Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pont Jacques Cartier bridge - Links to Montreal and Longueuil Bike Paths - Major Improvements Needed

You would assume that the bike path/sidewalk on the Pont Jacques Cartier bridge (PJC) is linked to bike paths on either side of the St-Laurence river.

You'd be half right.

But, as my teachers used to say, there's room for improvement. In this case, LOTS of room for improvement.

Let's start with the Montreal side of the bridge. The bridge is connected to the Rene Levesque bike path, near the radio-canada/cbc building. (Note - all discussion refers to the western sidewalk on the bridge). But what about other directions, are there logical and clear links to other popular nearby bike paths?

For anyone coming from another direction, including the very popular and populated Plateau Mont Royal area (the Rachel bike path and the Berri-Cherrier-Brebeuf bike path at Parc Lafontaine is going to have to look long and hard to find directions to the Pont Jaques Cartier. In fact these directions and links don't exist. This despite the bridge being less than one mile from the nerve centre of Quebec Cycling at the Maison de Velo home of Velo Quebec, at the intersection of the Rachel and axis north bike paths.

For the record, to get to the Pont Jacques Cartier bridge, From Sherbrooke street go south on Champlain at east side of Hopital Notre Dame (NOTE: for access from Rachel bike path, you need to know that north of rue Sherbrooke, rue Champlain is named Marquette). GO south past rue Ontario, to Lafontaine street (yes, this is confusing), turn left (east) and you arrive at Papineau, which you must cross to get to the entrance to the PJC bridge bike path/sidewalk.

Crossing Papineau is a two-step process, first cross Papineau to the traffic island, then wait ten minutes for the car-first street light to give you the 20 second crosswalk priority light to cross the north-direction traffic (essentially this is a high traffic access street to PJC bridge). THen you are on the bumpiest sidewalk in Montreal for a couple of hundred metres and you arrive, alive and surviving the Papineau challenge, at the bridge.

Recommendation #1 - Paint bike route markings on the street and install signage to link the Rachel bike path and the Cherrier section of the north/south bike path Axis to the Champlain street/Lafontaine street access to the Pont Jacques Bridge.

Recommendation #2 - build a bike/pedestrian access overpass/bridge across Papineau to connect Lafontaine street to the sidewalk access of the Pont Jacques Cartier bridge.

Once you finally reach it, the sidewalk/bike path on the Pont Jacques Cartier bridge is a glorious, amazing thing. It remains one of the great success stories of Montreal cycling infrasturcture. It's 8 feet wide, and has incredible views of Montreal's downtown and Mont Royal park mountain backdrop.

The sidewalk also has the jail-like cage nature of a prison due to an anti-suicide barrier fence that was installed "after-the-fact" of the sidewalk reconstruction. I don't have a problem with taking action to stop bridge jumpers, I once saw a man lying dead on the ground under the bridge, and this shocking sight would make anyone think there must be a way to stop people from suicide.

Happily, crossing the bridge on bicycle is a uniformly excellent experience. The views are great!

The bridge crosses, and provides access to, the prime recreational real estate of Parc Jean Drapeau. This area was the Expo 67 site - the islands of Ile Ste-Helene and Ile Notre Dame. The bridge continues over the St-Laurence Seaway, and it touches ground again on the south shore. This is where the next (few) problems lie.

If you want to understand what the bridge sidewalk was like before the new, wider reconstruction, ariving back on land provides stark evidence. The sidewalk goes from the wide and safe, with room for multiple users (i.e. bikes in two directions plus pedestrians) to exactly 1.5 bikes wide, yes, 4 feet wide. One bike must stop to permit the other bike to pass.

What's going on here? Did they just, oh, forget to finish the job? No budget to complete what would be the cheap and easy on-ground part of the bike path improvement? Is this just not part of the "legal" definition of the bridge, and therefore the ever-popular bureaucratic shout of "not my department" was yelled at planning meetings? Did anyone phone Longueuil and say, "Hi there, we need to finish the sidewalk expansion of the Pont Jacques Cartier on the south shore part of the bridge, can we get together and talk?"

Apparently none of that happened, it was just forgotten about. So you arrive back on ground (to another "worlds's bumpiest sidewalk bike path") but at least it takes you back to street level in Longueuil.

Recommendation #3 - widen the bike path sidewalk and improve the sidewalk surface to the same standard as the bridge bike path/sidewalk for the location from where the Pont Jacques Cartier bridge arrives on ground on the South Shore to where the sidewalk reaches street level at Boulevard Lafayette in Longueuil.

OK, we're at street level, there are signs telling us where to go? Direction south to join the Route Verte #1 to Chambly (and beyond). Direction west to join the bike path along the south shore along the river, to cross back to Montreal via Parc Drapeau at the St-Lambert locks (ecluses) or the Estacade ice bridge to Nun's island?

Well, you'd think that some signs would be there to inform first-time bridge crossers about their next direction to take. But you can look all you want for maps, signs or bike path markings on the roads, but don't take too much time, because I can tell you that no maps, direction signs, or bike path connections exist here.

Recommendation #4 - Connect the Pont Jacques Cartier bridge sidewalk/bike path at Lafayette street in the following two directions: A) west to to the Tiffin bike path, and B) south to the bike path on Lasalle to Route Verte path to Chambly. Install maps and direction signs.

Once these 4 recommendations are implemented the bicycle access between the south shore and Montreal island across the Jacques Cartier bridge will be consistently high quality.

This will require a combination of linkages to existing bike paths, (signage and bike path markings on road surface), and a pedestrian/bicycle bridge-overpass over the high-traffic Papineau street access to the Pont Jacques Cartier bridge bike path/sidewalk from Lafontaine street.

Map Key
RED DOTS - Improved Bike Path Connections Needed
BLUE DOTS - existing bike paths


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