The Mini-Villages of Montreal’s Metro

Visualizing the incredible population density around Montreal’s stations

March 18, 2015

The metro is the backbone of Montreal. Besides New York City and Mexico City, Montreal’s annual ridership is higher than every other subway system in North America.

It’s a feel-good story if you’re from Montreal. But there are lots of big cities in North America. Why has the STM — Montreal’s transit authority — been so successful in getting us to ride the metro?

One big reason: Montreal’s metro stations are incredibly well-integrated within the city’s densest neighbourhoods.

Would you take the metro if it took you an hour to get there? Probably not.

That’s why when urban planners design transit systems, they try to optimize transit station walksheds: the area around a transit station accessible by foot.

Just because your grandpa walked seven miles to school (uphill both ways) doesn’t mean you should. Having a metro station within walking distance makes it more likely that you’ll actually use public transit, and not have to rely on a car.


This visualization shows the population that lives within walking distance of each Montreal rail station:

Montreal rail station walksheds’ population within 800m of stations. The sizes of the circles and the numbers inside them correspond to the population in 1,000 people (24 = 24,000). How does your station compare?

In other words, if you were to shout really loudly outside most metro stations, there are lots of people who will hear you.

There are thousands — and often tens of thousands — of people living within 800 metres of Montreal’s rail stations. And this is in a city with almost no skyscrapers!

To create this graphic, we found the number of people in Montreal who live within 800 metres of the nearest rail station, which represents a 10 minute walk for a fully-grown human with average-sized legs.

The Côte-Sainte-Catherine station has the most people living in its walkshed (about 28,000 people), followed by the Mont-Royal and Guy-Concordia stations (about 26,000 each).

Mont Royal metro on the left (26,000 people), Montmorency on the right (6,000 people). Where would you rather live?

Funnily enough, the metro station with the most foot traffic (Berri-UQAM) actually has less people living around it than the areas around the adjacent Beaudry, St. Laurent, and Sherbrooke stations. This is because many people going through Berri-UQAM don’t actually live there — they’re just stopping to transfer between the Orange, Green, and Yellow lines.

On the whole though, areas around metro stations are much more dense than the rest of Montreal: the population density within metro walksheds is more than 10,000 people/km², while population density outside of them is a mere 3,700 people/km².

By giving Montrealers cheap, rapid, and reliable access to the rest of the city, metro stations encourage people to live nearby. But when people can’t live near stations (due to zoning or other reasons) you don’t see as much development, and neighbourhoods become much more car-reliant and “suburbified”.

Consider Montreal’s AMT stations, which generally don’t have as many people living nearby as metro stations. AMT stations are often next to highways and surrounded by a sea of parking, while others are smack-dab in the middle of nowhere.

The lack of dense housing nearby is one reason that the ridership numbers for the AMT (80,000 daily trips) pale in comparison to the mammoth numbers of the STM Metro (1,250,000 daily trips). When people live further away from stations, they have to rely on feeder buses or park-and-ride’s. To avoid that inconvenience, many people simply choose to use cars instead of taking public transit.


Altogether, we’re proud that Montreal’s car cravings are comparatively light. When stacked up against similarly-sized North American cities, our public transit mode share is very high. Take a look:

Originally posted by transit planner extraordinaire Jarret Walker on humantransit.org

Largely because of our city’s metro, over 20% of Montrealers take public transit to work, which is more than double the share in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Washington DC, and Seattle.

Still, we can do better.

In the STM’s Strategic Plan for 2020, one of the primary goals is to reduce the share of car trips from 48% of total trips down to 41%.

To make up the difference, they hope to encourage more Montrealers to take public transit.

There are many ways to acccomplish this goal: congestion pricing or better parking policies to discourage driving, increased service to boost transit’s convenience, and real-time customer information (iBUS anyone?). In particular, our walkshed graph shows that denser development should be an important part of the STM’s toolkit — notwithstanding the usual political hurdles.


Our team at Transit app is also doing its part to make public transit more convenient in Montreal, and in many other cities around the world.

From our Mile End office, our team is giving millions of people the flexibility and reliability of a car — without the burdens of actually owning one.

Find out how we can help make your transit experience better:

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