As gas prices rise, Montreal’s cycling culture is seen as a model for the rest of the country

Montrealer Olivia Collette sold her car in 2016 and hasn’t looked back.

Collette, a communications consultant who lives in downtown Montreal, said it’s not only saved her money, but it’s often more fun to get around on a bike, a car-sharing service, or a transit pass.

“When it’s sunny and warm it’s really pleasant,” Collette said of her bike commute. “It’s a very pleasant way to get from A to B.”

Collette said that while it’s not difficult to get around Montreal without a personal vehicle, she’s not sure it would be as easy in many other Canadian cities. And with the rising cost of gasoline and new vehicles, urban transportation experts say the rest of Canada should look to Montreal for lessons on how to boost cycling culture.

Stein van Oosteren, spokesperson for a Paris-based cycling association, says the time is right for Canadian cities to make big gains in changing the way people move.

Van Oosteren, who grew up in the Netherlands before moving to France, said the rise of bicycles in both countries was partly caused by high gas prices.

At the beginning of the 1970s, “The Netherlands was just like Canada today: a car-centric country, where the car was the basis of transport, and it was very unpleasant and dangerous to travel by bicycle,” said Van Oosteren, who is speaking in Montreal this week at the Go vélo cycling festival.

That began to change as a result of a safer streets campaign launched following the death of a six-year-old girl who was hit by a car and gas shortages caused by the 1973 oil crisis.

“The government, under pressure from both citizens who wanted liveable cities and the real problem of gas shortages that we had in the Netherlands, decided to promote cycling,” he said.

In France, bicycles started gaining popularity in 2018, when a tax hike pushed the price of gas to nearly $3 a liter, he said. In Paris, that growth continued as the local government quickly built temporary bike lanes in 2020 to encourage people to enjoy the outdoors at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. Many of those paths have become permanent.

“This has created a whole generation of cyclists who travel by bicycle these days, and once this critical mass exists, it will attract others,” said Van Oosteren.

Montreal, he said, is a bicycle leader in North America — mainly because of the city’s focus on building a contiguous network of bike paths that are protected from the rest of the street. The protected lanes attract a wide range of users because the infrastructure increases the sense of safety for cyclists.

In North America, most bike rides are taken by experienced cyclists, said Owen Waygood, professor of transportation engineering at Polytechnique Montréal. A safer infrastructure, he says, will attract more women, the elderly and children.

“Montreal has great leadership in that regard,” he said.

Bicycle counters — automated sensors that detect and count passing cyclists — indicate an increase in users on new routes that are part of the city’s “express” bike path network, the Réseau express vélo, Waygood said. The city began construction on the REV in 2020.

About 2,000 cyclists a day, he said, use a recently constructed bike path on St-Denis Street, a major thoroughfare in Montreal’s urban core. “There are days when it’s 8,000, which is impressive.”

But hard data can be difficult to obtain. The county government conducts a travel survey every five years, but Waygood said the survey captures a limited snapshot and is usually done in the fall season — when there are fewer cyclists compared to spring and summer. There is no Canada-wide survey that would allow for comparisons between different cities, he added.

Statistics Canada collects data on Canadians’ daily commute, but the most recent public data from the Federal Statistics Office is from 2016. It indicates that Vancouver and Victoria cycle more than Montreal, which Waygood says makes sense given the milder year. around again.

Ry Shissler, the communications manager for Cycle Toronto, a charity that promotes cycling culture, said his organization ranks Victoria, Vancouver and Montreal higher than Toronto in encouraging cycling. While Toronto is flatter than Montreal and has somewhat warmer weather, Shissler said Montreal has built better cycling infrastructure.

“We just don’t have the same kind of network that makes people feel comfortable on the bike,” Shissler said.

However, Toronto will keep its bike-sharing system operational year-round, while Montreal will pack its bike system — dubbed BIXI — for the winter.

Stephen Miller, spokesperson for Transit, a mobile application for planning public transit journeys, said people can move around Montreal largely without a car because of the city’s high-quality public transit network.

Transportation projects started in Montreal have been exported internationally, he said, such as the Communauto car-sharing service, which can be found across Canada and France. The technology used in the BIXI system, originally developed by a company owned by the City of Montreal, has since been exported to cities around the world, including Toronto, New York City and London.

“Montreal benefits from a culture focused on innovation in public transportation and public transportation,” said Miller.

Collette, who said she sometimes goes months without a car, said there are now rush hours on Montreal’s bike lanes, but she said it’s much less stressful than being stuck in traffic.

“If I had a car, I would have to pay for parking; I should move it all the time; I would still pay to have the car even if I wasn’t using it,” she said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 4, 2022.

Leave a Comment