The weather over the last week has been perfect for cycling. Even in mid-November, people have been biking all over town. Despite all the cyclists on the road, last week most of Montreal’s bike paths were closed and they will remain that way until next spring.
The bollards (those green vertical posts) that separate the bike path from the rest of the road were removed from Brébeuf, the bike path I frequently use, last Friday. Within hours, cars were double parked along the left side of the street, some in the middle of the former path, others next to it. The street had instantaneously lost one of its great assets.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Brébeuf bike path, it is a major north-south connection on the Island of Montreal for commuter cyclists and cycle-tourists and it is part of Québec’s Route verte network. The Brébeuf path may be the most used path in North America: its average cycling volume during the peak biking season stands at about 8000 trips per day and on a reasonably dry day in November several thousand cyclists continue to use it.
This important link in the cycling network arbitrarily closes on November 15th and only re-opens on April 1st. For four and a half months of the year, this well-used link, a key part of the cycling network, ceases to exist! I have heard drivers describe how incensed with anger they were when they found, late on a Friday, the Ville-Marie Expressway to be closed for the night due to road repair. They had to take René Lévesque home and it added five minutes to the trip. What a travesty. I’m curious to know how drivers would feel if the Décarie Expressway were closed four months of the year? Cyclists grow to depend on the bike network in the same way that drivers depend on their network. We are creatures of habit: most cyclists take the same route to get to work or school every single day. However, as of November 15th, that previous route is no longer an option.
The sad irony is that the bike paths in Montréal are closed at exactly the time that cyclists need them most. November and December weather is often conducive to cycling: the cool weather can be perfect for the morning and evening commute. However, early nightfall and slippery roads can make cycling on roads shared with drivers that much more dangerous. Unfortunately, between November 15th and April 1st, when cycling is most dangerous, cyclists are forced to share the road with drivers.
I think that one of the major reasons that keeps most Montrealers from becoming regular commuter cyclists is that cycling is not a year-round transportation option. But it could be! Sure, there are about a dozen days in the winter when a fresh snowfall precludes people from getting around on two wheels, but the vast majority of days in the fall, winter and spring are perfectly bikeable. For Montreal to become a year-round cycling city, with the cyclist numbers seen in Copenhagen, the City needs to take its cycling network more seriously. Specifically, the City needs to provide a complete, year-round network with priority snow removal during the winter months, like in Copenhagen.