Snowy gridlock on Montreal’s streets

Earlier today, Montreal City Weblog’s Kate McDonnell posted a story from the Toronto Star that compares the response to Sunday’s blizzard in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. While the two Ontario cities seem to be dealing with it fairly briskly, Montreal — which received nearly 40 centimetres of snow, by far the most of the three — is lagging behind. Two days after the storm, most snow has yet to be removed, even on busy thoroughfares. The city will only promise that the snow will be gone by Christmas.

Since I work from home, I’m mostly immune to the pain of post-storm commutes. Not today. This afternoon, I had to schlep myself to Hampstead for a meeting, so I walked down to Van Horne to catch the 161 bus. The bus, of course, was late, but the reason why only became obvious after a few minutes on board: from Outremont right through to Côte des Neiges, traffic on Van Horne was at a near-standstill. It took more than an hour to go from Park to Decarie, a trip that normally takes no more than 30 minutes.

After my meeting, when I saw that eastbound traffic on Van Horne was even worse, I decided to walk down to Queen Mary to catch the blue line. Outside Snowdon metro, the line for the westbound 51 bus stretched for at least 150 metres; every bus that arrived was already packed. I ducked inside the metro station, thankful that the metro runs entirely underground, and caught a Saint-Michel-bound train just as it was pulling into the station.

That’s when I made a mistake: rather than getting off at Outremont and walking back to Park Avenue, I decided to go to Parc station and catch the 80 bus. Needless to say, when I arrived at Parc, the scene wasn’t promising. Traffic on Jean Talon was barely moving; waiting for the Park bus at the corner of Hutchison — it was rerouted because of the snow — I watched as every possible bus route except the 80 crawled by. As an empty 93 bus passed, a man standing next to me muttered to himself what everyone else was thinking: “Fuck. What the fuck? They’re running an empty bus?” He raised his voice. “Turn that shit into an 80!”

The 80 never came. After waiting for thirty minutes, I ended up taking the metro back to Outremont and walking home along a gridlocked Van Horne. Traffic was moving slower than pedestrians — not a single car passed me as I walked from the metro to Park. Strangely, though, despite my cold feet and nightmarish commute, the evening had a strange allure. Wherever I went, sidewalks were packed by people who had given up on buses and decided to walk; it was like summer, only with subzero temperatures and six-foot snowbanks.

Standstill traffic on Van Horne

Waiting for the bus in Snowdon, with less than half of the line in view


  1. Yeah, I had the same reaction: aren’t there a lot of people on the streets for -15C temperatures?

  2. I had a pretty similar experience today. Needing bagels, I tried taking the 80 from Place des Arts where the line was about 60 people long. The bus got there already pretty much full and there wasn’t another one in sight. I decided to get back on the Metro and go to Laurier where I would walk then take the 80 back downtown. Got off at Laurier and ended up walking the wrong way and found myself on Mont-Royal (everything looks different when it’s dark and snowy). I was going to take the 80 north but the traffic was crawling along and I couldn’t see any busses in the distance. Defeated, I jumped on the 80 going south which took what must have been an hour to get from Mont-Royal to Place des Arts Metro. I wasted about three hours and didn’t have any bagels to show for it. (good news: I went tonight and now have 11 bagels sitting in my freezer [I of course ate one on the way home]).

  3. I live in mile end but commute out to Laval for work. Coming home, the 15 was fine almost up to the 40 but once I got on to Acadie it was a crawl all the way home. I couldn’t believe it…every main street was full of cars inching along in both directions and the sidestreets were mostly blocked too. Even ambulances couldn’t get through, much less buses. Every bus stop had long lines, even stops like Parc at Beaubien that never has a soul at it. It was unbelievable. My girlfriend walked from downtown because she said it was the same situation down there. I just can’t figure out what the issue was today because it wasn’t this bad last storm and the arterials were pretty much in the same state in terms of lanes available. Maybe xmas shoppers + workers == total disaster?

  4. Why must montreal remove all the snow? isnt this an unsustainable practice that consumes too much time, money and manpower? Perhaps we should design our streets better to accommodate the climactic condition we live in. i mean, just looking at all the sit required to remove the snow indicates its ridiculousness.

  5. There seems to be something very wrong. I tried to get a 51 bus yesterday but found it rerouted via cote St Luc. Fine. But there was nothing on the Cote st Luc bus stops saying it was passing that way.
    It seems to me that before, public transport managed to provide an option to using a car. Now it is just as difficult to use and one freezes as well

  6. When the snow piles up, I forget about the buses and try to rely solely on the metro and good ol’ footpower. So unreliable and slow, it’s not worth it.

  7. Has anyone noticed lately that the STM has been a joke for some time now? They can’t maintain their vehicles despite something like 7 fare hikes over the past 5 years, we have to pay extra to use our new metro extension, even when there hasn’t been a snowstorm the service is unreliable at best. There are so few commuter trains that you’re forced to plan your life around them and if you miss one you’re screwed. I’d say about 30% of the drivers slam on the gas and brakes, making for very unpleasant bus rides. (Don’t they train these idiots?) The bus shelters are filthy and vandalized… and what do they spend money on? Fancy smart-card passes? New guichets for the ticket collectors? What? And here we are once again, all of us on the brink of being held hostage by the bus drivers striking. That’s some great management boys. Really top-notch work. I’d like to see the STM brass use this system to get to work every day, but I’d guess they can afford cars and don’t really give much of a crap about the people who waste hours a day trying to use this broken system to get around.

  8. The recent poor performance of Montreal’s snow removal services can be blamed on the ongoing dispute between the city administration and the unions–not to mention those unions representing the fire department and police–so until these grievances are settled, there will unfortunately be disruptions. Lately, however, since the election of Mayor Plante and the independence of the boroughs to manage their own public works services, snow removal should revert back to its once proud, top-of-the-line, long envied by U.S. cities such as Boston and Chicago who apparently STILL haven’t a clue about how to deal with snowstorms. Hey…why not buy more Canadian snowplows and snowblowers? ;-)

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