Station Spotlight: Beaubien, Rosemont, and Elevator Installation Prioritization

This summer, crowds flocked to Little Italy as the Italian national team lifted the Euro Cup trophy. In September, the Van Horne Skatepark in the Mile End came alive for the MAPP Festival as creative and musical life began returning to Montreal’s streets. A return to social interactions and as attendance to Montreal’s various cultural events returns to in-person attendance, it is important to ensure that access to these lively neighborhoods remains possible for all those who may want to attend. Little Italy, Mile End, and the south-eastern side of Rosemont are also important residential neighborhoods, often with families with small children and strollers, which also requires reliable accessibility to the public transit system.

Which station to use?

The two main stations which serve this area of Montreal on the Orange Line are the Beaubien and Rosemont metro stations. Both of these stations opened as part of the original metro system in 1966, but their similarities do not end there. As you can see on the station posters below, the physical layouts of the stations are highly similar: they both have a single entrance from which passengers will take a bi-directional escalator or ~50 stair-steps (52 at Beaubien, 47 at Rosemont) before reaching the 20 stair-steps down to the platforms (21 at Rosemont). One small difference in the layout is that at Beaubien, you pay before leaving the ground level, whereas at Rosemont you pay after going down from the ground level. This is important because the main difference as far as 4 Days 4 Lines is concerned, is that Rosemont metro has elevators throughout the station. This is great for users of the Rosemont station, but not so great if you need to stop at Beaubien. This can be even more problematic if there is no clear signage to indicate to Beaubien’s passengers before they buy their ticket that there is no way for people with reduced mobility to independently access the platform level once they enter the station. The simple takeaway from this station spotlight is that passengers with reduced mobility planning to go to this area using the Orange line should either stop at Rosemont station or keep going past Beaubien to Jean-Talon station, which does also have elevators. 

These posters, designed to help navigate Montréal’s metro stations, display the key similarities and  differences in layout between the Beaubien and Rosemont stations.

Systemic decision-making

But are there any other insights that can be gained from this look at these two very similar stations? The Beaubien metro station featured in a 2012 Global Accessibility News (GAN) story about Montrealers with disabilities struggling for access to “the rapid transit system that most Montrealers take for granted.” At the time, GAN interviewed Laurence Parent, a wheelchair user who was a Ph.D. candidate at the time, about the feeling of being in an inaccessible metro station: “you can see the end of the escalator, but it’s really like Mount Everest,” she said. Since then, the two stations neighboring Beaubien metro have gotten elevators installed: Jean-Talon in 2015 and Rosemont in late 2016.  Today, in late 2021, despite major modernization refurbishments occurring in 2015, no plans have been announced to add elevators to Beaubien station. Almost 10 years later, Parent – who has since become a member for the STM board of directors and the Borough Councillor for the De Lorimier district in Plateau Mont-Royal – would still be staring at the same dead end from the top of Beaubien’s escalators. This may be able to give us insights into the decision-making process of the STM and other decision-makers in the public transit industry. 

The choice of which metro stations get elevators and which do not is obviously not a random choice. Beaubien’s continued lack of elevators for the foreseeable future cannot be attributed to passenger usage: although Jean-Talon sees more passengers, Beaubien ranked 31 out of 68 in passengers over Rosemont’s 37th ranking (according to STM’s 2020 Station Entrants Report). Yet, Rosemont received an elevator while Beaubien did not. 

To understand this, we can look at a map of the Orange Line, which is the metro line that is currently the most advanced in terms of elevator installation. Specifically, if you look at the map below, you can see all the stations which have elevators (circles), those with works in progress to install elevators (white squares), and those with no planned elevator installation (dark purple squares). With a few exceptions, a pattern has developed along most of the line where every other station has an elevator, and Beaubien falls in that pattern. This is not an exact pattern, but we must assume big stations like Lionel-Groulx and Berri-UQAM are prioritized over other stations. There is one notable exception to this pattern: Villa-Maria is undergoing construction to install elevators. However, both of its neighbors already have elevators, while just two stations up towards Côte-Vertu, there are four stations in a row with no elevators. What caused this disparity?

Map showing the current status of elevator installations along the Orange Line. Crucially, note the number of stations that have no current plans for elevator installation (dark purple squares).

Strategic decision-making

It is hard to say exactly what the strategy is for deciding where the Orange line’s next elevator will be installed, but we hope that there is indeed a strategic plan, hopefully based on data. The STM claims that they prioritize stations with low technical complexity in order to increase the amount of accessible stations in the immediate future. They also mention the importance of transfer stations, geographic distribution, and proximity to public services as important factors. There are other factors that can be considered when prioritizing the next elevator installation. Thinking about socio-economic status is important, for one, as lower income neighborhoods rely more on public transit. Ensuring that stations in lower income areas are accessible is essential for equity in the city, especially since those populations will struggle even more from the financial impacts of inaccessibility. Other demographic factors to look at include the geographic distribution of people with disabilities within Montreal, as well as residential neighborhoods where parents are likely to bring strollers into the metro. Adding elevators could also be an opportunity to optimize and extend the city’s multimodal transit systems by prioritizing stations with train, bus, and bike path connections, for example. 

There are many ways to decide on elevator locations in the short-term, but it is crucial for a long-term plan to be worked out to accelerate this process and make the installations actually happen. It cannot be reiterated enough that this metro system is not accessible unless all stations on all lines are accessible. Until that happens, Montrealers with disabilities will keep having to make accommodations to fit their transit plans to the system, rather than the other way around as it should be. 

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