The Bike Path of Champions

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“I am now betting this bike path will change radically the lifestyle and quality of life of many Montrealers.”
– André Lavallée, member of Montreal’s executive committee, quoted in the Montreal Gazette, November 7, 2007

“It could turn downtown into a ghost town.”
– Sal Parasuco, retailer, quoted in the Montreal Gazette, September 10, 2007

« Assez vite aussi, j’ai eu l’impression que ce que ces flèches au sol disaient au fond aux cyclistes, c’est ” Par ici, la mort “. »
– Rima Elkouri, columnist in La Presse, September 20, 2007, on the St. Urbain bike lane

According to the United Nations, it was this year that the world became a place more populated by city dwellers than country folk. Today’s world is an increasingly urban place.

Of course, cities are inherently complicated, layered entities. More than their inhabitants, more than their buildings, people have over time built themselves a vast transportation infrastructure to connect themselves to each other – these may be streets, of course, but also include underground metro systems, freeways, maglev trains. Indeed, cities around the world are defined by elements of their transportation systems: what is Paris without the Champs-Elysées, or London without its Tube, or San Francisco without its trolley lines?

It is clear to me, as it must be to the vast majority of Urbanphoto readers, that the Montreal of only ten years hence will bear the imprint of, and perhaps be wholly defined by, what is perhaps the most important transportation development in the Western world of the twenty-first century: the de Maisonneuve Bike Path.

The technical mastery that went into the de Maisonneuve Bike Path (dMBP) is by now well-acknowledged. A sophisticated raised median effectively prevents all car traffic from interfering with bikes, instantly vapourizing any potentially infringing automobiles. The well-known long-standing tradition of Canadian engineering excellence has translated into a construction period free of any hiccups or, say, structural faults. Rarely has any roadway project of this enormous magnitude moved so smoothly.

Far from resenting such a sea change in Montreal transportation, Montrealers have lauded the dMBP almost universally. One passerby wrote “mal conçu” on a sign advertising the city’s investment, but I don’t speak French so I can only assume that this means something like “markedly contributing” or “mostly commendable,” or maybe “Metro collapsing.”

Montrealers have graciously accepted that the dMBP is itself directly responsible for massive debts and late commuter trains, and may even cause Montreal to be abandoned altogether. Also, it will induce enormous smog clouds as well as something about Bosnia.

It’s all for the sake of progress, though, since this bike path will revolutionize everything. Soon Montreal will have as many bikes on the ground as Beijing. (Actually, I’m having trouble telling whether this last one is earnest or satire.)

Even West Islanders, often an ornery bunch, have graciously accepted – nay, lauded – the dMBP; this is all the more surprising when one considers that the dMBP has recently been the single factor preventing them from having their non-Montreal roads plowed during a number of recent snowstorms. In fact, the list of atrocities committed personally by the dMBP against West Islanders is large and growing, including at least 20 delayed planes at Dorval Airport, a number of suspicious school closures, and a strange, very localized acid rain corresponding to the exact municipal borders of Pointe-Claire.

Yet, for the most part, Montreal Island inhabitants have scarcely engaged in any pettiness or finger-pointing. Across Greater Montreal, citizens have banded together into groups like “les Amis de la piste cyclable du boulevard de Maisonneuve,” with the stated aim of protecting the bike path from any potential dangers, whether in the form of irked Westmount commissioners, conspiring free-market anti-tax groups, or otherwise perplexed bloggers.

Still, not all are satisfied by such a revolution in transit. High bike path-induced tensions recently came to a head during what we will surely soon refer to as the Bike Path Riots of 2007: crossing traditional barriers of language and ethnicity, supporters and opponents of the dMBP clashed at the corner of de Maisonneuve and Guy streets, shouting slogans, ringing bells, and pelting their rivals with inner tubes, wrenches, and back copies of the Gazette – not to mention pressurized air from motorized pumps. Ironically, the area was not passable by bikes during that period; fearful of involving themselves in the violence, many bikers instead took long, circuitous routes through Outremont, St. Henri, or Ottawa.

Despite this hiccup, however, the de Maisonneuve Bike Path is a truly transformative piece of infrastructure that just might revolutionize how we view cities. Spurred on by what is certainly an immense success, transit officials have set their sights on another important corridor potentially ready for a bike path: the Autoroute Métropolitaine.

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Photos by Christopher DeWolf

This entry was written by Sam Imberman , posted on Wednesday January 16 2008at 05:01 pm , filed under Canada, Politics, Transportation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

8 Responses to “The Bike Path of Champions”

  • Jimmy Zoubris says:

    Nice piece. I am glad you mention St. Urbain street. That bike path has to be almost as stupid as putting a bike path on Park Avenue.
    Most of the bike paths/trails we have are fantastic. I even like the one on Rachel that goes right to Jeanne Mance/Mont Royal Park. Yet most hardcore bike riders who use this path tell me it is extremly dangerous. Shows you how much I know. I’m like alot of the bureaucrats or city councillors who like how an idea looks on paper yet have no idea how practicl it is.
    The dMBP cost 2 million dollars and nearly brought down the metro system. The city took away 200 + parking spaces and did nothing to replace them.
    Most couriers and delivery trucks (a task I did for many years), use de Maissonneuve to get around. How will this affect them ?
    I love the fact that Montreal is years ahead of other major cities in many areas. BUT at some point we have to slow down and make sure it is the right decision. Montreal (city council) is committed to increasing and improving public transport. It is committed to improving green spaces and to putting up an innovative bike path across the island.
    For now St. Urbain is my vote for worst bike path. The jury is still out on dMBP.
    Maybe they should put a bike path on the Metropolitan. OhOh, I hope city hall doesn’t read this blog. They might figure they can get one more vote if they follow my idea.

  • Zvi says:

    Jimmy,

    I guess that you are not a cyclist, so you do not see the road in the same way that we do. From my point of view, the St. Urbain bike path is perhaps the best one in the city! It took virtually nothing away from cars (and may even help the buses run faster), causes no additional confusion to anyone, and yet allows bicyclists to get through traffic so much easier. True de Maisonneuve has quite a bit of traffic as well, but it rarely is moving as fast as on St. Urbain and I never had any problem there. In my opinion, the dMBP was completely unnecessary. In fact, I worry that it may even take resources and momentum away from other axis which had far more potential (for example, Cote St. Catherine from the mountain over to Snowdon and beyond).

    As an urban bicyclist, I do not love physically separated bike-ways (at least not way they are done here). They create awkward situations whenever there are crossing movements, and they are more than doubly bad when they are bi-directional because the number of potential ‘conflicts’ increases exponentially with the possible number of turning movements (can you tell that I am a transportation planner?).

    Anyway, nice attempt at satire!

  • Jimmy Zoubris says:

    I am not a “consistant” cyclist.
    We do agree that those seperated bike paths with two directions seem to be ‘conflictual’. I guess that seems to be the problem with the path on Rachel.
    I take St. Urbain everyday from around 5 pm to 7 pm and I rarely see cyclists on it. I have asked a number of ‘fanatical hardcore’ (or as you say urban)cyclists about it and they tell me the same answer, it is too dangerous unless you really have to take it.
    For me, the bike paths have to be safe in order to be successful and therefore utilized to their full potential. I understand that St. Urbain bike path serves a purpose for those who need to go downtown but it ends there. I wouldn’t take my kids for a ride on St. Urbain so we could go to the mountain. I would take some other route where they would be out of the way of fast traffic.
    Now on another subject….as a transportation planner, maybe we can talk one day about how these bike paths and reserved lanes become acquired rights and only acts of god can move them. If the dMBK is a bad idea (jury is still out), would anyone have the _______ to reverse this decision ? I use as an example the reserved bus lane on Park as an example! I will debate, (as I have in the past many times), anyone, anywhere who can tell me this was a good idea. All I ever get as a response is …we are committed to public transportation !
    Anyways, that was my frustration coming through….not for this blog today.

  • Zvi says:

    Hi Jimmy,

    I don’t take St. Urbain too often (I work on the other side of the mountain), but when I do it is always in the morning and there seems to be a decent number of other cyclists. There are no ‘direct’ bicycle routes from Mile End to downtown, so this path does serve a need.

    I am not a ‘practicing’ planner (I work for a software company), and you probably know as much about the politics of things as I do. As for ‘reversing’ previous decisions – how many people do you know who like to admit that they were wrong? If a bike lane is only painted on like on St. Urbain, then it just takes one season of not repainting to “make it go away”.

    What is the problem with the reserved bus lane on Parc?

  • Jimmy Zoubris says:

    Too many problems to mention. It was a disaster from the beginning.
    It was such a mistake that Mayor Dore (who first installed it), Bourque, Helen Fotopoulos had promised to remove it when elected or re-elected. All this in written promises.
    Unfortunately this promise has become like the Liberal promise to remove the GST. Once we get used to something we accept it.
    I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to discuss it one day. In fact I am sure the media will bring it up again now that Mayor Tremblay wants to re-install the reserved bus lane for Pie IX.

  • Patrick Donovan says:

    It’s a shame this new bike lane seems to be giving bike lanes a bad name. Personally, I would have loved an east-west bike path linking the Plateau to Concordia as an undergrad – I never really felt safe on Sherbrooke. The deMaisonneuve link seemed like a good idea, but perhaps would have worked better without the kerb to screw things up for the clearing crews… Still, can’t say I’m a fan of the “painted-line-on-the-street” bike paths, which don’t do much to secure cyclists from car traffic. Copenhagen had bike paths on extended elevated sidewalks, which may be a better way of isolating cyclists from car traffic by putting them level with pedestrians. I’m not a city planner but would like to see bike paths that work.

    As for losing 200 parking places, can’t say that’s a bad thing if the city is aiming for sustainable development and reducing the amount of solo drivers in private cars on the island. The fact that Montreal is planning to inject billions in public & active transportation makes the reduction of parking places a workable scenario. There’s bound to be increased traffic and frustration for a while, there always an adaptation period, but people will eventually revert to other solutions. I wish Quebec City had as much long-term vision.

  • […] provides a great (if hugely biased in favour of smart, thoughtful people) overview of the de Maisonneuve Bike Path. […]

  • […] provides a great (if hugely biased in favour of smart, thoughtful people) overview of the de Maisonneuve Bike Path. […]