Montreal Geography Trivia No. 75

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.

The Jarry St. shelter as it used to look (image from Google Street View)

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.

Partially dismantled Jarry St. shelter, in a photo taken April 1, 2010

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.

The now empty concrete median, in a photo taken April 26

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.

Inside the Jarry St. shelter - note the "embarquement" and "débarquement" signs in green and red.

Less than a month later, it was all gone. All that remains is a strange looking median with gaps in its wall.

Pie-IX median as it looks now at Jarry

UPDATE (Aug. 4): Metro catches on to this story and reports that the AMT has removed the last of the shelters.

28 thoughts on “Montreal Geography Trivia No. 75

  1. Clément Côté

    I certainly hope it’s not in a public place, but I’m afraid it might be.

    As for my guess, the run down apartment buildings near l’Acadie that are finally being renovated?


    The bottom of the Just Pour Rire ice cream metro car that was on Ontario last year?? :'(

  3. John

    remains of a wiring closet in one of the Pie-IX bus booths being dismantled. Pie-IX/Jean Talon and Pie-IX/Jarry have already been demolished.

  4. mike

    I find these geography questions very interesting and will try to pay more attention & be more serious in future.Kudos to John for figuring it out.

  5. Maria Gatti

    I’m old enough to remember the projections of métro line extensions – the blue line east to Anjou (obviously, with a stop at Pie-IX and Jean-Talon) and another going up to Montréal-Nord, a very densely-populated area with woeful public transport to the areas where residents work or study.

    If they can’t afford a métro line, Pie-IX definitely warrants a dedicated-space tramline. There is plenty of room.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      A metro projection up Pie-IX had advanced so far they had a dotted line on the metro map for quite a while in the 90s. The plan is to eventually replace the BRT line with a tramway line on Pie-IX.

      1. SMS

        Really? I thought it was trolleybus. Same goes for Henri-Bourassa (although probably east of the metro station). My recollection for this is from the Plan de transport 2007. The first tramways were for CDN, Parc, and the tourist tram (Vieux Mtl Vieux Port loop).

  6. Khosrow

    I always love reading the Montreal geography trivia. It gives me a little more insight into the history of the city and usually stories that I wouldn’t have heard otherwise.

    Thanks, Fagstein!

  7. emdx

    Some 20 years ago, I had an hour of prime-time TV to peddle the idea of streetcars in Montréal, along with several other citizens.

    I also had a good insight in how Radio-Canada journalists work, too… (It totally destroyed any admiration I had for journalists, too)

    Back then, I was often writing letters to the editor (I never failed to have one published ever) and I wrote quite a few times about transportation issues. At around that time, Time Magazine had an issue about Gridlock (September 12, 1988 — )

    So, one day, I get a phone call from a Radio Canada journalist. Over the course of our conversation, I got to learn that she lives in La Cité (Prince-Arthur/Park Avenue) and she drives to work at Radio Canada. She asks me if I have seen the Gridlock issue of Time Magazine (yes). And then she asks me if there are gridlock problems in Montréal.

    Hellooo???? I don’t drive, but she does. Downtown to downtown every day. And she asks me if there is gridlock in Montréal. Back then I was still young, and I felt sorry at how she was clueless (nowadays, I would be jaded about it and dismiss it as plain ordinary, mundane, run-of-the-mill, perfectly normal normality)

    So, instead of doing the obvious and pointing out how stupid she is (she would turn-out to be a pin-upwortky chick — obviously hired for her looks), I smell something bigger and I play along. She then tells me that, prompted by the gridlock problems pointed-out by Time Magazine, they’ve been looking at letters to the editors many citizens wrote to papers with their solutions for traffic problems. They would get a few of those people together, and with a flim crew, they would go to the site of their various proposals so they could discuss about them. This would be aired on the last broadcast of “l’Actuel”, hosted by Michèle Viroly (we didn’t get to be interviewed by her, though, all we saw was the film crew and the clueless pin-up journalist who brought along a mirrored carboard to sun her face during the takes — only the citizens talked amongst themselves, no journalist was shown on camera, nor off camera).

    Every proposal would be reviewed and commented upon Ottavio Galella of Traffix Consultants (not sure about spelling), back then already a media darling.

    So, on a very cold February Sunday, we set off in a biggievan, some 7 or 8 people with the film crew, pin-up journalist and driver, and got to tell our ideas in situ, some that have been done, and other who were plain zany:

    — Electronic information displays to warn motorists of traffic conditions (remember, this was 21 years ago)

    — More commuter trains (no, that wasn’t me)

    — Shuttle boats (bateaux-mouches, actually) on the St-Lawrence

    — Turning the Lachine Canal in another below-ground Décarie expressway

    — Putting a streetcar line along Pie-IX instead of the proposed subway line

    (And some more I really don’t recall).

    When we shot the part with the electronic displays, we got late and we got only one shot. We were standing on the Maisonneuve boulevard viaduc above the Décarie expressway, and as luck had it, when we shot, one of the three Sunday commuter trains went by, and since we had only one take, I had to not look at it while we were filmed…

    For the Lachine Canal expressway, we filmed that on the frozen canal itself, with Spaghetti-Junction (Turcot interchange) in the background.

    And my idea was to use the hydro-corridor along Bourbonnière street and 24 th Avenue to put the streetcar tracks, in order to avoid disrupting current traffic.

    Most ideas were shot down by Gallela (especially the Lachine Canal expressway — I was amazed how he managed not to break down in hysterical laughter) as impractical, however, when I watched the final product when it aired, I was wondering what beating my idea would take, but, no, he said that “the worst error Montréal made was to get rid of streetcars”…

    Now, 20 years later, of all those proposals, we have seen done: the electronic panels, more commuter trains and shuttle boats, albeit for tourists. The streetcars will be back, too, but on Côte-des-Neiges, not Pie-IX.

    And the funny thing too was that over the years, I eventually placed at Traffix Consultants some interns from the École des Ingénieurs de la Ville de Paris, whose boss is a friend of mine…


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