Tag Archives: RÉSO

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism*

Conceptual rendering of planned LRT station, possibly at Bridge and Wellington
Conceptual rendering of planned LRT station, possibly at Bridge and Wellington

Michael Sabia can’t catch a break.

First he faced opposition for even being considered for the role of CEO of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) back in 2009. It was quickly pointed out that an English-speaking Canadian, born in Hamilton, would become the head of the Caisse, the institutional investor that manages a portfolio of public and para-public pensions in Quebec, arguably one of the province’s greatest economic accomplishments. Seven years ago, former premier Bernard Landry was concerned Sabia would bring in unwanted “Canadian national culture” (whatever that means) and poison the well of the cornerstone of Québec, Inc.

And how!

Under Sabia’s leadership, the Caisse has grown considerably since losing $40 billion in 2008. At the beginning of this year, it managed net assets of $248 billion.

Now the Caisse’s leader wants to invest in public transit development in Montreal, proposing the single largest transit development project since the first iteration of the Métro was built fifty years ago, not to mention the prospect of 7,500 jobs created over the next four years. If everything works out, within four years a vast geographic area within Greater Montreal will have access to a twenty-nine station mass transit system connecting the urban core with Brossard, Deux-Montagnes, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and the airport.

And we’ll likely be riding in automated trains built by Bombardier.

Nonetheless, Pierre-Karl Péladeau, among others, is concerned the new system ignores the central and eastern parts of the city. The Parti Québécois leader undoubtedly wants some kind of commitment to the long-planned Blue Line extension towards Anjou, as the PQ got the ball rolling on studies for this long-planned extension with much fanfare back in 2012.

But let’s be real for a moment: all of Greater Montreal has been neglected vis-a-vis public transit development for quite some time, and it’s entirely a consequence of the unending public transit ping-pong match between competing parties and levels of government. The Caisse’s plan is ambitious, but right now is no more real than the Blue Line, the Azur (still haven’t rid it despite near daily Orange Line use… it’s a ghost) or a catapult to the Moon.

It’s completely unreasonable to suppose any part of the much-discussed light rail system proposed Friday is in any way, shape or form politically-motivated.

If anything, the proposed light rail system seems motivated chiefly by keeping costs comparatively low. The plan, if realized, will use existing, automated technology (likely the Bombardier Innovia Metro design) on track largely already owned by the Agence Métropolitain de Transport. The provincial public pension investor has proposed a five and half billion dollar public transit expansion project, the single most audacious plan seen in Montreal in fifty years, and is volunteering $3 billion to kickstart the program.

And this is precisely what we want the CDPQ to do: invest our pensions in necessary mega-projects that will create local jobs, employ local expertise, and are based on prior recent successes so as to guarantee a strong return on investment. The CDPQ is one of the financiers of Vancouver’s Canada Line, a light rail line that connects the city’s downtown with Richmond and the airport, opened in time for the 2010 Winter Games.

So they’ve done this before and it works, and Sabia’s recent success at the helm of the CDPQ gives us reason to be hopeful this proposal will succeed.

If the full version of the project is realized by 2020, Michael Sabia and the Caisse will have managed to out-do the comparative light-speed pace of the construction of the first iteration of the Métro, and a vast swath of Greater Montreal could be served by this system within four years.

Though the proposal does not include branches towards the eastern sectors of the metropolitan city, the sheer number of people this system could conceivably serve would be so great there would ultimately be a net benefit to all sectors of the metro region by virtue of fewer cars on our roadways and highways on a day to day basis.

Crucially, given the expected use of existing railway infrastructure, it’s entirely conceivable this system could be expanded to all corners of Greater Montreal. Moreover, light rail systems (such as this one) can share the track with larger heavy rail, such as the AMT’s current commuter train network. Either the Caisse’s LRT will gradually replace the AMT network, or they’ll share the track and compliment one another.

Either way, if this system is fully realized, we all get to breathe a little easier, and congestion becomes less of a problem.

The new LRT system route and the LRT combined with Métro and AMT commuter rail lines
The new LRT system route and the LRT combined with Métro and AMT commuter rail lines

But herein lies the rub: though the CDPQ’s plan is ambitious and headed in the right direction (both in terms of how it will be financed and what parts of the city it will connect), it needs to be integrated into the rest of the city’s mass transit systems from the get-go.

I was very happy to see that the Caisse has indicated a desire to do so in that they listed two potential stations (Edouard-Montpetit and McGill) that would allow the light rail system to connect directly to the Blue and Green lines of the Métro. This not only makes the LRT system more useful and accessible generally-speaking, it would also permit the Blue Line to connect more or less directly to the urban core, long the line’s major handicap.

I’ve always been in favour of extending the Blue Line to Anjou if the line is first connected, by means of the Mount Royal Tunnel, to the city centre, as this will help get that line’s ridership up to where it ought to be. As it is, it’s the least used line in the Métro network. There’s no sense extending it if the root cause of its underperformance isn’t addressed first.

So if I could make a very strong suggestion to the Caisse it is this: work with the STM and AMT and ensure the whole plan illustrated above is realized as the first phase, and seek the greatest possible degree of integration with the extant Métro and commuter rail network. In this way, and perhaps only this way, will they quickly recoup their investment and lay the foundation for the Blue Line’s eventual extension.

I really can’t imagine it working out in any other way.

I’m oddly hopeful politics will not rear its ugly head and screw up this plan, as I’m convinced we can’t afford to wait much longer and that it would ultimately prove exceptionally useful in accomplishing what should be a clear goal for our city: get cars off the road and increase daily mass transit system usage. I find the Caisse’s plan very encouraging, despite my near endemic cynicism and the ample proof we’re not very good getting things built or delivered on-time.

But who knows, maybe things change.

Or maybe once in a while it takes an outsider to get us back on track.

Initially I wanted to write about how this proposed system will work in the broader scheme of things, what this might mean for homeowners living in the expansive corridor to be served by this light rail system, and what kind of organizational response is needed to provide a truly world-class mass transit system at large. But given that we’re already 1300 words in, that’ll have to wait for another time.

*One of former US Vice-President Spiro Agnew’s more colourful quotes. Agnew was the second and most recent VP to resign from office, and so far the only to do so as a result of criminal charges, these including: extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy, all while he was holding office as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland and Vice-President. Journalist and historian Gary Willis described Agnew as “No man ever came to market with less seductive goods, and no man ever got a better price for what he had to offer.”

Pointe-à-Callière Going Underground

Éperon Building, Pointe-à-Callière Museum, Montreal - photo credit to Derek Smith
Éperon Building, Pointe-à-Callière Museum, Montreal – photo credit to Derek Smith

The Pointe-à-Callière historical and archeological museum is going underground and expanding for the city’s 375th anniversary.

Perhaps borrowing a cue from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (whose pavilions are connected underground though unfortunately still not directly accessible from the RÉSO/Underground City), P-a-C’s expansion program seeks to link several pavilions together via an underground passageway stretching the length of Place d’Youville. An antiquated sewer running from Place Royal to McGill Street in Old Montreal shows evidence of six distinct epochs in Montreal history dating back to the founding of Ville Marie in the mid-17th century and will developed to act as the ‘historical/archeological’ spine and foundation of the expanded institution. The current museum is centred on Place Royal at the intersection of Rue de la Commune and Rue du Place d’Youville. By 2017 it will stretch all the way to the Customs House on McGill, effectively linking Old Montreal with the Vieux Port along a linear axis.

What can I say? This is brilliant.

The underground expansion will bring people directly into contact with the veritable foundation(s) of the city.

Getting a better frame of reference and knowledge of this city’s history will be as simple as walking about ten minutes in a straight line, in the climate controlled comfort of the next evolution of our Underground City.

The expansion is novel in its use of disused infrastructure (such as the William Collector and the vaults of the Customs House) as part of the expansion, rather than building a large and entirely new above-ground structure. Thus there’s no direct interference with the city above ground, no dramatic altering of local built environment.

It’s cheaper than the alternative and won’t leave any major visible trace other than Place d’Youville’s conversion into a something that looks more like a park and a lot less like a parking lot.

And best of all, it is so quintessentially Montreal to recycle old buildings, basements and tunnels for the purposes of better connecting the populace with its history. Our history is literally underground and so, for that reason (and keeping in mind P-a-C’s role as both archeological and historical museum), this expansion project is particularly well-conceived.

The new Pointe-à-Callière will include a total of 11 pavilions and several buildings of historical value. In addition to the post-modern main pavilion (Éperon, 1992), there is Place Royal (the site of the first public market, circa 1676), the Old Customs House (designed by John Ostell 1836-37), the converted former Mariner’s House and the d’Youville pump house (1915).

Pointe-à-Callière expansion proposal rendering
Pointe-à-Callière expansion proposal rendering

The westward expansion will grow along the old William Collector, a sewer that was once the Little Saint Pierre River. No longer used for such purposes, the sewer will serve as a tunnel allowing access to other underground locations where history and archeology blend so perfectly together. Among the new pavilions connected to this subterranean passageway: the original Fort Ville-Marie (1642), Saint Anne’s Market (and former Parliament – 1832), the firehouse (1904), the old general hospital/ Grey Nun’s Motherhouse (1693/1747) and a new pavilion located in the underground vaults of the Customs House on McGill Street (1916).

This is an exciting and well-deserved expansion, in my opinion, and further proves the ‘Underground City’ is a lot more than just a series of interconnected shopping malls. It’s imaginative and unique and is wonderfully appropriate given that it will pull so many distinct historical periods, places, ideas and characters together in a rather straightforward manner. Places and times plugged in to one another along a route – in essence, a life source – that has been at the centre of life in our city since Day 1.

I really can’t imagine a better way to tell our story than to literally go directly to place where it all started. I’m also keen as to how it reinforces this notion that Montreal is a city both literally and figuratively attached to its history, growing as we do from our roots and with traces of our history and presence so integrated into our consciousness.

Under ideal circumstances the underground passageway would be open to the public as a branch of the RÉSO. Under really, really ideal circumstances they’ll continue expanding underground – albeit in the opposite direction – so that you could walk from Place Royal to Place d’Armes by way of Notre Dame Basilica, eventually leading to the Métro station and RÉSO access point at the Palais des Congrès.

(Yes, I think it’s weird that Place d’Armes is not connected to Place-d’Armes; it’s really not that far and the ground underneath the square was partially excavated long ago for the former public toilets. Plus, climbing up the hill from the Métro to the square in winter is a pain in the ass).

Place Royale set up as a kind of 'living history' temporary exhibit - photo credit to McMomo, 2009
Place Royale set up as a kind of ‘living history’ temporary exhibit – photo credit to McMomo, 2009

Also, Place Royale looks like a sarcophagus or a crypt. It’s bare and unappealing. If I could make one recommendation, it is that Place Royale be given something of a make-over as the eastern entrance to Pointe-à-Callière. Some planter boxes, trees, benches etc. It doesn’t need to be a huge renovation, just something that attracts people to the area. It was once the focal point of colonial era life in our city and today it gives the impression of sterility and stillness. This should change. The museum’s underground expansion is excellent, but it still needs to engage and interact with a broader public (i.e. tourists) that may not be familiar with the rather expansive museum operating beneath their feet. Ergo, I think a more ‘traditionally’ welcoming Place Royale would serve the museum, and Old Montreal generally speaking, quite well. A little more green to contrast with the dull grey and the provision for park furniture to encourage this space’s use wouldn’t cost much.

But of course, what would be really wild is if the space was used as a seasonal open air market, just as it was originally used. This, to me, would be the ‘icing on the cake’ vis-à-vis the historical ‘rehabilitation’ aspect of the museum’s mission. As great as it will be to interact with the remnants of historical eras as the museum intends it, I’m keen to see spaces of historical value used for the purposes that made them historically valuable in the first place. Thus, the site of the city’s first public market ought to be a public market. That way the link with the past is inescapable and the function of the public space remains true to its form. Place Royale’s purpose was to bring people together; today it seems to be generally unoccupied even at the heights of the tourist season simply because there’s nothing in the space to accommodate people. Adding some plants and temporary vendor stalls could turn all this around and potentially further serve to drive more people to this deserving and innovative institution.

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 M̩tro, not connected to the M̩tro Рnot 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?

Oddball Ideas for the New Mayor

Denis Coderre - credit to The Gazette
Denis Coderre – credit to The Gazette

Denis Coderre was sworn in as the 44th mayor of Montréal last Thursday, along with the city’s estimated 50,000 councillors (I kid, there are 102 councillors, and I’m not altogether certain we’re over-represented, but I digress).

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.

If you haven’t seen it yet, get out of the cave, this may be the single greatest statement in the history of Canadian politics to date.

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.

There may yet be hope not all is lost – the Rob Ford scandal came to light because he pissed off so many people, and a lot of good journalists too. Andrew Coyne summed it up perfectly: the Rob Ford mess is a monster born of divisive and condescending populism.

Nail’s head, meet hammer hit…

But back home for a moment and our new mayor.

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 Émilie-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.

2. Reserved bus lanes, bike lanes and BRT systems. Probably the easiest improvements to public transport a mayor could make without implicating the province or adjacent cities, though these would need to be involved to truly make a dent in the broader, metropolitan traffic problem. Within the city the STM could develop more reserved lanes and, potentially a Bus Rapid Transit network that could alleviate some congestion on the Métro (which is now getting a bit out of hand, in my opinion). Key streets, avenues and boulevards for either reserved lanes and/or a BRT network: Pie-IX, Papineau, Jean-Talon, René-Lévesque, Sherbrooke, Saint-Antoine, Parc, Cote-des-Neiges, Décarie, Van Horne, Cote-Vertu, Gouin.

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.

4. Expand the Réso. Not the Métro, since this is quite out of our hands, but the intricate network of tunnels that link downtown office buildings, convention centres, universities, hotels, Métro stations and even apartment/condo towers all together, forming an insulated city-within-a-city. For as much as I enjoy walking around my city, there are times when the local climate is less than conducive to this. It’s not just the cold, but snowstorms, seasonal torrential rain, heat spells, early darkness – the Réso provides an alternative and comfortable method of getting around the city.

There are many potential new areas for expansion, namely every single condo tower going up around the Bell Centre, the new Overdale development adjacent to Lucien-L’Allier. The MMFA could be linked with Concordia, which in turn could expand its tunnel network south towards the Faubourg and Grey Nun’s Mother House. Other smaller connections, like the Forum and the Seville condos to the Atwater Métro branch of the Réso, or a connection between McGill University and the northernmost portion of the Peel and McGill station sections also make a lot of sense to me. Aside from providing an expanded convenience, it further provides a safe and secure environment to walk around in, not to mention possibly provide new opportunities for small-scale commerce.

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?