Montreal week: Eric on bixi on the street


Central Montreal has all sorts of bike infrastructure. I suspect some of it they might now find less than satisfactory. But nothing starts out perfect. There is a learning curve.

The pic above shows a typical residential street bi-directional bike lane on one side of a one-way street. I was nervous on these streets, apprehensive about being doored. If the bike lanes had been on the opposite curb side of the street, oncoming cyclists would face parking cars, giving more notice of activity and potential door movements, but with the risk of encountering car passenger movements, which are used to being curbside not in an active lane.

Notice the scrub marks on the asphalt; the bike lane (like all streets in LePlateau) is swept every week.


Steel posts set into the asphalt keep cars off the cycle lane. But they also pose a collision risk … since I value my knuckles and knees, I rode well away from the posts and cars.

While the sweeping was nice, reducing unforeseen obstacles, the pavement itself was sometimes a tad rough. I don’t think the bike routes get more frequent repaving or asphalt topping:


The track shown below was more relaxing: the curb provided additional buffer from cars and doors. The steel posts were a bit further away. On a few locations, the posts were heavy plastic tubing mounted on springy bases. Routes like this are totally relaxing ways to cycle in the city.


Note, however, that the characteristic built form of the LePlateau and other old Montreal areas is uninterrupted rows of houses for an entire block — there are no mid-block driveways. Most of the triplexes here simply don’t have parking, nor is a car needed. So there is lots of curb side parking since there aren’t any driveways to bugger things up. This is a whole ‘nother universe compared to Ottawa streets. It makes cycling that much safer.

IMG_3952above: some catch basins were set back into the curb, like Ottawa is now doing more often. Some, like this flush mounted basin, had a modified grate that won’t eat your bike tires.


The street shown above has a bike lane going each way, and only one lane for car traffic. I simply cannot imagine Jim Watson’s Ottawa ever having more cycle facilities than car space on a street. Notice also the wide sidewalk for pedestrians (near a subway entrance) and the well-treed and well-shrubbed planting strip, and the really serious concrete bollards to keep cars off the sidewalk.


The pic above is another reason to visit Gilford street (visit it yourself, or send your councillor). Cars are diverted; cyclists can go straight through, in either direction. Technically the cyclists on the right had a stop bar but in reality cars turning right all stopped and craned their neck to ensure there were no bikes on their right, since I never saw a cyclist stop here. Even slowing down would sow mass confusion amongst motorists and pedestrians who are used to cyclists blowing through everything everywhere…

Red is the new Green.

While bicycles are vehicles, most signage in Montreal applied to cars but was not relevant to bikes. For example, the turn right sign shown above applies to motorists but not cyclists … and speed bumps were marked for motorists but not for cyclists when the bike lane was counter flow …  it was all sort of informal, relaxed, and a tad schizophrenic too. This is in total contrast to Ottawa where we are so reluctant to allow a motor car street closure (eg Elm Street, or Lanark) actually have an exception for cyclists, even though that would be so convenient for cycling, and would promote …. ah well, you know the drill. We are still anal.

While looking at that pic above, notice the infill apartment building in Rod Lahey’s favorite black brick, but enlivened with a bright green stripe and balcony reveal.

Here’s an example where a bike lane is permitted to cross a boulevarded road while motorists are not. This city recently approved such an intersection at Rochester / Carling. (In a few other cases, bike paths by themselves, unaccompanied by motor cars, cross major roads such as Carling near Andy Haydon goose park, or by Christmas, the Trillium Pathway at Carling just west of Preston):


Every city has those pinch points where major roads have to cross other major roads, or rivers, or railway corridors, and where space is at a premium.  This underpass was probably constructed with two motor vehicle lanes going in each direction. Notice, by the way, that Montreal engineers do not force pedestrians to walk all the way to the bottom of the pit, since pedestrians rarely need 16′ overhead clearance ….  Anyhow, in this case which I really admire,the city actually took away one existing car lane and replaced it with a bi directional separated cycle path. This leaves the road way unbalanced, with more car capacity in one direction than the other. Somehow, Montreal survives.



Bike lanes, particularly bi-directional ones, do take up right of way space. Where there are bike lanes, there often isn’t any green strip along the sidewalk. Maybe there never was… but the presence of the bike lane reminds us that there is competition for scarce urban space. In the pic below, it appears to me to be a recent rebuild of a lane with a green planter strip between the cyclists and the cars. Those trees look vulnerable, and sure hope there is lots of dirt somewhere down there for the tree roots.

In the mid distance, note the island bus stop. Bus patrons wait on the sidewalk until the bus appears, then move out to the island. Yes, the queue sometimes blocked the bike lane. Cyclists stopped, in the cases I saw. The lane is elevated here to sidewalk level and marked with paint. If those trees do grow, this could be a beautiful street since there is more room for the tree canopy to spread (don’t try this in Ottawa where city staff hate any tree larger than a hockey stick).



By the second day, I was quite confident in using the Montreal style bi-directional lanes, whether on busy roads or residential streets. I remained apprehensive about being doored or posted on some facilities. I even cycled at night, depending on my flashing bixi lights to warn people to stay away. I learned to carry a whole $70 bag of groceries in that little bixi basket.

I am not a bold urban cyclist, rather a timid one, much preferring separated facilities and pathways. I did not find any in Montreal that are like Churchill Avenue (ie the Danish model, where the cycle track is level with the sidewalk, and uni-directional). But the Montreal paths form a network, and for the first time I really appreciated the value of being to head off in any direction confident that I could bike there safely and get home. And it was a real network of real facilities, not just pretty bike signs stuck on unimproved car-traffic-oriented streets and roads (hello Armstrong Street ! and Roosevelt Avenue … and Cambridge street !).

I cycled mostly in LePlateau, but also some in these areas: Maisonneuve, Rosemont, Mile End, the Old Port, Habitat 67, and Lachine areas. I’ll be doing it again.