In a previous post, I suggested that if you’re an urban- and transit-minded person visiting a city you don’t know much about, you should deliberately get off the beaten path in that city’s transit system. The idea is that doing touristy or business traveler-y stuff, you get a distorted idea of the city. You’ll learn more about LA transit riding the 720 or the 207 than you will trying to get from the airport to Union Station.
Some time ago, I had an afternoon free in Montreal. So instead of strolling around the stunning old town or shopping on Sainte-Catherine, I hopped on STM’s subway and took a sort-of random ride out to Côte-des-Neiges. I chose Côte-des-Neiges because it’s on the Blue Line, which is unusual in that it doesn’t serve downtown and it’s the name of a dreamy-sounding Stars song.
Montreal operates a truly unique metro. It runs on third rail power and has two steel rails – used only for signals, traction power negative return, and switching. The vehicles have rubber tires, and run on two concrete pads in the track bed.
The vehicles are smaller than typical subway cars, and stop spacing is much shorter than most rapid transit systems. But don’t knock it: this unusual system is the third-most used in North America after New York City and Mexico City in both total boardings and boardings per mile, besting larger metro areas including the next-closest US competitor, Boston, by a factor of two, and Los Angeles by three (considering the Red & Purple Lines).
Anyway, back to Côte-des-Neiges. Exit the station and turn left and oh, hello! I guess you don’t have to micromanage land uses next to the station to get good ridership 😉
The area around Côte-des-Neiges is low-rise density that would look right at home in many US cities.
Heading down the eponymous côte, there are some 6-story mixed-users, not unlike those you see popping up around LA, where we allow them to. These look to be concrete frame though.
Across the street, some older looking brick facade mixed-users.
Turning down Chemin de Côte-Sainte-Catherine, more low-rise density with four-story courtyard apartments.
Across the street, an SFR wallowing in permanent shadow coexisting with adjacent apartments.
Another block up, new concrete-frame construction.
Turning down a side street, there are some smaller multi-family structures, like duplexes and fourplexes.
This neighborhood has several small parks. In my opinion, these are really better than large park schemes. Sure, every city needs its Parc du Mont-Royal, but you don’t need many mega-parks. Having little ones spread around the city puts some in close proximity to every neighborhood.
Coming back out towards Station Edouard-Montpetit (two down from Côte-des-Neiges), there are some older-looking but renovated mid-rise apartments.
We’re always tempted to interpret things through the lens of the familiar, which can lead to poor understanding of cities, each deserving to be interpreted on its own basis. However, walking around Côte-des-Nieges, I couldn’t help but notice that the scale of development feels a lot like Palms. And in fact, Côte-des-Neiges and Palms are just about the same density. The success of Montreal’s rapid transit system sets a pretty high bar, but there’s nothing in neighborhoods like this to suggest we shouldn’t be able to do just as well.