Quebec taking the tramway to the future

Date 02/05/2018

Written byTaylor Ireland

It’s amazing how quickly a bold idea can bring excitement and energy to a city. That was the case last week when officials unveiled Quebec City’s plan for what’s called a “structured” public transportation system.

The scope and ambition of the project came as a surprise to just about anyone who has been following the city’s long, confusing and often heated debate over the future of transit in the fast-growing urban area. Even Mayor Régis Labeaume, a guy who likes to dream big, admitted he was blown away by the audacity of the project when city planners presented preliminary details to him last December.

The key elements of the project are a 23-km electric tramway line, 3.5 km of which will be underground, a 17-km trambus network using electric buses in dedicated lanes; and 16 km worth of dedicated lanes for hybrid buses. The plan also includes several large parking areas in suburban areas for people to leave their vehicles and take public transport.

The entire project is budgeted at $3 billion, funded entirely by the provincial and federal governments through infrastructure programs. The city will pay $300 million over eight years for the alteration and extension of various streets to accommodate the tramway network. Construction is slated to begin in 2022 with the full network operational by 2026.

Certainly the most impressive and unexpected aspect of the project is the length of the main tramway line, and its underground component. The line will run from the northeastern suburb of Charlesbourg, to the “upper town” core of the city where thousands of government workers commute, on to the shopping and office district of Ste. Foy, and then to the western suburb of Cap Rouge where a major commercial development centred around a huge Ikea store is under construction.

The two tunnels are also bold in their imagination and design. One will be burrowed under Parliament hill and have four underground stations like Montreal’s Metro system. The other tunnel, in the west, goes underground to avoid a busy network of highway interchanges near the bridges across the St. Lawrence River, and to service a huge office and commercial complex in the works called Le Phare (lighthouse).

This latter tunnel will be paid for by the developers of Le Phare, who stand to benefit most from a tramway station incorporated in their project. The mayor says the city is exploring similar partnerships with developers interested in capitalizing on the presence of a tramway line, particularly in the west end of the city.

The planned transit system network, a combination of tramway, trambus and regular hybrid buses, will have an impressive reach. City officials say 65 percent of the population will be within a 10-minute walk of one or more of these lines. Eighty percent of the city’s neighbourhoods will be served by one or more of the elements of the system, excluding the most remote districts. Eighty-five percent of businesses will be within the structured transit grid.

The chosen route of the tramway line marks a departure from a previous proposal in terms of the vision of the city. The early scheme was geared towards encouraging development in a specific corridor of the city; the new plan focuses on the current and future habits and needs of the people who are inclined to take public transit.

The new system will have the impact of radically reducing conventional bus traffic on city streets, while addressing the problem of passenger capacity at rush hour. The city says it has hit the limit of the volume of bus passengers with the current fleet of buses. The days of jam-packed buses will seem like just a bad memory a few years from now when comfortable, high-capacity tramcars running at a frequency of 3-5 minutes during peak hours are a reality.

And, in case you were wondering, engineers say the tramway will not be deterred by the weather, notably, as discussed in the last blog, Quebec`s frequent and bountiful snowfalls.

With the announcement of the tramway-based urban transit system, Quebec City, at long last, joins other major cities in Canada in taking a leap forward into the transportation future.

A century ago, the completion of the Quebec Bridge, one of the engineering Wonders of the World, was a game-changer for the Quebec City region. The same could be said about this huge and ambitious advance in transportation convenience. As the mayor says, the tramway will be a “dazzling change” that will change “the beat” of the old, historic city.