Suburban Metroland

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Platform at Montmorency station

The strongest impression left by the new Metro stations in Laval is the determined attempt to get things right. There are elevators and they’re industrially solid ones. Walkways to the far platform are glassed in with thick panes so that nothing (and nobody) can be thrown over onto the tracks. The lighting is full-spectrum and there’s a generosity to the layouts and a solidity to the finish that surpasses most of the later metro stations: think of some of the Blue Line stations where the attempt to make a virtue of skimpy layouts and the bare brutality of concrete resulted in a kind of Soviet grimness.

Efforts have been made to make the finish of these new stations both aesthetically pleasing and virtually indestructible, a tricky brief at any time. There’s a signature mood of thick glass and brushed steel inside and solid stone paving outside that carries through all three stations. And the landscaping of two of the three is more than just an afterthought. Using these stations is a pleasure. Time alone can fully test the success of a project like this – full accessibility for the handicapped was simply not on the cultural radar in the 1960s, for example – but these stations are clearly built to last.

Blue tiles at de la Concorde

Platform at de la Concorde station

The metro system’s universal use of Univers 57 in white on black bands along the platform has been maintained, an excellent initial choice which I’m glad has never been changed to anything more obviously trendy.

All three stations are intermodal, Montmorency and Cartier being bus termini for Laval bus routes and de la Concorde doubling as an AMT train station on the Blainville line.

This extension to the Orange Line was first opened to the public on April 28.

Montmorency station

Montmorency station

Currently one of the end points of the Orange Line, Montmorency station is near the CEGEP of the same name. There’s a sizable bus terminus connected to the station. Apparently the closest popular attractions are Centre Laval and Carrefour Laval, malls which can be reached by navette, and the Cosmodome. There isn’t much more to be said about the area immediately around the station, a wedge-shaped glass and stone structure that stands in the midst of what seems (to the urban eye) to be a wasteland if not an outright blasted heath. Construction is visible in the middle distance and it’s a safe guess that although some of the surrounding empty terrain may become parking lots, some may yet be built on. There’s no landscaping to speak of at Montmorency.

Montmorency platform

The interior of the station is a pleasing contrast to this suburban starkness. Pillars are finished in creamy yellow and light turquoise and these colours are picked up by zigzag tile patterns on the platform, adding a tomato red and the darkest teal blue. A strange but satisfying colour scheme, which has been called retro although I don’t find it evocative of any particular period. Of the three new stations this one has the best and liveliest interior.

De la Concorde station

De la Concorde station

De la Concorde is on a street of the same name and, once again, a glance around the immediate setting of the station suggests there’s not much nearby to bring city-dwellers out for a jaunt. The apartment blocks and businesses visible from the station are positively grim and the only other feature in sight is a row of electrical pylons. The station itself is an effective assemblage of concrete and glass set in brand-new landscaping, the nicely finished flagstones of the surrounding area having a subtle playfulness as faux footpaths intersect with the planted areas.

De la Concorde platform detailFrom some angles you could take the building for the modern wing of a museum, except that the glass of the station fronting on de la Concorde has what’s probably the largest rendering of the Metro symbol in the entire system. This is a station that will age well, especially as the landscaping matures. It makes the best use of its setting – a train overpass on a major road – and of its exterior spaces, and has a pleasing sense of verticality as it connects the metro level upward to the street exit and then to the train platform and external waiting area above.

The metro platform at de la Concorde is finished with dark cobalt blue tiles, save for a central area around the stairs which has panels of massively enlarged photos of grass behind thick glass panels. It’s quirky. The platform is as well lit as any other, but too much light is soaked up by that unbroken expanse of dark blue. The effect is not a depressing one, but it feels out of balance, like an idea that may have sounded cool on paper but hasn’t worked out quite so well in execution.

Cartier station

Cartier station

Cartier station, also a bus terminus and with a huge parking lot, sits closest to the river. Once again I came outside and walked around the immediate area and saw nothing for which a city-dweller would particularly want to go there, although I see from the map that there are some waterside parks fairly close by that might be worth a saunter.

Cartier platform

Cartier’s platform is lined with terra-cotta-coloured tile which I suspect someone thought would contrast amusingly with panels of bare concrete and the brushed steel of the fittings, yet the ultimate effect is of a uniform blandness that begs to be broken up by advertising billboards.

But Cartier station’s exterior form and finish is by far the most interesting of the three, using black marble and brushed metal with touches of dark red tile as a finish on several intersecting volumes surrounded by interestingly sunken landscaping and stone pavement, the whole thing low-key in its setting but subtly daring in effect. The spire of the signature sculpture is, for once, not merely a tacked-on obligation but of a piece with the style of the whole, acting like an exclamation mark to the angled roof. This station could be the pavilion of a small, wealthy country at an international exposition. Definitely the best of the stations seen purely as a building from the outside, and presents interesting forms from every angle.

I went to see the new stations on the weekend of April 28 when they were first opened, free, to the public, and went again to see them this weekend. The launch weekend was upbeat as thousands of Montrealers, a real cross-section of cultures and ages, including many folks with kids, came out to take a look. Workers in the stations were handing out brochures and answering questions with enthusiasm, and there was a buzz in the air. It was difficult if not impossible to take any photos without crowds of people in them. I found myself feeling the possibility this was a positive step in the inevitable process of turning the urban agglomeration into a single metropolis, in the minds of its citizens at least.

De la Concorde glass

Glass panels on the walkway at de la Concorde

Admittedly my second trip was on a holiday weekend and I haven’t seen the stations during rush hour. But my impression this weekend was that the Laval metro is so far sadly under-used. There were no hordes of shoppers at Montmorency. There are no trains on the Blainville AMT line on weekends, so de la Concorde station was very quiet. A few buses were pulling in and out of the quays at Montmorency and Cartier, but not as if there was any hurry. There was no difficulty at all in taking unpopulated photos of station interiors and exteriors this weekend.

Getting there: You can travel up to the Laval stations with a regular STM ticket or pass, but to enter the metro system in Laval you have to buy a Laval-specific ticket. Passes are more expensive than STM passes, but a single ticket remains $2.75.

During rush hour, only every second train goes past Henri-Bourassa to Laval, but at other times all trains go there.

The spiffy elevators in these stations contain notices that, for the time being, wheelchair-bound passengers should still be using adapted bus transit. Five stations in Montreal will have elevators retrofitted over the next couple of years, but as of now there’s no point in someone wheeling aboard the metro in Laval then finding it impossible to get out of any Montreal station as is currently the case. It will take time to make the whole system reasonably accessible to the wheelchair-bound, but the elevators in the Laval stations are a start.

This entry was written by Kate McDonnell , posted on Tuesday June 26 2007at 11:06 am , filed under Interior Space, Transportation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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