4 Days 4 Lines — Montreal Metro’s (In)Accessibility

(2020) McGill metro’s Union / Maisonneuve entrance/exit with an escalator to go up to the ground and stairs to go up or down.

4 days — 4 lines — 68 stations — 8600+ stair-steps

I will be sharing with you an extensive design challenge, highlighting five odd structural obstacles in the Montreal metros, discussing implications and talking about a crowd-solving design event in October 2020. I aspire to live and thrive in a universally-accessible version of Montreal and to reach that level of accessibility, the first element is access to knowledge.

Left (2016): ‘<< Everyone could use a seat >> the STM is promoting courtesy among its customers and urges the public to pay more attention to other passengers who, for one reason or another, could be in need of a seat’. Right (2020): a rider walks their bicycle to the head of the train and an elderly rider rolls down their trolley at De l’Eglise metro station on the Green Line both heading towards East of Montreal.

1st fundamental design question: how can all riders access the metro with ease?

2nd fundamental design question: how can all riders complete their journey with ease?

The second question is equally critical because what if they want to get out at a metro station that doesn’t have any elevators or escalators from the Platform to the Terminal and then to the Ground. If they have escalators from Terminal to Ground level but not from the Platform to Terminal — that’s essentially not an easily accessible station. I refer to them below as Limbo stations. If for some reason we say well why can’t people just go to the easily accessible stations — we are perpetuating the idea of limiting their choices and opportunities.

Journey through the five odd structural obstacles:

1. Limbo Stations

These stations are not in limbo but would leave you in a limbo state, trapped in the Metro-ception. You have to think about how to get out of each level. Limbo stations have a combination of escalators and stairs, not side by side but one after the other. There is no flow. You may start with escalators from Ground to Terminal but then have to take stairs to go down to Platform. You may start with stairs from Ground to Terminal but then have escalators to the Platform. Add a midpoint, and you have escalators to go from Terminal to mid-point but stairs to go to the Ground or the Platform.
That experience sounds random and annoying, right? 58 of 68 stations, that’s 85% of the stations have escalators and every single one would leave you in the limbo state. 9 others don’t have escalators, and only 1 station is ‘perfect’.

Radisson metro towards the East end of the Green Line requires 26 stair-steps then go up the escalators (approx. 35 steps if they are out of order) and then have 22–26 stair-steps to get out of its three exits on Sherbrooke street.
Lionel Groulx metro station connecting the west arms of Orange and Green lines. Escalators (approx. 12 stair-steps) to go to the lower platform but 23 stair-stairs to go from the middle platform to the Terminal. Followed by 48 stair-steps and escalators to exit the station.

2. One-sided Coin

You will be scratching your head and wagging your tail using Montreal metro’s uni-directional escalators. They are intimately connected with the limbo stations. Many stations have escalators to come up from Platform to Terminal or from Terminal or mid-point to Ground but none to go down. Remember the situation with my parents?
Out of the 58 stations that have escalators, 21 of them (30% of all the stations) will offer you the wonderful experience of uni-directional escalators at some point in entering or exiting the station.

(Left) 31–35 stair-steps to go up or down and an escalator only to go up to the ground at Plamondon station on the West arm of Orange line towards the Cote-Vertu terminal station. (Right) Laurier metro on the East arm of Orange line has a uni-directional escalator going up or 63 steps to come down. After the escalator, there are 7 steps to go out on Rue Rivard.
De la Savane station on the West arm of Orange line. You enter the station and take 32 stair-steps to come down to this level, escalator only going up to the ground. Followed by bi-directional escalators or 63 stair-steps and then finally 20 stair-steps to the platform, no escalator in the final lag.

3. Stair Cardio

Flow wise, I am all up for just stairs or just escalators or an elevator. I don’t have to deal with a random switching between cardio and rest state. However, for our personas above, 6 stations with absolutely no escalators alongside stairs or elevators can be a nightmare. A recurring nightmare if they live or work there.
Green line: Angrignon (27 stair-steps), Jolicoeur (26), Viau (25)
Yellow line: Longueuil-Universite-de-Sherbrooke (25 stair-steps)
Blue line: Universite-de-Montreal (32, 41, 46 stair-steps on 3 exits)
Orange line: Vendome (34 stair-steps)

(Left) What 23 steps look like at the Universite-de-Montreal station on the Blue line. (Right) What 29 steps look like at the Place St Henri station’s St. Jacques exit.
(Left) What 24 steps look like at Place-des-Arts station on Green Line. (Right) What 32 steps look like at Honore-Beaugrand station on the East end of Green Line.
(Left) What 23 steps look like at Outremont station on the Blue line. (Right) What 25 steps look like at the Gare Lucien L’Allier exit from Bonaventure station.

4. Opposites Attract

These stations have multiple exits connected to the same pathway and Terminal but have different relationships with accessibility. Take Langelier on the East end of Green line, you climb 23 steps from Platform to Terminal then trust me the right choice is Sherbrooke North exit. It has 56 stair-steps and bi-directional escalators (going up and down). If you took Sherbrooke South exit, you have to take 34 stair-steps or bi-directional escalators to reach the mid-point and then have to take approx. 24 stair-steps to exit, no escalators at this stage. 18 out of 68 stations (26%) have multiple exits with different formats. What was the decision process in designing one exit to be more accessible than the other?
Green line: Honore-Beaugrand (terminus), Langelier, Pie-IX (Olympic stadium), Berri-UQAM (connects 3 lines), Peel, Atwater
Orange line: Cote-Vertu (terminus), Bonaventure (Central station), Square Victoria OACI, Sherbrooke, Laurier, Jean-Talon (connects 2 lines), Sauvé, Henri-Bourassa, De la Concorde
Blue line: Cote-Des-Neiges, Acadie, Saint-Michel

Langelier metro on the Green line, Sherbrooke South exit (left), you have to take 34 stair-steps or bi-directional escalators to reach the mid-point and then have to take approx. 24 stair-steps to exit, no escalators (right).
Langelier metro on the Green line, Sherbrooke North exit has 56 stair-steps and bi-directional escalators.

5. Orange Cone Barriers

Orange construction cones are quintessentially Montreal. They say if there is a street without an orange cone, call the City and they will come to place one there. Bring this concept to the metro stations — you have unnecessary barriers that can be removed or improved upon. The two vertical turnstiles at Place-des-Arts metro towards its Jeanne-Mance exit is as baffling as it gets. They exist only at that station. You climb 21 stair-steps with your stroller or bicycle to find out you can’t exit. You have to go down those 21 steps to Platform, walk to the other side of the station, climb back up 24 steps then another 32 stair-steps to get to Ground for the Bleury exit. If your destination was Place des Arts for a festival, you’ll have to circle the station or the streets.

Vertical turnstiles at the Place des Arts metro station for the Jeanne-Mance exit.

Moving Montreal towards Universal Accessibility

These five baffling structural obstacles are critical in re-adapting Montreal’s metro for the next five decades. I see accessibility as a two-way relationship between the capability of being reached and being within reach. According to the Transit app, most of Montreal’s metro stations are incredibly well-integrated within the city’s densest neighbourhoods, they are within reach, prompting us to utilize the transit system more frequently. However, they are not easily reached.

A young rider and his mother carrying the stroller, climbing down 25 stair-steps to reach the Platform at Prefontaine station on the East end of the Green line.
23 steps from Platform to reach the Terminal of Cote-Sainte-Catherine station on the Orange line.
(Left) An elderly rider takes 31 stair-steps down to access Cote-Des-Neiges station on Orange line. The East exit has 31 steps and an escalator only to come up. Followed by escalators and 42 stair-steps to reach Terminal, then 23 stair-steps and no escalators to reach the Platform. (Right) An elderly rider climbs up 21 stair-steps at the Lasalle station on the Green line, followed by escalators or 33 stair-steps to exit the station.
Frontenac metro station on the Green Line — this man carried his bicycle up 19 steps from the platform to reach these escalators. In case these two rounds of escalators are out of order, that’s approx. 40 and then 45 stair-steps to reach the ground.
(Left) Place St-Henri station on the Orange Line. (Right) Outremont station on the Blue Line.
(Left) A mother and toddler at Mont-Royal station on the Orange line. (Right) A passage connecting different lines at the Jean-Talon station on the Orange and Blue line.
(Left) A pathway at the Cadillac station on the Green Line, reflecting the reality of the underserved homeless community. (Right) Construction tapes at the Place Des Arts station on the Green Line.
(Left) A visually-impaired rider canvassing their path at the Berri-UQAM station (Green, Orange, Yellow lines). (Middle) A rider climbs up 26 steps from the Terminal level to exit the Henri-Bourassa station on the Orange line. (Right) A rider takes the 2nd out of 3rd round of escalator down at Lucien L’Allier station on the Orange line. If these were out of order, they would have had to take 51 steps down. Prior to this, they took an escalator (equivalent to 37 steps), after this they took an escalator again (equivalent to 51 stair-steps) and then 30 stair-steps down to reach the Platform.

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Omer Juma

Omer Juma

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Enthusiasm is the baking powder of life; without it, you are flat; with it, you rise. *Design, Urbanism, Photography, Cooking, Sustainability, Introspection*