There are now conflicting plans for replacing one of the two major east-west arteries into the city of Montreal from the West part of the Island where it intersects the major north-south highway--Turcot interchange. Montreal city planners (that phrase alone should generate a few laughs) have proposed an alternative to the Quebec plan, focusing more on restricting flow into the city. This is part of a general endeavor to try to minimize pollution, I guess. The Montreal folks propose fewer lanes, some restricted to buses and carpooling, a tramway to pick up people who would otherwise drive, and also somewhat different paths so that Montreal can profit from new housing/business development. Quebec resists, indicating that this would cost more money, take more time, and require more concrete (which requires lots of maintenance due to winter/over-salting
I want to raise a few points about this goal of traffic reduction. The basic idea is that any renovations should not encourage more suburban sprawl but actually discourage it. By cutting down on the throughput (the number of cars that will use the new highway), the Montreal planners hope to cut down on the number of people who drive downtwon. This along with cutting the numbers of parking spaces (you can find many parking lots with spaces blocked off and unused) is aimed at encouraging people to take mass transport as well. What could be wrong with this?
- Timing: will the mass transport substitutes come online before, during or after the highways are changed to limit traffic? Experienced Montrealers would have to bet on "after" given past performance. We still do not have a train from the airport to downtown nor an approved plan for such a train. Why should we expect the city to get its act together on a tram?
- Quality/quantity: Will Montreal and its neighbors manage to invest in enough trains and buses to give people attractive, semi-affordable, frequent, not entirely over-crowded alternatives to cars? Again, the best indicator is the recent past. And that would suggest that Montreal would be behind the demand. Given the current pattern of suburban train service, one of the effects would be to create traffic jams on weekends and in the evenings since getting into the city at those times requires cars (not much convenient train service in evenings and on weekends, not to mention winter).
- Bizzaro world: Given that the current highway system might have been designed to facilitate the flow of traffic but is actually quite well designed to create jams and slow traffic (the exemplar is the path of Autoroute 15 when it intersects with A-40, and it is astonishing--merging on the right side and then a mile down the road or so exiting on the left). So perhaps the best efforts of Montreal to block traffic will actually have the reverse effect? I would like to hope so, but probably not.
- How much do Montreal city planners hate Montreal? I just wonder about this because limiting the ease of transportation into the city will mean that many people will opt to go into the city less frequently. Why go downtown to shop if it is such a hassle? If they screw this up at all (and that is pretty likely), it might even give business more incentive to locate outside of the downtown core. So, a massive renovation of the highway system, itself pretty disruptive during the process, may ultimately lead to businesses and individuals fleeing the downtown and perhaps even the island of Montreal entirely. There is already a perceived crisis of Francophones fleeing the island for cheaper suburbs, but one could imagine this accelerating. That is, this effort to make it harder to move in and out of Montreal to discourage suburban sprawl might actually create more sprawl.
- Does any one in the city planning office or in Quebec's ministry of transportation understand the logic of collective action? If the aim is to cut down on global warming and other environmental bads by creating incentives to cut sprawl and driving, then this kind of grand infrastructure effort is pretty puzzling. That is, if Montreal goes to this effort and the rest of Canada/the world does not, then the money will be wasted as the globe will still warm. If everyone else does this kind of thing and Montreal does not, the climate will be saved.