Light Rail

Bordeaux Streetcars a Working Model for Canada

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published October 23, 2007

The Toronto Star's Christopher Hume has written an article about TTC chair Adam Giambrone's visit to see the new streetcar system in Bordeaux.

I spent a month in Bordeaux three years ago, just as the system was starting up, and I was very impressed with its quality and convenience. As with Portland, the streetcar has a also been a catalyst for revitalizing and reinvesting in neighbourhoods.

All that in a city (like Grenoble) about the same size as Hamilton.

Maybe the message is finally getting through, although (as Hume points out) we need to be a bit ambitious and not have the attitude that we don't deserve a proper modern transit system!

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By jason (registered) | Posted October 23, 2007 at 15:36:09

awesome stuff. Great pictures of their tram system here:

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 24, 2007 at 08:38:28

Bordeaux is actually one of the first case studies where "wireless" technology was used. It looks great. Nice looking streetcars to.

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By Jon Dalton (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2007 at 08:52:04

Hey, I've rode those streetcars! They're awesome, in fact all of downtown Bordeaux is awesome. The streetcar tracks even lend a romantic quality, especially with the absence of overhead wires. For sections they run through grass instead of concrete. One line crosses the river that divides the town side by side with car traffic.

I'm glad the TTC chair has had the opportunity to be inspired by a world class LRT system and bring home some of those ideas.

Can we send Don Hull and Tim McCabe someplace like this?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 24, 2007 at 09:40:24

I had also visited Bordeaux several times before the new streetcars went in.

The city was dirty, run down and looked chaotic with an expressway along the river butting right up against a grimy 18th century terrace which was mostly boarded up. In fact, a friend who moved there said that Bordeaux was known as the 'toilet of the southwest'!

Now the expressway has half the lanes, the river has been opened with a walkway and cafes, and the 18th century terrace has been cleaned and is full of shops and restaurants. The riverside streetcar line was the direct catalyst for all these changes.

The situation is quite similar to Main St in downtown Hamilton: no one wanted to shop on a street next to an expressway! Another interesting parallel is that one streetcar line connects the university campus to the downtown: much as McMaster could easily be connected to downtown Hamilton. This would bring 22 000 more potential residents and shoppers closer to downtown.

All this is meant to point out that Bordeaux is an attractive city today largely because it turned its back on 40 years of car-centred ('la toute voiture') planning.


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By Jon Dalton (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2007 at 12:39:12

Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of economic development, as this case study seems to affirm. I never got to see the city before light rail, but could tell that the riverside was a gritty place. The only crappy part I saw was between the road and the riverbank, where there was a bit of a concrete wasteland, but it wasn't surface parking. I had no idea those town squares used to be parking lots! Actually, underground public parking seems to be common over there.

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