Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Gazette reports on the delayed-opening of Montreal bike paths

The Montreal Gazette newspaper writes today about the delayed opening of Montreal bike paths. Cyclists are not too happy about this "we're delaying the opening so we can serve you better" little trick the municipal government is pulling on it's tax-paying and bike-path-supporting citizens.

Cyclists eager for all-clear
Season's snowfall clogs city network

The Gazette

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Chris Johnson sat aboard his high-end mountain bike in the late-afternoon sun on Monday, surveyed the wonders of the Lachine Canal before him, and sighed.

Acres of snow for as far as the eye could see blanketed the bicycle path, transforming the 11-kilometre paradise for two-wheelers into a haven for snowshoers instead.

"It's annoying," said the 34-year-old software engineer, who uses the path regularly when it's feasible to commute the five kilometres from his Verdun home to his Old Montreal workplace.

"There are a lot of hardcore bicyclists who would use this path all year if they cleared it. One pass with a little sidewalk cleaner is all it would take, and they would reap a huge return."

When it comes to running Montreal's bike path network, the city is in a bit of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't dilemma.

The four-kilometre, $3.5-million de Maisonneuve bike path from Berri St. to Green Ave. was opened to great fanfare on Nov. 1, just as the first of the season's nine major snowstorms was getting ready to hit. It was impassable for most of the winter.

When a well-intentioned but misguided city worker cleared it during one of the first storms, the city received holy hell from Montrealers who pointed out their aged mothers couldn't even walk the sidewalks, so why waste resources on a path used mainly by deranged bicycle couriers?

Then, within hours of the first spring-like weather of the season, people are already complaining the bike paths aren't cleared yet.

"You have to remember that only 15 days ago we were still clearing snow from the last storm," said André Lavallée, the city's executive committee member in charge of transportation.

The entire bike-path network has been officially opened on April 1 for the last three years, but this year's winter, which saw the most snow since 1970-71, has pushed that date back to April 15. The city needs time to clean the paths and repaint lines, Lavallée said.

Bike paths are supposed to be cleared, but only when priority areas like hospitals and main arteries have been taken care of, he said.

Westmount has decided it will keep its portion of the de Maisonneuve bike path officially open from April 15 to Nov. 15.

"I have yet to be convinced that in the kinds of winters we have, it is really an option for an important number of people," said Mayor Karin Marks. Westmount tends to keep the bike path in its municipality clear anyway, resources permitting.

Many of the city's bike paths are already unofficially open and hosting a growing number of pleased-looking commuters. The bike path on the Jacques Cartier Bridge opens today.

Parks Canada is responsible for the Lachine Canal "multi-purpose path," which it calls the most popular path in Canada, with one million visits a year. The organization couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.

Rated the top cycling city in North America by a respected U.S. bicycling magazine in 1999, Montreal and its 400 kilometres of paths have lost ground to cities like Toronto and Vancouver of late, a slip Lavallée blames on the previous administration, which he said spent only $24,000 on bike paths between 1994-2001.

The current administration is pledging to inject $30 million over the coming five to seven years to add another 400 kilometres of paths. Many of the paths will be of the "lines in the road" variety, which Lavallée said are effective at encouraging biking.

They're sometimes criticized as dangerous, however, because they lack physical barriers between car and bike.

But Patrick Howe, of the bicycling advocacy group Vélo Québec, said riders who use them often are comfortable with them. Sunday riders and families should stick to easier trails and parks, he suggests.

Vélo Québec and the province were recently honoured for Quebec's 4,000-kilometre bike trail network, la Route verte, which was voted one of the Top 10 cycling destinations in the world by the National Geographic Society.

Vélo Quebec is positive about recent moves by the city, but would like to see more.

Lavallée promised major announcements in the next two weeks that will pave the way to a more bike-friendly metropolis.

"Look at Paris (which is undergoing a cycling revolution), where they use the same types of incentives," he said.

"Seven years ago, nobody rode bikes in Paris. You have to change the mindsets."


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