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Montreal Transit Update

Posted by John / March 28, 2006

metro.jpgMany exciting things have gone down in the public transit realm in recent weeks. When coupled with the extremely poor condition of Montreal's roads, these developments could turn this city into one where cars are truly pointless.

Most recently, the STM announced it will add metro cars on the blue line, which will both accommodate the larger number of riders in recent months and help that particular metro look slightly less silly. Have you ever seen it when it's only three cars long? It's somehow embarrassing.

A few weeks ago, the Charest government formalized plans for a new commuter rail line going northeast from Montreal to Mascouche, wherever that is. It'll cost $300 million (which probably means $1 billion, if past projects are any indication), and will serve, as some have noted, as an above-ground metro for east-end Montrealers, with seven on-island stops on the route. Note that earlier, when Mayor Gérald Tremblay was making noise about this train route, he also hinted that Quebec should pony up some cash for a downtown-to-airport rail link, which seems like a no-brainer. Not much news on that since, though, which I blame on taxi drivers, who must love having a huge captive market stuck paying a $35 one-way fare.

About a month ago, after a trip to France, Tremblay also talked up the prospect of light-rail lines elsewhere in the city, particularly on Parc Ave. from downtown to Jean Talon. Some have suggested tramlines don't make sense in this winter city, but I saw them in operation in every city in Poland in the middle of winter last year, so I wonder about that. Anyone have any insights? The real hindrance to the plan will probably be shop owners, who will complain that they'll lose business while the street is torn up for construction, and then afterwards once parking spaces are inevitably reduced to accommodate the tram lines. Not that many people make a deliberate trip to Mile End to buy, what? -- pantyhose? beat-up "antiques?" olives? OK, maybe olives.



Dave / March 28, 2006 at 10:48 am
As Midnight Poutine's unofficial Aviation Expert, I can confirm that the Downtown-Airport train is still in the planning stages. The project is considered part of the Dorval Circle Interchange project. Here are 5 of the proposals.<br>


The project would not only bring a train into the airport (spurring off of the current line passing along the interchange) but will also make getting in and out of the airport much easier. Currently, in the mid to late afternoon (the peak International Arrivals times) you often have to wait 30 minutes just to get past the Dorval Circle. The whole project should have been done about 8 years ago when Scheduled International Traffic was transfered back to Dorval after 20 years at Mirabel Airport. As usual in this city, the whole transfer was done quite half assed.
Dan / March 28, 2006 at 02:49 pm
Winter ain't no thing to a light rail train no way nohow. Moscow, Helsinki, Oslo, Calgary all manage to run light rail systems in hellish winters.<p>

When we think "light rail" we're typically not just talking about vehicles that have tracks and get their power from overhead wires, but a whole host of changes to the streetscape and traffic rules. Basically all of those changes -- physically separate transit-only lanes, special areas to board the vehicle, preferential transit signals that give transit priority over other traffic, etc. -- are possible with buses.<p>

It's not that light rail doesn't have certain particular advantages, but that we're waiting for this expensive new technology to show up before we make pretty basic improvements that could be built incrementally at modest cost. I know, I know, the streetcars are cute and whir pleasingly and remind one of Olden Days or European charm or something. But there are efficiencies that can be realized right now, and benefits we can reap with the halfassed stuff we already have, without waiting for enough money or political will to fulfil a seductive vision.<p>

If I'm sick of waiting five minutes for a really crowded bus that gets stuck in traffic, I'm not going to be any happier after spending $300 million so I can wait fifteen minutes for a really crowded streetcar that gets stuck in traffic. Tremblay and the AMT are getting hung up on how to make arbitrarily chosen technologies work on particular routes, rather than letting the actual patterns of travel and the resources available determine what technology works best for a given problem.
J Mac / March 28, 2006 at 03:40 pm
OK, well, why is it that such (seemingly) obvious concepts are apparent to planners who don't work for thecity, but not for the people that make the decisions? Is it the need for big projects that people will remember? Is it egotistical politicians who have big visions and expect the planners to design according to those visions, rather than consulting the planners before having them? Something else?
Dan / March 29, 2006 at 12:59 am
There's no glamour for politicians or technocrats in competent management and steady progress over a long period of time. Nobody gets awards at their professional banquet or excited coverage in the media for maintaining a decent preventive maintenance budget.<p>
Everyone -- planners, politicians, the media, developers, the bien-pensant public -- loves big transformative projects. Planners and their "urbanist" cheering section have been pushing streetcars for years, as part of a "vision" of boutiques-and-cafes street life that we're supposed to just be able to will into being by throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at it. Everyone likes shovels in the ground and a dramatically different "after" picture. If that's not on offer, why bother?<p>

The challenge of a real ecological politics is to wean people off of vision, to look more at long-term trends and do a little bit at a time to improve things. We only settle for such disappointingly mundane investments in things we don't see: the Commission des services électriques puts a few more kilometers of power lines underground every year, and New York has been burrowing away at a new water tunnel to all five boroughs for well over a decade. We barely hear about these things, because they don't make anything suddenly look cool or futuristic, and the electricity keeps coming and the water keeps flowing out of the tap. Yawn.<p>
That's a cultural problem. Planners have never solved cultural problems. Politicans rarely do so. A better politics could.

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