Here is an editorial from today's Montreal Gazette that addresses the upcoming bicycling season. The original, with functioning links, can be seen here.
Bixi stands are reappearing on Montreal streets and soon they will be stocked with bikes.Meanwhile cyclists are pulling their own rides out of storage after a long and bitter winter and giving them a spring tune-up.
Within a matter of weeks, if not days, there will be an influx of two wheelers on Montreal roads. But as a new cycling season dawns, city infrastructure is ill-prepared to handle and accommodate the growing number of bikes.
Dangerous conditions persist in places where tragic accidents have previously occurred. The de Maisonneuve Blvd. bike lane near the new McGill University Health Centre is a complicated mess to navigate — despite years of lead time to have planned a safe trajectory. New stretches of bike path are oddly designed and potentially perilous, like an L-shaped curve in the $5.6-million part of St-Laurent Blvd. linking Mile End to Rosemont. Existing infrastructure, on de Maisonneuve or Rachel St., is clogged, overused and no longer adequate. New roads like the Rockland Rd. overpass and the transformation of Robert Bourassa Blvd. are being designed without room of bikes.
Cycling has been rising in popularity in Montreal, not just as a leisure activity, but as a way of getting to work. A recent study of 4 million commuters in the region showed that while the car is still king, active transport like cycling and walking have climbed 9 per cent, with 120,000 daily trips now being taken by bike. But in Montreal especially, Vélo Québec statistics show cycling is increasingly a preferred mode of transit with 53 per cent of cyclists in Montreal using their bikes for practical purposes in 2010, up from 25 per cent a decade earlier.
It’s not that Montreal has done nothing to give cyclists their due. Since 2008 Montreal has added 250 kilometres of bike paths — which is great, except that the city’s stated goal was supposed to be 400 km. The city unveiled plans in late 2014 to double the number of kilometres of shared and separate bike lanes on the island to 1,200 km from the current 600 km in five years. But its track record for delays or projects that don’t materialize suggests hitting this target could be an uphill climb. The problem seems to be inconsistency, a lack of will or simply resorting to excuses when the work of implementing bike lanes proves difficult.
Accommodating the legions of cyclists in the increasingly congested traffic matrix is no easy task. It shouldn’t become a competition between proponents of one mode of transport looking to displace another. Bikes and public transit should complement each other. There needs to be better coordination with cycling groups to give them input on the design of new projects. Addressing danger zones should be a priority. There is a need for bold thinking and experimentation. Why not try a pilot project giving cyclists priority and limiting traffic to residents only on some side streets? Not all the solutions need to be expensive and involve bulldozers.
The city should be supporting cycling as a means of getting around Montreal. It is both economically and ecologically friendly, part of a healthy lifestyle, a solution to gridlock and less expensive to subsidize than public transit or highways. Cycling is here to stay and it deserves proper consideration when it comes to planning and investing in Montreal’s transportation network.