What – and where – is this?
UPDATE (April 27): John is the first to get this right below: This is the inside of what used to be a bus shelter on Pie-IX Blvd., specifically the one at Jarry St.
I didn’t know it when I posted this question, but it’s actually somewhat of a trick one. You see, the objects in this photograph aren’t there anymore.
For those of you who haven’t been to Pie IX Blvd., it has a unique history.
In 1989, the city decided to implement a partial reserved lane system on Pie IX Blvd. In fact, it would be the city’s first reserved bus lane of any kind.
It made sense – Pie IX is a wide thoroughfare and its bus route – the 139 – was among the city’s busiest.
But a reserved lane would disrupt car traffic, and at the worst possible time: rush hour.
So the city came up with what some urban planner no doubt thought was an ingenious plan: instead of reserving a lane in the same direction as rush-hour traffic, they’d reserve a lane on the opposite side of the street, and have the buses travel contra-flow. It’s like what goes on during rush hour on the Champlain Bridge. In the morning, there would be three car lanes open heading south, and one reserved bus lane heading south on the opposite side of the median. That leaves two lanes for traffic (including buses) heading north.
Because the buses would be travelling on the opposite side of the street, passengers would get on and off at the centre median. Special shelters were setup with doors that aligned to the front and back doors of the bus, and ushered the passengers to the intersection where they would cross safely at the light.
These shelters didn’t exist anywhere apart from Pie IX Blvd., and even then there were only 10 of them, at major intersections between Monselet St. and Laurier Ave. (at the southern terminus, the bus stops at the metro station as normal). Not only was the bus that served them a reserved lane bus (assigned a number in the 500-block to denote its significance, No. 505), it was also an express, stopping at about a quarter of the stops of the 139.
Even before the buses started running, there was some concern from residents, particularly in Montreal North, about safety. Lots of precautions were taken. In addition to the special shelters designed to discourage jaywalking, cones would be setup between the contra-flow lanes and regular traffic. Overhead lights would tell drivers to get out of the reserved lane. Left turns would be prohibited at most intersections. Drivers – who all received specialized training for this particular route – would be warned in advance if there was a stalled vehicle or other obstacle, and would be directed into the regular flow of traffic at the next intersection. The buses themselves would be retrofitted with special lights to warn oncoming traffic.
The reserved lane idea quickly spread. Within months there were reserved lanes on Henri-Bourassa, Sauvé, Crémazie, and a year later they were added to Côte des Neiges and Park, although none of these were contra-flow lanes.
On Pie-IX, there was a traffic spike as thousands of passengers realized they’d save more than 10 minutes with the new bus service. For a decade people made their way to these shelters and were whisked off to the metro.
That all came to an abrupt halt just before 8am on June 12, 2002, when Annie Gervais, a 32-year-old wife of an STM bus driver, was struck and killed by one of those buses as she crossed the reserve lane.
Gervais’s death came less than a year after another pedestrian was struck and killed on the reserved lane. And there were other similar incidents in the late 1990s, all involving buses travelling on the reserved lane. What might have been seen as a freak (or at least isolated) accident suddenly became a problem. (The fact that a bus driver was personally affected by this death is also cited as a reason for this being a turning point.)
The day after Gervais’s death, the reserved lanes were shut down pending an investigation. The city and STM promised they would only be reopened when they could be assured they’d be safe.
They were never reopened.
The 505 bus kept running, though, this time “en bordure”. Regular bus stops were installed on the curb at the same points as the shelters (even if this meant a stop coming after an intersection instead of before). Eight years later, the 505 buses still say “en bordure” on their displays. The shelters were left up, some with signs telling people to use the bus stop on the curb – it was expected the system would come back some day, as soon as it could be made safer.
But human nature can’t be conquered so easily. When crossing a street with a median, you look in one direction for the traffic. Cones or no cones, it’s not a given that everyone will remember that traffic is going in both directions before you get to that median.
So for eight years the shelters stood empty. Until last December, when the city announced it would go another route on Pie IX. Bus rapid transit would involve two lanes, reserved at all times. Still in the centre of the street, but apparently designed in such a way as to make them safer.
That meant the existing shelters would have to go. The big central median would be replaced with two medians on either side of the reserved lanes.
The shelter at Jean-Talon was the first to go. Jarry was next. The other eight are still standing, though won’t be for long.
I happened to pass by the Jarry shelter after its roof, windows and front and back doors had been removed. The shelters were all locked to prevent people from getting in them (and waiting hours for a bus that would never come). Without a door, there was no lock, and I could walk freely up and down the now non-shelter shelter.
Less than a month later, it was all gone. All that remains is a strange looking median with gaps in its wall.