Nothing gets Torontonians riled up like a good ol’ comparison to Montreal. (Is this rivalry even real?) But when we’re looking at how Toronto is progressing as a cycling city, perhaps it is fairer to compare it to Montreal than, say, Copenhagen or Amsterdam, both of which are pretty advanced in terms of their cycling infrastructure (not to mention a long history of an urban cycling culture). As far as Canada is concerned, Montreal is leading the pack.
Montreal is a good comparison to Toronto because the two cities share many of the same physical and geographical characteristics that are relevant to cycling: namely, long, cold and snowy winters, and hills. So, if Montreal can develop a good cycling infrastructure with these ‘impediments’, then so can Toronto.
In Montreal’s 2008 Transportation Plan, they set out proposals for improving their bike path system and cycling infrastructure.
The present system contains nearly 400 km of bike paths. It will double in size to 800 km within seven years.
In 2007, Montreal built a physically separated, right of way bike lane on Boulevard De Maisonneuve, which is right in the downtown. Here is a mock up picture from the Transportation Plan:
And another photo of the real thing:
Cyclists have the right of way over cars on the road, and Montreal has even started using bicycle traffic lights.
Within Montreal’s bike network, the city explicitly recognizes physically separated bike lanes. With the example of the Boulevard De Maisonneuve bike lane, the city showed how to build a safe bike lane on a major downtown road. In the Transportation plan, the city explains:
Bike paths with their own rights-of-way are completely isolated from vehicular traffic and primarily located in parks. On-street bike paths are physically separated from other lanes of traffic and thus provide greater safety for more vulnerable groups of riders (children, seniors and families).
Not only this, but Montreal recently embarked upon North America’s first large scale bike share program with the introduction of the BIXI (bike taxi) system. According to the New York Times, it is the continent’s “most ambitious bike share program”. This bike share program is designed for short distance bike rides, with 400 bike stations set up across the city, making available 5000 bikes. Take a look at this video for more on Montreal’s BIXI bike share system:
So, there you have it. Montreal is up to no good. I plan to do a little more digging to see what I can find out about how Montreal is managing to do an excellent job upgrading its cycling infrastructure. And, what lessons can be learned for Toronto.