Turcot in 1967, by Gabor Szilasi
There were quite a few differences between the protest against police brutality, which took place some weeks ago, and the mobilization against the Turcot interchange. For one thing, the march against police brutality was dominated by police in full-on riot gear struggling to handle violent protesters. The mobilization against the Turcot, on the other hand, only had two unlucky souls from Transports Québec in their fluorescent vests, surely wondering what they were doing out on a Sunday afternoon.
It’s really too bad for our transport ministry. The problem they face is clear: a decrepit interchange. The solution ought to be equally simple: a new interchange, conceived to solve the problem at hand but better-built, longer-lasting, more conscientious of the surroundings. And a little more capacity for future needs.
And yet! The moment you try to get something done, it all breaks loose. Costs balloon and constituencies seep from the woodwork. Neighbourhood groups! Urban planning students! Blogs! And the next thing you know, your agency is vilified left and right. You’re destroying the city.
So, let me get this out of the way first-thing: there is currently an interchange here, and for the time being, there isn’t a way around that fact. And furthermore: if the Turcot were annihilated tomorrow, we would not necessarily be better off.
See, it’s not in question that in some ways, interchanges are Bad Things. They’re noisy, polluting, and ugly. They interrupt the Urban Fabric, which as we all know is sacrosanct. And this interchange, in particular, is a Really Bad Thing: it’s crumbling, it’s on land which could be put to much better use, it’s unsafe, it’s hard to maintain, it “enabled the entire West Island,” et cetera. I agree with all of this.
But now, for better or worse, the West Island exists, and these people basically have to get to work by car. We could, of course, ramp up train service, but that means investing heavily in rails, signals, and rolling stock, and commiting a lot more to the higher operating costs involved in running more trains. Then, we have to build up park-and-ride service, or pay for more buses on suburban arterials (or jitney service down winding West Island roads). It’s expensive, and worse, it’s institutionally really complicated, involving the AMT, the STM, Transports Québec, and the CN Railroad, among others. And we still haven’t fixed the crumbling interchange.
And all the hemming and hawing over the Turcot masks the real problem with respect to West-end road service, which is that there is virtually no connectivity between downtown and points far West. Mighty Cavendish dissolves into a little stub in Cote-St-Luc. Kildare, Mackle, and Côte-St-Luc peter out. St-Jacques dives back toward the freeway. So you’re left driving through Lasalle and Lachine, which barely counts as an alternate path. This is why the arguments that the traffic could simply vanish don’t hold water – at least in this one case, where all the traffic is forcibly channelled into two freeways. And trying to build those missing road links risks ripping open not one, but three separate NIMBY fights. Good times.
For the time being, then, let’s please accept that the Turcot will continue to exist. And if we’re going to rebuild an interchange, we ought to be rebuilding it right. That means building with sensitivity to the neighbourhoods nearby, but it also means building to the highest roadway standards possible for the greatest common good possible, all while making reasonable compromises. And it also means that unfortunately, the neighbours will have to accept some discomfort while the thing is rebuilt.
So I’ll say it again: I feel bad for Transports Québec. When they add in nonsensical bike paths, and carpool-and-bus lanes that link into nothing, and they present with words like “green” and “carbon neutral,” it doesn’t sound like malice to me; it doesn’t even sound like an arrogant technocracy. It sounds like desperation. If there’s something Transports Québec should work on, maybe it’s their marketing.
I can’t help but think that our interchange to hell is paved with good intentions.
Tags: Activism, Montreal, Revitalization, Turcot