Montreal week – fashion mecca for bulb outs

I’m just back from a week in Montreal, and saw lots of things to inspire Ottawans to a better city.

Let’s start with bulb outs, you know, those funny little peninsulas that stick out from curb at corners and occasionally at midblock. (In the US they are called neckdowns, which reflects a motorist’s windscreen point of view…).

Ottawa prefers to pave these with concrete or brick. Ta da ! Done !  Cheap and low maintenance to boot.

Occasionally, if community groups or an alert councillor gets in early enough, we can get a tree planted on the island. And if a tree isn’t possible, it might be feasible to get an opening left for planting. Engineering staff breathes a sigh of relief if the community will supply and put in the plants. If you are really really lucky, you can get a curb put around the planting bed, which holds the dirt in, keeps (some) dogs and feet out, and reduces scalping by snowplow.

The west side neighbourhood I’m in has been particularly active in getting planters put in. But Montreal goes a whole lot further. Lets look at some pictures:


First, notice how narrow the space is between the planter and the street. Barely a foot. Not the huge setback required in Ottawa. And instead of fancy breakable bollards that look nice but are high maintenance, most Montreal ones I saw were simple vertical steel pipe set in cement. You know, that mean real business.


Notice in the picture above the variety of plant materials. Tall stuff too. And you haven’t really seen tall, yet …  (in Ottawa, people who drive must be given a huge sight triangle without any plant material distractions so that they don’t have to really slow down or take care at our intersections ).



above: for some reason Montreal drivers know not to park on planted bulbouts. In Ottawa, we feel obliged to put up signs, often at each end,  designating the planter as a no parking zone. Make no mistake, signs, as done by the city, is very very expensive.



The planter shown below had a paved spot left around the fire hydrant when the sidewalk was cut out to make the plant zone. In most other locations, the fire hydrant is left to grow with the plants without its apron of cement. You’ll spot one such example a few pictures on…




There must be lots of real dirt in these planters, because these plants were growing … like hogweed in Ottawa:




Look carefully at the picture below. Notice the bollards-that-mean-business, the nice lush planting, the improved urban amenity and sense of place… and then focus a bit on the bulb out just beyond that, behind the cyclist …




Yup, you are seeing a car-obscuring planting. Yes it reduces sight lines at the corner. And you know what? Drivers knew they had shorter sight lines and approached intersections slower and more cautiously, which means safer for people walking, shopping, biking, or being strollered.




fire hydrant alert …




If you are heading to Montreal this summer, and want to see for yourself what the latest in bulb out fashion is, head over to Gilford Street, several blocks north of Parc Lafontaine and one long block north of Mont Royal street. You can cry once you get back to Ottawa.


4 thoughts on “Montreal week – fashion mecca for bulb outs

  1. How do the salt trucks work with these, I wonder. I can only imagine that here most of the plants within a foot of the curb would be dead as highway racoons every Spring!

    1. I do intend to follow up on just that, with my sources in Montreal we will keep a close eye on the bulb outs come spring to see what survived and what did not. For new planters, some of the perennial plants were first class huge sizes, so big money is going into the planters. Maybe they just plan to treat most plantings as annuals, and if some survive the winter, bonus.

  2. Hi Eric, Just spent the weekend visiting my granddaughter in Montreal and marveled at the same things you mention. I was in Mile End and Little Italy mainly. Except for major roads like St Laurent, those bulb outs are everywhere. It’s so pleasant to walk down the street with all the greenery and the calmer road traffic.

    Other thing that caught my eye was the use of patios placed in parking spots. Not just the odd one but block after block. I know the businesses pay for the privilege (revenue source for the city) but the patios are quite attractive often made of rough hewn wood. Imagine giving priority to things like eating drinking and lounging rather than parking cars!

  3. Glad that you enjoyed Montréal! I was in London last week (

    I assume that you enjoyed an ice-cream at Kem Coba? It is strange how that place has made my neighbourhood a tourist mecca now (I have a cameo in this video: These ‘green’ spaces are relatively new, and it is far from certain if the city will be able to maintain them in the future. There are programs which encourage (and help) citizens to ‘green’ the public domain, but this requires active participation of the local population. In commercial areas, maintaining this kind of partcipation may be more problematic.

    Yes the bulb outs are nice, but they are often less than ideal for cyclists. Another thing which has changed since we launched Bixi: the recognition that bike parking can be placed on the street. The Plateau has been systematically replacing car-parking with bicycle parking, and this is a wonderful thing – now if only we could keep this parking available year-round (

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