlargement of the Palais des Congrès, over the former exposed tunnel

The exposed section, recovered. Notice the CDP Capital building lower left corner, and the enlargement of the Palais des Congrès, over the former exposed tunnel

During 2002-2003 the square was completely redesigned, concurrently with the construction of the CDP Capital Centre, the enlargement of the Palais des Congrès and the construction of Place Riopelle between the two. All of this was located atop the tunnel. The CDP Capital Centre is particularly impressive (and I’d encourage you to visit it during normal business hours) as the architect designed a building that sits atop the tunnel but doesn’t place any weight on it – the atrium is in fact located directly above the tunnel, with the weight of the building pushed off on to either side.

At around the same time, the Underground City was extended to connect the once separate eastern and western axes through this area. Arguably the most impressive and least used parts of the RÉSO can be found here.

So clearly it is possible to build on top of the tunnel/trench.

The question comes down to cost.

The last remaining exposed  part of the trench - a prime location for new construction

The last remaining exposed part of the trench – a prime location for new construction

This is the remaining open part of the Ville-Marie Expressway, between the new CHUM superhospital and the Palais des Congrès. As you can see, it’s a considerable amount of space. Mayor Denis Coderre wants to build a park atop the highway trench on the easternmost portion. Transport Quebec, the provincial transport ministry, has said, unequivocally, no. They argue it will cost too much without giving any idea as to what they think it will cost.

This is called ‘convenient political obstructionism. It isn’t the plan they don’t like, it’s that the Mayor of Montreal is planning it and, for reasons that still make no sense to me, a highway used almost exclusively by Montrealers is outside the jurisdiction of City Hall.

When the mayor can’t decide to build a park on top of a highway trench without running it through the often anti-Montreal Québec government, you know there’s a problem.

And as to the other two-thirds of the trench, well, there’s enough space here to build an entirely new Palais des Congrès (not that I’d advocate for another convention centre in the same space, but simply to illustrate just how much area we’re actually talking about).

It strikes me as odd the city, province and various private developers couldn’t get together and devise a plan to cover over this remaining section. If costs are as prohibitive as the province seems to believe, then perhaps the recovering job ought to be a public-private partnership. Get private developers to front part of the cost so that they can get the rights to build above. Something tells me this would be an excellent location both for office towers and condominiums, given that this open hole happens to be in the middle of just about everything. I can imagine living and working here would appeal to a lot of people.

The next phase - this is passed for a park on top of a highway in 1982; neat idea, poor execution, worse location.

The next phase – this is passed for a park on top of a highway in 1982; neat idea, poor execution, worse location.

And just in case there’s any doubt it can be done, it has been done before. The Agora pictured above is probably one of our city’s least used (and enigmatic) public spaces because it’s terribly uninviting. Moreover, due to its design and the relative poverty of the surrounding area for far too many years, it was taken over by local homeless people. My first apartment in Montreal was right in front of it and throughout the summer the entirety of Viger Square was a makeshift homeless campground. The single biggest problem with the public spaces created above the Ville-Marie in the late 1970s and early 1980s is that lines of sight across the spaces are blocked by walls and hedges.

I don’t want to see the Agora torn down because I think it might work very well in another part of town, but the fact remains, these places aren’t being used as best they can.

Especially considering the creation of the Ville-Marie Expressway caused the stately Viger Square to be destroyed.

Especially considering the creation of the Ville-Marie Expressway caused the stately Viger Square to be destroyed.

What I’d like to see is large, green, urban parks with clear sight lines across, much like Viger Square before it was demolished to excavate for the Ville-Marie. Given the new housing built in the area in the last decade, I think it would be wiser to create a more traditional green space in this area and move the post-modern agora a little closer to the city centre. I think the agora would work much better in an area in which thru-traffic can be guaranteed and stimulated. This is simply impossible where it currently stands largely because it’s bounded by two major boulevards and there’s not much going on in its current location to stimulate the much needed ‘ballet of the streets’.

All that said – this is our city, our highway, our public spaces and ultimately our problem. The effort to remove the scar left by our efforts to modernize fifty some-odd years ago has only been partially achieved. In order to build a more cohesive city, and further to beautify it and increase population density, we must be given the tools to be masters of our own domain.

Maitres chez nous…

The Ironic Demise of the Redpath Mansion

The Redpath House in better times...

The Redpath House in better times…

In the infinite wisdom of the Parti Québécois’ Cameroonian-born culture minister, the Redpath House is officially lacking in any historical or architectural merit worthy of its protection. The temporary injunction preventing the Sochaczevski family’s planned demolition of the house has been lifted and the structure will likely be demolished just as soon as possible. I can understand why they’d want to, given how they’ve been jerked around in the past.

That said, I’d prefer the owners of the defiantly anti-péquiste Suburban newspaper turn around – just for shits and giggles – and excoriate Maka Kotto for not recognizing the heritage value of the last remaining home of the family of the guy who financed the construction of the Lachine Canal.

Now wouldn’t that be grand?

Of course it’s not going to happen. There’s profit to be made.

And let’s not forget it’s in the long-term political interest of the PQ to gently erase the trace of Québec’s Anglophone community, and the Square Mile is as good a place as any to start not giving a shit.

The belief that Anglophone capitalists were recklessly redeveloping the city and destroying an element of our cultural aesthetic was somewhat prevalent among the early urban preservation movement and sovereignist movement, and indeed there was a lot of overlap in terms of public demonstrations of the time. Sovereignists, favouring a more socially-conscious method of urban redevelopment that encouraged public repossession and conversion of heritage properties by the state, were quick to join demonstrations against the destruction of entire neighbourhoods and iconic mansions. It was somewhat ironic, given that the people of the Square Mile during it’s golden era (from 1880 to 1930) were often thought of as those who oppressed working class French Canadians. In many ways the excess of the Square Mile and its people (who controlled 70% of the nation’s wealth for a time) played a role in the development of the Quebec independence movement.

In his judgement as culture minister, Maka Kotto believes the Redpath House is of no *ahem* national heritage value.

Really?

I’ll grant that the home isn’t the actual house of John Redpath (but I’m fairly certain is the last of the Redpath family’s Square Mile homes), and I agree with the minister for deploring that nothing was done back when the house was in better shape.

But the minister simply asked that the owner do something to remind passers-by that the home once stood there and should be recognized.

Like a plaque. Or maybe the Sochaczevski’s will call their new condo building ‘Le Redpath’.

Oooh! Sounds historical!

I just don’t understand why the province wouldn’t mandate that the new building incorporate part of the old. I’m not keen on this generally speaking but when it’s the only option in lieu of total demolition I’d go for it. Clearly the walls aren’t in that bad a shape – they’re still standing after thirty years of abandonment. At least if the few remaining Queen Anne style architectural details were preserved it wouldn’t be a total loss.

Either way, very disappointing. Pretty much everyone loses with the exception of the family who was jerked around for a generation by an incompetent heritage preservation bureaucracy.

And they’ve been on the losing end for thirty years. It’s hard to feel bad for rich people who find themselves unable to make more money, or feel good for them when they finally get some justice and can proceed to tear down some history to put up another god forsaken condominium in a high-density neighbourhood.

So I’m all kinds of conflicted on this one.

Ultimately I can agree with the minister – something should have been done long ago and shame on those responsible thirty years ago for not reacting as people today would have preferred.

You can understand why this really doesn’t make me feel any better. Blaming people from long ago for making poor decisions does nothing to protect the past from future development.

Reconstruction & Obstructionism – the Case for Greater Autonomy

Ville-Marie Expressway Overhead

Early one morning late last week Mayor Coderre announced that a portion of the Ville-Marie Expressway will be covered over in time for the city’s 375th anniversary and by the end of the day the idea was shot down in a terse email written by the transport minister’s press attaché.

Poof!

There it goes.

In the blink of an eye a reasonable, straightforward civil engineering and city beautification project gets shot to shit by a man who neither lives nor works here in our city.

And it serves to illustrate a point about Montreal; we’re not actually in control of much in terms of how our city is built, developed, renovated, designed etc.

Montreal can’t build a park over a highway used almost exclusively by Montrealers.

We don’t have the jurisdiction to plan and expand the Métro.

If an adjacent community, such as Montréal Est or Montreal West, wanted to join the city of Montreal, we couldn’t arrange it amongst ourselves – we actually don’t have the authority.

Same story schools and hospitals; the city can’t do anything to help the fact that the CSDM has to immediately close 82 schools due to contamination. The school board deals with the province on such matters. And the city can’t be expected to do anything about our hospitals – which remain open, which will be closed, who the buildings are sold to and how they’re repurposed. Nada. The city of Montreal has no say in any of it.

Our municipal politicians, of all stripes, suffer the consequences. All too often they are blamed directly for all the problems we have on these and other fronts. Because local politicians – those closest to the people – are impotent to effect any lasting change to the operational status quo, they become disinterested at best and corrupt at worst.

And the people, realizing that which is supposed to be the most accessible level of government is in fact nothing more than a hindrance to the political process, disengage from said process.

Disenfranchisement via political impotence.

At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter who you happen to be aligned with because this city is political poison to both the current provincial and federal governments. They know they can’t win here so they sew the seeds of discord in an attempt to divide and conquer the people of this city. We have no ‘pull’ for the moment, and given the Duplessis-like tactics of both levels of government we’re going to continue being pushed around, with development dictated to us.

Unless of course we do something about it.

Let’s get back to the details that spurred this article, for a moment.

The mayor proposed a scaled-back version of a Projet Montréal plan to recover the 500 metre open trench running from the Palais des Congrès to the new CHUM superhospital, between Viger and St-Antoine.

What Coderre is proposing is more modest in scope, focusing on ‘segment 1′ as illustrated above. The covered section would be turned into a large open space. Projet Montréal even proposed naming the space after noted Québec visual artist Marcelle Ferron, who designed the stained glass windows at Champ-de-Mars station.

Best of all Mayor Coderre has put Projet Montréal leader Richard Bergeron in the driver’s seat. Bergeron is in fact going to delay his retirement to oversee the project.

I think this is where things began getting interesting.

The campaign wasn’t that long ago and these two men could not have been more different in their approach. They were rivals in the truest sense of the word and represented vastly different interests. And yet, after a bit of time, they seem to have come to see eye-to-eye on this specific project. Coderre recognizes Bergeron’s obvious talents and clearly respects at least one aspect of the Projet Montréal platform.

Cover a highway, build a park. What could possibly go wrong? Two political rivals cooperating to build something bigger and better than themselves.

So when the transport minister told his press handler to fire off an email to shoot down a fundamentally good idea (and I mean good for our local democracy, environment, urban quality-of-life good) I can’t help but imagine it was done to remind the mayor of his place, of the limits of his political authority. Maybe there was more to it than that.

I believe that a Quebec run by the Parti Québécois is one which is fundamentally set in opposition to the wants, interests and needs of Montreal and the people of the greater region. The PQ is looking to win a provincial majority government by ruthlessly exploiting the politics of division, ignorance, fear and intimidation. They are hoping the politics that put Rob Ford and Stephen Harper in power would work just as well here in Quebec and I believe it was a wise gamble.

We’re Canadian after all… clearly the politics of fear work here just as well as anywhere else.

Unfortunately for the people who live here and drive on our roads, anything and everything to do with the biggest and most important ones are all conveniently outside our jurisdiction.

Keep this in mind as traffic grinds to a halt with the redesign of the Turcot Interchange. It’s a provincial area of jurisdiction. Even if we had a better idea, we can doing about it. Those aren’t city streets.

Our highways and our bridges aren’t actually ‘our own’. You’d think a city of nearly two million people could take care of such things by itself – and indeed we once did.

But over time we have had responsibilities taken away from us, and when you lose those your rights aren’t far behind.

It’s not just that the city of Montreal lacks responsibility in key areas, it’s that we don’t have the right to be involved, by provincial decree.

It wasn’t always the case, we were once a little more autonomous, though only because certain political and social circles happened to once interact here.

Our fall from our former glory as a metropolis is not a language issue or a culture issue, it’s mostly a taxation and efficiency issue.

We were once in charge of our fate and now legislation exists that cripples our city’s ability to perform and succeed. Our failures are quite simply not our own – they are imposed. The people of the city of Montreal – the citizens of Montreal – must have control over all key areas of municipal governance and expected public services. We can manage our own house. We must become masters of our own domain.

The future political divide in this province is not between languages or culture or where you were born. It is between Montreal, as it is and for its own sake, in opposition to a Quebec that feels it must define its culture through legislation. Montreal would simply prefer to be left alone, we are not interested in having our culture, our identity, screwed around with.

The Parti Québécois has made it abundantly clear, Montréal is increasingly a distinct society from the hegemonic cultural identity espoused by the PQ.

When the mayor of Montreal can’t even build a park, with his chief rival fully cooperating no less, the citizens must realize that we lack local political sovereignty in our own affairs.

And this is something that must change, forever.

We can no longer afford to run a city with our hands tied behind our backs.

The Redpath Mansion – Now What?

Redpath House - Credit: Guillaume St-Jean, 2005

Redpath House – Credit: Guillaume St-Jean, 2005

Good news in the world of architectural heritage preservation (boy I like writing that) as culture minister Maka Kotto announced a thirty-day moratorium on the planned demolition of the historic Redpath Mansion.

The culture ministry used a law stipulating that if the government feels there’s a ‘real threat of significant degradation of a property that may have heritage value’ it can stop work for about a month during which time it would (drum roll) produce a study concerning the building and it’s architectural and/or historic value.

So…where exactly does this leave us?

The government has a month to produce a study about a building Heritage Montreal already likely has a massive dossier on. I’m not sure what new conclusions the government hopes to arrive at. The home on Ave. de la Musée was once owned by the John Redpath, owner of the eponymous sugar refinery and builder of the Lachine Canal.

*Note – come to think of it, I’ve seen this building named after Frederick Redpath as wellm so this will need to be cleared up.

So there’s the short answer as to whether the house has any historic value. Montreal simply wouldn’t have become the metropolis it is today without the Lachine Canal. Mr. Redpath is as good an example as any of the kinds of wealthy industrialists that once drove the economy of this city (and province, and country) and who populated the Square Mile district over one hundred years ago (note – it was never actually referred to as the Golden Square Mile).

Also, the home was the site of the grisly murder of two Redpaths, a murder unsolved to this day – see more here.

As to the architecture, the building is significant in that it’s one of the few remaining examples of Queen Anne style architecture, and was designed by the noted architect Sir Andrew Taylor (who also designed the Redpath and Osler libraries at McGill) and constructed circa. 1885-1886.

Unfortunately, the building has been left to crumble, an excellent case of ‘demolition via neglect’.

It’s significant in that respect too, and this is why, despite the building’s poor shape, I’m glad this injunction will prevent it’s demolition.

In sum, I want it to continue standing forevermore, and I want nothing to be done to it to save it.

I’d very much like for this city to have a permanent ruin, a once gorgeous, impressive, ludicrously well-appointed Gilded Age mansion destroyed by greed and political incompetence.

Let it stand, a testament to itself.

Plus, I’m curious to see how long it will stand if we just let nature take its course.

It’s been vacant for more than thirty years, and a portion of the home was demolished prior to the previous injunction filed against the rightful owners of the home, the Sochaczevski family, also the proprietors of The Suburban.

How the situation unfolded works something like this. First, the Sochaczevski’s purchased the house with the intention of having it demolished so that a condo tower could be built on the site. Apparently there was no problem until Heritage Montreal/Sauvons Montreal caught wind of it and had a last-minute injunction filed with the provincial authorities. this was done, but not before part of the house had already been demolished. Then there was a lot of legal wrangling in which nothing was done for many years, the building left to crumble.

Now the owners are making yet another attempt to develop a new building on the site – though this time it’ll be for ‘student housing’ (though not actually affiliated with any known university, nor offering the coziness of sleeping in something which is designed buy the same companies who build prisons…) i.e. really expensive flop houses for wealthy foreign students.

And once again someone has stepped in to prevent the demolition from taking place.

We’re literally back to square one.

From what I know the Sochaczevski’s haven’t been compensated one iota for all this dicking around.

And it’s not like Heritage Montreal or the Quebec government has any idea what to do with the building either. In fact, no one does, and because of the poor condition it’s in, no one wants to front the cash to fix it up.

The owners can be blamed for letting it go to waste, but at the same time, it’s ridiculous for us to have heritage preservation laws on the books if there’s no compensation nor any follow through.

It’s quite the penalty to the owners but it also demands that the city and province have a plan and a better way to deal with problems such as these. And you’d think we’d have figured out that solution quite some time ago, given architectural preservation drives our tourism industry.

So all to say I’m encouraged by the government’s decision but would love to get a little further than simply delaying demolition. We need a plan and I don’t think the PQ is going to start dishing out money to renovate a Gilded Age mansion with no plan regarding its use after the job is complete. And the Redpath House is just the tip of the iceberg.

What about the Lafontaine House, crumbling away as the last piece of the forgotten Overdale neighbourhood. Louis-Hyppolyte Lafontaine was arguably more important than even John Redpath and his house is in slightly better condition and there’s no plan at all to save it from being demolished.

Then there’s the Notman House, also historically significant. Last I heard it was being used for local start-ups but that was a while ago and so the project may have fizzled. The old Dandurand Wines office on Sherbrooke (the Forget House?) has been empty for some time, but at the very least is being maintained.

Long story short, the city, province and federal government need to coordinate to save these homes and repurpose them for the public’s use. The same can and should be said for our city’s many churches, which have become exceptionally important not for religious and spiritual reasons, but because they provide vitally necessary space to community groups. As neat as it might be to convert one or two old churches into condominiums and/or spas, we need to remember that these buildings fundamentally belong to the public and not the highest bidder.

But again, without any kind of organization in place to transition these buildings into new roles and secure funding, we’re at as much of a risk of losing significant amounts of our architectural heritage inasmuch as the physical realms of community and civic engagement.

Which in turn begs the question – what is the point of architectural preservation advocacy groups if they’re limited to simply pointing out dangers and cataloguing what has been lost and what might be lost in the future?

This city needs a heritage trust.

Fantasy Montreal Transit Map

A Montreal Transit Fantasy Map by Yours Truly

A Fantasy Montreal Transit Map by Yours Truly

Perhaps I’ve got a smidge too much time on my hands…

In any event, here’s my very own Montreal transit fantasy map. This is the mass transit system I’d like to see for my city, ideally within the next twenty years but hey, much sooner would be great too.

What you’re looking at is our existing Métro with the AMT system superimposed along with some improvements I think are both reasonable and would be effective at increasing use of public transit in general.

The Métro is represented much as you might expect with thick lines of green, blue, yellow and orange.

AMT commuter rail lines are indicated by the thin coloured lines and, in this graphic, only intermodal stations on those lines are indicated.

The thin red line with stations represents a possible light rail route.

White dots indicate ordinary Métro stations. Large white circles with black rings indicate Métro transfer stations, like Snowdon or Berri-UQAM. Medium size white circles with black rings indicate Métro stations that could be linked to a surface light rail system (LRT, which I’ll get into later on), while large white boxes indicate STM-AMT intermodal stations (i.e. a station in which passengers can switch from commuter rail to the Métro and vice-versa). Four stations are represented by large white boxes with rounded edges (like Bonaventure); these stations are like the aforementioned intermodal stations, though in this case there is a further connection to the proposed LRT.

Concerning extensions, I’ve used the existing AMT commuter rail network, including the soon to be completed Train de l’Est going towards Mascouche (indicated by the thin magenta line) and have added a possible route that, much like the Train de l’Est, shares part of the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes line. The turquoise-coloured line could potentially provide a third commuter rail line to the West Island, relieving the already congested and over-burdened Deux-Montagnes & Hudson lines and providing service almost as far as the Fairview Pointe-Claire shopping centre (though, admittedly, there’d be a lot of work to do to actually connect what remains of this branch with the shopping centre and it’s key bus terminus). Because so much of the Hymus Branch cuts through the Pointe-Claire industrial sector along Highway 40, it’s possible that a kind of ‘express’ service develop here (as there wouldn’t be much point developing stations between a potential terminus near Fairview and where the Hymus Branch links up with the Deux-Montagnes line). Alternatively, I suppose it wouldn’t make much difference if a train station were simply built where the line currently ends and STM buses connected it with Fairview’s bus terminal, but I digress.

I should mention I don’t favour extending the Métro to Fairview when there’s a rail corridor that could just as easily be repurposed. A third West Island rail line (especially one that would cut right through the middle of the West Island) could potentially remove tens of thousands of cars from our already overly congested roads while providing an added incentive to live on-island.

As to the Métro, I’ve included the planned Blue Line extension to Anjou, but have further included a Blue Line extension from Snowdon to the AMT’s Montreal West train station near Loyola College in NDG. Further, I’ve included a Blue Line extension through the Mount Royal Tunnel from Edouard-Montpetit to Bonaventure, so as to allow for the Blue Line to connect directly with the central business district and the downtown train stations. As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, the Blue Line was originally intended to connect withe the downtown via the Mount Royal Tunnel, which is now being transferred from Canadian National to the AMT, which happens to plan both Métro and commuter rail development.

In a similar vein, I’ve prolonged the Green Line from Angrignon west through LaSalle to intersect the AMT’s Candiac line, providing an intermodal station right after the bridge, while the Orange Line has been extended north by two stops in Saint-Laurent with a new terminus at an intermodal station at Bois-Franc on the busy Deux-Montagnes Line (which currently accounts for 45% of the AMT’s passengers). The Yellow Line has also been extended to alleviate congestion on the Orange and Green lines that pass through the CBD. The new Yellow Line would have a station at (or near) the Bonsecours Market to provide better access to the Old Port and Old Montreal and would terminate at McGill rather than Berri-UQAM, with stops on Prince-Arthur (near St-Laurent in an effort to revitalize the pedestrian mall), Parc & Pine (to access the mountain, Parc Jeanne-Mance, Molson Stadium etc.) and somewhere along Milton to open up the McGill Ghetto.

And then I added the purple line along Pie-IX boulevard, running from Montreal North to the Olympic Stadium, with a transfer station where it intersects the Blue Line, and an intermodal station connecting to the AMT’s Mascouche line.

Where’s This Coming From?

Many of these extensions are based on proposals or extension studies carried out in the past. In fact, as recently as the last municipal election, Projet Montréal proposed western extensions of the Blue and Yellow lines in addition to the northern extension of the Orange line to Bois-Franc. So this map isn’t exactly original and for that reason I think it’s a safe bet we’re moving in this direction anyways, it’s just a matter of time.

In addition, using the Mount Royal Tunnel to get the Blue Line to the city, and building a new line under Pie-IX, have both been on the drawing board before (in fact, the official STM map from about 1980 to 1990 portrayed the Pie-IX line as the inevitable next step as a dotted white line).

Perhaps the most unique component of this transit map is the inclusion of a possible surface light-rail route, as indicated by the thin red line on the map, but in this case as well, I’m not exactly starting from scratch. Given that the new Champlain Bridge is supposed to have an LRT integrated into it, and that the most likely route from the bridge to the city is up the Bonaventure Corridor, I figured such a system could theoretically make use of much more of this city’s existing rail infrastructure.

Thus, the Red Line loops around the city – a light train could run from Lucien-L’Allier train station all the way to Bonaventure, the long way, and provide a kind of public transit ‘ring road’ that would connect all the extant Métro lines with all AMT commuter rail lines at multiple points of intersection.

I also added a second branch of the Red Line designed to mirror the old Expo Express Line, though my version would connect directly to the Longueuil Métro station and bus terminus, effectively providing residents of our major South Shore neighbour two convenient methods of accessing the city centre.

This would effectively turn Place Bonaventure into a major transit hub, linking the city’s two main train stations with the heart of the RÉSO and further becoming the main terminal for a potential light rail system.

Two Métro lines, six (possibly seven) commuter rail lines, an LRT system, local, commuter and regional bus service, access to the Underground City, VIA Rail and AMTRAK all concentrated into a very small, very well connected area.

I can imagine Place Bonaventure would be renamed Gare Bonaventure were such a thing to happen.

What’s the Point?

I don’t want our public transit system to become a victim of it’s own success. In the last decade use of the Métro and AMT commuter rail systems has increased dramatically, but because we’re not doing enough to expand and improve these systems along with increases in usage, we’re coming across new challenges. It’s rather ironic – our public transit system is congested. The system we devised to mitigate congestion on our roads and highways has itself become congested, and that in turn is turning people away from our public mass transit system.

I don’t think there’s a single solution, but integrating the multiple solutions we come up with is probably the right move. The Red Line LRT could provide two new mass transit connections to the South Shore, alleviating congestion on the Métro and bridges and providing an alternative to the commuter rail line. It would also help to connect various parts of the city without forcing additional passengers into the central portions of the Orange and Green lines. Similarly, modifying the Mount Royal Tunnel for Métro use and extending the Yellow Line would mean four Métro lines (rather than two) would have direct access to the massive transit hub in the heart of the financial district.

As I mentioned before, this LRT route would further be useful in linking outer segments of otherwise disconnected Métro lines and help bridge ‘high capacity transit deserts’ in some of the first ring urban residential zones.

I look at this map and I see the potential for a city that is much better connected to itself, evolving past our current model which is effectively only designed to move commuters at two different rates of operation and along two different scales of distance. The system I’ve envisioned is designed to connect as much of the city as possible to high-speed, high-capacity mass transit, while further permitting a greater amount of the most heavily populated part of the island to exist within a well-defined ‘high-access’ zone. With eleven intermodal stations, more of urban Montreal becomes accessible to suburban commuters, which in turn could provide prospective suburban home owners with many more options to choose from.

And in the city, well, imagine a system such as this along with more buses, reserved bus lanes and even bus rapid transit (BRT) replacing traditional bus routes.

Would anyone living in downtown Montreal really need a car with such a system?

Ultimately, and regardless of cleaner, more fuel efficient or otherwise electric engines, congestion is still going to be a major concern. We have to realize that our street system was designed, for the most part, in a horse-drawn era in which mass transit was the norm for everyone. Our roads aren’t really built to handle the number of cars currently using them and this is why it costs so much to repair and maintain them each and every year. Removing cars and (simultaneously) improving our public mass transit system is in my opinion the only logical way forward for our city. It wouldn’t just be good for the environment, but would be good for our pocket books as well.

In any event, something to think about. Please comment!

A List of Places Oddly Not Connected to Montreal’s Underground City

Credit to Michel Boisvert and Martin Gagnon from UdeM's Observatoire de la ville intérieur

Credit to Michel Boisvert and Martin Gagnon from UdeM’s Observatoire de la ville intérieur

You’ve probably heard this factoid once before – Montreal has the world’s largest underground city. It’s true, though an unfortunate number of American tourists routinely come here hoping to see some kind of super-sized subterranean lair replete with cave-dwelling French Canadians only to find an elaborate mass-transit system and shopping mall complex instead.

That’s the complaint I hear from most Montrealers – much of the Underground City seems to be nothing but a massive and irritatingly homogenous mall stretching between Métro stations. It seems boastful, maybe even delusional to call it a city.

That was certainly my first, and somewhat extended, impression of the RÉSO, as the Underground City is officially known.

But as we barrel down head-first into winter I recall my sincere appreciation for the RÉSO – the warm-cut. There are some 32 kilometres of pedestrian tunnels and 120 exterior access points concentrated in a 12 square kilometre area that roughly defines Montreal’s Central Business District. Some 500,000 Montrealers use the RÉSO every day on average, and it represents a unique component of the city’s public transit infrastructure.

If Montréal were to be compared to the human body, I see the Métro as the city’s circulatory system, the RÉSO as the lungs and the Place Ville-Marie/Gare Centrale complex as the heart.

And I’m but a red blood cell travelling through the system.

Or at least that’s the way I see it. Once I’m in the RÉSO, I feel a tangible connection to a vastly larger system. I feel like I move faster when walking through the tunnels, as though the tunnels were encouraging me to trot at a swift pace. I feel like everything’s only a five minute walk away, regardless of the actual time it takes. I like that there’s always an entrance nearby, that warm-cuts are a thing, that because so much of the city’s commercial office space and corporate infrastructure (convention centres, hotels, sports venues, etc.) is interconnected tens of thousands of white collar workers have abandoned their cars and cabs and now use a combination of foot power and public transit for their daily transportation needs.

I like that you can walk around underground for over an hour and still not see all of it.

I like that I can plan my routes architecturally, functionally – enter at university, walk through a massive performance venue, find yourself passing a fountain in a cave-like shopping mall, go down the escalator and down the hall to the government offices, follow the signs and meet me in the convention centre by the lipstick forest and we’ll stop by the café next to the reflecting pool in the atrium of the horizontal skyscraper.

Yeah, my directions are crystal clear…

In any event, the RÉSO is a testament to some fascinating modernist-era urban planning ideas about how space is rationalized, how urban functions are aligned, connected and integrated and what interactions people and cities should have with their immediate environment. The Underground City was in part a response to our city’s meteorological and climactic realities but it also drew inspiration from architects and planners who were envisioning self-contained future cities. Montreal benefitted in having a very large area of the urban environment ready for a major transformation (in our case, the massive open rail-yard trench where Place Ville-Marie stands today) as early as the mid-1950s, and within a decade planners were already looking beyond cars as the ecological damage caused by carbon emissions began to become evident. The expansion and development of the RÉSO has given us a veritable city within a city, one in which, increasingly, it is possible to live a completely insulated, integrated urban lifestyle.

Montreal’s Underground City may come off as a bit banal today, but I’m confident, as usage increases, so too will our imaginations with regards to what we can do with it, and how we interact with it. I’d certainly love to see all those new condo projects linked up, so that we can boast of an actual urban population who calls this underground city home. I’d further like to see more open, public spaces – the idea of a small underground park has always appealed to me. And if only we could get the annual weeklong Art Souterrain project to evolve into a permanent display of art throughout all facets of the underground city. Some ‘street’ vendors wouldn’t be half bad either.

While this kind of lifestyle might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I can easily imagine this appealing to a new generation of young urban families. To put it another way, I don’t think it will be too long before we see condo towers with two or three bedroom units, medical clinics, 24hr pharmacies and daycare services. Condos are about branded living experiences, it’s just a matter of time before all the yuppies graduate from their ‘urban chalets’ to something more age and family appropriate. As the dream of affordable suburban home ownership is pushed farther and farther away from the city by rising on-island real estate prices, an entire generation of young families won’t have much of a choice but to stay in the city, close to work and without the added expense of a car.

But I’ll expand on that another day, until then I’ll leave you with the list you came for.

The Montreal Forum, as it appeared in 1996 prior to its conversion into architectural diarrhoea

The Montreal Forum, as it appeared in 1996 prior to its conversion into architectural diarrhoea

1. The Forum.

Despite the fact that there’s a tunnel stretching across Saint Catherine’s Street to Cabot Square, Place Alexis-Nihon and the Atwater Métro segment of the RÉSO is not connected to the most hallowed venue in professional sports history (even if all it is today is nothing but another shitty mall). I wonder if it would be a better mall were it connected. I wonder if it would be anything else if it were connected for that matter.

CLSC Métro, not connected to the Métro - not mine

CLSC Métro, not connected to the Métro – not mine

2. The CLSC that’s actually sitting directly on top of the St-Mathieu exit of Guy-Concordia Métro.

Yes, I get that it’s but a mild inconvenience to have to step outside to get back into the building you just stepped out of. That’s exactly why they should’ve been connected in the first place – it’s inconvenient otherwise. I don’t understand why all the apartment towers around this Métro entrance aren’t also connected by their own tunnels – this would be one very appealing reason to live here (and there aren’t many others).

McLennan Library, credit to McGill University

McLennan Library, credit to McGill University

3. McGill University.

It’s just weird that McGill University isn’t directly accessible from McGill Métro station, this despite the fact that both the Bronfman Pavilion and the McClennan Library are both just across Sherbrooke Street from the Mount Royal Centre and Scotiabank Building, which are themselves connected to both Peel and McGill stations. Worse still, McGill apparently has a large, rather intricate network of tunnels criss-crossing campus, but most are closed and/or off-limits. This is quite unlike the Université de Montréal, which boasts both a network of inter-connected buildings, but direct access to the Métro as well.

Tour Telus, formerly CIL House - not mine

Great shot but not my own sadly; a stately and elegant modernist office tower, under appreciated in my opinion

4. The Telus Building, formerly CIL House.

Diagonally across from PVM and just a touch north of the Square-Victoria’s northernmost entrance, it’s a prime real estate office tower with, I’m guessing a couple thousand people moving in and out every day, yet it’s disconnected despite its proximity to the absolute mega centre of the RÉSO network.

This was probably some kind of promotional postcard from the 1920s, showing the original building and the expanded tower

This was probably some kind of promotional postcard from the 1920s, showing the original building and the expanded tower

5. The Sun Life Building and Dorchester Square

A similar situation, the Sun Life Building has three full underground floors and sits just across the street from PVM and yet remains after all these years disconnected. In fact, several prominent buildings on Dorchester Square remain outside the underground realm, and the square itself has no chic Art Nouveau entrance, such as you might find in Square Victoria. I find this particularly odd given that Dorchester Square is quite literally in the middle of four Métro stations and is surrounded by branches of the Underground City. Perhaps this is because planners wanted people to step out for fresh air once in a while… not a bad place to force this to happen.

L to R: 1100 René-Lévesque, Tour CIBC, Le Windsor, Sheraton Centre

L to R: 1100 René-Lévesque, Tour CIBC, Le Windsor, Sheraton Centre

6. Tour CIBC, the Sheraton Centre and 1100 Boul. René-Lévesque Ouest

These three buildings are all quite literally located across the street from a direct connection to the RÉSO through 1250 Boul. René-Lévesque, also known as the IBM-Marathon Building. I would have figured the hotel, at the very least, would have been connected some time ago.

Come to think of it, I don't care for either of these buildings. I find them uninspired.

Come to think of it, I don’t care for either of these buildings. I find them uninspired.

7. Cité du Commerce Electronique.

Just a short walk up from Lucien-L’Allier Métro station, but same old same old, not connected and no one seems to have even considered it. I’m hoping the multiple new condo developments going on all along the boulevard changes this, but from what I’ve heard the city’s got no one in charge to push such a project through. At the very least you’d figure somebody in the planning department would have this as some kind of a priority.

The new Hornstein Pavilion for Peace, highlighted in white

The new Hornstein Pavilion for Peace, highlighted in white

8. The Montreal Museum of Fine Art

The four, soon to be five pavilions of the MMFA are interconnected with subterranean passageways stretching across both Sherbrooke and du Musée. With the construction of the new pavilion the museum will stretch farther south along Bishop Street, putting it within range of being connected to Concordia’s recently expanded segment of the Underground City. This means that, if the museum were to be connected, one could theoretically walk from above Sherbrooke all the way down to Saint Catherine’s and Guy without freezing or getting your feet wet.

And that’s not half bad.

I wonder if any of those old Métro wagons could be used to extend the underground tunnel network…

Wouldn’t it be fitting?

Remixing the Transit Cocktail

Past, Present and Future - Montreal (Saint-Henri), Summer 2013

I’ve been busy interviewing local candidates in the run-up to the election for Forget the Box (you can see the series here) and I’ve noticed that pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to so far has spent at least a little while discussing transit. Admittedly I’ve spoken to a lot of Projet Montréal candidates, but that’s largely a consequence of the open nature of the party and how they’ve chosen to communicate with the public. Regardless, Projet Montréal is a big tent with a lot of diverse opinions and interests and transit is something they take very seriously and debate rather passionately. Perhaps more than that; I’m getting the impression – not just from these interviews but also from the party platform – that they really get what’s at stake here.

It’s not just moving people, it’s how people move, and the layers of connectivity we create across the urban environment. We have an excellent public transit system by North American standards, but by world standards, or the standard set by many major global cities and smaller progressive nations, we’re falling behind.

So consider all the transit news of the last month or so. The big one is that PQ announced their eventual intention to extend the Blue Line by five stations further east towards Anjou. This plan has been on the books since Charest included it in a far larger multi-line Métro extension project back in 2009. As you doubtless already expected, nothing came of that plan, and now we’re being told no actual work was done to prepare for that plan either, and so some $40 million will be spent over the next two years to plan something that has been in the planning stage for over twenty years, dating all the way back to the original design of the Blue Line.

The less inspiring is that the province keeps making proposals that are casually ignored or immediately dismissed by the Fed with regards to the new Champlain Bridge design (so far the Tories aren’t interested in including a light rail system, will likely destroy the old bridge without examining possible future uses and have rebuffed an idea to build a double decker bridge). It’s clear the feds are building this bridge their way, and spending $5 billion to build a bridge that should cost a quarter of that amount, regardless of the city’s actual transit and transportation needs. In a similar vein, the unusually retrograde transport ministry is pressing ahead with an illogical redesign of the Turcot Exchange and foolish expansion of a highway to increase volume. The Dorval Circle renovation project may take another six years to complete and is already four years behind schedule. An alphabet soup of government agencies and private entities have so far proven nearly impossible to deal with – their lack of consensus retards our progress, our development, and costs us dearly.

More, more…

Last weekend the AMT fully shut down their most active, highest traffic line so that the substantially retarded Train de l’Est project could continue advancing at its snail’s pace.

And the urban game-changer, Bixi, was recently reported to be a bit too much in the red for upper management’s comfort. Apparently the program will not yet be scrapped, but it’s seeming a bit touch and go. I can imagine it would be pretty embarrassing if we lost that which we created and successfully sold to other major cities around the world.

With all this in mind, the mayoral candidates have managed to come up with a variety of transit related talking points, while Projet Montréal is pretty much sticking to the contents of their expansive multi-stage master plan in which trams feature heavily.

Trams are being poorly described as Richard Bergeron’s obsession. I’d argue he’s perhaps very enthusiastic about the idea, but I don’t think one can truly be ‘obsessive’ with regards to mass transit systems.

In any event, Bergeron’s opponents have all come out in favour of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as an alternative to the tram, which they argue will be too expensive and only serve to add to our already extensive list of scheduled road maintenance.

By contrast, Projet Montréal argues that trams are less expensive than Métro expansion, which is the sole responsibility of the provincial government and thus out of our hands anyways.

This is where things get interesting, in my opinion. It’s true that the people of Montréal and our elected officials really have zero say when it comes to Métro expansion. The AMT, a provincial body, oversees the design and development of the Métro. It gets expanded as per the interests of politicians in Québec City, not per the needs of the citizens of Montréal.

With this situation unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, Projet Montréal’s tramways proposal becomes something very different than a mere people-mover. It’s a way of providing an entirely new method to travel about the city, on a mode that operates in the space between bus and Métro service. Thus, by building a tramways network, the city can actually provide a higher-volume express public transit system. Aside from a tram, all the STM has jurisdiction over is a fleet of a couple thousand buses.

I should point out, no member of Projet Montréal I’ve ever spoken to is against the idea of Bus Rapid Transit, but I think most would argue that buses operating in reserved lanes and on an express schedule should be a given, that we should be doing this already as one component of the broader transit cocktail. Of course BRT systems work very well and are comparatively inexpensive to implement. But because it’s so dumbass simple in the first place, I’m left wondering why Coderre, Coté and Joly are all carrying on like they’ve discovered some magic remedy to the obsessive illness that it tramway enthusiasm. We’re talking about new paint, new signs, new and improved bus shelters and some potential changes to roadway signalisation in the urban core, but not much more.

But this doesn’t mean trams are discounted. For one a tram can carry many more people than oversize articulated buses, and for this reason routes would be planned very, very differently, focusing on establishing connections along major thoroughfares but also linking diverse parts of the city through new mass transit arteries. As I said before, they occupy the space between a bus and the Métro.

Projet Montréal and Richard Bergeron’s enthusiasm for tramways seems to me to be a very direct, affordable and effective means for the city to take more responsibility, and a leadership position, in the realm of public transit. Completing a tram by ourselves would be a coup in a very real sense. Perhaps we’ll start asking ourselves what else we should have control over.

New Condos for Overdale, No News re: Future of Lafontaine House

YUL Condos from Mackay and René-Lévesque - not the work of the author

YUL Condos from Mackay and René-Lévesque – not the work of the author

*Author’s note re: the above rendering. I’ve gone and checked – the trees along the left and right edges of the rendering above do not exist. In fact, the one at left could not exist as it would be located somewhere in the westbound turning lane of René Lévesque Boulevard. Also, the intersection at Mackay doesn’t look like that, and there’s no park on the right; it’s another shitty parking lot.

And now for something completely different.*

News on the real estate front, yet another developer is planning a massive condo project for downtown Montreal.

To be located on the Overdale Block (Crescent to Mackay, south of Boul. René-Lévesque) the YUL Condos project seeks to complete two 38-floor residential towers, as depicted above, in addition to about 20 townhouses along Overdale street, both components opening onto a central courtyard. The towers will be on the René-Lévesque side and the townhouses on the opposite side, where their stature will be more in keeping with the ‘human scale’ of old Victorian grey stones.

Admittedly, this project is a bit different from others, namely because it’s being shopped to a foreign clientele; sales offices have opened in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, and the main financing is coming from a consortium of Asian-Canadian investors. Considering this project’s proximity to Concordia University and the large Chinese population living in Shaughnessy Village, I feel it’s likely this project will be realized, perhaps before other similarly sized projects aimed at locals. This project aims to tap into a different kind of market. I have a feeling this condo complex is going to end up housing a lot of wealthy foreign students.

In any event, I’m merely speculating. How our housing market hasn’t yet tanked is beyond me.

So build, baby, build, right?

While I’m glad the useless empty lot will be filled with decently attractive residential towers and townhouses, I’m delighted the developer is also planning a renovation of the Lafontaine House. Perhaps more surprising, it’s not entirely clear what will go immediately behind the Lafontaine House, and so in the conceptual renderings it’s been left as a green space.

The developers are insistent that they’d like to see the Lafontaine House used for educational purposes, be it as a museum or interpretive centre, but they were also quick to point out that they’re not in that line of business. So I suppose this means we need our elected officials to get off their asses and make a move.

Not bloody likely, this is Lafontaine’s House after all.

For those of you not in the know, Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine was the first Canadian to become Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada, the political entity which immediately precedes modern Canada (itself beginning with Confederation in 1867). Lafontaine, along with co-Prime Minister Robert Baldwin, instituted a wide variety of reforms which continued the gentle push towards independence. He was the very first PM to preside over a responsible government and worked tirelessly (and ultimately succeeded) in having French return to official status, something which proudly remains to this day.

You may wonder why the house of such a man as this should be in an advanced state of disrepair, and why no government agency has stepped in to preserve it.

It’s a good question, one I unfortunately do not have an answer to.

But in the current political climate, it’s unlikely the Lafontaine House will be saved either by Québec City or Ottawa. For separatists, Lafontaine (a committed Patriote during the Rebellions of 1837-38) is the source of original sin – he’s viewed as a traitor because he worked with other rebels from Upper Canada (modern day Ontario) in creating Canada. The separatists have often portrayed the Rebellion of 1837 as a simple French vs. English conflict which resulted in Québec’s first martyrs. The reality, as is always the case, was far more complex. In fact, the dual rebellions (which occurred in both Québec and Ontario) pitted Canadians of multi-ethnic origins against the British Empire. Ergo, Canada vs. the United Kingdom, not French vs. English. Lafontaine’s experiences during the Rebellion of 1837 convinced him to pursue the peaceful path towards national sovereignty. His ideal vision of Canada was one in which Aboriginals, French, Métis, Scots, Irish, Loyalist Blacks, Americans and yes even the English would live together in harmony, their commitment more towards a common set of social and political values rather than blood lines and language. Back in the day, this was cosmopolitanism in Canada. It was profoundly progressive thinking and it worked. The Canada we have today, and the Canadian ideal we aspire to, are largely thanks to Lafontaine.

And on that note, another example of why the Parti Québécois won’t be handing over any money to the man who did far more to preserve the French language in Canada than Bill 101 or the Official Languages Act combined. The Parti Québécois simply does not believe multiculturalism is a Québec value.

That it is a Canadian value, largely put into practice by the original Canadiens and our unofficially first Prime Minister over a century before the Quiet Revolution, is of little interest to the populist, reactionary and wholly myopic PQ.

And for that matter, Lafontaine’s house likely won’t be saved by our current federal government either. The Tories prefer a ‘blood & guts’ history that posits Canadians as frontiersmen, warriors etc. It’s a gigantic clusterfuck of idiocy, in my personal opinion, and is severely degrading to our nation’s actual comprehension of our history, but the Tories simply don’t want to know of anything else. Lafontaine’s commitment to peace, order and restraint in the face of adversity is hardly exciting enough to keep Tories’ attention.

So I’m a bit pessimistic government will save the day (do they ever?), but perhaps our new mayor might be a bit more forward thinking.

Lafontaine’s House must be preserved and used to educate the public. It should be both a national historic monument and a public museum and/or interpretive centre; remember it’s free to mail your MP should you happen to agree with me.

Suffice it to say I’d really hate to see this become a private residence, though that’s what will likely happen. If that’s the course of action, hopefully the grounds behind are used for a nice garden; I think it’d be too much to ask private real estate developers to set aside land for a park. Lord knows the current civic administration couldn’t be bothered to do so.

As to the proposed building complex, while I find it aesthetically pleasing and am happy to see the inclusion of the townhouses, I’m less than thrilled there’s no social housing provision (yet again). At a time when our homeless population is steadily increasing and low-cost housing is disappearing from the urban centre (where it’s most needed), we, the actual citizens of Montreal, have no need for more condo towers. But these really aren’t being marketed locally, and it’s not the developer’s responsibility to build such units, it’s up to the city to mandate it.

I only bring this up because, prior to the shady dealings which lead to the razing of Overdale, it was nothing but low-cost housing, and right in the middle of the city too.

That’s a big issue to get in to, one I’ve discussed before but won’t again here. Read this instead, pretty comprehensive.

An Ocean Liner to Boost Casino Revenue

Really wish I had taken this - props to whoever did. The Casino, previously the Québec and French pavilions of Expo 67.

Really wish I had taken this – props to whoever did. The Casino, previously the Québec and French pavilions of Expo 67.

So Loto-Québec is planning on introducing drinking on the floors of the province’s four casinos, as part of a broader effort to update and modernize the casinos to increase revenue and draw higher attendance. Currently both are down, prompting the péquiste health minister (?) to state “it’s time we got our heads out of the sand and ensures our casinos can be competitive.” As it stands, Québec’s casinos are the only casinos in North America where the consumption of alcohol is not permitted on the gaming floor.

The plan is that, by getting on board with open drinking on the gaming floor, many more people will visit and revenues will increase. Gérard Bibeau, the head of Loto-Québec believes nearly $100 million in lost revenue could be generated (though it seems he’s basing this calculation on the idea that attendance is down specifically because drinking isn’t permitted. I would hope attendance is down because a sufficient number of people would rather save their hard earned money rather than risk it). Bibeau suggests that the $100 million figure represents what could have been pulled in by the casinos if not for a 4% drop in attendance over the past few years.

Hmmm. What’s been happening that might convince people to stay away from casinos for the past four or five years…?

Loto-Québec’s prohibition of drinking while gambling on the casino floor is certainly particular, especially when you consider that it’s not a prohibition on drinking and gambling in the wider sense. Anyone can drink and gamble themselves into oblivion at video lottery terminals (VLTs) located in every dive bar in the province – and plenty have (though officially the bartender is supposed to discourage this, if I’m not mistaken). And from my experience working in dépanneurs I can tell you drinking and gambling certainly go together, though it has never been my experience that these activities ever did anyone any good.

But I digress.

Many moons ago it was a lovely Tuesday night in the suburbs and my buddies and I were bored. We were young, temporarily unimaginative yet also cognizant that we couldn’t quite figure out what to do with ourselves. So we piled into a car and took off for the Casino de Montréal. It was my first and last time there and I broke even, winning and then losing $100.

The first thing I really took notice of was a geriatric sitting in a pink jumpsuit, slumped ever so slightly over on one side, an oxygen tank leaning against her high chair. She had a neon yellow elastic chord attached from her jumpsuit pocket to a debit card locked into a one-armed bandit, pressing the button as though in a trance.

These are not the people we want in our casinos (admittedly I’m making a jugement call here, but she did not appear to be a high-roller; she looked like a senior citizen gambling away her pension cheque). Adding drink to the mix will make this problem worse. We want other people’s money – tourist money.

When the Casino de Montréal opened in 1993 it was a bit of a big deal. It’s a surprisingly large casino by Canadian standards, featuring over a hundred gaming tables and 3,200 gaming machines, not to mention the bars and restaurants (three and four respectively) as well as the cabaret and assorted meeting and banquet facilities. As intended, it’s open all day every day of the year and is located far from the city, isolated from the pedestrian and public transit pace of the downtown core on Ile-Notre-Dame. It came to be a year after the city’s 350th anniversary as part of a series of civic improvement projects instituted by Mayor Doré. In this particular case, it allowed for two iconic Expo pavilions to be preserved and rendered permanent. As such, it is peculiar for a casino, as it features low ceilings, natural sunlight and openly encourages its patrons to step away from the tables to smoke, drink and socialize.

When it opened, it was supposed to be classy. The restaurants were top-notch, the chefs and wine selection unbeatable. There was even a dress code – jackets and ties for men, no hats, no jeans etc.

I think this is something we should maintain. Everything about our casino, as initially intended, was almost designed to de-emphasize the gambling. It’s not a big gray box. It doesn’t disorient the patrons by omitting windows. It invites patrons to step away from the gaming, to go outside and get some fresh air. These are design elements we should continue to value.

There’s no doubt our casino and state-regulated gambling is useful – it funnels money from the people’s pocket back into the government purse. Loto-Québec is a provincial crown corporation whose mandate is ‘to operate games of chance in the province in an orderly and measured way’ and I would argue strongly they do a generally good job, even though I’m morally opposed to the practice in the first place.

I suppose it’s not so bad if it’s rich people who’re losing their money – they can afford it.

But all too often casinos wind up preying, even if indirectly, on the poorest elements of society – they people most desperate for a financial break are all too often those with bad finances and who exercise poor jugement with their money. And whereas there once were controls – like the dress code and limitations on drinking on the playing floor – these have been shelved to accomodate the poor yet regular patrons who provide the bulk of the casino’s revenue during a prolonged period of economic instability, such as we’re experiencing right now.

But my question is this. Is this really the best way to increase revenue? How much extra coin could this actually produce?

And why look to locals as our main source of casino revenue?

And why isn’t Montreal’s casino generating money specifically for our own needs? The city could use revenue generated by the Casino de Montréal more immediately and doubtless more efficiently. As an example, with new legislation, the Casino de Montréal’s revenue could be re-directed towards costly and necessary infrastructure improvements to local schools (you’ll no doubt recall many local schools have severe mould and asbestos problems). Or to provide scholarships and bursaries for post-secondary education. Or to help defray the massive cost overruns of the new hospitals. or to improve public transit. The list goes on. As it stands today this money is sent to Québec City, where I suppose it’s moved back into general revenue.

This doesn’t help us much at all, yet Montréal is on the hook for nearly every negative repercussion from casino operations in the city – everything from the social problems associated with gambling addiction in our poorest neighbourhoods to the inevitable suicides and road accidents that happen on the otherwise deserted junction of Ave. Pierre-Dupuy and the Pont de la Concorde.

So let’s do something different.

The city ought to take in a greater share of our casino’s revenue, but we can’t argue this position unless we’re willing to provide our own plan to increase attendance and revenue. Thus, I would argue strongly that the city should look to acquire the single greatest missing piece from our casino’s master plan – a hotel – and assist in redeveloping the Casino de Montréal with a new hotel & resort component. This in turn could be part of a larger plan to increase the use and revenue generated by all the diverse functions of parc Jean-Drapeau.

But where would we build a hotel? Ile-Notre-Dame doesn’t have much space to support a large hotel, and construction may render the island temporarily unusable.

Permanently mooring a cruise ship or ocean liner within proximity of the casino presents us with an interesting possibility to get everything we need for a major casino expansion without having to build much. It would allow us to rather suddenly put a lot of hotel space more or less in the centre of the city’s park islands. Rather than building new we simply tow a full expansion into position. It would look good, it would be exceptionally unique and would further serve to provide a lot of direct financial stimulus for our otherwise underused (and at times worn-down) parc Jean-Drapeau.

Inter-island Channel, Parc Jean-Drapeau

Inter-island Channel, Parc Jean-Drapeau

And wouldn’t you know it, we could park a cruise ship or old ocean liner right here between the inter-island bridges. One would fit perfectly (though we might have to dredge the channel and temporarily remove one of the bridges) and I think in a broader sense fulfill a grander scheme for the park islands. I’ve often felt that this grand playground lacks any unifying cohesiveness – it’s simply the space we put all the stuff we can’t place elsewhere. We’ve purposely concentrated a lot of diverse entertainment in one space and have done well in maintaining that space’s utility within the public conception of the urban environment. Yet it’s still very detached, isolated even, from the rest of the city.

I feel a floating hotel solves more than one problem, using the location’s relative isolation to its advantage. For locals and people from the region, it could provide a much-needed ‘urban resort’, a place to get away from it all that’s oddly located in the middle of everything. For foreign tourists or families on vacation, it provides a hotel in a controlled environment almost exclusively dedicated to family friendly activities. Re-instituting the dress code and prohibiting drinking from the gaming floor in this newly expanded casino could serve to help sell the image of a classy and unique vacation experience catering to a wide variety of tastes.

Think about it – Parc Jean-Drapeau is a large multi-use park with a considerable natural component, occupying roughly the same amount of space as Mount Royal Park (2.1 square kilometers). It features, among others, a beach, an aquatics centre & rowing basin, manicured parks and trails, an amusement park, a historic fort and a premier outdoor concert venue. Placing a hotel in the middle of it, associated with the aforementioned casino, would surely drive up revenue not only for the casino but everything else going on at the park as well. It could conceivably make the park more useful during the winter months and provide sufficient new revenue so as to redevelop the Biosphere, Helene-de-Champlain restaurant and give the whole place a facelift too. And I don’t think it would take much of anything away from the city’s existing hotels as, from my experience, parc Jean-Drapeau is nearly exclusively used by locals, being perhaps a little too detached for tourists.

SS United States by Wikipedia contributor Lowlova

SS United States by Wikipedia contributor Lowlova

For your consideration, this rather handsome looking (and famous) ocean liner, the SS United States, can accomodate 5,000 people and is in desperate need of a buyer to keep her from the breakers. The idea of permanently mooring an ocean liner somewhere in the Old Port isn’t entirely new either. Aside form the fact that it’s already been done elsewhere, our own Mayor Drapeau wanted to use an ocean liner to house Olympic athletes during the `76 Games, with the idea being that the ship would be converted into a floating hotel, casino and convention centre afterwards as part of a broad facelift for the Old Port. His preferred vessel was the SS Normandie.

Definitely worth reconsidering, in my humble option.

If you happen to be looking to buy a cruise ship, look no further.

The Tramways Issue & the Future of Montréal Public Transit

Of the various videos I looked at that featured archival footage of the city and the tramway we once had, this one was the least schmaltzy. Enjoy. It appears as though the STM’s choice of narrator certainly has no beef peppering his orations with English loan-words and anglicisms. I wonder if this was done on purpose to attract a wider audience or reflect the French as it is all too often spoken in Montreal.

Curious stuff…

Anyways.

I didn’t have a chance to get into too much detail on Daybreak, so I figured I’d offer the coles notes version here. Here’s the truncated version of my thoughts on the issue – I’ve expanded below further below.

1. Before we expand our public transit network or implement new systems, let’s ask ourselves whether we can do better with what we have. In sum, let’s prioritize renovation before expansion.

2. There have been many LRT/Tram proposals that have been floated about since we foolishly eliminated the system several years before the city even began construction of the Métro. Trams and LRTs have been proposed (or are being proposed) to connect Brossard and the Sud-Ouest district with the downtown, to connect the city to the airport, to replace the near totally unused 715 bus route, to run on Cote-des-Neiges Road, Parc Avenue (replacing the high-capacity articulated and express buses), Boul. René-Lévesque, Pie-IX and Peel Street (etc.) and even as a potential replacement for express buses running to and from suburban bus depots conveniently co-located at major area shopping malls. If we ever do get around to building any of this, we really should look to build as much of it as quickly as possible and using the same vehicles to streamline efficiency. Developing several different types of trams and/or LRTs is completely illogical.

3. Any new tram or LRT system built in the city should use a reserved lane and be given absolute right of way. If trams are getting bogged down in vehicular traffic (as they do in Toronto), they’re not really helping anyone at all.

4. Tramway routes should be designed to fill the gap between the bus and Métro network. I’d even go so far as to argue trams would be best used to completely supplement buses in the most densely populated parts of the city, allowing buses to be re-directed to suburban routes.

Some questions we should consider:

Are we optimizing the value of what we already have?

Is our existing system as efficient as it could be?

Do we have adequate services?

Could our diverse public transit services use a facelift?

There’s no better example, in my opinion, of how little control Montréal has over its public transit system than the news of the past weeks and months. The Fed wants to invest $5 billion in a new Champlain Bridge, but refuses to use that money for any other public transit purpose. They also insist that this money could not be used to construct an LRT system on the new bridge to serve South Shore commuters, that tolls are the only way to pay for it and that the original Champlain Bridge would have to be destroyed afterwards.

Meanwhile, the place-holder péquiste government insists that it wants the Fed to pay for an LRT on the new bridge, that it will spend $28 million to study a financing initiative, that it prefers spending $1 billion to extend the Blue Line east towards Anjou and St-Leonard, and that no money will be available for tramways development for at least five years.

And then place-holder Mayor Applebaum says that public transit in Montréal requires tens of billions to sustain operations over the next few decades and that no tram could be operational before 2021, some eight years from now. Applebaum won’t be mayor as of this November, leaving promises and proposals in his wake, with nothing actually accomplished.

Mayoral candidate and architect Richard Bergeron makes a good point – taxation could pay for a tram, we don’t need to wait for Québec or Ottawa to green light our transit initiatives.

I like this notion because, quite frankly, we haven’t had a mayor since Drapeau who was determined to lead Montréal, as opposed to letting it be led around by the nose by the often competing interests of Ottawa and Québec City.

We’ve become hostages. Cela doit cesser. Montréal needs to provide the public transit that best suits its citizens and the citizens in its periphery of influence.

As to the bridge, despite the obscene price tag and arguably obsolete transit concept (i.e. of an ultra-wide highway bridge without any high-capacity public transit component), it’s a federal project and we have no real say, at least at the moment. If we want our money better spent we should throw our political support behind either of the two local prime-ministerial candidates in 2015 and hope the oilmen who have taken hold of our nation’s government get swept under by their own operational mismanagement and economic incompetence.

Our city may have better luck negotiating with the PQ, as their minority position and ultra low popularity ratings may be enough to convince them to try and work with their enfant terrible, as opposed to telling Montreal what to do, a losing proposition on any subject.

So it breaks down like this:

The Fed prefers cars and bridges, the PQ prefers the Métro and the city is cautiously suggesting a tram system is in order. The commuter rail network, though valuable, has proven extremely costly to expand with CN and CP generally disinterested in cooperating with the AMT, while the proposed city-to-airport rail link as dead in the water as when they completed the train station in the basement of Trudeau airport’s main terminal some time ago. Aeroports de Montréal was most recently suggesting a monorail, doubtless with its own billion dollar price tag. And though residential expansion off-island has exploded in the last decade, provisions for better STM service in these suburban areas is currently non-existant.

Some commuters living in the Greater Montreal region regularly spend anywhere from two to three hours in traffic, every single day and coming from all directions. This, more than any other factor, is what’s responsible for the degeneration of air quality and the single greatest threat to the long-term viability of sustaining Montreal as a city. As long as we continue to grow, something which I would hope is inevitable, we have to expand public transit service to mitigate the environmental damage caused by so many hundreds of thousands of cars on our roads. Under ideal circumstances, at some point in the future public transit will be the preferred and most convenient method of getting around the metropolitan region. Doing so will not only help us breathe easier and do immeasurable good for the quality of the local environment, but would further serve to allow our roadways longer lifespans and permit vehicle owners to significantly expand the lifespans of their cars. It means savings for the consumer and tax-payer alike over the long-term, something we’d be wise to consider. All the public transit improvement schemes I’ve seen thus far are limited in scope and can only be considered band-aid solutions to far more complex problems.

So where do we go from here?

For one I’d say now is not the time for expansion of the infrastructure of transit, but rather an ideal time to re-imagine, renovate and rehabilitate what we already have.

Why expand the Métro when what we have isn’t being used to its full potential? As an example, the Blue Line remains the least used in the whole system, largely (I would argue) as a consequence of the inconvenience of transferring at Jean-Talon station and the line’s lack of a direct connection with the downtown (consider the popularity and rate of use of the Parc Avenue and Cote-des-Neiges Road express and articulated buses). It just so happens that the Blue Line was originally supposed to intersect the Mount Royal Tunnel at the Université-de-Montréal Métro station. If we were to complete this design the Blue Line would likely operate at full capacity – you’ll notice that trains on the Blue Line are shorter than than the other three. Moreover, the Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line would benefit from an exit at the tunnel’s half-way point and many more potential users.

And it would cost a lot less than an expansion to Anjou. The Blue Line’s proposed eastern expansion would itself be more useful if it offered a more-or-less direct connection with the city centre.

But this brings up two other potential improvements – inter-lining the system and introducing express Métro lines. Inter-lining would permit Métro trains to switch the lines they’re operating on – i.e. a train could go from the Green to Orange line without requiring passengers to switch trains. This could facilitate the introduction of myriad new lines, such as a circular route using the Orange and Blue Lines, or diagonal lines aimed at connecting the first ring urban suburbs and industrial zones directly, as opposed to funnelling everyone through the city core. I can imagine a better distribution of riders this way (which alone could all of a sudden make the while system more useful). Express Métros would simply not stop at certain stations, though this would likely require the development of ‘passing lanes’ or more sophisticated switching and routing systems.

And then there are the improvements that need to be made to most of the existing stations as is, such as basic aesthetic renovations, introduction of elevators for increased accessibility, anti-vandalism treatments (e.g. all those fancy new TV screens don’t have simple plexiglass covers and as such many have been damaged by idiots) and better in-station services, like dépanneurs and public washrooms. Anti-suicide barriers would also be nice.

AMT commuter rail map - 2013

AMT commuter rail map – 2013

With regards to our commuter rail network, this too would be better off without any more expansion. The Train de l’Est project has become a bit of an embarrassment for the AMT, as it is now more than double the initial cost of $300 million and two years behind schedule. On top of it all, there’s an on-going dispute between the AMT and CN as to the new dual-power locomotives and double-decker train wagons procured by the AMT, something which may delay the opening of this train line even further.

Aside from getting this line up and running and finding a solution in which the new train wagons and locomotives could be used, the AMT should prioritize increasing the rate of operation on its network, ideally making all lines run as frequently as the well-used Deux-Montagnes Line (currently the busiest with the highest operational rate of the whole network). Station services need to be improved as well, as almost all are little more than concrete platforms and un-heated glass box shelters; no cafés, no dépanneurs, public washrooms or station attendants. The AMT also has to work out a solution with ADM, CN and CP to establish a rail link to the airport once and for all.

It seems like we’re quick to come up with conceptual renderings of what could be while we drag our collective feet improving that which we’ve already developed. Moreover, I firmly believe the city of Montréal will have to take a leadership role in settling disputes between various transit agencies and the rail giants. We have one of the most comprehensive rail networks of any North American city, but our commuter rail service doesn’t have access to most of the system. Again, an investment in routing and switching technology could help us better optimize what’s already built. City-owned multi-level parking garages at major suburban train stations is another initiative that could maximize the number of commuters, in addition to providing another means of paying for public transit improvements, if not future development. Commuter rail is probably the single best way to get large numbers of people to and from the ever-expanding suburbs, but only if the investment is made to maximize efficiency and convenience.

Proposed Tramway Network developed by the City of Montréal in 2007

Proposed Tramway Network developed by the City of Montréal in 2007

As to the proposed tramways network, there are a lot of good arguments against spending on this kind of public transit at the moment. I would like to see a tram system one day, and believe that it is an ideal system for the city’s urban core, but nonetheless believe we should prioritize making what we already have much better before embarking on new development. François Cardinal provides some excellent arguments to that effect in this article.

I’m in favour of expanding public transit access not only throughout the city, but more importantly in the established suburbs and residential development areas within the broader Greater Montreal region, but I think herein lies one of our biggest problems – we tend to look at public transit either as a city or suburb-specific issue, with various levels of government jostling for different regions of voters. A city such as ours requires better access across the board, no exceptions. Urbanites and suburbanites need better door-to-door service.

However, this must go hand-in-hand with legislation and various other political tools designed to get people to use public transit as the primary means for commuting. What’s destroying our local environment inasmuch as our roadways is primarily the hundreds of thousands of passenger vehicles clogging our roads, all too often going nowhere fast while expelling noxious fumes and carbon dioxide. We all know the drill on this issue.

And we can’t wait for private industry to institute clean vehicles – they’re far too slow. Our own idiotic governments won’t allow electric cars produced here in Québec to be used on our own roads. Perhaps I’m being optimistic in thinking government could institute proactive environmental legislation when the inflated bureaucracy we deal with has such a long and inglorious history of dragging its feet on such vital issues. The city thus needs to take on a leadership role – neither the péquistes or Harper Tories will do much of anything to help our transit system – so far its nothing but delays, potential studies and prohibitive cost projections.

So all that said, I’d prefer we take a step back from discussing expansion and new trams and instead focus on getting the absolute most value out of what currently stands, knocking down inter-organizational conflict and seeking to make public transit as attractive as possible to all citizens. If we can secure higher usage rates across the systems and infrastructure we already have, then and only then can we take a serious look at developing new systems or major expansions to existing networks.

The city of Montreal's current, watered-down Tramways network proposal.

The city of Montreal’s current, watered-down Tramways network proposal.

There’s no question trams could be very useful in the city; the city’s roadways were created with trams in mind, unlike the suburbs that are better served by regular and express bus service. Implementing a tram system in the urban core would allow buses to be re-positioned in more suburban areas, permitting an expansion of suburban public transit access with vehicles we already have. But if people are disinclined from using the bus and Métro, for whatever reason, whatever initial interest there is in trams will likely quickly evaporate. We can’t afford expensive novelties.

Final note – a lot of these projected tram lines closely mirror existing Métro routes. Some would argue this isn’t intelligently designed, that tram lines should go where the Métro doesn’t. On the other hand, if we were planning a major renovation of the Métro network, a surface tram that mirrors the Métro somewhat might not be a terrible idea.

Also, why not co-locate trams on otherwise pedestrian-only streets? St-Catherine’s Street is narrow and consistently jammed with pedestrians; for several summers in a row the street has been closed to cars in the Gay Village, an effort which has not only proven popular but useful as well. Instead of building a tram on René-Lévesque, an urban boulevard specifically designed with cars in mind, why not install it on St-Catherine’s, which was designed with trams in mind, and close that street to cars entirely? A re-developed, pedestrian and tram-centric St-Catherine’s Street could optimize tramway efficiency simply because it would have no cars to compete with.

In any event, just some things to think about.