Bike Paths Officiallly Closed for the Year

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.

Brébeuf bike path on Saturday, November 17

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.

11 thoughts on “Bike Paths Officiallly Closed for the Year

  1. Great post. The Decarie comparison is wonderful and the notion that these are the months where bike paths are most needed for safety is illuminating. I walked up Brébeuf the other day and even drivers are having trouble adjusting with some cars parked outside the bike lane and others parked against the curb. Very confusing. Thanks!

  2. Indeed, those road-side paths should be open year round! I was among those riding to work this week, and I do find already motorists are less friendly to cyclists as the year wears on.
    Interestingly, where I work they have bike racks in the parking garage but they are closed for the winter. I had to ask for special permission to still be allowed in there with my bike in November!
    Have you seen this bit at the Weather Network:

  3. I like the accompanying photo: a cyclist going the wrong way down the street and snaking between two rows of cars. This is just the kind of performance that scares me to death when I’m driving my car near cyclists. BTW, I’m also a cyclist, so don’t spew anti-car hatred at me.

    With reference to “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”, the reason that I don’t cycle to work is that I don’t want to be sitting at work in a pool of sweat and with slippery skin.

    1. John,

      I agree that the cyclist in the photo is riding dangerously. It is not wise to snake between parked cars as he is doing. However, what he is riding on was a relatively safe bike path just hours earlier. As I mentioned in the article, we are creatures of habit. By taking away most of the bike paths every year, before the the biking season is over, the City forces cyclists to develop new cycling routes. And some cyclists don’t manage to find very safe alternate routes.

      I understand that there are a number of reasons that prevent people from riding to work. I don’t expect 100% of the population to ride or walk to work. It is completely reasonable for you to choose another transit option because you don’t want to arrive at work all sweaty. It is, after all, rather wonderful that we all get to choose how we want to get around every day. But I believe that all options should be equally viable: that is walking, cycling, driving and public transit should all be safe and convenient. In this respect, the City has some work to do. Biking in Montreal is rarely both safe and convenient. To bike somewhere during the spring, summer and fall, I typically have to go well out of my way to stay on a protected bike path, or I can take a more direct but unsafe route along streets like Sherbrooke and Saint-Denis. In the winter, riding in this city is both unsafe and inconvenient… I think that needs to change.

      1. When I was younger, and less aware of the fragility of life, I used to cycle everywhere for fun: downtown, over the mountain, over the bridges, many miles every day wherever my fancy took me, and without wearing a helmet. Now I cycle only where there is a dedicated bike path because I fear for my safety when I’m on a bike and sharing space with vehicles. I also fear for my sanity when driving my car around cyclists because most of them blithely assume that their presumed right-of-way gives them carte blanche to endanger themselves and me. I will not drive on de Maisonneuve if my route would necessitate turning left. The average cyclist doesn’t seem to realize that he has an equal responsibility for his safety and security as do motorists. For example, if I come to a stop and carefully check my blind spots for on-coming cyclists before turning at an intersection, then the cyclists should realize that if they then appear out of nowhere and barrel through before I complete my turn then it really isn’t my fault.

  4. John,

    I completely understand your frustration when trying to make a left turn along de Maisonneuve. It is one of the most difficult maneuvers for a driver to make in Montreal. My opinion, however, is that the problem is almost entirely due to poor bike path and street design and not the behaviour of cyclists, drivers and pedestrians. It simply makes no sense to allow cyclists to ride straight through an intersection at the same time as drivers are allowed to make a left turn through cycling traffic. I advocate for new cyclist-dedicated traffic lights to be put up on de Maisonneuve. These traffic lights would separate the window in which cyclists could travel straight from when drivers could turn left.

    In the first article I wrote on this blog, I discussed this issue in great detail. You can link to the article here:

    1. I agree on the traffic lights for cyclists, and in fact I’ve suggested this in other venues, giving the lights on Dollard across from the hospital in Lasalle as an example of such lights actually being in place and operational. Unfortunately, many cyclists, myself included, view these lights as only a suggestion. The only way to get these to work on de Maisonneuve and elsewhere would be to hand out tickets.

      1. I agree conpletely. When new infrastructure is introduced, police need to have a presence to help educate users. After a few weeks, however, they have to start enforcing through the handing out of fines.

  5. I actually didn’t think that the bike lanes closing would be a big deal until I tried to go South from the Laurier bike path. Now cyclists are forced to do the same detours as cars or inevitably go the wrong way down a one-way street. I can’t tell you how many more cyclists I see going the wrong way down a one-way street since the bike paths have closed. This is a danger that could easily be avoided.

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