In the past month, it seems there’s been a rather large shift in public perception of the Turcot Interchange reconstruction project. All three major Montreal political parties have come out against it for not being green enough. The STM has come out against it. Over 100 individuals and groups have had something to say on the subject. You half expect Jean Charest is going to appear at a hearing and declare his government is outraged.
What gets me is that the Turcot project isn’t particularly evil. Yes, it involves a small number of expropriations and the public consultation process should have been done in the planning stage instead of after. But the core idea of the project – replacing a spaghetti network of aerial highways with a simpler, cheaper and easier-to-maintain ground-based interchange – was actually supposed to improve the city’s image, getting rid of what had almost universally been called an eyesore and a tired relic of 50s-era design, while improving the views of people who live in St. Henri.
The ministry of transport eventually acquiesced and agreed that there should be reserved bus lanes and other measures to encourage public transit, which should have been in the design regardless. But now they’re being asked by the green lefties to keep that eyesore in the sky. They argue that there would be more noise and dust if the cars were at ground level, and that it would cut off St. Henri from NDG (even though St. Henri is already cut off from NDG by a giant cliff).
I originally liked the idea of the Turcot being brought down to ground level when I first heard about it. There’s very little worth protecting directly under the interchange, and the savings on maintenance and improved views seemed to make it a no-brainer. Now I’m conflicted. Neither side has convinced me that their version is better for the environment, the neighbourhood and the city.
A special blog has been set up to keep people informed (separate from the anti-Turcot mobilization blog), and links to a del.icio.us feed of 62 articles about the Turcot project, sorted by language, subject and publication.
The City of Montreal is holding hearings about youth participation in the democratic process, and it wants to hear from young people. It’s not really clear what it wants to hear from young people exactly, but it has something to do with “their capacity to influence the development of their neighbourhood, their involvement in collective actions, and their interest in municipal affairs.”
Being a soulless pit of bureaucracy, it issued a public notice (in PDF format, because young people want to print out everything they read online) inviting people to open forums where all questions have to be pre-approved 30 minutes before the meeting. Those wanting more information can see this page, deep within the city’s vast website (it took me a while to find it even though I knew what I was looking for), which has a bunch of other PDF documents.
I’m just going to go ahead and predict that young people aren’t going to flock to this meeting in large numbers.
For those who do want to go, the first meeting is April 20, 7pm at Verdun city hall (4555 Verdun St., right outside Verdun metro).
Suggested solution to traffic problems on de la Commune St.
The Ville-Marie borough is holding a public consultation tonight (6 p.m. at the Notre Dame Basillica, 426 Saint-Sulpice) on the STM’s 515 bus, which has the conflicting qualities of being desperately needed and yet horribly underused.
The consultation is actually about traffic measures to be taken in Old Montreal, specifically on de la Commune St. and St. Laurent Blvd., to help the bus through heavy traffic which has been slowing it down.
Currently, de la Commune is one way westbound between Berri and St. Laurent, with only buses allowed eastbound. The 515 takes this reserved lane eastbound, and westbound actually uses Notre Dame, turning left on St. Laurent toward de la Commune (as I pointed out last summer, this particular turn is a big slowdown).
Documents presented by the borough suggest that the ridership numbers are even more dire than one might have guessed. It’s measured in the hundreds, not the thousands. A survey of residents and business owners taken last fall shows that only about a quarter have ever used the bus, and more than half of those use it very infrequently. The main reason given for not using the bus is that it’s easier to walk. Still, more than 60% of respondents approve of the route and think it should stay.
A study commissioned by the borough looked at various traffic options, mainly what kind of traffic should be allowed on de la Commune, and in which direction. It came up with two recommendations:
- Make de la Commune one-way eastbound: This would reverse the current situation for cars, and would eliminate the traffic tieups at St. Laurent where eastbound traffic must now turn left (conversely, it would create a lesser one at Berri for westbound traffic). There would be no westbound traffic whatsoever between Berri and St. Laurent, so the 515 westbound would keep its current route along Notre Dame.
- Close de la Commune to non-reserved traffic: Cars would be forced off in both directions, leaving on the 515 bus (east and west), morning deliveries by truck to local businesses, and any other reserved traffic the city wants to let in. Though this one is sure to piss off more drivers (especially because St. Paul is also to be closed to traffic this summer), it would make the street very pedestrian-friendly with only the occasional buses passing by. At the same time, with no traffic at all, the buses woud travel much faster.
Speaking of Concordia, the Côte-de-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough (which really needs a new name) is conducting a public consultation about a request from the university to make dramatic changes to its sports complex on the Loyola Campus, which would include the creation of a removable dome which could be installed over the football field to protect the Stingers from rain. (And… uhh… some educatiomanal stuff too… right…)
(Some) details in this PDF.
Google Map: A long way to walk
What I especially love is that the consultation isn’t taking place anywhere near the people most affected by this. Instead, it’s taking place 4 km away in Côte des Neiges, forcing local residents to take a half-hour transit trip or walk an hour each way.
I suppose there are worse examples (Pierrefonds, for example), but it just seems to me if you’re going to hold a public consultation about a neighbourhood project, you should hold that consultation in the neighbourhood.
Whoever said “there are no stupid questions” has probably never been to a public consultation meeting, where anyone from the general public, gifted only with a lot of free time, can ask any un-pre-screened question to important-looking bureaucrats in front of an audience.
Last week, I went to a public consultation of the STM in Côte-des-Neiges, hoping there would be some interesting developments to report about transit improvements to the area (and Montreal in general). I figured that even if the presentation was a bust, some of the questions from the public would spark interesting answers.
Naturally, I was disappointed.
But perhaps I’m being unfair calling them stupid questions. Because many of them weren’t questions.
Instead, they were 10-minute diatribes about how someone was late to work one morning and the bus didn’t show up that one time, or general demands for things the representatives there were obviously powerless to do anything about. Other demands seemed illogical or contradictory. Few of them were useful.
The meeting gave me quite a bit more respect for Marvin Rotrand, a city councillor and vice-president of the STM, who has to sit through these kinds of meetings on a regular basis, and clearly recognized many of the people he called up to speak as people who regularly take advantage of opportunities to speak their minds.
Still, some interesting tidbits did emerge from the hours-long meeting:
- Starting next month, service on the 11 Montagne route will be extended to midnight from its current 9pm daily, since services on the mountain are open until midnight. The bigger problem of buses unable to climb the steep Ridgewood Ave. during winter will hopefully be solved in the future by improvements to the buses.
- Service on the 103 Monkland will be improved outside of rush hour starting in September.
- More Abribus bus shelters are being installed on the network in NDG/Côte-des-Neiges, to bring the ratio from 37% to 40% of stops.
- Hampstead Mayor Bill Steinberg was particularly concerned about the 51 Boulevard Edouard-Montpetit bus route because he says it has a tendency to block the intersection of Queen Mary and Ellerdale (I’ve taken the bus through there many times and never seen it happen, but whatever). He wants it rerouted via Stratford and Cote-St-Luc to somehow avoid this problem, and he wants a guarantee that no articulated buses will be used on the route.
- Five buses will be added to the STM’s busiest rush-hour route, the 535 R-Bus Du Parc/Côte-des-Neiges, starting in September, in order to deal with crowding problems. 200 articulated buses (beyond the current test vehicles) will come into service starting later next year as the STM simultaneously increases its fleet from 1700 to 1950 buses.
- The STM is looking at installing bike racks on buses.
- One testy issue was about strollers. Moms are upset because there isn’t enough space on crowded buses for their giant strolling machines. In response, rather than asking clients to use simple foldable strollers, they’re turning the wheelchair area on low-floor buses into wheelchair/stroller areas.
- First-generation LFS low-floor buses (16, 17 and 18 series buses from 1996-98 which are considered lemons if not death traps) will be phased out by 2010. It’s unclear whether their retirements will come before those of the high-floor Classic buses which preceded them.
- Among the recommendations from the public:
- Limited-stop bus service between the two legs of the orange line (along Van Horne, Jean-Talon, Sauvé/Côte-Vertu, for example), doubling up on existing local routes. This may seem unnecessary because of the existence of the blue line, but I have found it easier to take the 121 between Sauvé and Côte-Vertu than to take a metro detour through three trains.
- Spend more money cleaning up bus shelters, because “once in a while isn’t good enough.” No recommendations, of course, on where this new money should come from. Higher fares? Higher taxes? Less service? All of those sound really appealing so we don’t see as much litter.
- Setup commuter train stations at Namur and Canora along the Montreal-Blainville line.
- There should be more reserved lanes so people can get to their destinations faster
- There should be fewer reserved lanes because they take away parking and hurt local businesses
- Bus stops should be spaced further apart so the buses stop less
- Bus stops should be spaced further together so people don’t have to walk as much
- Bus fares should be raised so that more money can be put into better services
- Bus fares should be decreased so that the poor have access to transit
- Poor people should have a special poor-people’s pass
- All non-PSA advertising should be removed from buses and metros (again, no recommendations of what should replace the loss of revenue or what services should be cut)
Another West Island-specific consultation will take place in Pierrefonds on June 11.
UPDATE (May 24): For the record, The Suburban also covered this meeting.