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Montréal Moves Forward with Tramway, in Line with Hopes for Improved Livability

Montreal Transit Investments Map

» City’s transit network would be reinforced with downtown and Côte des Neiges streetcar line.

Montréal was on a roll in the post-war period, opening its brand-new metro system in 1966, hosting the Universal Exposition in 1967, and providing a home for the Olympic Games in 1976. Charismatic Mayor Jean Drapeau wanted to define the metropolis as one of the most important in the Western hemisphere, building sports stadia and the like to provide physical evidence of the city’s importance. In the late 1970s, during the rise of the Québec sovereignty movement and the creation of French language laws, however, Montréal lost its status as Canada’s largest city to Toronto. Ever since, the town has been struggling with its identity.

But the city’s administration thinks it has a solution. Even as its perennial rival invests in a large network of new light rail lines and subway extensions, Montréal has launched a popular new bike share system and it will soon lay the tracks for a streetcar line. The city has picked livability over monumentality.

For years, the city’s administration has been considering a new tramway in the downtown area to reinforce the metro, which provides underwhelming access to neighborhoods directly north and south of Parc Mont Royal, the defining element of the city’s landscape. Montréal’s Transport Plan, which was first introduced last year, lists a streetcar line first among a number of other projects the city will undertake in the coming years, including two metro line extensions (of the Blue and Orange lines), a new commuter rail line (Train de l’Est), and a direct airport link.

Last week, the city revealed the results of its first serious streetcar study, and it demonstrated a great potential for new corridors to fill in the city’s transit gaps. The overall tramway program, which would be constructed over a period of several decades, would begin with a new line connecting the downtown and Old Port with the Côte des Neiges and Outremont neighborhoods along a new route lounging the south side of Parc Mont Royal. Future extensions would run through the Plateau community along Avenue du Parc, Boulevard Pie-IX, Avenue du Mont-Royal, and Rue Notre Dame, as well as into south Montréal. The areas selected for proposed service are the city’s most densely populated; completing the entire project would likely cost more than a billion Canadian dollars.

The first corridor lacks adequate financing, and even the city government admits that it will not be completed until 2013 at the earliest. Yet Mayor Gérald Tremblay sees the C$500-750 million downtown and Côte des Neiges project, running 12.5 km in total, as a key to the city’s future. Together, the lines would carry between 65,000 and 80,000 daily passengers. A line up Avenue du Parc would add 30,000 riders to that number.

Montréal’s impulse — to construct a streetcar as soon as possible even as it expands its Bixi bike share network — seems likely to guarantee a more livable future for the city’s citizens, who are already treated to one of North America’s most wonderful urban environments. Just as Portland and Seattle have demonstrated the developmental value of tramways over the past decade or so, Montréal will likely attract increasing infill construction in areas along the streetcar routes. The emphasis on biking and walking in those neighborhoods will make the atmosphere even more appealing.

While the Côte des Neiges, Parc, Mont-Royal, and Pie-IX lines seem reasonable, filing the gaps in service currently not provided by the metro and reinforcing the density of existing neighborhoods, the downtown project and the Notre Dame lines seem less well considered. Montréal proposes three north-south spines on its downtown route — two more than it needs. Meanwhile, the circulator pattern proposed for the downtown project will not actually fit the needs of most of the city’s inhabitants — people generally do not want to travel in circles. The Notre Dame line seems largely superfluous, since the metro Green Line already runs a few blocks from there and development on the riverfront is relatively sparse, with few opportunities for improvement since a busy freight rail line sits in the way.

Overall, though, Montréal’s investment in tramways is an exciting step forward for a town that seemed to have lost its footing for a while. A city that spends on improvements that make neighborhoods more walkable and environmentally sensitive is one that will make the life of its citizens more enjoyable.

6 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • The Côte des Neiges line is very exciting. That area is a classic streetcar neighborhood, but some parts of it are very far from the subway. This would make transit more convenient for an area that is already very transit-oriented, but that currently puts too much effort into accommodating speeding cars.

  • Stewart Clamen

    Nice map! Montreal’s my home town, and where I first developed a fascination for mass transit. I especially like your inclusion of the Bixi zone, which has been a great success, and which I believe is being tentatively expanded this month into the Cote-des-Neiges borough (in the area near the Université de Montréal, north of Parc Mont-Royal, to the east of where the Blue Line crosses over the proposed CDN Blvd tramway)

    I’m not terribly familiar with the street layout east of the core, in the Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough, but I would think that running the tramway along Ontario or Hochelaga instead of Notre Dame (if the street widths permit) would make more sense, even if the route puts it closer to the Métro. One of the current candidates of mayor supported that routing early in the planning (don’t know what her current opinion is).

    I feel obliged to point out that your map is oriented in the local way, with the (false) assumption that the River flows from west-to-east, and that Laval is due north.

  • jon

    thats really smart to include bixi coverage on your transit map

  • John

    I’ve only discovered this site recently – and I’m hooked. Nice to see an update on my favourite city and former home. Couple of things that stood out though.

    While the downtown/Old Montreal loop certainly seems to have its drawbacks (not the least, a new bus route along here that hasn’t been particularly successful – http://w5.montreal.com/mtlweblog/2009/08/bus-vs-tram-clarification.html), it doesn’t actually fall afoul of humantransit.org’s criteria that you’ve referenced – according to the analysis document on the city’s website, it’ll be “à double sens” (two-way). (See the PDF doc for Phase 1 linked to on this page – http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=4577,7761623&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL)

    The downtown/Old Montreal loop also links a number of large institutions, has strong touristic potential as it provides direct access to the length of the Old Port and Old Montreal, ties together the new and old downtowns (which are ever better integrated with the covering over of the Ville-Marie Expressway and the development of the Quartier International – though I think there’s still a perceptual distance-gap between the two in many Montrealers’ minds – as well as a steep hill).

    There are also a couple of huge developments pending at the southwest* corner of the loop – Griffintown and the former postal sorting station site – which would also be served by the LRT to the South Shore** that had been proposed as part of the conversion of the Bonaventure expressway into an ‘urban boulevard’ (there’s no mention of that – not sure what the status is, but it would be a regionally driven project rather than a city one). And there’s the new CHUM superhospital at the eastern end.

    The Phase II line along Notre Dame is shown on the other city documents as joining the network along Rene-Levesque, which makes far more sense for commuters. Not sure why they’ve shown it intersecting at rue de la Commune on the google map version on the city’s web site. That whole stretch of Notre Dame is slated for redevelopment as an ‘urban boulevard’, quite contentiously as parts of it are proposed to be a freeway trench separating the neighbourhoods from the waterfront. I’m not sure about the future of the freight lines there – the parts nearest the old port are already being developed for housing.

    There’s also been recent talk from the suburbs about trying to get further extensions on the Metro – closing the gap on the orange line so that it becomes a closed loop, and adding a few stations on the the yellow line beyon Longueuil on the South Shore.

    *Note: Montreal’s street grid is at a 45-degree or so offset from north-south. But many Montrealers aren’t even aware of this as the convention is that streets roughly parallel to the river are “east-west” (eg rue Notre-Dame, av du Mont-Royal), while the perpendicular streets such as Pie-IX and du Parc are “north-south”. So the three spines you mention as being “north-south” would be incomprehensible to most Montrealers – the alignments along Rene-Levesque and Ste-Catherine are east-west. The third spine isn’t downtown – it’s on the port side of Old Montreal, which is primarily a touristic and leisure area (though with increasing numbers of residents).

    **(Bizarrely, the ‘South Shore’ suburbs are pretty much due east of downtown)

  • John

    Oops – there are stray parentheses in the links I included in my previous comment. These should work a bit better:

    http://w5.montreal.com/mtlweblog/2009/08/bus-vs-tram-clarification.html

    http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=4577,7761623&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

    There’s not much detail in English on the city’s website, I’m afraid – just these glossy highlights: http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=5957,40443575&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&t=1

  • Huricano

    Does Transport Politic have anything to say about the proposal to make the Orange line into a loop with Laval?

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