Suburbs have too much transit clout

Proposed extensions to Orange, Blue and Yellow lines

Proposed extensions to Orange, Blue and Yellow lines

This week, La Presse came out with the news that the mayors of Montreal, Laval and Longueuil have joined forces to suggest to the Quebec government that proposed metro extensions in their cities be acted on simultaneously.

Because these projects require such a huge infusion of cash from the provincial government (they cost $150 million per kilometre, and that’s a low estimate), the decision to proceed with them tends to have as much to do with politics as it does with need. The Laval extension, for example, was pushed forward ahead of the extension of the Blue line mostly because of the fact that Laval has swing ridings whereas the east end of Montreal tends to be pretty well PQ blue (when the PQ has a chance of winning elections, anyway).

The three proposed extensions aren’t new. The Blue line extension has been on the books for decades now in one form or another. Laval’s closed loop was suggested in 2007, Longueuil’s plan is a bit more recent.

But why these three? Why not extend the green line in either direction? Why not create a line on Pie-IX, or Park Avenue, or through NDG?

The answer is that Montreal only has one mayor, and because of the way politicians have setup our cities, the mayor of Montreal has no more say than a smaller suburb on either side. So in order to get a much-needed metro extension in the dense neighbourhood of St. Leonard, we have to approve two comparatively useless extensions in underdeveloped off-island areas.

The idea isn’t going over so well, even among people who you’d think would support it. Some transit activists are arguing that less expensive (and less sexy) projects should be dealt with first, like improving commuter trains and setting up a tram network.

Let’s hope common sense prevails before the government writes that $3-billion cheque.

12 thoughts on “Suburbs have too much transit clout

  1. Eric

    I wonder why they don’t build metro extensions above ground and covered. Must be faster and cheaper to do. Would be cool to see them zipping through glass or Plexiglas tubes and could return underground to get through already densely populated areas..

    It’s ridiculous that they can’t get a line to the west island though.

  2. Jean Naimard

    The West Island already has two commuter train lines and three express bus lines.
    Nowhere outside of the downtown core (Sherbrooke/Atwater/Berri/Canal) is there enough justification to justify subway lines.
    Streetcar lines are much more appropriate for those low-density areas; for the same amount, one can have 4-5 times much more streetcar line than subway line.
    Those proposed extensions are just the right thing for streetcar lines, although it would appear more logical to complete the subway loop; at least, this way, it’s gonna be harder to extend it more… :)

  3. Alastair Yates

    Longueuil is actually fairly densely populated (much more so than many on island areas). There areas in question for the proposed expansion in Longueuil all have over 3,000 people per square kilometer (the same as Anjou). Check statscan.

  4. Eric

    That’s why I said they could “return underground to get through the densely populated” parts…. But go above ground where possible so the lines could be extended faster and cheaper.

  5. newurbanshapes

    Don’t see why this is such a bad idea. Some thoughts:

    – A large capital outlay like this is just the sort of stimulus spending we need right now. It will add work at all levels of employment and will leave the metropolitan area with permanent infrastructure that will increase households’ ability to get to work. It will increase the usefulness of the existing metro network.

    – The metro is MUCH more energy-efficient than cars and buses (measured in kj/passenger/km). It is slightly more efficient than a tramway. The stats are in an AMT PTI document somewhere. The increased density around subway stations means trips are shorter. So the total of the kj/passenger/km comes out much lower.

    – Metro cars & construction can be done by Québec companies. If we build autoroutes instead (as this government would prefer to do) the additional parts and gasoline and cars will have to be imported, worsening Québec’s trade balance.

    – In the Kyoto/post-Kyoto protocol world we should be thinking about how to reduce carbon emissions. Around 50% of Québec’s greenhouse gases are from transportation. And guess where most of the transportation in Québec takes place…

    – The metro is more attractive for the middle-income people who have the choice of just taking their cars to work or wherever they’re going. For example: they get to wait in a place sheltered from the cold and snow. The métro is unaffected by street traffic or snow conditions on the surface, meaning household productivity should increase. Don’t know if the advantages would be the same for above-surface stations. Once attracted to the metro system, they’ll generally take a bus or two to connect to the metro stations.

    – Density of construction isn’t just some static feature of the city that metro infrastructure is dependent on. Places are dense or not in part because of the infrastructure provided. Saying that we shouldn’t build the metro somewhere because it isn’t dense is mixing up the causal chain. As gas prices go back up towards 2007 levels and beyond, the pressure to build housing around métro stations should ratchet up dramatically.

    We’re likely behind on metro construction as it is. What is the normal ratio of transit km to metropolitan population? In europe?

    What would be a bad idea? An expansion “from nowhere to nowhere”, like the blue line arguably now is and how LA’s green line is often described.

    The Green Coalition is likely just one voice among many, and it seems rather suspicious that they’d prefer we built up commuter trains. Where do commuters live?

  6. DC

    These extensions are, to varying degrees, good ideas.

    The blue line run to Anjou will create lots of opportunities for redevelopment in St-Leonard and Anjou, boost ridership on the rest of what is currently a poorly-trafficked line, help with the mess if/when the Met gets rebuilt, and mitigate the impact of the dumb new highway bridge to eastern Laval. The orange line loop will help anchor the new development going in around the Bois-Franc AMT station and in the northwest central part of the island generally, could create some interesting densification options in the Laurentian/Curé Labelle area (depending on the route), and might draw some riders away from the existing overcrowding along the St-Denis portion of the line. The yellow line has the weakest case; it doesn’t do much for the real redevelopment needs on the South Shore (the Taschereau corridor), or reach where recent development has been most intense (over towards Brossard), but it might serve as a good interceptor for commuters coming from further east, or open up a bit of room at the de la Gauchetière bus terminal.

    Here’s the problem: All of these projects put more people on the most overcrowded portions of the existing system. The orange line extension won’t get that many people off of the St-Denis corridor, and might draw even more riders to it. Similarly, the blue line will dump even more passengers on to the orange line at Jean-Talon. A successful yellow line extension will put more people into crowded Berri-UQAM, where they will use the most crowded stretch of the metro network (the four or five green line stations to the west) as a downtown distributor.

    Hey, having an insanely popular metro system is a wonderful problem to have, and despite the high cost the all-underground rubber-tired technology gives a great ride. But if we want to extend it, we need to get some more people off of it first. Improve commuter rail to Laval, the South Shore and the Deux-Montagnes line with more electrification, better track connections to the Mount-Royal tunnel, upgraded signaling, more stations, and rebuilt terminals to shorten turnaround time and increase capacity. Draw off shorter trips on the central island with better bus service or light rail, particularly on the north-south arterials east of St-Denis. And create a more attractive and effective downtown circulator to relieve pressure on the green line.

    If, after all that, the metro is still adding riders, we just need more metro capacity. Short of a new signalling system to lower headways between trains, we could think about digging some new tunnels: swinging the yellow line west to parallel the green line, or northwest from Berri-UQAM to connect with the eastern or western leg of the blue line around Outremont station. We already have insane crush loads in the Parc corridor, and insufficient street-level space for an effective dedicated light rail line there. A partial Parc metro could get people off of packed 80 and 535 buses, relieve the orange line, and give blue line riders a more direct connection to downtown. It would come at a very high cost and in a very sensitive area, but it would help unclog the metro’s most important arteries and improve transit circulation around the heart of the island.

  7. lagatta

    Why is there not enough room for a light rail, or better, a tram line on avenue du Parc? – there already was a tram there. I think a Parc tram would be an important priority – with proper signalling it could always have right-of-way and be very swift indeed. It would create another place commuters could transfer onto the blue line, and the northbound commuter train. Now that the Parc-Pins interchange has been eliminated, it would be an ideal route into the city centre.

    Agree that blue line extension should have been done a long time ago. Where was it supposed to go further west, to the badly-served part of NDG? Northeastern Montréal is very densely populated in parts and there are a lot of immigrant and other working-class people without cars (or with at most one care per household and 2, 3 or more people working or attending educational institutions).

  8. Pingback: Fagstein » Playing politics with the metro

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