Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day 3 - coming over to our side

Whoah! They are moving fast! I'm starting to fall a bit behind.

The above photo is what I saw from my front porch yesterday morning. They've finished the ditch on the other side and are well on their way to completing our side. Man, the poor girl who lives downstairs. Her window looks right out onto the front and they started working around 7 this morning. It was loud enough that we could hear it in the back so there is no way she is sleeping through that.

Here's the nice clean ditch looking north from my place.

Here he is gingerly pushing rocks around the outlet valve. Must take a bit of a touch to be able to navigate that thing around small pipes.

And here is the finished job. You can see the pink valve head (spraypainted for easy spotting) sticking out from the gravel and dirt.

Here's the same thing from the ground. I like this shot because if you look in the upper left hand corner, you can see the whole street, with the ditch running along it, no parked cars (except that one truck) and even a few peds in the street. I wish it were like this always!

This threw me. On the way to work, I saw that they had installed a fire hydrant. At first I thought they were taking the water from here, as they are at the top of the block, but since it's in the middle, it didn't make sense. Than I realized that it's a new hydrant, sitting on a sweet cube of concrete. My guess is it's there to act as a temporary fire hydrant, which makes a ton of sense, as they are essential services and the firemen are going to want something to tie there hoses into in case there is a fire. Though what will happen if the street is dug out and no vehicles can get through? Smokey says stay alert, neighbours!

And since you've made it to the end, a special audio-visual bonus for you: a brief movie of this powerful earth moving machine at work. You get a pretty good sense of the sound as well:

Day 2 evening - politics rears its ugly head

So I went out last night for another quick look at the block and ran into one of my neighbours, Yann. He is halfway jokingly referred to as the Mayor of Clark Street because he is quite well known and does a lot to keep the front yard of one of the bigger apartments (where he lives) looking nice. I was remarking on how quickly the work was getting done and he said "It's an election year." His theory is that the entire project was launched because it's an election year. I felt a bit naive realizing this, as it is pretty classic municipal politics. The current mayor gives the impression that he is getting things done. And if he loses, he just kicks the expenses for the work to the next administration. The election year also accounts for the hup nature of the work going on.

So since the election is November 1st, I thought I'd give you a brief rundown on the situation. I am really not very well-informed on the elections. I suspect that municipal politics may be the one reason to continue reading newspapers, as all the dailies here are covering the election from many perspectives. Unfortunately, I generally don't read any of them. So be aware that my information here is primarily based on what I hear on CBC radio and some cursory web searching with a few articles skimmed at cafés.

The Incumbent: Mayor Gerard Tremblay (Union Montreal). He is either mired in corruption or disturbingly detached from the major decision-making that goes on in his office. The major scandal was a contract for installing water meters that set off a bunch of alarms. The tendering process was super sketchy and the final bid (which was already the largest contract the city had ever undertaken) was way more than had originally been predicted. Up until two weeks ago, the mayor backed the contract. Then the auditor-general came out and ripped the whole thing to shreds. Tremblay fired the top two guys behind the contract and cancelled it (and there was a big cancellation fee written into the contract, so either way the scumbag contractors walked away with our tax dollars). It really looks bad. And this ongoing story has been spiced up with all kinds of little stories about corrupt construction companies doing things like taking over sites, extortion, beating people up, all that good old school mafia stuff.

However, the rest of Tremblay's tenure, from a citizen's point of view, hasn't been all that bad (we're speaking relatively here, people). The metro is growing under his watch. The summer festival season is growing, despite the (perhaps temporary) loss of the Grand Prix. Snow removal was much improved last winter and there are lots of job-creating construction projects going on, including the Places des spectacles, which is a dedicated section of downtown for all the festivals here. The bike paths have also expanded and Bixi was a huge success. Also, some people argue that the water meter scandal is a function of an administration that is rooting out corruption, thus it is coming to light more.

The Main Competitor: Louise Harel (Vision Montreal). I hadn't even heard of her until she joined the election, but she is a big name in provincial politics. She was a PQ provincial deputy for the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood (one of the poorer ones in Montreal) for 27 years and was responsible for a lot of social legislation, particularily equality of pay for women, Emploi-Quebec and lots of other good stuff for working people. She was also the main force behind the fusion of all the municipalities in Montreal, which is still considered very controversial, particularly among the richer or anglophone communities.

Her pedigree is strong, but her platform is not very impressive. One of her big plans is a promise to get Expo 2020 to Montreal. Hello, the '60s are over. I'm not really against having an Expo here, but it really is not a solution for Montreal's issues in the 21st century. Other than that, she wants to have more dedicated bus lanes. Oh yeah, and she is going to sweep city hall clean of corruption (she actually brought a broom to her first press conference). Finally, she can't speak english, or at least she's not confident enough to participate in a debate in english, which thus cancelled any english debates. That to me is bullshit. I know Quebec is a francophone province, but Montreal is a polyglot town (50% of the population has a mother tongue that is not French) and if you can only speak French or English, you should then be able to speak some other second language, like Portuguese or Greek or Italian. Hell, the little neighbour kid next door speaks English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. That's a real Montrealer right there. She clearly does not represent that population. Considering that Elizabeth May, whose French is far worse than Louise Harel's english, went on the national stage and did a debate in french, I think Harel's move is a terrible cop-out.

The Mellow Left Edge: Richard Bergeron (Project Montreal). He's the super pro-public transport dude. He's far and away the most environmentally concerned of the candidates, but the base of his philosophy is all about humans living together in dense urban places and how that can be made healthier and more pleasant. Though he never wins, his history and expertise in the field of public transport is respected by everybody. Even though the environment is my fundamental political concern, he's not actually my ideal lefty candidate, as his platform is almost entirely focused on transit. Still, he's got my vote. And as is usual with these right-thinking people, he is making a big effort to get more people to register to vote and squabbling with the voting board over the limited amount of time citizens have been given to register.

The Harsh Right Edge: Louise O'Sullivan (Parti Montreal Ville-Marie). She represents a pro-business coalition and her platform seems mostly being critical of the current administration and bitching about graffiti and the general state of decline in Montreal. Sounds a lot like an anglophone from the west island! Hey Louise, the 50s are over. Her catchphrase in english is "Sustainable Wealth Creation" and she is arguing for the rights of cars. Please go away.

Then there is a bunch of other freaks as well as all the councillor positions, about which I know nothing. He's not in my district, but I hope my man Marc-Boris St-Maurice gets elected. His bio says it all (italics are mine):

Marc-Boris St-Maurice is a musician-turned-political activist who has lived and worked in Jeanne-Mance District for almost 20 years. He played bass in the band Grimskunk, started Indica Records, and was the founding leader of the Bloc Pot and the Marijuana Party of Canada. Currently, he serves as Director of the Montreal Compassion Center on Rachel street.

Okay, enough politics. We'll be getting back to our regularily scheduled construction programming soon, with lots of exciting photos and even some hot construciton video!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day 2 - the cutting continues

Well these guys must be private contractors because they are moving at a pretty zippy pace so far. Work started early this morning and we could definitely hear the cutting and chopping from our bedroom in the back of the apartment. The scene looking out from our front balcony is, I must say, a little apocalyptic. Just the the three-dimensional space left empty by the absence of parked cars gives the street a desolate feel. The torn and buckled concrete helps as well.

Below is the view looking straight ahead from our front balcony:

And here is looking to the right. That water truck goes with the concrete cutter as water is constantly sprayed on the blade while it is cutting.

Here you can see the last part in the digging process for the temporary water line which will run alongside the gutter. The hoe digs out the pierced section (separated out from the rest of the street by the cutter) and dumps the debris into the truck. That guy in the picture was really friendly. Actually, all the workers seem super positive and are happy to stop and explain stuff to you or let you take a picture.

Here's a section farther up the street where they have finished laying the temporary pipe, but haven't yet hooked it up to the homes outlets (I am sure there are specific words for all these elements; I'd love to find a municipal plumbing reference site:

Here, a little farther down, is a pipe laid in place but not yet assembled. I didn't take a very good picture, but the two pink things sticking out in the square cut out of the sidewalk are the leads that head into that building. The disassembled pipe will be assembled with a valve that will connect it to those two little outlets (they look a bit like pinkmushrooms in this picture):

And here is one of the junction valves, with a bucket of sealant. :

I guess the big cutter couldn't get that back horizontal cut, so a guy has to go in there with the hand concrete saw (Haute Tension, anyone!). He was also very friendly and in good spirits, despite that bike being annoyingly parked right in his line of work. Hey hipster college boy there's some real work going on here. Get your friggin' bike out of the way!

This was lunch time and they were already well started on the other side of the street. Here's the guy coming into chop up a section of the sidewalk that I have so lovingly swept these last 18 months. You can get a sense of the markings, with the pink lines being the cuts and the blue sprayed around the relevant valves. I talked with this guy for a bit. He has a 10.something megapixel digital camera. He only runs the cutter, so once he's done our street, he goes on to the next job. It makes you think, the scheduling for this project must be pretty intense.

So I came home from work tonight and the street is almost empty and pretty torn up. It's cool. I took the neighbour's dog for a walk and on the way back we just played in the middle of the street. I have noticed a slight drop off in water pressure in the kitchen sink. I remain cautious.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Breaking ground

Despite my besmirching of their reputation on this public internet forum, the workers got down to business nice and early today and the scheduled first day of work on the replacement aqueduct and sewage system.

I've made a little map of our street, indicating where each of the pictures was taken, so you can get an overall sense of the work being done. The blue line shows the beginning of the temporary water supply, which is connected to the fire hydrant on the other side of Villeneuve.

Today's work appears to be on cutting the sidewalk and getting a temporary water source hooked up. You can see in the pictures below (2 and 3 on the map) where they have attached a pipe to a fire hydrant which is on the opposite side of Villeneuve. This temporary pipe then goes into a ditch they are still digging which will run alongside the gutter and, I believe, hook into all the houses to provide them water.

So far, cars are still allowed to park along the western side of the street, which suggests to me that they are going to start only doing one side at a time. But that could be simply for the placement of the temporary water pipe. The big pipes are right in the middle of the street, so they are going to have to tear the whole thing up anyways.

You can see below (picture 4) how they open up the street so they can put down the temporary pipe. The cutter goes up about two feet from the gutter, cutting a narrow line deep into the road surface. Then the machine comes by (big bulldozer thing) with the penetrating, hammering attachment poking holes inside the line. Then they put on the scoop shovel (a relatively narrow one) and pull the surface off, dump it into the dump truck and then the rest of the dirt underneath.

Here's the dude on the big concrete cutter (picture 5). He went the entire length of the block along the eastern side, making little right angle detours onto the sidewalk (as he is doing here) to get access to the pipes leading into the residences.

Sometimes, they leave the machine running, with it tilted back so the blade isn't making any contact. But it's still spinning. Makes me think of all the metal things I couldn't cut in the past that I would love to run over there and chop up. Don't really have anything pressing to cut right now, though it would also make a great action movie fight scene hazard. Has anybody ever been forced under one of those sidewalk cutters in a movie?

So so far, so good. The workers are clearly quite used to people showing interest as there was an older gentleman hanging out and just watching them work. He seemed to be quite well informed, telling me they are going to go as deep as 8 metres. They also didn't seem surprised or weirded out seeing me hanging around taking pictures. One guy made a joke about the paparazzi. Personally, I'm quite looking forward to the whole process!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's an Aqueduct?

A week or so ago, the city hung some flyers on our doorknobs, alerting us to future construction work that was going to take place on our block. Yesterday, we got a more detailed memo. I'll translate the crucial paragraph for you:

The Department of Infrastructure, Transport and the Environment of the City of Montreal informs you of the beginning of reconstruction work on the drainways dating from 1907 and the aqueduct dating from 1931 on your street.

The work will begin September 28th and finish in the month of December.

During the construction period, a temporary aqueduct network will be put in place. The quality of the potable water will not be affected by the work; you can drink it with no risk.

The memo refers to two elements that are going to replaced: "la conduite d'égout" and "la conduite d'aqueduc". I think the former is the system that takes the waste waters out via pipe (conduite means pipe and égout means sewer or gutter) and the latter is the one that brings the freshwater in. In neither english or french could I find a definition for aqueduct that distinguishes it as being dedicated to fresh water (it simply is something that transports water), but I think that is the distinction that is made in the memo.

I won't translate the second part, but it's the best. The street is going to be closed the entire time to all traffic and parking. I know this is going to be quite a hassle for some of my neighbours who own cars and will probably cause some noise and disturbance for me and my lovely new bride. But I have to admit that my schadenfraude is quite stimulated by this news as I know there are several people who live on our block who own cars and drive to work regularly, yet they work near a metro station. I also know that a lot of people drive into our neighbourhood for either work or partying and a lot of them have access to public transit. So I will rejoice in their annoyance and frustration over the next several months.

The sidewalk will not be blocked off or worked on, so foot passage should be unperturbed.

Personally, I'm very psyched to see the work. They've been replacing these pipes all over Montreal this summer and it's a pretty big job. It seems to depend on the block, but in some places they have dug up the entire road to a depth of over 20 feet. I quite enjoy seeing the old tunnels, support structures, pipes and other bits and pieces that were put in the ground decades (even possibly a century ago, if the city's dates are correct). I always enjoy a good construction project, so it will be great to have front row seats.

On the other hand, the quality of public works in Montreal, especially these kinds of municipal projects, is particularly poor. At the base level of productivity, I imagine most of the time I'll be watching a big open hole and a bunch of parked machinery. The city is riddled with corruption and powerful unions and the combination does not light a fire under the asses of the workers and their bosses. I've also seen some of the finished roads and it's some piss-poor work. Instead of properly finishing the roads or the sidewalks they've broken open with concrete, they have used a ton of asphalt to patch it up, leaving ugly inconsistencies between the sidewalk and road (and rendering the gutters less free-flowing).

I'm sure you are all as excited as I am, so be happy to know that I'm going to be keeping a running log of the work, with pictures and commentary.