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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Don't overlook bike-friendly Montréal

Image of bicycle in Montreal
A Bike Commute Tips Blog reader writes:

Dear Sir,

I am a frequent reader of your blog...I am in Montreal, a city covered with snow for a good part of the year (over a hundred inches this last winter) and where a lot of people commute by bike year round. The numbers for sure are not as high as Portland, mostly because of the often inclement weather and partly because we lack efficient cycling facilities. Still, for the entire city, cyclists accounted for 1.6% of commutes in 2005. In certain neighbourhoods, such as Plateau Mont-Royal, it is 6.5%. (, page 5).

When you write "most bicycle-friendly city in North America", I feel we are left out. The ranking you refer to was established by the US census bureau and solely for the US territory. Of course Canadian cities such as Victoria, Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal were not considered. But…aren’t they in North America? Best regards and Bonne Route!
As a New England native and avid francophile, I love Montréal. I certainly have never intended any slight toward les cyclistes Québécois. Prompted by this thawing correspondent from Québec, I decided to look into the bicycling culture of Montréal, which appears to be very healthy indeed.

The Montreal Mirror reports:
Last May, city hall released plans to transform Montreal into a cycling haven on par with Paris or Lyon, envisioning a not-too-distant future of 400 new kilometres of new bike paths, a self-service bicycle rental system and five times as many bike parking places. The $134-million plan has since gone through 10 public and 10 agglomeration council consultations, and in a few weeks the city will announce how year one will shape up. Vélo Québec, a non-profit cycling lobby group...called it "ambitious." The transport plan is available on the city’s Web site as part of the Reinvent Montreal guide.
Like any other hip dynamic city in the 21st century, Montréal also boasts a lively fixed-gear bicycle renaissance, again according to the Mirror. Fixie fans in la Belle Ville even have a website and message board. Many of these fixie riders may be pedaling over to the first ever Artistic Bicycle Exposition.

With more than 2,400 miles of bike trails, Québec boasts the largest cycling network in the Americas, the famed Route verte. Inaugurated last August, the Route verte was recently named the top cycling route in the world by the National Geographic Society.

Most notable, according to the Montreal Gazette:
Montreal plans to be the first city in North America to set up a large-scale "self-serve" public bicycle rental service...Pedalling along the same path as such French cities as Paris and Lyon, where similar systems have become wildly popular, Montreal hopes its project will start by next fall and be fully operational by late 2009. "Montreal wants to be the bicycle city par excellence in North America, and this project will definitely help us get there," André Lavallée, the city executive committee member responsible for transportation, said at a news conference...
It's been nearly 20 years since I last visited Montréal (having moved to California in 1991.) I look forward to another visit for a first-hand look at the city's bicycling progress.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Montreal Bike Fest 2008
Visit: La Route Verte au Quebec
Visit: A bicycle-friendly city is environment-friendly too, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site
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Kevin Love said...

How about bike-friendly Toronto?

Yes,Toronto and Montreal are traditional rivals, and bike culture is part of that.

One thing that I agree with your Montreal correspondent is that Canadian cities are certainly in North America. And that Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver have a bike culture and rate of commuter bicycle use that is far higher than any major US city.

Indeed, the overall rate of urban bicycle commuting is three times higher in Canada than in the USA.


Professor Pucher attributes this to such things as Canada's higher urban densities, mixed-use land development policies, higher costs of owning, driving and parking a car, safer cycling conditions, and more extensive cycling and infrastructure programmes.

The results can be seen in the Toronto neighbourhood transportation breakdown at:

The Toronto neighbourhood of Kensington hits 50% active transportation for commuting.

I'm a good example of this. Where I live has zero parking for cars. Where I work also has zero parking for cars.

Cycle Fun Montreal said...

A little clarification, while the route verte has 4000 km of trails, but the province as a whole has much, much more when you include all the diverse municipal paths.

The route verte is an inter-municipal network, consisting of regional and arterial municipal paths.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call Montreal that bike friendly.
At least that’s what it seems. Although the city invested millions in its first all-season bike path downtown, in every other gesture it sends a strong anti-bicycle vibe. You would think a city with such narrow streets and high car density would encourage cyclists, for the health of its citizens and the environment, and to reduce gridlock and wear and tear on city streets which ultimately costs the city big bucks in repairs.
However, last winter the city was so slow to clear snow off the all-season bike path that most cyclists with any sense didn’t dare try to use it. And since the city didn’t stop its annual ritual of removing all bicycle parking in the fall, winter cyclists still had nowhere to lock up their bikes. Nowhere that was safe from the sidewalk plow that is.
Winter cyclists faced even greater dangers this year. Take the story of Richard Abderrahmane, a winter cyclist who was run over by a snow blower this winter. Luckily his bicycle jammed the blades before it chewed him to bits. Drivers who witnessed the incident followed the snow blower, honking and pointing until finally the operator stopped. Miraculously the cyclist walked away with only cuts and bruises, but his bike was mangled beyond repair and the city refused to replace it.
This spring, as usual, the roads deteriorated to the point where they were unsafe even for cars and the city opened up its pothole hotline again. I’m sure I’m not the only person who wonders how you call in the location of a pothole (Hello operator? You know Queen Mary Road? between Decarie and Cote-des-Neiges? It’s gone. Just a series of potholes now connected by patches on last year’s potholes). Of course this service might be useful to drivers (in theory, if your car is damaged by hitting a pothole the city knew about, the city has to pay for repairs). But for cyclists, the patches on the potholes don’t really make the streets any more even.
This spring the city also dealt cyclists another blow by shutting down the Official Montreal Bike Sale. Of course there was nothing really official about it, but after 4 years of Thursday night bike sales each spring and fall, many Montrealers, especially students, had come to rely on it as a place to get a cheap, reliable ride. It was started by a local businessman who prefers to remain anonymous and is referred to as The Bike Guy. He happens to enjoy cycling and repairs bikes in his spare time. Each week The Bike Guy would fix up a dozen bikes and park them outside the main gates to McGill University on Thursday night. At 09:00 pm he would unlock them, let anyone interested in buying take them for a test ride, and sell them at rock bottom prices (most bikes were priced at 60$ or less). He even offered a guarantee. Most bike sales were over by 9:02. He has helped hundreds of students get around town, providing them with bikes that are less likely to be stolen since used bikes are often not the most attractive ones in the rack. Campus security was aware that the sales were taking place and even told the Bike Guy they thought he was offering a great service to the students. However just before last weeks sale 2 police officers arrived and asked the crowd of people waiting around the bikes what they were doing. When officers Joly and Ouellet learned that there was a sale about to take place they left and came back just after nine. The sale was already over but the police gave the Bike Guy a formal warning and promised to return weekly to ensure that no more sales take place. R.I.P. Official Montreal Bike Sale.

Anonymous said...

I ride my bike all year round I have to give the city of Montreal credir where credit is due. They are doing a great job of making this city cycling friendly. I have to diagree with disgruntled cyclist, the city did what it could to keep the down town bike path clear but this year was an unusual year when it comes to amounts of snow I think we should cut them some slack.

BIXI said...

There's also BIXI, the upcoming system of free-service bikes for the city of Montreal. It's planned to be usable for all as close as Spring 2009. It's a major step towards making Montreal an important "Bike-Friendly city"