UPDATE: Hudson’s TOD saga

Hudson’s only morning train: without guaranteed passengers, what are the odds of subsidies? Without better service, what are the odds of attracting more passengers, especially once the REM is running?  

On the agenda for Monday’s (Nov. 4/19) Hudson council meeting is Mayor Nicholls’s veto of the anti-TOD resolution adopted by five of six councillors during the October meeting.  The mayor has justified his veto on the grounds that councillors were confused by my resolution seeking Hudsons exclusion from the Montreal Urban Communitys TOD designation.

Since then, I fully expect that the mayor has lobbied hard to convince two or more councillors to change their vote, killing the resolution and opening the door to the Stantec study on how to apply the transport-oriented development (TOD) designation to Hudson’s benefit.

 While I’m not surprised at the mayor’s veto, I’m disappointed that we’ll never know whether the TOD designation was forced on Hudson or whether we had a choice.

Adopted by the previous council after a series of public consultations in the spring and summer of 2017, the TOD designation allowed developers to pump up the size and volume of their projects to meet densification requirements.

 Critics charge that these densification requirements are bogus, the result of flip-flops by both this and the previous council in agreeing to the TOD designation. They argue that the CMMs TOD densification requirements were pure fiction, written to allow an influx of development projects incompatible with Hudson architecture and Hudsons densities.

A close read of the chain of communications  between the Town of Hudson and the Montreal Metropolitan Communitys TOD project office clearly shows the current administrations original intent to obtain funding for an economic study on Hudsons train service. Specifics include:

coming up with concrete measures for the existing Hudson station;

costing out the electification of the existing rail line between Vaudreuil-Dorion and Hudson to attract more riders;

developing densification scenarios to ensure sustainable ridership, including two additional TODS in in the west end and on Bellevue;

 The document, signed by Hudsons former coordinator of project management, grants  and subsidies, was in response to a July 2018 request from an urban planner with the MMC’s TOD project office responsible for handling Hudsons funding application.

Before signing off on Hudson’s funding request, the MMC urbanist wanted a deeper understanding of the project.

 In the case of Hudson, we understand that there are many elements and orientations requiring evaluation (tramway, parking, densification, requalification, train level of service, etc., he noted, adding that it would be helpful if the administration were to prioritize what it sought to accomplish with the study.

 If I understand it well, the tramway study is an important subject. We would like to have a bit more detail on this concept, specifically what leads you to visualize an infrastructure of this type and how it would fit with your three-hubs concept as well as with existing rail infrastructure.

The MMC urbanist also wanted to know why the town wants further analysis of the existing TOD zone, including size, densification requirements, parking management and levels of public transit service.

 Since then, Hudson’s grant request somehow morphed into a study of the downtown core and how to reduce vehicle traffic and parking in favour of active transport — walking and biking — while adding greenspace and common areas. Gone are those original references to  economic aspects of  the TOD, multiple TODs, electrification, tramways and additional trains.

Earlier this fall, the mayor posted on social media his vision of the downtown core transformed into a bike and walking-friendly environment. In his comments at the start of the Oct. 7 council meeting, he painted a picture of an electric tram connecting three TODs with the Vaudreuil transit hub, about how his contacts with the ARTM will be the magic wand to convert the existing train a day each way into an environmentally and economically sustainable electric shuttle to Vaudreuil.

I know where this comes from. One of the books Jamie lent me, Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities by his former professor Patrick M. Condon, includes a chapter on streetcar and tramway developments. Condons case histories come from the West Coasts sprawling suburbs. Like Condons book on design charettes, the problem lies in reconciling a West-Coast design ethos with Quebecs 21st-century realities, including the REM and its eventual push to Vaudreuil. 

 A year ago Nov. 7, the mayor and I attended a Union des Municipalités transit summit in Trois-Rivières. Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau spoke, as did the heads of CN and VIA Rail and representatives of Quebecs rail freight and passenger tourist industry associations. Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel was the lunch keynote speaker. Jamie and I sat with Rigaud Mayor Hans Gruenwald at a table of CMM mayors talking about the REM, about EXO, about ARTM —— but not about trams and electrification of short lines. Their consensus: forget trams and streetcars unless youre a major city. If you can’t guarantee traffic, the funding isnt there for any form of rail.

 Several weeks ago, I met with Vaudreuil-Dorion mayor Guy Pilon, who reiterated his belief that commuter-rail transit, even Hudson’s paltry two trains on weekdays, is disconnected from reality. It will cost $8 to 9 million to bring the EXO right of way up to minimum standards, Pilon said. Adding electrification would mean millions more in major infrastructure — hydro substations, overhead catenaries and light rail transit rolling stock.

Pilon, who sits on the CMM’s public transit committee, also predicts the eventual shutdown of the existing rail line once the REM is extended to Vaudreuil-Dorion. Hudson is missing a golden opportunity to turn the Vaudreuil-Hudson section into a dedicated non-motorized route for cyclists, skiers and pedestrians, he told me.

 After the October council meeting I called the MMC urban planner responsible for piloting Hudsons file through the requirements for the study grant. He told me the anti-TOD resolution put Hudsons funding request on hold until the TOD designation issue is resolved. A meeting scheduled for Oct. 24 was cancelled; the first opportunity for approval is now Nov. 28, when the five MMC executive committee members meet to vote on TOD project grants, including Hudsons.

Mayor Nicholls may succeed in saving the funding for the Stantec study, but what will that accomplish? Reading Stantec’s offer of service, I’m not clear on what it is we’re studying, or to what end. Multiple TODs? Conversion of the existing right of way to support an LRT shuttle between Hudson and Vaudreuil, when the existence of the Vaudreuil terminus itself is far from assured? I need to have things spelled out before I vote for them.

The mayor and I are both active transport advocates, but not just for the downtown core and not to the detriment of those who have no choice but to drive. I live in one of Hudson’s many enclaved neighbourhoods where no safe, direct all-weather walking route exists to downtown Hudson. There are no plans to fix this, which I find unacceptable.

One of the realities one learns as a councillor is to suck up one’s defeat on a file and accept the majority decision. I fault the mayor for failing to practise what he preaches — especially when 30 months ago, he was ripping the former administration for not challenging the TOD. Call me confused.