Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I arrived in Montreal on Tuesday evening after a 12 hour train ride from NYC. For the third time this week, my Amtrak train was delayed at least 3 hours. But I made it to the cultural center and capitol of French Canada eventually, schlepped my stuff onto the metro, and then a connecting bus out to the North Montreal suburbs where my friends Marianne and Richard Dugas live along with their sweet kids Maxim and Celeste. They were so nice to host me, considering Richard only met me for 10 minutes at a bike educators conference last year in NYC.
For the last three days I’ve been exploring Montreal by bicycle, which has been incredible. I shipped my touring bike to Richard’s house and put it together out of the box the first day I was here. Such a feeling of freedom to be riding around on it again. Poor thing has been stuck in a box since I returned from Vietnam….
I am sitting at an outdoor cafe in the Marche Jean-Talon, a beautiful outdoor market in the hip area of Montreal known as the “Plateau.” There is an amazing spread of fresh produce and any food you could possibly want.
While in Montreal, I visited Velogik, a great organization that Richard runs. The program trains disadvantaged youth, aged 16-30, to assemble and repair bicycles, to pass this knowledge on to younger kids in elementary school, while also teaching kids about climate change, and other environmental ills resulting from car dependence. Like the program Recycle-a-Bicycle in NYC, the kids can build a bike for themselves, which many of them would be unable to afford otherwise. The 10 or so young people who are hired by the program, while being trained by Richard, assemble and repair bikes that are later sold as bike fleets for Montreal area companies. What a great formula for job training and environmental education, by pairing environmental education with the means to actually do something positive about our grim situation. As someone said, sentiment without action will destroy the soul (or something like that).
Velogik is (partially) funded by the Quebecois government, and deserves to expand, not only in Montreal, but in all cities across North America, and the world!
As you can see from the photo above, most bike lanes in Montreal are actually on-street, two way bike paths, which isn’t quite as disastrous as I thought it would be at first. It seems to work if both drivers and cyclists are aware of the conflict, yet I did see many near misses, and hear about numerous collisions at the complex intersections created by these sidepath facilities. John Forester would spin in his grave (oh sorry John you’re not dead yet are you?). Despite the potential safety risks, carving out car free space, separated from the road by a curb or bollards (European style) seems to have encouraged a whole lot of people out on their bikes (which in and of itself has improved safety for all citizens). There needs to be a thoughtful analysis of the benefits and drawbacks of these type of facilities, and I doubt they can be successfully introduced singly as a trial without causing a lot of collisions.
Despite the number of cyclists, and innovative bikeway designs, Montreal like most other big cities is plagued by insufficient accommodations for bikes, impatient drivers, and car-oriented sprawl. Yet there is a delightful network of greenways along canals, the St. Lawrence River, and some streets, and there are many many cyclists here who enjoy these routes.
I am boarding the freighter Malaga on Sunday afternoon, and it will likely depart from port Tuesday morning at about 6am.
Critical Mass Montreal is tonight and I am looking forward to that. It is such a beautiful day I can no longer sit here typing on the computer. I must go ride around! I will write more when time allows. Au Revoir, mes amis!