Friday, September 29, 2023

Montreal makes bicycling look easy

Colorful bicycle in a garden.
Useful and colorful, bicycles enhance Montreal, Canada.

 It is wonderful to see a city on two wheels. My wife and I were impressed and inspired by seeing bicycling in Montreal, Canada during our recent visit. 

Not that we bicycled, unfortunately. The rental bikes available didn't fit the timing and energy we had available. 

But we walked many city streets and parks, observing the wonderful provisions Montreal has made for bicycle traffic. 

Two things immediately come to mind. 

Separate paths for bikers and walkers.
Montreal gives walkers, bikers and drivers separate lanes.

First, "Montreal" is named for Mount Royal, a no-kidding mountain right in the middle of the city. Mountains are not generally considered conducive to leisure or commuter bicycling. 

Second, snow. Montreal is in Canada. More than six feet of snow falls on Montreal in winter.

But no! Montreal's bicycling website advises that 445 miles of bike paths are useable in winter.

In fact, the dedicated bike paths are likely to be cleared of snow before the sidewalks. This is so obvious to residents that it's a recognized urban myth that Montreal deliberately clears the bike paths before it clears sidewalks.

Plantings line downtown bike lane.
Who says a city bike lane has to be ugly?

Not so, the website insists. Bike paths are useable before sidewalks simply because they are easier to clear: no garbage containers or planters to jockey around in the bike lanes. The sun helps too: asphalt bike lanes warm more quickly than concrete sidewalks.

There's no melting Mount Royal, however. Instead, Montreal's system of bike paths exploits the flat streets running around the mountain. There are bike paths on the mountain; you can take your bike on the Metro to reach them.

If you really want to bicycle up, there is the Chemin Olmsted, a four-mile-long gravel path shared with pedestrians that is said to be useable by even skinny-tired bikes. The Internet claims that switchbacks make this an easy climb but I have my doubts.

Stop light for bicycles.
Stop light for bicycles.

Montreal is working on what it calls an "Express Bike Network" of paths separated from automotive traffic lanes. It will make bicycling safer, connect points of interests, enable long-distance travel and even provide enough room for go-faster cyclists to pass.

It's impressive.

Bicycles forbidden sign.
You know you have a biking society when you see this sign.

Repair stand for bicycles.
An elaborate repair stand for your bicycle.

Line up of parked motorcycles.
Parking is at a premium but Montreal makes room for motorcycles.

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