During a trip to Montreal this summer I learned that the term ‘rush hour’ takes on a different meaning in Montreal. If you are cycling in Montreal at 5 p.m. on a weekday, prepare yourself, because you will be part of ‘cycling rush hour’ on the bike paths. Nominated as the only Canadian city in the top twenty of the Copenhagen Index of Bicycle-friendly Cities (Mineapolis is the other North American winner, ringing in at #18), Montreal seems to have everything going for it: great cycling events, and a good network of separated bike lanes and recreational cycling paths that are cleared of snow in the winter.
While the City of Montreal has put a great deal of time, effort and money into cycling infrastructure, this summer I witnessed how community-based organizations and citizens themselves are making a difference for cycling in the city.
Vélo Québec is the driving force behind many of the good things that are happening for cyclists in Québec. Championing programs such as la rue pour tous (the road is for everyone) and Opération Boulot-Vélo (Operation Bike to Work), offering conferences, events and cycling workshops that teach citizens riding techniques and repair skills, “Montreal has nine hundred thousand cyclists,” Vélo Québec staffer Suzanne Lareau tells me, referring to stats collected during a 2010 survey on the state of cycling in Quebec. “Fifty-two percent of Quebecois cycle,” Suzanne continues, detailing the results of 30+ years of Vélo Québec cycling programming and lobbying.
Cycling in Montreal at rush hour felt like I was cycling alongside all of these Quebecois at once! Even though there are 650 km of bike paths and bike lanes, and 30 km more added each year, it’s clear that the demand is outstripping the supply. “The more kilometers of bike paths that you have, the more cyclists you have,” Suzanne says.
For city planners and health promoters, this is a great problem to have.
Community-based bike shops
“It’s the community-based bike shops that are making the difference,” commented Jason, an employee at the Vélo Québec shop and café in the Plateau neighborhood, when I asked him what made Montreal such a great place to ride a bike.
Community-based bike shops are all over Montreal and are mostly run by volunteers. For a small annual fee (some shops have free access), citizens have access to bike tools, inexpensive bike parts, and advice and workshops to teach people how to fix their own bikes.
Many of the community-based shops are based at university campuses, such as BQAM, which operates out of the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM), or run by community organizations such as SantroVélo in Montreal’s Plateau neighborhood. The centres are mostly staffed by volunteers, so operating hours depend on the volunteer availability. All of the community-based bike shops promote each other, and all promote safe cycling.
Citizens who use cycling infrastructure, and who care!
Unfortunately, while in Montreal this summer I had a flat tire on the only day of the week when the community-based bike shops were closed!
“Oh tu as un flat!” (you have a flat tire) commented a woman on the street, stopping to ask why I was walking my bike. Two more people joined our five-minute conversation, during which I was informed about the closest bike shopand the best way to get there, and also an offered the use of a bike pump to see if my tire was just out of air, and not indeed ‘un flat’.
A few moments later I was off to the closest bike shop, Bicycletterie JR Cyclery, located along one of the bike paths on rue Rachel. The staff at Bicycletterie JR were excellent: kind, fast and efficient. The Bicyletterie is clearly a bike hub in the neighbourhood, humming with activity. While I waited I witnessed tourists returning rental bikes, people buying new bikes, and still others dropping off or picking up their bikes for repairs.
I left the shop and was on my way on the bike paths, slipping into the stream of cyclists like a fish joining a school.
Vélo Québec http://www.velo.qc.ca/en/Home
Montreal Community Bike Shops http://www.velo.qc.ca/transport-actif/ABC-du-transport-actif-/Ateliers-communautaires
Montreal Tourism http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/
Montreal Tourism’s bike links http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/Travel-Information/Getting-Around-Montreal (including downloadable bike maps and transit information)