Station Spotlight: How Laval’s Metro Stations Helped Shape Montreal’s Transit Accessibility Landscape

One of the most important functions that a city’s metro system has is as a mode of collective transportation for commuting. In Montreal, it is impossible to talk about metro commuters without talking about Laval. The 2016 Census estimated 422,993 people lived in Montréal’s largest suburb, Quebec’s third largest city. Due to their proximity to Montreal, 46.1% of Lavallois commuters go to work in Montreal daily. WIthin this context, the importance of the Orange Line extension into Laval cannot be understated. The logistical importance of Cartier, De La Concorde, and Montmorency is further complemented by the symbolic roles they hold as the system’s first stations designed with physical accessibility for people with disabilities in mind. In this week’s Station Spotlight we explore Laval’s three metro stations and the intermodal transit network they exist in, the stations’ different accessibility elements, and their legacy for urban accessibility.

The Orange Line in Laval

Laval’s stations are the last three stops on the Northern arm of the Orange Line. Cartier is the first Laval station a train coming from Montreal stops in, then De La Concorde, and Montmorency is the line’s terminus. Montmorency sees the most passengers of the three. Not only is it located nearby three major central Laval destinations  —the Centre Laval shopping mall, the Place Bell arena, and Collège Montmorency— but it also serves as the Société de Transport de Laval’s (STL) main intermodal terminus station. Connecting to over a dozen municipal bus routes and to 6 different inter-municipal RTM buses (see map below), Montmorency is a transit crossroad that benefits greatly from being connected to the rest of Montreal with its metro station. Similarly, Cartier also connects to nearly two dozen STL and RTM bus routes, fashioning itself as a crucial stepping stone in many daily commutes between Montreal and Laval. Like its two neighbors, De La Concorde is also an intermodal station, though the Saint-Jérôme line which stops there has other stops closer to the central core on the Blue Line at Parc as well as further along the Orange Line at Vendôme and Lucien-l’Allier. The other important element existing at these stations, especially at Cartier and Montmorency, are the park-and-ride lots which encourage commuters to park outside the city and transit in rather than increase congestion and parking demands in the core.

OpenStreetMap’s Transit Map with overlays of STL/STM transit information for four Orange Line Stations

Setting the Accessibility Benchmark

Fittingly for an extension which massively increased the accessibility of much of Montreal to a huge chunk of commuters and other transit passengers, the physical accessibility of the actual metro stations is also a crucial part of the Laval metro extension project. As mentioned, Laval’s three stations were the system’s first to be designed with universal accessibility as an explicit concern, and all three stations were equipped with elevators and tactile paving when they opened in 2007. That year, Montreal’s municipal Transportation Plan clearly stated their intent to “progressively implement 100% accessibility in the Metro Network” by retrofitting 3 stations a year over the next 20 years (a plan which has since been canceled) so that all stations meet the accessibility standards set by the three Laval stops. There are now 21 stations equipped with elevators, which is a testament to the progress that has been made, despite how slow it has come relative to the city’s promises (stay posted for an article reviewing the city’s current progress on the goals they set!). 

Other than the asymmetrical accessibility levels at Montmorency’s two exits, there is little to say about the actual accessibility obstacles at the Laval stations. Unlike the other Montreal metro stations, these were designed to integrate accessible infrastructure in the first place. The posters above look very similar to other stations we have seen after they have added elevators. This is a good sign for current and future retrofitting projects, proving that the classic three-level station construction is suitable for accessibility. However, this also prompts a serious reflection of the system’s historical priorities, and clearly reinforces a point that we at 4 Days 4 Lines have made many times before, that accessibility can only occur if it is made a priority. If the system is instead exclusively planned for the able-bodied, then only future commitments which prioritize accessibility retrofits will effectively build an accessible system, and that often with both high financial cost and technical difficulties. Of course, we cannot blame the planners of yesterday for their shortsightedness decades later, but we should still learn from those mistakes and ensure we engage with as many stakeholders as possible when planning future projects.

The posters above look very similar to other stations we have seen after they have added elevators. This is a good sign for current and future retrofitting projects, proving that the classic three-level station construction is suitable for accessibility.


What Next?

Discussions about extensions to the Orange Line have populated the news in recent years, ever since talks of the $4.3 billion Orange Line Loop project which would connect Côte-Vertu back to Laval emerged. This would not only give a more seamless option to many commuters and passengers from Laval and beyond to use transit to access the stations on the Orange Line’s southern arm which at the moment requires either following the Orange Line all the way around the island, or taking two train connections at Jean-Talon and Snowdon. Current mayor Valérie Plante is pushing hard for at least a segment of the line which would connect the metro system to the REM line at Bois-Franc. Again, these are all key notions of a system’s accessibility which needs to be considered. It was mentioned earlier that the Saint-Jérôme Line which goes through De La Concorde stops at 4 stations along the metro line. This gives a huge amount of access to the entire city for people coming into various areas from outside the city. However, it should be noted that only two of those four stations (De La Concorde and, as of recently, Vendôme) have elevators. This means that half of the options to extend disabled riders’ trips through the metro system are impossible or painstakingly difficult for certain stakeholders to use, hence reducing the Saint-Jérôme’s effectiveness as a connection to the city’s suburbs. These are the system-level accessibility issues that the city should be thinking about.


Learning From Laval

The Montreal metro system is growing, and, with the construction of REM, the agglomeration’s intermodal transit system is getting bigger and faster on top of that too. We already know that the stations on the Blue Line will be equipped with elevators, as universal accessibility has now been adopted as a key priority for new transit infrastructure. Like Laval’s stations, the Blue Line extension has the potential to attract even more commuters and other passengers to the metro system, both through newfound station proximity, but also through the continued development of park-and-ride services. Increased transit access between Montreal and its suburbs also creates infrastructure to allow people who prefer to live off the island to make that choice without compromising their access to the rest of the city, especially the entertainment and employment opportunities it provides. Notably, expanding the public transit network creates more opportunities for transit-oriented developments (TODs) which are key to sustainable, affordable, and healthy urban development. These changes help reduce congestion in the downtown core, which can have knock-on effects by facilitating the transition towards an urban environment which encourages “soft” modes of active transportation such as walking and cycling, which tends to also be friendlier to people with disabilities. 

Montreal and the STM’s rhetoric on improving the state of physical accessibility in the metro system tends to discuss progress in terms of each new station that is retrofitted with accessibility infrastructure. This is important, as we’ve abundantly said, because for the system to be accessible, every station has to be accessible. However, it is also important to recognize the broad and dynamic nature of disability which requires taking a holistic approach that constantly improves upon itself to guarantee universal accessibility at all times. In other words, I hope that the Laval stations are more than just a poster child for the STM, and that real efforts are made to keep improving the stations’ physical accessibility, but also keep widening their potentials as intermodal hubs.

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