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Memories of an ugly intersection

Posted by John / November 20, 2006

interchange.jpgIt has been a year and a half or so since they started dismantling the Parc-des Pins interchange. I can recall very well the concrete nightmare that it was, and yet I can't really believe that it was ever really there. The space in the area has changed dramatically, but -- strangely, given how hideous and awkward the previous structure was -- I still haven't decided if the changes are actually good.

The old structure was something straight out of the visions of the Montreal planners and engineers who designed the soaring, futuristic (and now crumbling) curves of Autoroutes 720 and 40 during Montreal's glory days in the 1960s and 1970s -- but plopped into the heart of urban Montreal, next to one of the city's most densely-populated neighbourhoods and at the foot of our Olmstead-designed park. It was obviously a mistake; this was most apparent to pedestrians when trying to cross from east to west, or in general when observing the park or the surrounding buildings from any angle.

And yet there was no question that it was good for traffic. Two major downtown streets, and you could always cruise through, never hindered by stoplights. When driving with people from out of town, it was always fun to scare the crap out them by accelerating towards the confusing array of lanes, none of which looked like they should go anywhere.

Now, it's already clear that traffic is getting the worst part of the deal. Which is great -- I can't wait for drivers to realize, slowly, once the work has finished entirely, that the delays they endured during construction were mostly caused by the new configuration, not the work being done. There are several more sets of stoplights, and the same number of cars converging upon the same spot.

But my glee about the traffic is tempered by a concern that the new space they've created is somehow wrong. It's going to be bad for traffic, but it's still somehow designed for traffic first, the result is something oversized and hyperbolic. I've stood around waiting for buses many times already, and there's something desolate and windswept about the area, like it's an intersection near a suburban offramp, where your choices are a Wal-Mart, a Costco, an East-Side Mario's and a Bennigan's (is there such thing as Bennigan's? I'm not sure, but I can picture it clearly).

Or, worse, at night it feels like a massive city square in some Eastern European city, big and empty and pointless, an urban project forced upon the populace and subsequently ignored because it emerged from no real purpose. It seems too vast, too remote.

I haven't written it off yet. Maybe trees and flower beds, once introduced to the area, will change the way it feels. But I'm skeptical. It feels wrong, and yet it is too late. This is what we get.

Photos by Chip.

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Discussion

43 Comments

Christopher DeWolf / November 20, 2006 at 02:43 pm
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I admittedly haven't walked through the intersection yet, but I do pass through it on the 80 at least twice a day. I think the desolate feeling comes from the fact that, at the moment, the intersection is surrounded by a huge expanse of nothingless. I mean, dirt is not exactly inviting, unless it rains and you're five years old.

What will make or break the intersection will be what they do with the empty space. The lot at the lower right hand corner of your photos was originally supposed to be developed into condos, but the residents of the adjacent co-op protested because, well, they're the kind of people who live in a co-op. But it would be kind of pointless to turn it into some grass-filled pseudo-park when THE park is right across the street, wouldn't it? A new building would frame the intersection quite nicely.

Then there's those two other triangular blocks. If they're filled with grass and a few trees they will be pointless. They need to have benches, fountains, etc. to make them into inviting squares and not just empty space people pass through on their way to the park.
mike / November 20, 2006 at 02:56 pm
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i just walked through the intersection this morning and i couldn't agree more. it felt really eerie. although i am really looking forward to playing frisbee in what will become my new pleasure oasis.
LynneCW / November 20, 2006 at 03:01 pm
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I'd like to say that as a second-year McGill student, a Currie Gymnasium user and a biker, I NEVER used the Park/des Pins corner as it was before demolition and reconstruction: it was far too much intimidating. Now, riding through it is fantastic, curvy and straightforward. I agree that there needs to be buildings to fill in that dirt, as well as pedestrian friendly benches.
J Mac / November 20, 2006 at 03:27 pm
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Lynne, I used to live in upper residence, and so I can identify very much with your fear of the old intersection. Late at night, however, stumbling back from St. Laurent, we'd always end up making our way across, and it was treacherous. There was a sidewalk that ended at one of the roads, resumed on the other side, and then abruptly turned into a half-foot-wide concrete curb that you had to tightrope-walk across or else fall into the path of speeding traffic.

I'm sure trees and other objects will improve the space significantly, and I've tried to picture what it will be like when landscaped. But I've also tried to imagine the space as a space, and that's when I get worried, because what if the problem isn't just a lack of trees?

Christopher, it's especially those triangular sections that bug me. They just seem destined for no-man's-land status. Who wants to sit in a tiny green space surrounded on all sides by traffic? Better to build a Flatiron building, I reckon.
OJ / November 20, 2006 at 04:50 pm
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Ah, the good old days of risking your life walking through the underpass...they will be missed, but only because you felt like you had accomplished a feat of street-smart navigation by making out unscathed - and there was a rush associated with that.

I've also witnessed people getting hit by cars trying to cross the street on the east side of Parc, in what used to be a blind spot for pedestrians with cars flying out of the tunnel unimpeded. Regardless of the use of the remaining space, less people getting hit by cars is a good thing, to me.
mike / November 20, 2006 at 11:57 pm
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i got lost on my first ever attempt through the interpass from the ghetto on route to the mountain. i just gave up and sat on the lone piece of grass amongst the chaos. it was great-no, check that-it sucked.
DC / November 22, 2006 at 12:38 am
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The condo plan was no more than a kind of baffling gleam in the eye of Cardinal Hardy, the architects. They had a couple of building volumes sort of shaded in the rendering, and labelled them "condo". There didn't seem to be any insistence on some particular use for the sites mentioned in the brief for the project, so it would seem a kind of blunder to suggest anything beyond "ten-story buildings would look good here".

For what it's worth, ten-story buildings *would* look good there. I would of course insist that Alternatives and the co-ops that occupy the existing buildings should be accommodated with plentiful space in whatever was built, but some fat chunky little buildings in that spot would frame the intersection well and make a nice transition from La Cité back down to the park.

Have patience, as spring will bring landscaping and bike lanes and streetlights and crosswalks and untold manner of delights. I've been wondering what a new intersection would look like since I first laid eyes on the old one, and I'm geeked the fuck out to see it finished.
J Mac / November 22, 2006 at 09:52 am
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Dan, I was waiting impatiently for your comments. I dunno about 10 storey buildings, but some stately four- or five-storey apartment complexes a la 456 Pine would look pretty swell. Or is 456 a 10-storey thing, and is your "fat and chunky" analogous to my "stately"? OK, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

Hey, let's also tear down the Wedge -- the white highrise across from the gym on the corner of Lorne (where I once lived for a year, incidentally) -- just because it's ugly.
Hannah / November 22, 2006 at 10:25 am
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Perhaps what these no-man's-land pie pieces need are a little bit of random sculpture and winding paths to divert the eye. Think of the ones at Van Horne and St. Urban (or there abouts) and the ones on Viger and St. Hubert (or there abouts). Benches are good for the old and infirm to rest on their way between hospitals, but the thought of reading while surrounded by racing traffic on three sides, isn't too appealing.
Other possibilities? Community gardening plots, bike racks, open air markets...
Fairfax / November 22, 2006 at 12:13 pm
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Just biked and walked through the new intersetion for the first time last week. Agree on the desolate feel, and the pretty much pointless and unusable triangular wedges. Landscaping will improve things a little, but I think it will inevitably still retain a bit of a state project feel (think the "park" above the Ville-Marie tunnel between St-Urbain and St-Hubert).

But it's still such a HUGE improvement over the old monstrosity. Fuck the drivers... this is the centre of the city, if you're trying to get around quickly than don't drive a car. Priority to pedestrians and bikers - and no doubt this is 80 times better for them.

Another big plus... the view up the street. I stood at the intersection of Robert-Bourassa (I mean, Parc) and Sherbrooke the other day, and looking up the street I was startled at how far up you could see now, was like looking up St-Laurent.
OJ / November 22, 2006 at 01:35 pm
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The view looking south is also much improved. Wonder how this project will finish out with the city slashing their budget of 'non-essential' items this upcoming year (ie. asthetics aren't really essential)?
DC / November 23, 2006 at 06:40 pm
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Don't worry -- the landscaping was part of the capital plan for the whole project. The money's there, and it'll get spent.

It'll look raw for a few years, but once the trees get going it'll be right lovely.

Don't front like you don't love the wedge.
Christy / November 28, 2006 at 09:07 am
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<i>where your choices are a Wal-Mart, a Costco, an East-Side Mario's and a Bennigan's (is there such thing as Bennigan's? I'm not sure, but I can picture it clearly).</I>

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