Laval’s surface tram project recalls abandoned ‘elevated’ tram plan

City once flirted with the idea of a suspended tramway in downtown core

A recent news report highlighting a long-term plan by the City of Laval to create a surface tramway along Saint-Martin Blvd. recalled that a former city administration once entertained the idea of an elevated tramway being built along a different route, also in Laval’s downtown core.

Street-level tram

The report on Montreal’s La Presse news site (and republished by the Toronto-based news service Torstar) noted that although Laval has begun to extensively consult its residents on the future of the downtown area, very little has been said until now about the surface tramway project.

According to La Presse, the plan, if adopted by city council in a few months, would lead to in-depth studies in the next five years. Technical and financial feasibility analyses would be held over a five to 10-year span.

Preliminary work on the project suggests the tramway would allow passengers to board trams at the corner of Chomedey Blvd. on the western fringe of Laval’s emerging downtown sector and travel three kilometres to Laval Blvd., the eastern edge.

Part of PPU plan

The surface tramway plan is described in the special planning program (PPU) now underway for the downtown. Initial designs show the tramway line at the centre of Saint-Martin Blvd., with other lanes set up for automobiles and bicycles.

If the project is taken seriously, it would not the first time Laval has flirted with trams – albeit trams of a different type. Following the opening of Laval’s three Metro stations in 2007, former mayor Gilles Vaillancourt came up with the idea in 2011 of an elevated tramway to reduce road congestion and encourage public transit.

Elevated plan abandoned

At that time, city officials suggested the elevated line would start at Montmorency station and end at Carrefour Laval. Although a feasibility study was commissioned, the project was abandoned when Place Bell was built and the Société de transport de Laval revised its plans. As well, Vaillancourt resigned from office in 2012, probably also contributing to the project being abandoned.

According to the Laval News’s coverage of the elevated tramway’s announcement a decade ago, the Agence métropolitaine de transport (a forerunner to the Réseau de transport métropolitain) and Hydro Quebec also supported the project. A number of major cities in the world – including New York, Portland, Lisbon, Singapore and Rio de Janeiro – all operated cable car systems similar to the one Laval wanted to implement at the time.

Elevated pros and cons

While aerial tramways have certain distinct advantages (they are quiet, operate constantly, are inexpensive to build and don’t need drivers in the individual cable cabins), according to an information handout issued by the STL back then, they also have disadvantages.

Among those, the towers and cables for aerial tramways can be intrusive in neighbourhoods, they are sometimes costly for cities to insure, some transit users shun the cable car cabins because of fear of closed spaces, and they are slower on average than buses for transporting passengers.