4. Subterranean mass transit systems are subterranean for a reason. Usually, the presence of buildings above ground is the chief motivating factor for burrowing underneath. This is pretty elementary. It’s also why subway systems are typically found in the most densely populated parts of the city. So we need to ask ourselves – where is this above ground extension supposed to go? The AMT’s plan has been to follow Jean Talon Boulevard east from Saint-Michel station towards a likely terminus at the junction of highways 40 and 25 at the Galleries d’Anjou. If it’s too expensive to tunnel underground, how expensive will it be to expropriate the land necessary for a new above ground rail line?
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.
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.
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.
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.
This would effectively turn Place Bonaventure into a major transit hub, linking the city’s two main train stations with the heart of the RÃ‰SO and further becoming the main terminal for a potential light rail system.
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!
As Bruno Bisson of La Presse points out, there’s no Plan B in case the bridge has to be permanently shut down in advance of any proposed replacement. And because there’s no inter-agency nor inter-governmental cooperation on major transit and transport issues in Greater Montreal, there’s also no real hope of creating a Plan B quickly.
Ergo, if the bridge is in worse shape than we’re being told, it may become unusable and create one hell of a transit and traffic problem. One that will require swift corrective action less the closure of the bridge begin to negatively impact the city and region’s economy.
Federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair describes the Tories’ handling of the Champlain Bridge replacement project as ‘inexcusable’ as the project is significantly behind schedule and is currently estimated to cost anywhere from three to five billion dollars. In addition, the poor state of the bridge has been known to the crown corporation in charge of it for some time, and a considerable sum of taxpayers’ money (federal money, not local or provincial just to be precise) has been spent applying band-aid solutions rather than building anything new. The Tories first proposed a bridge replacement project early in their first mandate – seven years ago. Nothing has been accomplished to date, though the estimated cost has increased considerably.
Fifty million vehicles cross the Champlain Bridge each year, making it the single busiest crossing in all of Canada, working out to roughly 160,000 vehicles per day. Removing it from the city’s ‘transit and traffic equation’ without replacement would be very bad indeed, and not just for the individuals who cross it daily. The Champlain Bridge is bigger than itself, and if removed there will be a profoundly negative cascade effect presenting new stresses on every other bridge, tunnel and transit system used to cross the river.
Though the bridge is only fifty-one years old and the youngest of the city’s four principle bridges, it was built with an apparently poor quality concrete that has eroded far quicker than expected. Transport Canada argues that the span was never intended to handle it’s current operating capacity and that de-icing salt, sprayed in the volumes necessary to clear the bridge for high-traffic use, has expedited the deterioration of the concrete.
Today’s news is that a steel ‘super beam’ will be installed to buttress a girder against any further deterioration of its concrete. We should note that this beam was delivered in 2009; there are 350 beams on the bridge in various states of deterioration, and so I can imagine the Transport Canada may have several of these so-called ‘super beams’ lying around their worksites waiting to be used. Ergo, they’re anticipating years of serious maintenance and repairs anyways.
Now Federal Transport Minister Denis Lebel is indicating the construction of the new bridge may be expedited to be completed before the originally estimated date of completion set at 2021.
When was the last time the Tories got anything built and delivered on schedule? We have reason to doubt such pronouncements; not only are the Tories notoriously bad for over-promising and under-delivering, there’s no political advantage in speeding up construction.
Does the cost of the new bridge (which, at $5 billion is ridiculously expensive) include the cost of maintaining the current bridge?
It’s not like the question is ‘either we continue maintaining the bridge for an estimated quarter billion or we replace it for five’ – either both need to occur simultaneously or the current bridge is maintained up to the point it becomes redundant. Obviously, the current bridge can’t be shut down while the next one is being built.
And yet, with each and every car, truck and bus passing over it, with every winter and every snowfall, it gets weaker, and we may have painted ourselves into a corner where that becomes our reality…
I’d like to know, were structural maintenance and repairs to be suspended, how long would it take before the bridge became unusable? How long before pieces begin to fall off? How long until it collapses?
Assuming the bridge has a definitive expiry date, how much longer can Transport Canada and the Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridge Corporation realistically and cost-effectively maintain it and how much is too much to spend, per year, on bridge maintenance and repairs?
Would the bridge last longer/ cost less to maintain and repair each year if the traffic volume were reduced through the expansion of alternative transit systems?
As to the cost of the new bridge, where exactly is the money coming from? There’s been talk of tolls used to pay down the cost once the bridge is completed. But does this mean that the federal government has three to five billion dollars up front to pay the cost of the bridge?
It’s these last two points that brings us back to the issue of why we need a greater degree of inter-agency cooperation; if the Fed has five billion dollars to spend on a new bridge, why not invest that money in developing mass-transit systems that lessen the load on the Champlain? Reducing the bridge’s traffic volume may extend its life, or at the very least make it easier to repair and maintain. Even if the estimated cost to maintain and repair the Champlain Bridge for the next decade were to double to $500 million, this would be but a tenth the cost of the bridge’s apparent successor.
At the end of the day the issue isn’t ‘how do we replace the Champlain Bridge’, but rather ‘how do we get anywhere from fifty to a hundred thousand motorists to give up their cars for the purposes of commuting in and out of the city?’
Wouldn’t cutting one to two-thirds of the bridge’s daily vehicle crossings not only potentially extend the bridge’s lifespan but reduce yearly maintenance and repair costs as well?
And if you could divert the rest of those vehicles onto other bridges without over-loading them, would we even still need a Champlain Bridge at all?
And if those costs were reduced, wouldn’t that have an effect on the total cost of the bridge’s replacement, given that the proposed replacement wouldn’t need to be built as quickly, nor to the same, rather grandiose specifications as the current proposal?
If the Tories want to do something that will actually benefit the people of Greater Montreal, then it stands to reason they should cooperate, fully, with provincial and local authorities to incite and propel a major shift towards public transit commuting throughout the South Shore.
As it already stands, the AMT’s Candiac line is the fastest growing (in terms of usage) of the whole system, but both South Shore AMT lines combined carry less than half what the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes line carries by itself. In order to make the AMT’s South Shore lines more usable, they’ll need to increase operational tempo, and this in turn means working out a new agreement with the owner of the Victoria Bridge, which is to say Canadian National Railways.
The major point is that the combined cost of maintaining the Champlain Bridge so that it doesn’t deteriorate quite as quickly, coupled with investments in public transit to lessen the bridge’s load, both come out to significantly less than building a ten-lane super bridge. Under ideal circumstances the Champlain would only be used by trucks, buses and people who cannot depend on public transit for their day-to-day work, with commuters dispersed across other modes. And if absolutely necessary, perhaps the Champlain Ice Bridge could be fitted with a temporary light-rail system to further encourage the shift away from car commuting.
But all this requires, as I mentioned before, an entirely new way of looking at transit and transport issues, one that looks at the big picture rather than short-sighted notions of limited responsibility.
As long as we’re dealing with an alphabet soup of transit agencies with competing political interests we gain nothing; as long as we wait for the Fed to replace the bridge we get nothing but a lot of cheap talk.
If our newly elected mayor is looking for something to do, I suggest he meet with the mayor of Longueuil, the heads of the RTL, AMT and STM and see what short-term measures they could put into place to turn down vehicular volume on the Champlain Bridge, and as quickly as possible too.
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 was certainly my first, and somewhat extended, impression of the RÃ‰SO, as the Underground City is officially known.
But as we barrel down head-first into winter I recall my sincere appreciation for the RÃ‰SO – 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 RÃ‰SO every day on average, and it represents a unique component of the city’s public transit infrastructure.
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 RÃ‰SO, 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.
In any event, the RÃ‰SO 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 RÃ‰SO 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.
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 RÃ‰SO network.
Coderre said everything one would expect from an in-coming mayor. He promised to bring honesty and integrity back to the civic administration, return our city’s pride, work for the people and turn a page. Whether there’s any sincerity in these statements remains to be seen – Montrealers are understandably suspicious of municipal politicians these days given that our last two (who made similar promises) are implicated in a vast system of organized corruption, collusion and fraud that only served to further handicap the citizenry and the city’s financial well-being.
Mayor Coderre’s inauguration was over-shadowed by the veritable gong-show going on in Toronto and Rob Ford’s unintentionally hilarious declaration that, given the apparent orgy of cunnilingus taking place in his own abode, he had no reason to state to a female staffer (or prostitute, it’s not entirely clear) that he wanted to ‘suckle upon the life canal’, as it were.
I’m being fantastically ironic of course. This is the greatest statement in Canadian political history:
Every time I watch this clip I’m struck by the patience and intellectual sophistication of the exchange. At the very end, Trudeau says to the reporter ‘I see you’re playing Devil’s Advocate, it’s a hell of a role…’ to which the reporter is left momentarily speechless. Contrast this with the relationship between the vast majority of today’s politicians and the press in general – it’s passive aggression from the former and undue reverence and politesse on the part of the latter. It seems the relationship was more respectful, and mutually critical, forty some-odd years ago.
Mr. Coderre has an opportunity to turn a page and I would encourage him to do so. I think people want to see action, but not just in the form of establishing an office of the Inspector general, as he has proposed to do. Ergo I would strongly encourage our new mayor to start doing things – perhaps small things – and build up a list of real, actual, accomplishments. I want a checklist of reasonable, sensible and above-all-else realizable projects for the new year, and I want things done on time.
The people can be helpful in this case; the mayor has said he will work for the people, so it stands to reason that the people help him draft such a list.
So I put the question to you; what would you include on a list of simple, straightforward improvements for the city of Montreal?
My trouble is that I all too often think in terms of mega projects, so I’ll try to steer clear of such grandiose ideas in my own list.
1. Fix Place Ã‰milie-Gamelin and Cabot Square. These are two large public green spaces roughly equidistant from the downtown core, and they’re both pretty beat up. New landscaping, lighting and design (and perhaps on-site services) are only part of the equation; both spaces can at times seem ‘overrun’ by the homeless. Our parks, plazas and public spaces must remain open to all; they cannot be a last resort, a place where the unwanted go. I would encourage the new mayor not only to beautify these spaces and better integrate them into our socio-cultural fabric, but further endeavour to develop new facilities to house the homeless and offer drug treatment. Long story short, no more needles in our parks, and no more police handling the homeless situation.
As to bike lanes, the more the merrier. We’ve got a good foundation but could go much, much further, and I’d argue more bike lanes should be separated from vehicular traffic by means of a simple concrete curb. Regardless of how well Bixi’s doing, Montrealers are increasingly turning to their bikes during the more temperate months to quickly traverse the urban core. And why not – it’s cheap, efficient and great exercise. Any measure to make it safer will assuredly encourage greater use.
3. A pedestrian mall. There’s an interesting correlation between the potential success of commercial retail enterprises and the degree of foot traffic passing through a given area. For anyone looking to start a new business, knowing where the people are walking is a crucial consideration when choosing a location. But notice I didn’t say anything about vehicular traffic or parking spaces. Our most successful commercial arteries are often clogged with cars looking for parking where they’re almost assured not to find any. Banning cars outright from some key streets would consequently result in making them more walkable, increasing foot traffic and the potential land value of rental retail properties at the same time. Saint Catherine’s Street seems to me to be a logical choice for our city’s first true year-round pedestrian mall. The street’s Gay Village section is routinely closed to cars each summer, parking spaces have been removed elsewhere so restaurants could install new seasonal terraces and the section passing through the Quartier des Spectacles is also routinely shut to cars – all without having any real negative effect on the street’s commercial viability.
So why not go all the way? From Atwater to Papineau, shut the street to vehicular traffic but keep it open for buses, delivery trucks and other municipal, emergency service and/or utility vehicles, widen the sidewalks and introduce street-side commerce in the forms of vendor stalls, kiosks and seasonal terraces. Allowing the No. 15 bus to barrel down the street unencumbered by vehicular traffic may make it a suddenly very popular route and would only add to potential foot traffic on the street.
5. Turn the Faubourg into a public market. I may be wrong, but I think this is an excellent location for a public market, much in the same vein as the Atwater or Maisonneuve markets. At the very least the city would maintain the building to a higher sanitary standard than the current owners, and there’s a substantial urban population living within walking distance of the Faubourg work. I think much of its current woes stem from moving away from being a market to trying too hard to become just another shopping mall with a slightly more interesting food court.
In any event, just some oddball ideas – what do you think?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. FranÃ§ois 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.
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.