Cycling in Montreal

Cycling in Montreal


Over the last few years, improving the quality of life of cities around the world has become a priority for many government officials and grassroots communities. A city with good living standards brings new investment, attracts companies, and promotes growth. Many factors are taken into account when analyzing urban living standards, but the bicycle infrastructure of cities around the world has turned into an important issue. There are several reasons as to why cycling is such an important part of urban life and is now an essential component of city planning and development.

In general, cycling is less time-consuming for short trips (less than 5 km) than driving a motor vehicle. The already high number of cars, increasing yearly at a much faster rate than new roads being built, has resulted in heavier traffic, which evidently reduces average speed. Bicycles have become an alternative method of transportation that is pretty efficient.

It may sound a bit corny, but cycling provides a general sense of freedom: motorists have to follow very strict rules when driving, while cyclists can have more control and independence as to where they are going.

Several studies have pointed out some of the benefits of cycling: it improves cardiovascular fitness, it helps lose weight, it enhances mental health, it reduces stress, etc., just to name a few advantages.

On top of this, it is also an inexpensive activity if it is compared to the cost of driving a car, when the high cost of gas and insurance are taken into consideration.

It is also important to mention that cycling is good for the environment, given the fact that it is a zero-emission activity.

Given the many positive aspects cited above, it should not come as a surprise the fact that Montreal has embraced cycling as part of its identity and its values. To better understand this, it is important to write about some of the history of cycling in this city. It is also necessary to describe Montreal's cycling current situation, and point out some of the implications for the future.

Brief history of cycling in Montreal

Like other parts of the world, bicycles have been around Montreal since their invention in the 19th century, but it was not until the 1970s, with the oil crisis, that cycling started to take off. New bike models started being developed and the entire bicycle industry experienced a real boom. In Montreal, the bike path infrastructure became a reality and new safety provisions for cyclists started to be taken into consideration.

By 1985, the Tour de l'Île was organized for the first time; since then, thousands of cyclists have participated every year in this event, which promotes cycling to people of all ages.

Historically, one of the values associated with Montreal includes the idea of having a city that is there to enjoy it to the fullest. And the evolution of cycling in the city went along that idea, which is rooted in its culture.

The current situation

The city has made important efforts since the mid-80s, resulting in an extensive bike path network (350 km). When compared to other North American cities, Montreal comes always on top, as it has successfully integrated cycling, not only as a recreational activity, but also as a method of transportation for daily commuters.

A good number of non-profit organizations that promote cycling (see Vélo Québec) are based in Montreal and continue making efforts to elevate its ranking as a bike-friendly city. A bicycle culture seems to be on the rise; both motorists and pedestrians have become more accustomed to bicycles, and more Montrealers are embracing the idea of cycling as a method of transportation.

The city has increased the amount of bike racks, installed new bike ramps on stairs, and allocated space in trains and buses. The number of bike paths is growing and the city makes an effort to keep lanes properly painted and on good condition.

The bicycle sharing system (Bixi) has had relative success and has even been expanded and promoted to a few other cities in the world.

Montreal's low crime rates have resulted in a positive perception of safety in cyclists, which is an important factor that often gets on the way of cycling development; for example, in other cities where less fortunate levels of crime are a major issue.

Montreal city officials are in tune with cycling development and continue developing ambitious projects that will extend beyond the current situation. Additionally, Montreal urban planners are taking into account the necessity of improving the existing bike network, while developing new ideas to integrate both motorists and cyclists.

Implications for the future

Though good efforts have been made, the existing bike infrastructure needs to be expanded. As the demand for cycling grows in Montreal, new bike paths need to be built and more streets need to be adapted to cyclists.

The fact that Montreal is on top of other North American cities is also a responsibility, because other cities are also improving their bike networks and the city needs to remain competitive with that reality.

Non-profit organizations that promote cycling in Montreal run the risk of being cut of funds from the city, given the current economic climate, which has a tendency of reducing budgets to overcome deficits. Private donations may partially help solving this situation, but Montreal residents need to understand the benefits of a city that is bike-friendly.

While Montreal motorists are getting more accustomed to cyclists, the current situation is still far from ideal. Several incidents have been reported in the news, which involve cyclists getting killed in accidents provoked by lack of signalization or agresiveness of motorists.

The existing bike racks get cluttered with bicycles and the city needs to increase the number of those, especially in places that are highly visited like certain landmarks or some metro stations. The available number of bike ramps on stairs is also limited and has to be expanded to make all areas more accessible to cyclists.

Certain bike paths have deteriorated over the years and have been practically abandoned. Though many regular streets have painted bike lanes, there are plenty of others that have no such signalization.

The Bixi bycicle sharing system is plagued with deficit and runs the risk of going out of business. In 2011, Montreal city officials had to bailout the Bixi company with a loan as high as $108M. It is necessary that the company turns into a more profitable and efficient business.

Montreal city officials need to further develop other non-tourist areas of Montreal to make them more bike friendly. Some Montreal neighborhoods do not have proper access to existing bike paths, if at all, and new residents of these areas have a hard time in learning how bike-friendly the city actually is.


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