bikes at St. Joseph's

A cyclist enjoys visiting St. Joseph’s Oratorio in Montreal.

Just back from a vacation in Montreal, I’ll volunteer a report about the infrastructure of that admirably bike-friendly city. Montreal is easier to traverse by bike than any city I have ever visited, and appears to have more cyclists on its roads as well. Spending four days there, my wife and I saw nearly all the major sites, visiting every neighborhood in our guidebook — and more. We never used a car, or even the Metro, but logged 110 miles on our bikes. Montreal’s bike infrastructure works for a number of inter-dependent reasons.
First, Montreal has a critical mass of bike lanes and cycle paths — you can ride almost anywhere. On an island city, nearly every bridge has a cycle track, or is used solely for bikes and pedestrians. In a bustling metropolitan center, where construction is necessary, bike routes take detours instead of being blocked. Recreational routes through parks and along canals connect to commuter routes so well that the distinction becomes artificial. City festivals have large valet parking facilities for bikes.
Second, Montreal’s bike infrastructure is well-engineered and clearly marked. Bikes are kept separate from pedestrians, and often separate from cars as well. Major bike routes have cycle paths with a curb between bikes and cars; minor routes have painted bike lanes. Following the paths and lanes is straightforward because every intersection has a sign pointing the way to continuing and connecting bike routes. Many intersections have dedicated traffic lights for bikes. Detours for construction are marked well. The long downhill on Jacques-Cartier bridge has barriers that force descending cyclists to swerve — and therefore slow to a safe speed.
Complicated intersections show evidence of particularly careful thought. Where rue Rachel crosses rue Berri, the cycle track on the west side of rue Rachel turns, continuing on the south side of rue Berri, so cyclists face the difficult maneuver of crossing every lane of auto traffic. To help, bike-specific stoplights usher them across one street, then the other. A large paved area is blocked off at the corner in between, giving cyclists a safe place to wait for the light.
Finally, the cycling experience is so much safer and more pleasant on cycle paths and bike lanes that cycling two or three blocks out of your way is worth the trouble. This further separates bikes from cars, and makes transit safer for everybody: major car thoroughfares are not major bike thoroughfares, but both sets of city arteries are extensive enough and close enough to go where people need. Optimizing every road for both cars and bikes is by definition impossible; by splitting the roads, traffic engineers can optimize for cars where necessary, and bikes everywhere else.
After all this praise for Montreal’s bike infrastructure, I have some questions, too, which I’ll address in my next an upcoming post.