Tag Archives: Trams

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.

The Tramways Issue & the Future of Montréal Public Transit

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

Curious stuff…


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

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

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

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

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

Some questions we should consider:

Are we optimizing the value of what we already have?

Is our existing system as efficient as it could be?

Do we have adequate services?

Could our diverse public transit services use a facelift?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So it breaks down like this:

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

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

So where do we go from here?

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

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

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

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

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

AMT commuter rail map - 2013
AMT commuter rail map – 2013

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

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

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

Proposed Tramway Network developed by the City of Montréal in 2007
Proposed Tramway Network developed by the City of Montréal in 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In any event, just some things to think about.

The Oldest Buildings in Montréal

New York Life Insurance Bldg

So just how old is this city, really?

We talk a lot about the city’s history and architectural heritage, of its old world charm. And of course we know that the city was founded by the Kingdom of France in 1642.

It may surprise you to learn that much of our historic architecture isn’t actually that old; there are very few 17th century buildings left on the island of Montréal.

The remnants of the Fort de la Montagne date back to 1694 and can still be found today on the grounds of the Collège de Montréal at Fort and Sherbrooke. These were long believed to be the oldest buildings in Montréal, but new evidence suggests that parts of the Sulpician Seminary adjacent to Notre Dame Basilica (1829) actually date back to 1687, though much of what remains today would have been integrated into a large renovation which occurred in 1710.

These would be the two oldest remaining structures within urban core of Montréal, but recent civic amalgamations have brought the single oldest inhabitable building on the entire island into the fold. The LeBer-LeMoyne House sits here at the intersection of LaSalle and Lachine by the western tip of the Lachine Canal. It dates to 1671 and is a national historic site owing to its importance in the development of the fur trade.

Victoria Square Historic

Further west, parts of the remnants of Fort Senneville may date from 1692 when the French Governor rebuilt the original 1671 construction, itself destroyed by fire, but this is difficult to ascertain given how little is actually left. Last I heard there were parts of a stone windmill and parts of the foundation.

In Pointe-St-Charles you’ll find the Maison Saint-Gabriel a farm house dating from 1698 which had been used by the Congrégation Notre Dame as a school, among other things, back in the French Colonial Era.

Chateau Ramezay, across the street from the Hotel-de-Ville (1878, rebuilt in 1922) dates back to 1705 with certainty, as its regal and political importance kept it very much in use until it was developed into one of the city’s first public heritage and cultural sites. The Chateau competes with the Sulpician Seminary as the oldest continually used, continuously important, building.

But this is about it. Old Montréal and the Old Port dates primarily to the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Historic properties in the Golden Square Mile, Shaugnessy Village, Saint Henri, Westmount, Mile End and Plateau are roughly as old.

Port of Montreal from Bonsecours Market ca. 1900

We lack buildings from much of the 18th century thanks to a series of fires which destroyed the city several times over the course of that century. By the early 1800s new fire-prevention measures had been implemented, including the use of tin shingles in lieu of cedar (a point honoured in the mural at McGill Station, near the words ‘La Sauvegarde’). The pre-Confederation part of the 19th century witnessed a revival in ‘Habitant’ architecture dating back to the mid-17th century (in design and materials used) among local architects, while American and British firms worked on larger public constructions, such as the Bonsecours Market (1847) and Saint Patrick’s Basilica (1847) and the original Parliament Building (destroyed by a Tory mob in 1849 and today the location of a converted fire hall at Place d’Youville. In 1815 the old fortifications were torn down, allowing the city to begin expanding outward. In this sense, everything you consider to be city outside of Old Montreal has really only been in use for about two-hundred years, though most of the buildings were built in the last half-century.

That said we nonetheless have a few 18th century examples remaining, including the Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel (otherwise known as the Sailor’s Cathedral) built in 1771 on the ruins of another church. There also still stands the Papineau House, built in 1785.

Dorchester Square Historic

Rue de la Frippone owes its name to the Old French government warehouse that once stood on the site, as the government officials would habitually fleece the stocks for their own use. Thus, cheat street.

I can imagine there may be some old treasures lost about Rue Saint-Paul, Rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Saint-Gabriel and Saint-Francois-Xavier as well, but the prevalence of ‘heritage design’ in the 19th century makes it a difficult task to ascertain just how old something actually is.

Suffice it to say, what we generally consider to be the ‘architecturally significant’ old part of the city is only about 100-160 years old, not terribly representative of our nearly 400 year local history. In effect, the most tangible reminder of our colonial era is a system of roads laid down by surveyor Dollier de Casson back in the late-17th century.


I drew my inspiration for this article from a City of Montreal tourist guidebook I have that was published around 1900 or so (photographs illustrating this article were scanned form it). Imagine that when this book was published, much of what is now considered to be the historic old city was then very new and very much in use. In fact you likely would have found many more older structures outside Vieux-Montréal back then, ironically enough, as this was then the city centre, and between 1880 and 1930 the focus of a massive redevelopment.

In this book it discusses what would have been the oldest structures in the city back at the turn of the 20th century, and as you might imagine the aforementioned examples are included. However it also suggests that a building on Rue Saint-Vincent may have once belonged to Monsieur De Catalogne, contractor of the Lachine Canal of 1700. The building here in white may be that house. There’s another on Rue Saint-Louis which also looks quite old, an odd small single-family home on a comparatively large plot near the municipal courthouse.

Windsor Station Antique

I think we’re well positioned to maintain a considerable portion of what currently exists in Vieux-Montréal, which will be far more impressive and significant at the end of this century. If we want to keep this rather pristine jewel of Ancien Regime based late-Victorian cityscape we’ll have to maintain (if not increase) the local population, introduce new services (both commercial and civic) and facilitate a renewal of purpose for the citizenry at large. Better public transit access wouldn’t hurt either, but options are limited (for better or for worse) to a re-introduction of trams. My understanding is that the ground might not be stable enough to permit Métro access further south than the Orange Line, but of course if trams were introduced they’d need to operate as independently of vehicular traffic as possible. It would be very much in keeping with the style and design of Vieux-Montréal if we were to re-introduce trams on Rue de la Commune, Notre-Dame, and Saint-Antoine with intersecting lines at Berri, Saint-Urbain, McGill and Peel, connecting to Berri-UQAM, Place-d’Armes & Place-des-Arts, Square-Victoria, Bonaventure & Peel respectively.


It’s a high concentration of transit in a small but high-traffic area and to secure a greater range of service optimization it may be worthwhile to focus it on a kind of site-specific transit system optimized for the entirety of the Old Port, Old Montreal, Griffintown, Goose Village and Cité-du-Havre/Parc Jean-Drapeau. It would make a lot of sense to people – when you’re in the old part of town you use a trams, an ‘old’ yet still practical form of public transit. And who knows, design it well enough and we may create something truly fitting, wondrously appropriate and efficient as well aesthetically pleasing. It could be a big hit.

But this itself is predicated on the notion that Old Montreal could be more valuable if it were a more viable place to live. We’d be wise not to build modern or post-modern residential towers here, but revisit the style that remains. I’d like to see the few remaining vacant lots filled with new versions of classic Montreal Beaux-Arts architecture, as well as some building variety as well – a good portion of Griffintown already feels too much like a series of large warehouses converted into horizontal apartments; throwing in some classic small-scale buildings could help solidify the rustic charm of our former frontier town. I said before we’re well positioned – interest in this area is generally high even if it’s localized economy is currently too negatively impacted by moderate drops in annual tourist revenue. Adding more people and the means for a viable community to form would help counter this problem, and would add the possibility for multi-generational investment in heritage properties. Fill up the vacant spaces with the buildings required to create a community and ensure the design fits, and then give it its purpose-built mass-transit system and Vieux-Montréal would transform from tourism hub to neighbourhood – a place where one comes from as opposed to a place one merely visits.

DOminion Square Historic

It’s not just that we want to preserve old buildings, function must be preserved as well.

Montréal doesn’t just have a collection of old buildings, we have an old city, an antique urbanism. And it’s viability and utility to the metropolis (for it could be an obscenely wealthy neighbourhood to boot) is tied quite directly to careful planning from City Hall. And this is because we expect the city to, if nothing else, at least preserve the historic built environment, that has now for several generations made every Montrealer feel like they come from a place truly different and distinguished.

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.