I recently took eight German transportation engineering students on a bike tour through Montreal. They study in Karlsruhe – a city known in bike-friendly Germany as particularly great for biking. I understand that roughly one-quarter of all commuting trips are completed by bike in Karsruhe – that’s about ten times the mode share on the Island of Montreal. Our group biked through Outremont, Plateau Mont-Royal and downtown. I pointed out some of the best and worst cycling infrastructure in the city. The tour was not just informative for the German students, but for me as well. I was asked good questions, many concerning cycling laws, and I learned about similar laws in Germany. One question that struck me as relevant for the tour was whether or not cyclists are allowed to ride side-by-side. One of the students wanted to ask me some questions while we rode along a low-volume residential street and he was not sure if he was allowed to ride next to me. I wasn’t completely sure if it was explicitly prohibited or not; I told him that on certain local roads, cycling side-by-side seemed to be tolerated but that it was probably not allowed. Our bike lanes are never made wide enough to ride two abreast, so I figured that riding side-by-side is neither designed for nor allowed. In Karsruhe, the student explained, it is allowed. After a little research, my assumption was validated – cycling two abreast in Montreal is forbidden. If caught, it comes with a $37 fine (I assume that the fine can be administered to each person). To my surprise, the law also stipulates that cyclists are not allowed to ride in groups of more than 15 cyclists. Cycling side-by-side should be allowed on any road where it can be done safely and so long as both cyclists keep to the same vehicular lane. There are many reasons to allow side-by-side cycling. Firstly, riding side-by-side increases cyclist visibility. Secondly, it makes it more difficult for vehicles to overtake cyclists using the same lane as the cyclist, a manoeuvre that is both uncomfortable and unsafe for the cyclist. Lastly, cycling two abreast is practical. When we drive or walk, we prefer traveling side-by-side so that we can discuss where we are going, what we are planning on doing next, or just to chat. Cyclist preferences are no different. Cycling in single file offers the same practicality (and opportunity for discussion) as being two in a car with both people on the driver’s side, or walking in single file. The City of Toronto has a much more nuanced explanation on the rules concerning riding side-by-side (the rules actually come from the Ontario Highway Traffic Act). In a nutshell – riding side-by-side is permitted wherever vehicles have safe passage to pass cyclists riding side-by-side.
The Province of Québec and the City of Montréal would benefit from taking this page out of Ontario’s playbook.