27 October 2010

Lovin' Montreal


I recieved a tweet from Gabriel today. It read, simply, "Hey @Copenhagenize, give some love to Montreal" and included the link to the film, above.

Gabriel is right. It's high time to give Montreal some amour. Despite the fact that I often hear how Montreal is doing amazing things about getting Citizen Cyclists onto bicycles, it's been tricky finding material/documentation. That is a good sign. It means the city and her citizens are just getting on with it, instead of getting bogged down in discussions. On two occasions I've met lovely people at conferences from Vélo Québec, the province's cycling NGO and between them and the grapevine, what is happening in Montreal is quite astounding.

The above film is a great start. An intersection in the city. Loads of people on bicycles. Fortunately, my friend Marie from the City of Copenhagen's Bicycle Office was in Montreal earlier this month and I begged her to take some photos of the city's blossoming bicycle life.

Bixi Business
Like in over 130 cities around the world, a bike share system has kickstarted the return of bicycle to the city. In Montreal's case it's the Bixi. In October 3 million trips had been registered so far this year.
Voilà
Bicycle symbolism is always good.
Velorution Quebequoise
And bicycle-related street art doesn't hurt either.
Taking His Time
Great to see sights like this.
Goûtez. Souriez. Continuez.
And, being from Copenhagen, three-wheeled bicycle vendors warm our hearts.
Hatted Up
Montreal has supermums, too. Which is one of the surest signs that the city is doing something right. I recall reading that Montreal has the highest level of female urban cyclists in North America. Can any reader confirm that?
Double Flow Lane
And infrastructure is the key.

Montreal... here's my love. I would love to visit the city and see 4real.

Marie has more photos in her Flickr set.

23 comments:

Zvi Leve (Montreal, QC, Canada) said...

Thank you for the wonderful recognition. Bicycling is very much a "normal" mode of transportation for many people here in Montreal. The city has been working hard to improve cycling infrastructure and the Bixi bike-sharing program has further extended many people's exposure to cycling as a viable travel option.

I have plenty of Montreal bicycle pictures on my flickr site:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/zvileve/tags/velo/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/zvileve/tags/bixi/

Aileen said...

Now I want to visit, too! Looks great.

Anonymous said...

Could of asked me since I'm from there :p

However, people can only bike a few months a year before a snowstorm hits us. You wouldn't see anyone biking in -20 degrees with windchill.

Nico said...

I lived in Montréal for three months this summer, and I have to say it's an amazing cycling city. There are plenty of good bike lanes and paths, both within and around the city, and there's Bixi with stations every few blocks (at least in the most downtown-ish area).

This is during the warm months, of course. The middle of winter may be a much different experience.

Zvi Leve (Montreal, QC, Canada) said...

It is true that winter cycling is not for everyone, but more and more people are doing it (see my pix). A -20 windchill is not too bad; it is the ice which is really a problem. The really cold days (-40) tend to be bright and sunny.

If Bixi had been available last winter, I would have used it almost all year. Hope that we get more snow this year....

Ryan said...

Canada's two largest cities are sure going in opposite directions.

It's great to see Montréal (along with Vancouver) actually put in real bike lanes.

Brad in Bergen said...

Montreal is spreading the love too; numerous cities have imported the Bixi bike share docks and bikes, including London's fantastically successful Barclays Cycle Hire and my own Toronto's Bixi (coming Spring 2011.)

Anonymous said...

Pity the bike share schemes in Australia are not 'kick starting' a new cycling culture.

I wonder why....

Paul Martin
Brisbane, Australia

Jonathan said...

I'm from Montréal and I live now in Copenhagen. You're right that Montréal has improve a lot on the cycling infrastructure, but there's still a lot to do on the car drivers mentality. This is North America, everything was built based on cars, even the railroad system is crappy.

I spend two weeks of vacation in Montréal this summer and I used Bixi all the time to get around town. I couldn't help but to compare to Cph... Biking in Cph is friendly, refreshing and safe. In Montréal, it's like a jungle, cars and pedestrians always get in your way...

The worst thing is that the more bicycles there are, the more angry reckless car drivers there are...

If Copenhagen could become the psychologist to change Montréal mentality, that would be awesome!

Niki said...

I so agree with Jonathan! I spent 6 weeks in Montreal this summer and used my dad's bike to get around my hometown.

But I wouldn't bike on Ste-Catherine or other streets that are unsafe for cyclists. Pedestrians and motorists always seem angry on the road-every one wants to be the first.

Anyway, Montreal has a lot to do before reaching the friendliest bike city in Canada.

Zvi Leve (Montreal, QC, Canada) said...

Sure the bicycling infrastructure in Montreal is a long way from the 'bike-friendly' cities in Europe, but the cycling networks in European cities (and they really are dedicated *networks*) did not happen overnight either. Creating good cycling infrastructure requires a long-term dedicated effort, and much trial and error.

Bicycling has been a common mode of transportation in Montreal for a long time - this is not a new phenomenon. There are many students and artists here, and it is not unusual for people *not* to own a car. I do not own one(and I could easily afford one), and I actually know very few people who do.

The animosity between motorists and cyclists (and pedestrians) is on the rise for a number of reasons. First of all, there has been an increase in the number of motorists in recent years. The car ownership rate has been going up, and more people are moving to "off-island" locations (suburban sprawl exists here too) which require them to drive a car, so there is more traffic in general. Combine this with the decrepit infrastructure and the fact that road space is being taken away from cars (and given to bicycles), and you have a lot of stressed and impatient drivers.

Montreal pedestrians and cyclists are not exactly known for their politeness either. There is a general disrespect for the "rules of the road" from all parties: cars will almost never stop at a pedestrian cross-walk, and pedestrians will walk in front of cars which have a green light. Combine this with the increased number of motorists and the increased number of cyclists (many Bixi riders have little experience on bicycles) and you have a potent mix, which often leads to ugly disrespectful behaviour.

Anonymous said...

Check the hot blond in the skirt at the end of the video! Montreal has some babes!

spiderleggreen said...

Thanks to Montreal for exporting their Bixi-system to Mpls. While we have a 7th of the bikes Montreal does, our Nice Ride has had a big impact on bike-consciousness in our city. It has given biking a boost by putting people on bikes, but I think it also says Mpls. endorses this mode of transportation.

As I understand, Montreal and Mpls. have a simular climate, which means it gets real cold in the Winter. Siberia cold. A lot of people hop of their bikes for the Winter, but I think that some of those cyclists are going to be like me a few years ago. They're going to dread giving up the bike for the Winter and figure out how to do it all year long. That's when the fun begins!

Kiwehtin said...

rMontreal is getting a bit better for bikes and the Bixi programme has definitely played an important role, but as other people have pointed out, there is much room for improvement. The video shows probably the most major intersection between bike paths in town: the "north-south" axis that is used by huge numbers of cyclists moving between downtown and the more residential districts to the "north", and the path that goes from the mountain in the "west" into areas further "east". You can see the Maison des cyclistes, a combo cafe and shop maintained by Velo Quebec, on the corner on the right hand side of the video.

The two pictures below are of people on the de Maisonneuve bike path just by where it ends (or begins) at the "north-south" axis path, just below the long "côte Berri", a relatively steep hill that goes for two blocks between the downtown area and the Plateau district above.

I was surprised to see the bicycle vendor actually, since street food vending has long been illegal under municipal by-laws. That must be an exception (like ice cream trikes in the parks) because it's on the plaza of the Mont-Royal metro station (the entrance building is in the background).

This is fairly good infrastructure, but still, many motorists downtown do not respect the de Maisonneuve bike path and will go veering across it without so much as a by your leave to oncoming cyclists who have the right of way, and I have even seen a truck parked right smack in the middle, blocking the path except for about a half a metre's clearance on one side. And outside downtown, there are horrors like the sharp zigzag and backwards zigzag cyclists have to take when crossing underneath the railway viaduct at the north end of the Plateau district, something nobody would dream of expecting motorists to deal with. Most bike lanes (as opposed to separate bike paths like the axis and de Maisonneuve) are closed for the winter to give cars extra parking space, and winter snow clearing is, as always, geared to making things easy for motorists above all.

We're still a long way from Amsterdam, that's for sure.

As for the question about female cyclists, I don't know enough about cycling in most other North American cities, but Montreal does have a large proportion of women (mostly young but notably some (well-dressed) middle-aged women, including our colleague Maria Gatti) riding bikes, though mostly in the warmer months. From my memories of Washington DC five years ago, there it was mostly younger, relatively affluent and fit white men, older helmet-reflective vest-spandex types, and poor black men who rode bikes – and the proportion of cyclists overall made Montreal look like Amsterdam in comparison. I remember seeing a single woman cyclist from all my time there. Winnipeg was simply hopeless, from my memories of living there a decade ago.

Kiwehtin said...

rMontreal is getting a bit better for bikes and the Bixi programme has definitely played an important role, but as other people have pointed out, there is much room for improvement. The video shows probably the most major intersection between bike paths in town: the "north-south" axis that is used by huge numbers of cyclists moving between downtown and the more residential districts to the "north", and the path that goes from the mountain in the "west" into areas further "east". You can see the Maison des cyclistes, a combo cafe and shop maintained by Velo Quebec, on the corner on the right hand side of the video.

The two pictures below are of people on the de Maisonneuve bike path just by where it ends (or begins) at the "north-south" axis path, just below the long "côte Berri", a relatively steep hill that goes for two blocks between the downtown area and the Plateau district above.

I was surprised to see the bicycle vendor actually, since street food vending has long been illegal under municipal by-laws. That must be an exception (like ice cream trikes in the parks) because it's on the plaza of the Mont-Royal metro station (the entrance building is in the background).

This is fairly good infrastructure, but still, many motorists downtown do not respect the de Maisonneuve bike path and will go veering across it without so much as a by your leave to oncoming cyclists who have the right of way, and I have even seen a truck parked right smack in the middle, blocking the path except for about a half a metre's clearance on one side. And outside downtown, there are horrors like the sharp zigzag and backwards zigzag cyclists have to take when crossing underneath the railway viaduct at the north end of the Plateau district, something nobody would dream of expecting motorists to deal with. Most bike lanes (as opposed to separate bike paths like the axis and de Maisonneuve) are closed for the winter to give cars extra parking space, and winter snow clearing is, as always, geared to making things easy for motorists above all.

We're still a long way from Amsterdam, that's for sure.

As for the question about female cyclists, I don't know enough about cycling in most other North American cities, but Montreal does have a large proportion of women (mostly young but notably some (well-dressed) middle-aged women, including our colleague Maria Gatti) riding bikes, though mostly in the warmer months. From my memories of Washington DC five years ago, there it was mostly younger, relatively affluent and fit white men, older helmet-reflective vest-spandex types, and poor black men who rode bikes – and the proportion of cyclists overall made Montreal look like Amsterdam in comparison. I remember seeing a single woman cyclist from all my time there. Winnipeg was simply hopeless, from my memories of living there a decade ago.

lagatta à montréal said...

I'll have a lot more to say on this subject, but a few comments for now:

Jonathan, much of Montréal was built either before the existence of cars or at least before they became common. Cars existed 100 years ago when my area (north of the centre) was being laid out, but few people, and practically no working-class families living in row triplexes, owned them. There used to be a tramline along my street - another thing to be brought back, along with bicycles.

And riding bicycles only "a few months a year", anonymous, come now. Although I doubt we'll get the almost snowless and unusually mild winter we had last time, the winters are in general much shorter than they were a generation or two ago.

I'm glad to hear from kiwehtin, as I think some of the posters - even our friend Zvi Leve - are rather darkening the tableau about bicycle-motor vehicle interactions. I find that in general drivers are far more polite than some decades back - for one thing, a lot of them are also cyclists. As well as Bixi, we also have a carshare scheme, CommunAuto (one of its founders was my late friend, bicycle activist Claire Morrissette) and CommunAuto drivers are unfailingly polite to cyclists! kiwehtin, I do see many of my fellow boomer women à bicyclette...

I see not only supermums but also superdads, and have seen parents transporting les enfants in bakfiets as in Netherlands and Denmark.

I can't view videos on my clunker, but will have more to say as soon as I've seen the film. Glad Marie had a good visit here. Yesterday was sunny and the temperature went up to 20° in central areas, so I was cycling bare-legged for perhaps the last time until spring.

Lily said...

Hey, thanks for the shout-out!

I've lived in Montreal for 10 years, getting around by foot or public transport. I was living overseas when Bixi was implemented, and I saw such a huge difference when I returned to Montreal this year. There was such a huge surge in bike traffic, with thousands of new Bixis suddenly on the road.

All this inspired me to buy a second-hand bike this spring (and I'm still riding as the temperature nears freezing!). It's been exhilarating but also a challenge. Even though the city has made so many gains, more cyclists means more conflicts between cars, bikes, and pedestrians.

I often ride the main east-west paths (de Maisonneuve and Rachel) and it's frankly an obstacle course of oblivious motorists and pedestrians. The biggest problem is turning cars that don't look out for cyclists. I hope with time that people will begin to notice cyclists as they navigate the cityscape. It's frustrating but time will bring progress, and hopefully more awareness and better bike lane designs.

I'll see what I can do in getting more Montreal footage, especially as we move into winter.

Lily said...

Oh, and I wanted to add something positive to my above post. My boyfriend cycled in London (UK) for five years and he finds the traffic in Montreal easier to deal with. Compared to London, we have a much lower density of bus/truck traffic. He thinks downtown Montreal streets (sans bike paths) are much easier to cycle on!

_Velocite said...

I think what Montreal is lacking is innovative bicycle traffic management. For instance, you can't go more then 2 blocks on Maisonneuve bike path... Lights aren't synchronized.

Also, when you run on the bike network, there is no "standard"... sometimes you're running against traffic on a contra-flow bike lane and then, you have to come a separated 2-way bike lane at a "T" intersection but nothing is done to help cyclists continuing with speed, you always have to stop.

In Montreal, we remove the possible "fault" to motorists by putting stop signs on bike paths that crosses a road while there is no stop for motorists running alongside of the path... At the same time, we'll stop cyclists with a red light on an intersection with no conflicts possible (separated like Cote-Sainte-Catherine)...

There is no bike-box in Montreal to help cyclists do a left turn... so the transportation departement expects cyclists to do it in 2 movements... but won't put a "reserve" for cyclists to "pack-up"...

But yeah, culture is growing!

Defrag said...

Here's another video from the same intersection (opposite corner)

My flickr set

Justin said...

As others have mentioned, cycling in Montreal didn't just happen with Bixi. Bixi is big step forward and a brilliantly executed project. Its success has nevertheless been helped greatly by the entrenched cycling culture that has been quietly growing since the 1970s.

The "bicycle symbolism" photo shows the markers on the piste Claire-Morrissette (the path along boulevard de Maisonneuve). Claire Morrissette was a much loved, creative and fiercely energetic cycling activist who, along with 'Bicycle Bob' Silverman, led the change in attitude that allowed the bicycle to be seen as a legitimate means of transportation here.

At the same time, Vélo Québec worked in a more "official" role to explain cycling infrastructure needs to municipalities and the Ministry of Transport, and to organize mass cycling events such as Tour de l'Île, giving the bicycle a positive and fun image and wider visibility.

Sure, things can still be improved a lot. (Returning from a trip to Germany and Belgium, I found it hard to readjust to the chaos of Montreal traffic.) But it's not for nothing that Montreal is considered among the best cycling cities in North America, and for that matter better than many in Europe.

lagatta à montréal said...

Yes, we miss Claire terribly. At le Monde à bicyclette, we strived to make cycling activism creative and fun, and discouraged "lycra-loutism". Decades ago, we brought out a booklet on cycling to work - in normal clothing - and nary a helmet in sight. Claire hated them. Loved bicycle bells though, and had a big Dutch one on her old Raleigh.

There are still a lot of things wrong with our cycling infrastructure, but at least no political parties in the city are opposed to expanding and improving it. We need a new wave - and a new generation - of cycling activists to work in that direction.

Weather still fine, sunny and mild, on the 12th of November. I don't cycle in heavy snow and ice, but certainly hope to be able to cycle through November - and keep fingers crossed for December.

Alex said...

Take a look at that... a local band even did the BIXI Anthem, in honor of Montreal's bike sharing system!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGzBOmOD_Tw