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Montréal and Québec Leaders Announce “Irreversible” Decision to Expand Métro

Montreal Transit Extensions Map

» Just a month after city commits to streetcar network, three metro extensions are put into play.

In the early 1990s, Québec’s ruling Liberal Party stopped funding extensions of the Montréal metro after having built four lines to serve the dense island’s core since 1966. The rise of the Parti Québecois in the mid 1990s allowed for the completion of one more expansion: northwest to Laval, which was served by three new stations by the time the project opened in 2007 to wild success. Despite its diminutive length of only 40 miles, Montréal has built North America’s most ambitious inner-city rapid transit scheme outside of Washington, D.C., serving the third-largest number of passengers overall behind New York and Mexico City and attracting the second-highest ridership per capita behind New York.

The network’s popularity has not been unnoticed by politicians at the municipal and provincial levels. Just months before elections are likely to occur, the Liberal Party, now in charge of the Province and hoping to regain control of the federal government, The Québec Liberal Party, unaffiliated with the federal Liberals, has announced its support for three new extensions to the system which could increase its size by one-third by 2020. Though the new projects will undergo C$12 million in feasibility studies over the next three years before construction can begin on what will be a C$4 billion program, Québec Premier Jean Charest stood with the mayors of Montréal, Longueuil, and Laval to note that the government was at a point of “non-retour;” in other words, the decision to invest in these projects is irreversible.

The action comes just a month after Montréal Mayor Gérald Tremblay announced his commitment to a C$700 million tramway line running from downtown along the Côte des Neiges through Outremont. It also coincides with the transit renaissance currently taking place in Toronto and Vancouver, each of which have committed billions to new projects.

Blue, Yellow, and Orange Lines will see 20 km of new service, all underground, if the plans announced this week come to fruition. The Blue Line would be expanded by 5 km north to Anjou from its current terminus at Saint-Michel; this corridor would be the first built because it has already undergone extensive planning. The short Yellow Line would see a 5 km extension into Longueuil. Meanwhile, the already-overflowing trains from Laval would be reinforced by the 10 km looping of the Orange Line, allowing commuters in the off-island suburb service to both north and south sides of Parc Mont Royal.

Missing from the proposals is any effort to expand the network to West Island communities such as Montréal-Ouest and Côte Saint-Luc, each of which are arguably just as densely populated as the areas to be served by the other metro extensions. To some in the anglophone press, this is seen as an affront to English-speaking neighborhoods, though it seems just as likely that this decision was the inevitable consequence of the municipal demerger of Montréal island in 2006. A referendum in 2005 recreated a number of independent cities, mostly on the west side, after Québec Province merged the entire island into the city of Montréal in 2002.

The demerger came with its negative consequences for the cities that wanted to be left alone, providing an incentive for the still-dominant city of Montréal to concentrate on providing transit service within its shrunken boundaries — which explains, notably, why the Blue Line is being extended east, not west. The coalition of the mayors of Montréal, Longueuil, and Laval pushed for this new commitment from Québec Province, and since there is now no authority that manages the island as a whole, this was a battle for political supremacy that could not be won by the small cities of west island. We would likely be seeing a different proposal for new lines today if the 2002 merger had remained in place, especially since tunnels that would allow for a western extension of the Blue Line have already been partially built.

At this point, it is unclear who will pay for these lines, though it seems probable that Québec Province will take the primary role in funding. The federal commitment of billions of dollars to Toronto and Vancouver over the past few months suggests it would be fair for Montréal to receive a similar donation — though it might result in one of the projects being renamed the Canada Line. The city must resolve some fiscal problems in the meantime — its trainsets are decades old and need to be replaced over the next few years. But the outlook for these extensions look good. Or at least, that’s the impression the Liberal Party wants to portray going into elections later this year.

15 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Olivier Gratton-Gagné

    Excellent post. As a Montrealer myself, I recon that most of what is being said here is sensible and reflect the transport issues that Montréal is facing, althought I think the author confused the liberal provincial party, which is in power in Québec and will NOT going in election until 2012, and the liberal federal party, which is in the opposition and will likely trigger an election soon.

    The map is very neat (how do you get such quality maps and vector work?) but it should take into account that the BIXI zone as been extended: http://montreal.bixi.com/news/full/bixi_second_phase_the_implementation_of_%20new_bike_docks_has_started/

    Always a pleasure reading you.

    Olivier

  • Olivier –
    Thanks for the point about Bixi – I updated the map to respect that expansion.
    Also, very good point about the separation of PLQ and national Liberals.

  • NCarlson

    Looks good, but whatever happened to the Champlain Bridge LRT? It seems to have disappeared.

  • One nitpick: Toronto has a higher subway ridership than Montreal. The data you link to that says otherwise is unreliable in two ways: it counts a trip involving transfers multiple times instead of just once, and its numbers for Toronto are for a different period from the Montreal numbers, one with lower ridership overall. Toronto also has a higher overall transit modal share than Montreal (link), 22% versus 21%.

  • jon

    The third largest number of passengers behind NYC and Mexico City is that for metro rail or overall (bus, subway, commuter rail) transit system?

    Is there a list of the busiest overall transit systems in North America or a list of the transit ridership per N.A. metropolitan area? The closest I’ve seen to this are lists broken down by transit mode, i.e. busiest metro system, busiest LRT system etc. I am wondering how Montreal figures into this, as I understand it places about 4th in NA (after NYC, Mexico City and Toronto), but is this true?

  • Montreal isn’t third in any mode. Its subway has a lower ridership than Toronto’s. So does its commuter rail system. I don’t have bus statistics, but if Montreal has a lower transit mode share and a smaller population than Toronto, it can’t have a larger transit ridership.

  • In Q2 2008, the most recent data available for both systems according to the APTA (and of course you can argue with the way they calculate ridership, but at least the numbers are comparable), for heavy rail:

    Toronto: 864,000 average daily riders subway + 44,500 Scarborough RT = 908,500
    Montréal: 987,000 average daily riders Métro
    D.C.: 1,036,000 average daily riders Metro

    On the other hand, according to the agencies (paying passengers):
    Toronto: 793,000 total average daily riders subway and RT
    Montréal: 700,000 average daily riders Métro
    D.C.: ~ 715,000 average daily riders Metro

    Suffice it to say that heavy rail ridership in Montréal, D.C., and Toronto is relatively similar, but that Montréal and D.C. have a higher number of transfers in their systems than Toronto does (which makes sense if you look at Toronto’s system map). All have good-performing systems that demonstrate that if you invest in a well-designed heavy rail network with excellent connections in the dense core neighborhoods, you’ll get high ridership.

    The claim that Montréal has the second-highest heavy rail ridership per capita (in the metro area) remains true, no matter which of the figures above you cite, simply because Montréal’s metropolitan area is smaller in population than Toronto or D.C. but has roughly the same number of heavy rail riders.

  • Woody

    Somewhere we should say, This is really good news.

    It’s good for Montreal, of course. And it’s good for other Canadian cities, and ultimately for US cities too.

    Cities get competitive, you know. One city builds a copy of a Roman arch, its rival builds a marble one, soon matched across the Pond by an arch to honor the father of his country. One city gets a big stadium, the others want big new stadiums. One builds the biggest convention center this side of Mars and the others start planning to expand their own convention centers. One puts up the highest skyscraper between Here and There, and other cities start talking about new skyscrapers. A lot of that is waste and foolishness.

    Now Montreal is moving ahead with more subways and streetcar lines. Toronto will not want to backtrack on its own plans now, or be overtaken by its francophone rival. The pressure is now on Ottawa to tunnel under downtown or do whatever it takes to get its transit plan moving. The odds that Edmonton will further expand its light rail system just got better.

    They’ll hear about this in Boston and New York, and in Atlanta and L.A., Olympic cities like Montreal. How do you say in French, “Monkey see, monkey do?” This could be a very healthy civic competition all around.

  • American cities don’t really look up to Canadian cities in anything. Washington compares its subway with New York’s, not Toronto’s.

  • Woody

    Alon — Anybody ever tell you that you are a killjoy? And a real font of negativity? Lighten up and enjoy life. Or at least let others enjoy it. Damn. You are smart and can be informative and often add good insights to the conversation, but what a sourpuss. Oy.

    And in fact, with this latest sour observation, which added nothing and advanced the discussion not one bit, you may be factually wrong as well. After all, the Traffic Commish of NYC went to Toronto and came back talking about streetcars. She didn’t go to Washington to look at their little streetcar project.

  • John

    Let’s all bear in mind that Montreal is much better at announcing such projects than literally constructing them.

    They announced the tramways a couple years ago and I’m not really aware of any actual progress being made for their construction. A10 LRT i’m even more skeptical of.

  • Woody

    Jon — As I understand it, Montreal went drunk on spending for the Olympics and World’s Fair in 1976, building the first subway lines and a megabillion airport far out in the boondocks that remains underused today.

    Recently, 30 years or more after the money was pissed away on unneeded airports and the other projects, that debt has at last been paid off.

    So I’m hoping that the city’s ability to borrow and invest has returned to normal after the 30-year hangover, and now it can build again. Let’s hope it’s at a more sustainable pace, and not such BOOM! and BUST! again.

    Anyway, living in NYC I won’t make fun of cities that are better at announcing projects than literally constructing them. I myself voted for a huge bond issue to finance the Second Avenue Subway, among several other ghostly projects, back in 1969 or so

  • John

    A random, wild thought. How much would it cost to convert the commuter rail lines linking, say, Bois-Franc – Central Station – Lambert as an S-Bahn type of service? Presumably a few trains could still be through running to cover the service levels that currently exist to the more remote commuter stations.

    That’d reduce the need for the A10 LRT, and would provide greater networking between the existing lines, especially if an interchange with the blue line could be retrofitted.

    Though the Deux-Montagnes line (via Bois Franc) has the highest ridership of the commuter lines, it might make more sense to have it go via Sauvé instead to alleviate the Laval crush on the orange line.

  • Claude Boucher

    For posterity’s sake, here’s an answer to John’s question re: Bois-Franc – Saint-Lambert.

    Short answer, the line is a class 1 railway owned by Canadian National where freight is usually prioritized. Then, you have Mount Royal and the tunnel between Canora and Central Station. See here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deux-Montagnes_Line_%28AMT%29

  • John W

    It looks like there’s been an evolution in the thinking about the extension of the orange line in Laval. According to the map on this page, it will no longer form a simple loop. Instead, the two ends of the line will intersect, but one branch will carry on a station further to the Carrefour Laval shopping mall. That website on Laval’s future plans also shows a serious attitude towards TOD around two of the existing and one of the future stations.

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