Tag Archives: Public Transit Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it amateur hour in this city or what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a gift!

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

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

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

With low public morale comes a lack of political will.

Back River Bridges

Where Pierrefonds, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Roxboro, Ile-Bizard, Laval and the Laval Islands meet.
Where Pierrefonds, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Roxboro, Ile-Bizard, Laval and the Laval Islands meet.

So if you’ll indulge me, a proposal to dramatically alter (and hopefully improve) West Island public transit in general and substantially increase the passenger volume of the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes Line in particular.

I once heard the West Island described as being ‘disconnected’ from the rest of Montréal. What an odd statement, I thought. The West Island is characterized by the two highways that lead into the city, and is served by two commuter rail lines that go right downtown. Admittedly there’s a rather large industrial zone that surrounds the airport, and this in a sense separates the West Island from the City of Montréal on-island, but considering the people of the West Island are inextricably tied to Montréal, I think disconnected is a bit much.

Now that said, I feel trends in urban renewal and development will gradually increase high-density residential space in the West Island, as land values across the suburban conurbation steadily rise. This will likely go hand in hand with extensions of mass transit systems. The AMT’s Deux-Montagnes line, a piece of our city’s complex public transit scheme I rode nearly every day for the last decade, is indicative of this phenomenon. Since the creation of the AMT and the line’s refurbishment in the mid-1990s the line has served as a major pole of attraction for residential development and quickly became the line with the highest daily and annual ridership. The former city of Saint Laurent has experienced massive growth as a consequence of the three stations located in it, as have all the communities located on its route. As gas prices continue to increase, proximity to mass transit becomes a major factor determining the nature and location of residential development, particularly if oriented towards a commuting middle class.

But it occurred to me, in thinking about this notion of ‘disconnectivity’, that perhaps the problem isn’t so much that the West Island is too removed from the City of Montréal as it is from the other large suburban conurbation it sits next to – Laval and the Northern Ring.

Simply put, there may be a half dozen locations west of Highway 13 between the Island of Montreal and Ile-Jesus in which short, simple causeways could be constructed, linking residential streets on either side of the Back River at distances of less than a few hundred meters. Doing so would not only connect the West Island with Laval, it would further allow a greater distribution of West Island and Northern Ring suburbanites across the Deux-Montagnes Line’s many stations west of Saint Laurent. When you factor in the large amount of open land prime for residential construction in this sector, I think you get a pretty strong case in favour of trying to ‘stich up’ the Back River with simple little bridges.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. For my readers unfamiliar with this part of the metropolitan region, you should know first that the West Island is principally connected to Laval by means of two highways, both of which are located east of the West Island. Despite the many narrow points between the two islands along the northern ridge of the West Island, there aren’t any bridges to connect suburbs with one another. The AMT’s Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line is the only other connection between the West Island and Laval and the Northern Ring suburbs of Saint Eustache and Deux Montagnes, but the line is primarily designed to serve the needs of the commuting class, and thus is ineffective at linking these many similar communities. Hundreds of thousands of people living in similar looking sub-divisions, living similar lives, needing similar services and yet, despite the relative ease of hooking everyone up together, they remain separated. The lack of connection precludes more construction as well as densification, and it certainly doesn’t drive up property values. But if things were different, if this area was better connected, I feel strongly it would stimulate smart suburban development in this area.

Turning our attention to the image above, an index.

The map you are looking at is of the northernmost part of the West Island, including some of its denser residential concentrations. North is up, the river is colloquially referred to the Back River, which separates Laval from Montreal. The northwest quadrant of the isometric view features the Laval-Ouest district, part of Ile Bizard, the western part of Sainte Dorothée part of Laval and the Laval Islands. The northeast quadrant is mostly Laval and the top sliver of Pierrefonds. The southeast quadrant features Pierrefonds, Roxboro and parts of Dollard-des-Ormeaux. Towards the southwest Pierrefonds, Ile Bizard and a sliver of DDO. There are some problems with the labels on the image, such as the Roxboro close to the middle of the screen.

I don’t know how many people, precisely, live here. What I can tell you is that in this image there are at least four high schools and about a dozen elementary schools I can think of, in addition to maybe 20-30 daycares and somewhere in the vicinity of a 20 places of worship, including a mosque and several synagogues. Mind you, these are conservative estimates. This is the centre of a suburban conurbation – it’s where the West Island, Laval and Montreal interact, a crossroads if you like. The AMT’s Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line is illustrated in mauve – out of frame to the northwest are the communities of Saint Eustache and Deux Montagnes. Continuing the mauve line towards the east (and the terminus, twenty-five minutes away at Gare Centrale), is Sunnybrooke Station, serving most of the DDO as well as a sliver of Roxboro and Pierrefond’s A-Ma-Baie district and further serving as the Roxboro-Pierrefonds AMT station’s ‘junior’ equivalent. This mauve line is the highest traffic commuter rail line in AMT service. It is efficient, popular and in high demand. With time, the AMT will both expand operational tempo as well as the capacity of the trains. When the West Island begins to increase in density, I firmly believe it will happen along this corridor. Simply put Saint Laurent borough is running out of room for new condo projects, and this area has a lot of room to grow; a wave of densification expanding west along a high-traffic public-transit axis is very logical.

Yellow boxes denote the three AMT stations in the area, from left to right, Ste-Dorothée, Ile-Bigras and Roxboro-Pierrefonds. Of the three, only the latter is connected to the STM, forming a vital yet over-used inter-modal station and primary transit hub for West Island residents. Residents of Ile Bizard don’t have access to the Ste-Dorothée station, despite being so close to it. Similarly, residents of the central part of Pierrefonds and DDO can’t access the Ile-Bigras station. In the case of the former there is a seasonal barge that runs during the comparatively short ferry season. It can haul two or three mid-size sedans and a handful of people and crosses a distance of only about 250 meters. This is hopelessly outdated. Ile Bizard’s 14,000 (and growing) residents have only limited access to one regular bus and one express bus, the latter of which happens to ferry people to Roxboro-Pierrefonds train station, much farther away that what’s on the other side of the small, shallow river. In the case of the latter, while a CN Rail bridge links Montreal with the Laval Islands, there’s no way to cross it other than by train. If there were a vehicular bridge it would become accessible to the thousands of people who live in the middle of the image. As it stands Ste-Dorothée and Ile-Bigras are underused, while Roxboro-Pierrefonds is beginning to cause very heavy traffic during the morning and evening rush hours.

Building the five small bridges I’ve drawn in blue may, I believe, serve to better distribute passenger access to these three AMT stations, in addition to making it possible to develop new bus lines to better connect this comparatively high concentration of people with each other.

To illustrate my point consider this. Say you were coming home from the city on the train and for whatever reason you missed your stop at Pierrefonds and wound up in Ile Bigras. Though you’d likely be within walking distance (i.e. under 30 minutes) from home, you have no way of getting back to the West Island other than waiting for a returning train (which may not happen for a while, or at all if you’re on the last train out) or getting a ride or cab. The ride back home may take a long time as well; from the West Island you need to take highways 40, 13 and then part of the 440 before it becomes Avenue des Bois to get to these two AMT stations, both located less than half a kilometer from the West Island and its well-connected bus service and familiar road network.

The black lines denote the major traffic arteries of the area. Most of the existing STM bus lines run on the West Island side of the above image, but if these bridges were completed the STM and STL could consider re-designing public transit access in the area to facilitate better interconnectivity between the two cities inasmuch as better distribution among the three AMT stations. Five little bridges to open new markets to existing services, greater convenience, greater interaction. All of these are major pluses for the people living here, a guaranteed way to increase property values and access to important services, like schools, daycares and clinics.

Red lines indicate where new roads would need to be built, while the two small orange lines denote land expropriations that will be necessary so new roads can be built. The one on the right would connect Pavilion with Gouin Boulevard, which would alleviate congestion elsewhere on Gouin and Boulevard des Sources, by cutting across the parking lot of a nursery. The one towards the centre may require expropriating land yet to be developed. A sound barrier will need to be constructed along both sides of the rail line to improve the quality of life of the residents living next to it, especially if increased operational tempo is desired.

The angular lime green line near Roxboro-Pierrefonds station denotes the easternmost part of Pierrefonds Boulevard, where it intersects Boulevard des Sources and Gouin Boulevard. During the morning and evening rush hours this street bogs down considerably, so much so that traffic can become easily backed up on all these aforementioned streets. The problem as I see it is that during the rush hours everyone on this stretch of the street is either going to or coming from the station, and as such only half the lanes are being used. With new traffic signalization, we could ‘open’ more lanes to mitigate the existing congestion. At times of the day only one or two returning lanes would be needed, while, allowing as many as five lanes to be open to heavy traffic going in a single direction.

But why make all these changes?

Aside from the main goal of easing traffic congestion and redistributing West Island commuters across three train stations in lieu of one, there’s the added advantage of making more parts of the West Island public-transit accessible, all of which, I believe, will support residential development and densification on this part of the island. Then there’s the convenience of no longer having the shell out a hundred dollars if you’re so unfortunate you miss your stop. This would be particularly useful for the tends of thousands of students who commute every day to university along this line (and who generally don’t have the liquid capital to pay for such a SNAFU). But perhaps most importantly of all it would effectively eliminate an unnecessary border between Montreal, Laval and many other outer-ring suburbs, and in doing so permit a larger overall population to have access to the services and facilities which exist in the West Island but are in short supply just outside of it. As I mentioned before, there are a surprising number of good public schools in the area above, though the population living on the West Island side is ageing and housing prices are sufficiently high couples with young children are moving further and further away so that they can afford the suburban aesthetic of their own childhood. The problem is that services have not been built to keep pace. As you can see this creates a bit of a predicament – the old schools in the West Island are no longer adjacent to the large quantities of children the area once boasted and rarely at full capacity. Home ownership is in the hands of an increasingly elderly population (whose children have left) while land values increase. This is not to say there are no children in this part of the West Island – certainly there are – but not nearly as many considering all the services available to them. Those kids now live farther away, where services are limited.

Just a thought…

What can Montréal Learn from Ottawa’s Confederation Line?

Tunney’s Pasture LRT terminus conceptual rendering

Well this is good news for public transit enthusiasts in Canada.

Ottawa’s finally getting a light-rail mass-transit system. The Confederation Line is to be completed in 2018, using part of the OC-Transpo transitway, along a 12.5 kilometer stretch linking east and west Ottawa. The thirteen-station system is unique because unlike Toronto’s tram system, Ottawa’s will employ the use of stations, all of which are designed to be safe public spaces integrated into other existing transit systems. Ottawa’s new Confederation Line will be multi-modal in that they’ll provide access to the north-south O-Train, the Ottawa Via Rail station and the existing bus rapid transit and local bus systems. The new system will be designed to optimize the use of bicycles and will be able to transport 10,000 people and hour in both directions. Future developments will permit service at a peak of every two minutes and a maximum of 18,000 passengers per hour. End to end journeys will take twenty-four minutes and I can imagine, if it’s successful new lines may soon be planned.

This may well revolutionize transport in Ottawa, in that it will offer a quick and efficient method to cross the densest part of the city and simultaneously hook up it’s many currently disparate key components along a single East-West axis.

I’m particularly interested by the development of three stations which will be located underground inside a tunnel, which will permit an extension of Ottawa’s limited underground city. From what I understand, this system is going to involve some of the same people who developed Vancouver’s Canada Line – a fully automated elevated and subterranean monorail that connects Vancouver’s downtown with the airport.

Suffice it to say, this is a big deal, though I’m disturbed by how long its going to take to actually get the project off the ground. Remember, Montréal somehow managed to build 26 stations in four years – and that was for a a subway system, a far more complex job than the installation of an LRT. Regardless, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

I wonder if we could use something like this here in Montréal?

Montréal differs in that we do not have a primarily segregated expressway used by articulated buses to rapidly move large volumes of people around the city as Ottawa does. This new LRT will be able to travel at high speeds through the urban core without necessarily interacting with traffic. I’m not sure traffic could be avoided in the same fashion in Montréal.

That said, I believe Montréal could make good use of an expansive light-rail/tram system, but for a variety of reasons we could not copy Ottawa’s model. And nor should we, the Métro is the primary mass transit system in the urban core.

What I would propose for our city is a limited LRT development designed to do two things. First, as a method to spearhead new kinds of public transit access between the downtown and surrounding area (through specific transit corridors) and second as a means to replace buses in the city proper, ideally freeing STM buses to re-deploy to the suburbs and off-island municipalities.

Concerning the first part, a more-or-less concrete example of what I’m thinking about. There’s been an idea floating around for a little while to place a LRT line on the Champlain Bridge (or it’s ice-bridge) to connect Brossard with downtown Montréal, likely by using a route that would stretch from the Quartier Dix30 (located at the intersection of highways 10 and 30) to cross the river, Nun’s Island and Quartier du Multimédia and terminate at Place Bonaventure. It would place an LRT along a high-traffic corridor and deliver the city directly to nearly 80,000 people living in Brossard alone.

Or another example, an LRT as airport-link. It’s another very specific kind of connection we currently lack (the former being the obvious lack of connectivity with the massive South Shore) and that may be best solved using a specific transit mode. The Van Horne Institute put out this report suggesting an elevated light-rail system, comparable to Vancouver’s Canada Line, would be the best method of quickly connecting the airport with the central business district, principally using the Ville-Marie Expressway corridor. Thus, it would another train line in a transit corridor, but would avoid the problem of trying to integrate ADM needs with the strain already placed on the AMT. Further, the Van Horne proposal includes the use of multiple LRT stations, some of which would be inter-modal designs allowing connection to the STM and AMT.

The latter proposal has an interesting element to it – it could access Trudeau airport through an already existing underground terminal. The plan they propose would involve an eventual extension of this line under the airport, popping back up to eventually make it as far as Fairview shopping centre. Thus, their proposal really isn’t overly different from the Canada Line in its both elevated and subterranean qualities. Unfortunately, it would not be possible to integrate said system with the Métro, as they’d require different track systems (among a multitude of different reasons).

Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 11.55.52 PMProposed LRT line between Trudeau Airport and Montréal CBD – from the ADM and VHI

But that might not be the worst thing in the world. An LRT system has the added benefit of being able to operate on existing roadways inasmuch as completely separated railways. Thus, an LRT to and from the airport could theoretically use a reserved lane on the Ville-Marie Expressway inasmuch as a reserved lane on the Champlain Bridge, which would limit new LRT related infrastructure development. Further, if the system is designed to principally operate on existing roadways, we could gradually expand from two very focused LRT lines to a broader, more integrated system allowing another level of access within the urban core.

Imagine an LRT system operating on Cote-des-Neiges, Saint-Antoine, Pie-IX, Parc Avenue, Sherbrooke (incidentally, on that note, I’d like to see an LRT line run the length of Sherbrooke, from Loyola and Montreal-West train station to the Olympic Stadium and Parc Maisonneuve, but I digress). These are traffic-heavy streets that could benefit immensely with a high-capacity LRT system, ideally operating (where possible) on reserved lanes.

Suffice it to say LRT systems on these streets could not only drastically reduce automobile and bus congestion, but would further provide a kind of Métro ‘back-up’. Could be very useful if we ever need to execute a large-scale renovation of the system.

In any event, food for thought. One thing’s for sure, car culture as we know it today will soon become a thing of the past. There’s simply not enough cheap oil left and the entire idea is predicated on a notion of abundance that simply no longer exists. Worse still, every year we maintain the status quo, congesting our streets and boulevards with polluting, road-destroying automobiles, we pay more and more for our inefficient lifestyles. Ergo, providing a comprehensive public transit network across multiple modes won’t just ultimately become very convenient, it is an absolute necessity for future city living.

There’s no question in my mind the great cities of the future will be those who adapt early and demonstrate by example.