Tag Archives: Montréal Métro

Before Expansion, Improvement?

Matthew McLauchlin’s proposal for an expanded Montreal Métro and commuter rail network

A few thoughts on the Métro that came about from conversations over the last little while.

You already know where I stand – I want Métro access city-wide on a 24-hour schedule, something which may not be possible with our current system based on how it’s designed. Kate McDonnell brought up the excellent point that we lack ‘bypass tunnels’ and use out-dated cleaning equipment during the no-service period from 1:30-5:30 (ballpark) in the morning. This is why we don’t run the Métro all day and all night.

The Métro, as practical and as great as it is, has a few other problems worth mentioning. Some stations are aesthetically dated, others just gross. Our Métro lacks both heating and air-conditioning, public washrooms, decent services, elevators etc. Some access tunnels have fallen into disuse and disrepair (perfect example, the Métro tunnel access point at Sherbrooke between Berri and Saint-Hubert on the far side of the hotel – check it out but go with a friend, creeper city) while others are so overused they invariably look like shit (Peel Métro’s Stanley Street entryway, as another example). Then there are the foul smells, the dripping calcium stalactites at Guy-Concordia, the dim lighting, the underused public spaces, busted up benches and TV screens and the graffiti.

So before we start expanding, maybe we improve on what we have.

Although I desperately want the city, STM and AMT to begin massive expansion of sub and railway service in our city, before extending Métro lines we really ought to bring what we have up to code, a full renovation.

I would also advocate closing the system down – for a defined period – if for no other reason that we could claim a very real fresh-start for our Métro system. There are practical and technical reasons as well. If we’re to ever have 24-hour service we need to either construct by-pass tunnels or develop new tunnel cleaning methods. While the latter may be cheaper the former permits inter-lining, which in turn could revolutionize public transit in our city by permitting all trains to operate on all lines throughout the soon to be expanding system. In addition, this would further permit the use of express routes, all of which may be worth considering given current and future usage growth rates. The downside is such massive re-working of the rail network would require either the entire network being shut down or large portions at a time. No matter which way you cut it, during a renovation period – even if it was done as quickly as possible – would still require expanded operations on other modes, such as commuter trains and buses, perhaps even tram systems installed before a Métro Reno.

Doing all the work in the tunnels would allow us to inspect and retrofit as need be, not to mention facilitate planning the eventual expansion. We could also finally decide how to improve air-circulation, ventilation and internal climate control. While there’s no issue keeping the stations warm in winter, its getting them cool in summer which is perennially problematic. We might also want to see if we can correct periodic flooding in the tunnels while we’re at it.

I’ve already mentioned I think some stations could do with an aesthetic makeover, while others just need upgraded facilities, all of it should be ‘vandal-proofed’ as best we can. New public washrooms should be built, in addition to elevators for the mobility-impaired amongst us.

There are myriad other improvements I haven’t mentioned that affect individual stations and entire lines, but the point is we might be wise to raise our Métro’s standards before we decide to expand outward. I fear expansion without improvement will only wind up expanding on something which may be operationally obsolete. Much of our system was designed and built for the Montréal of the 1960s (including some parts completed in the 1980s!) but the operational tempo and demands placed on the system by its users have changed dramatically in fifty years.

I wonder just how quickly we could execute a system-wide renovation and upgrade of the Métro, bringing everything up to the same ‘starting point’ before we launch into system expansion? If we set a three-shift schedule, knowing we have to return the system to full operations as quickly as possible, would we discuss this renovation in terms of years, or months, weeks even?

I tell you – if there’s one gift I’d like to see the city give itself for the sesquicentennial of Confederation and the 50th anniversary of Expo, it would be a modern, beautiful Métro network.

The Line That Ended Expansion

From 1962 until 1988 a common sight – Métro tunnel construction – photo found on

News from LaPresse today that Pauline Marois wants to prioritize an eastern extension of the Métro’s Blue Line towards Anjou, with a planned initial development of three stations in the direction of Lacordaire Boulevard from Saint-Michel station.

No word yet on planned delivery of the project, no timeline though a proposed (and certain to increase) budget of just under $1 billion according to Marvin Rotrand, vice-president of the STM and leader of the Union Montréal party.

For comparison, the three station extension into Laval cost $745 million in 2007.

The Métro’s Blue Line is arguably the least effective in the system. Ridership is at its lowest, the trains are shorter and service stops forty-five minutes earlier on this branch. Unlike the other three lines which funnel people from first and second ring suburbs into the urban core, the Blue Line is peripheral and connects two high-density, low-income large residential areas with one of the richest neighbourhoods in the city (in the middle), and not where their jobs might be. Moreover, though it could be useful in funnelling people towards either end of the Orange Line, the number 80, 165, 166 and 535 buses (to name but a few), seem to remain the preferred method to reach the city from the northern inner suburbs. For everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the design, history, architecture, artwork, and technical aspects pertaining to the Blue Line (and every other line, fasset and component of the Montréal Métro), I recommend clicking here for the excellent Métro de Montréal fansite.

The line was originally conceived to extend past the Orange Line in both directions. Marois’ plan is to develop three stations towards the East, and none towards the West (insert mandatory statement about how Anglo needs are being ignored) and eventually build two additional stations terminating at the Galleries d’Anjou. I’m not sure why they’d plan to break the project into two separate developments, but I would assume that the province may want to wait and see if the initial extension drives up usage. This would not be the first time the Blue Line would be built in a separate, disjointed fashion – during the original line’s development, it was proposed that the segment connecting Edouard-Montpetit to Parc be cancelled given that ridership in between would be so low. It seems obvious to me that a five-station extension may actually serve to draw a considerably larger number of people, not to mention potentially allow the STM to re-design bus lines to potentially feed an even greater number of people, so why they’re planning on cutting it short off the bat is beyond me. The current eastern expansion will serve Rosemont, Saint-Leonard and Anjou, though plans dating back to the late-1970s wanted the Blue Line to extend towards the Northeast with a terminus at Amos (likely at Lacordaire Boulevard) which in turn would have also allowed access to the high-density, low-income neighbourhood of Montréal-Nord. This plan was modified when a Métro line under Pie-IX was proposed that would funnel people down to Pie-IX station on the Green Line. Both proposals were still on the table (even appearing on Métro maps) into the late-1980s, at which point the Liberal Government of Robert Bourassa placed a total moratorium on Métro expansion.

Conceptual rendering for a proposed intermodal station under Edouard-Montpetit

The principle reason for this moratorium was, among others, declining revenues and budgets, not to mention the fact that the heavily truncated Blue Line simply wasn’t pulling in new passengers nor did it ease congestion on other parts of the system. Part of the Blue Line’s undoing was that, as mentioned previously, it was still preferential and more convenient to use buses to get to and from the city (the 80 and 165 are two of my favourite bus routes; though they’re generally packed, if you manage to get a window, a pleasant and exciting voyage awaits). This may not have been the case if a planned inter-modal station at Edouard-Montpetit (connecting to the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes line within Mount Royal Tunnel) were completed. The principle technical difficulty was building a train station fifty meters under the existing Métro station, not to mention acquiring high-capacity, high-speed elevators, but the station itself was designed for the higher capacity.

If they had built this crucial component, the Blue Line could have also served to better connect the northern ridge suburbs with the city centre.

Therefore, any move to lengthen the line, east or west, should be done in conjunction with a connection to the Mount Royal Tunnel firmly in mind, so that the Blue Line could finally be used to ease traffic congestion elsewhere in the system.

Also, we’d be wise to voice two other considerations for our elected officials to consider. First, placing a moratorium on moratoriums and segmented construction. If we were to plan Métro development ten or twenty stations at a time instead of in threes or fives, we may be able to save money long-term through bulk purchases of materials, not to mention increasing operational efficiency as the project goes forward. Let’s end this self-retarding piecemeal development and plan continuous lines. The Pie-IX proposal, which would link the Olympic Park with Montréal North through Rosemont, Petit-Patrie and Saint-Leonard, should be given top priority for new line construction. Second, we might be wise to consider inter-lining the system so as to allow trains that start on the Blue Line to transfer onto the Orange, so that one could go from Saint-Michel to Bonaventure, or from Outremont Laval without changing trains. This is a very complicated proposal, but it would allow greater flexibility with the system we already have.

A future expansion map including talked about extensions and proposed lines; of all the different proposal maps I’ve seen, this one still seems very realistic, very useful.

The Mountain Street Viaduct

Weird eh? A road passing over the roof of the old CN stockyards in Little Burgundy. This is the former Mountain Street Viaduct, and it, much like just about everything else in this picture, is now gone (save for the row of old buildings along Notre-Dame, which are fortunately part of a rejuvenated community, not to mention the Nordelic Building towards the top-right corner).

Two things come to mind when looking at this picture.

First, look at the overlapping infrastructure – here, where residential zoning is typically rental properties above street-level commercial units amidst light and medium sized industrial operations, which at this time largely employed local residents. Industry is fed by the ‘arterial and circulatory systems’ of the modern industrial city – road, rail and canal interact, overlap and connect. They move bulk freight and cargo at different intervals, speeds, quantities etc, and all of this can happen with workers who live within walking distance of their employer. This means that heavy industrial transport can happen efficiently (using canal and rail systems, and thus without the need of trucks) and workers don’t require a car to get to and from work. It’s convenient, though at the time and largely because of the proximity to industry, this area was largely viewed to be a slum. Today it’s a home to many massive condo projects. Sometimes I wonder whether there is still a place for this kind of mixed-use quarter in the modern city, and if in the future we might not require a similar relationship between this specific kind of zoning and heavy transport infrastructure.

Second – why aren’t all elevated highways designed to be placed on top of buildings? Or why aren’t buildings (like factories, warehouses, parking garages, strip-malls etc) placed under highways? We’ve developed the techniques and technologies to mitigate damage through friction, vibrations etc, not to mention cut back on the effects of sound infiltration. Otherwise, elevated highways are dark, noisy, dirty barriers that cut-up neighbourhoods and place unnecessary and unnatural barriers between various parts of the metropolis. Let’s re-enforce the elevated highways by placing new structures beneath them. Otherwise it really is poorly used space – we need to be more efficient, wiser, when it comes to how we design key pieces of infrastructure.

Anyways, just a thought.

You can also see Rockhead’s Paradise towards the bottom right of the picture.

Update: Three Competing Métro Proposals

Neither of these are of my own design; judge for yourselves:

I found this one a while back, seems like an interesting idea. It incorporates three rapid-bus systems plus a Parc Avenue light rail system, with a considerably larger Métro system in general, though with considerable focus on the higher-density regions closer to the downtown core.

The following proposal for system improvement doesn’t involve any non-Métro systems, but has considerably more lines and stations. Also notice how all three airports are connected, and how the downtown would be connected by four parallel East-West lines and seems to indicate a type of network-sharing system where multiple lines would use the same track. Further, consider the number of junction stations:

I also like this proposal because it very clearly allows access to all four corners of the Metropolitan region. Keep it in mind – this system is nothing more than a dream, though its always encouraging to see random people envisioning their ideal Métro system. If only our elected officials would get the picture and pursue a more ambitious expansion program. Imagine what could be if we were building at a rate of 26 stations every 4 years. We did it without blinking between 1962 and 1966.

October 27th update:

Another find!

Looking at this plan I can’t help but remark on the similarities in the three designs, as it seems to have borrowed from each in addition to the current MTQ plan and elements of very early designs. Among other things, closing the Orange Line loop, extending further into Laval and Longueuil, following bridges and highways, extending the Blue Line East to Anjou, connecting Ile des Soeurs and additional East-West lines to cover the downtown and a Pie-IX line are all featured in these three designs. The first plan is highly reserved and realistic whereas the second is bold (though less accurate than the others), and the third seems constrained by the dimensions of a Métro map poster. That said – check out that Brown Line – it goes everywhere! What a great idea, a ‘sight-seer’ Métro line running from Brossard through the CBD and onto the airport. I also like the idea, oft repeated, of having additional multi-line hubs East of Berri-UQAM, such as at the Olympic Stadium, and of course the second plan’s design to link all the airports with the urban core. What’s striking is that it doesn’t seem to me like any official plan would even consider the possibility of building entirely new lines and hubs; these plans are realistic given that by 2012-2013, the metropolitan population is going to reach 4 million, and the citizens will no longer be able to rely on their cars to get around the metropolitan region. Public transit will require a massive investment in order for large cities to remain operationally competitive, we just cannot afford the same carbon footprint in the future. Thus, it makes sense to begin a massive development project and wildly expand the Métro, as soon as possible. Any of these designs are feasible as long as we demand it, but we must demonstrate clearly and effectively that we will not stand for anything less than the world’s finest Métro system. It is our responsibility, it is our heritage and a credit to our high-tech industries, but it must be kept at a perpetual ‘state-of-the-art’ status if we’re to make any money off it. The citizens need better than what is currently provided and Métro development needs to become a principle priority for the Mayor. If we were as motivated to build a Métro system today as we were fifty years ago, we could attain total metropolitan coverage within forty years, maybe sooner. That kind of long term steady investment is exactly what we need to keep our economy stable and create real, insurable employment. Public works and infrastructure projects worked in the States with the New Deal, so there’s no reason why we can’t do the same basic thing today on a localized scale. Building a massive new Métro could be money in the bank.

Montreal’s Infrastructure Storm – Public transit to the rescue?

MTQ proposal for the revamped Turcot Interchange - not the work of the author

A Montreal Gazette article from August 25th 2011 detailed what is being described as a perfect storm of simultaneous, overlapping infrastructure projects which may ‘paralyze’ transit on island and in parts of the metropolitan region by 2015, less than four years from now. Among other projects, the controversial Turcot Yards & Interchange renovation project (read a great Walking Turcot Yards post here), the renovation of the Ville-Marie Expressway, the Champlain & Mercier Bridges and the Lafontaine Tunnel renovation are all to overlap by 2015. Experts gathered recently for the Ecocité Conference at the Palais des Congrés issued a statement, saying the City, Province and Federal governments must cooperate not only on major infrastructure repairs, but must also invest in a major re-investment in Montréal’s public-transit systems, so that they can be effectively used to minimize the impact renovations will have on the traffic requirements of a major city. In other words, public transit ought to be the tool used to negate massive gridlock, and provides a fantastic opportunity to get many more Montrealers hooked on the greener way to travel.

While the MTQ and City continue to argue about land-expropriation and the design of the new Turcot Interchange (read this fascinating Spacing Montreal article on the City’s space-efficient circular design), the major spans on the Saint Lawrence crumble, as does the Ville-Marie Expressway, and the traffic disruptions from regular infrastructure repairs and maintenance have already led to varying degrees of small-scale economic damage throughout the region.

In other words, we don’t just need to execute major renovations, but need to renovate with minimizing maintenance clearly in mind. Systems need to be designed with preventative maintenance as opposed to reflexive, piece-meal maintenance, much in the same manner as aircraft are maintained (and its for this reason that some aircraft models have exceptionally long lifespans of over 50 years). Thus, this perfect storm may also be a perfect opportunity to include wide-scale preventative maintenance measures streamlined across the board – after-all, these project are all exclusively within the realm of vehicular traffic, so there’s bound to be a significant amount of capital-cost overlap as well.

What’s significant here is that there are an exceptional number of vehicular commuters here in Montreal, on average spending about 30 minutes commuting to work each day. Two and a half hours on average spent driving to work – what a horrible waste of time! In Montreal, much like Toronto, about a quarter of vehicular commuters spend more than 45 minutes in traffic. The idea is that Montreal commuting times will increase dramatically by 2015 (and I can imagine, incrementally increase until then) as these projects wreak havoc on our local transportation infrastructure, which is heavily focused on individual usage of automobiles. Ergo, a new Transit Alliance proposes that the public transit system be expanded to accommodate people inconvenienced by the traffic disruptions. Unfortunately, according to one StatsCan study, about 82% of commuters who use their cars to get to work have never considered using public transit to get to and from work, whether its available or not. The typical justification given is that it is inconvenient.

I suppose that may be the case for a great many people in a number of cities across the country, but Montreal is well-known for its considerably advanced public-transit system. Over a million rides are taken each day on the Métro, which is a significant ridership level for such a comparatively small system. But despite efforts by the STM and AMT to expand lines, introduce new and improved equipment, and a host of suburban transit systems expanding access to Montreal, it is still exceptionally difficult to convince people to give public transit a try.

What’s particularly maddening is how residents of the West Island have been clamouring for a Métro extension to either the Airport or, in many more cases, Fairview shopping centre, for some time, and yet refuse to recognize this is unlikely to happen as long as the West Island communities maintain their hostile isolation from the rest of the Metropolitan Region. What’s more, it is the residents of the West Island who, for the most part, drive into the city, and are in turn responsible for a good deal of the traffic congestion. It’s a vicious circle of inactivity and futile fist-waving, and I personally find it a bit of a piss-off that West Islanders in general seem to consider using public transit as something diminutive, as though the buses are only designed to serve the hired help and the pre-license teens.

My justification for that previous statement is rather straightforward – if West Islanders, or any other community for that matter, wanted better public-transiot access, they’d pony up the bill, which is high and heavy no matter which way you cut it. Yes, the communities who have access to the STM pay for it in part, but the City is clearly footing the lion’s share of the bill.

I agree fully with the Transit Alliance’s proposal in principle, but it is unrealistic that the three levels of government will provide adequate funding for both the major road and bridge work in addition to the costs of new tram and train lines, Métro extensions etc. The City must take a more proactive approach and find methods to finance the extension of these systems without government support. Moreover, it must be clear to the Citizens that after these renovation projects are complete, a better maintenance scheme will be in play and the total number of road/bridge users will decline dramatically. In other words, the City must market the hell out of our new improved public transit system to get ridership into record-breaking numbers.

On a final note, have you ever wondered how Mayor Drapeau financed the initial Métro system?

Many people think that Expo some paid for it. It did, but after the fact. Initial capital came in from City Hall auctioning off the building rights atop the Métro stations. As an example, the Blum Building (currently Concordia’s Guy-Metro building), was one of the first such projects, wherein the developer paid good money to have an office tower with direct access to the station, and the rental retail properties on the commercial sub-levels were an added bonus. Imagine what we could do if we wanted to expand to all corners of the island?

Public transit needs to be sold to the people as an investment for future economic growth and current stimulus in the construction and services sector. It needs to be marketed as the self-perpetuating economic engine, open and available to all at a reasonable price, offering access to everywhere. Streamlining all metropolitan public transit services and instituting a ‘one-system, one-region, one fare’ policy may encourage new riders, but not in the same wide-reaching manner large-scale city-driven development will. A Métro station for every neighbourhood would not be a difficult thing to accomplish.

Consider the social cohesion and sense of community that is provided every day by frequenters of a ‘community station’ and ask yourself, with everything else in mind, whether we can afford not to do this.

Call your councillor.

Montréal Métro Extensions – How to get around an impasse.

2009 AMT proposal for Métro extensions - not the work of the author

There’s been a fair bit of talk about extending the Montréal Métro of late in the English Press. Typical; now removed from the halls of power the English media spends its time twiddling their thumbs and dreaming about what could be, while Angryphones come out of the woodwork to demand Métro access to the West Island. I’ve said it before and I’ll say a million more times – no West Island residents should expect Métro extensions until there’s a West Island city, one with a tax-base as large as the cities of Laval or Longueuil. That or the West Island communities seek voluntary annexation from the City of Montréal. Then, and only then would the citizens out there be in a position to demand Métro access. I personally think a Highway 40 corridor Métro line from De la Savanne station to Fairview (and possibly as far as Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue) would be an excellent way to cut back significantly on vehicular traffic on our major highways. However, such a new line should be mirrored on the eastern side of the island, such as with the recommended Blue Line extension to Anjou. That said, residential development on the eastern side is oriented on a more North-South axis than on the West Island, and thus the proposed Pie-IX line (running from Laval or Montréal-North south to the Centre-Sud/HoMa district) would likely handle more passengers than any West Island extension (but only if it in turn were connected to East-West lines at multiple points).

While an unfortunate number of people have complained the 2009 MTQ proposal (above) is ‘too focused on the East End’, I look at it as focused primarily on where the population density seems to be high and increasing. There are more than 400,000 people living in Laval and another 700,000 people living on the South Shore (spread out over several municipalities, with an estimated 230,000 people living in Longueuil alone). Moreover, there are 85,000 people living in Saint-Laurent borough and another 125,000 people living in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough. In total, the proposed extensions as demonstrated above could potentially serve almost 1 million people directly and indirectly.

So while it is nice to dream about ideal systems that serve the entire metropolitan region, or at least serve the City better, we need to consider what the government is proposing seriously.

What’s unfortunate is that this plan now seems to be in jeopardy, given that the respective mayors of Longueuil, Laval and Montréal had to take out full page advertisements in the local press some months ago announcing why their city should benefit from expansion. I’ve said it before – sicking the mayors against each other isn’t going to achieve much. The entire system needs to be expanded until the whole region is eventually covered. In essence, we need to follow the same planning philosophy used to design the Paris, New York, London or Moscow subway systems, wherein the project is considered incomplete until near-total coverage is achieved. We won’t grow nearly as quickly unless the Métro develops in such a fashion so as to increase transit efficiency within the region. Montréal’s successful urban communities wouldn’t be nearly as successful as they are if it weren’t for the fact that they have Métro access. It is crucial for expansion and development.

In sum, we need to start planning as a unified metropolitan region wherein the interests of all citizens are considered simultaneously. Métro line development cannot be a reward for political loyalty. We’ve come a long way from the nepotism of the dark ages under Maurice Duplessis, so when the provincial government finks out and pits the suburbs of Montréal against the City for an individual line extension, the citizens of all communities must demand an end to such ridiculous partisanship. We can’t continue on like this. This is why our city is broken.

And just a reminder – completing the project illustrated above is pegged at 4 billion dollars. Cost of the new Champlain Bridge has been estimated at 5 billion dollars. Is it me or would it not be smarter to use that money to complete the proposed Métro expansion, and then spend a billion dollars renovating and improving the existing Champlain Bridge? A new Champlain Bridge will accommodate about 156,000 vehicle crossings per day. With this expansion, the Métro would be able to accommodate over 1.5 million passengers per day, which in turn will free up space on the highways, bridges, tunnels, buses and commuter trains, possibly even allowing some buses to be re-purposed to new routes, further improving the public transit system here in Montréal. To me it’s a no-brainer. What do you think?