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 never looked back.

Montrealer Olivia Collette sold her car in 2016 and never looked back.

Collette, a communications consultant living in central Montreal, said getting around using a bicycle, car-sharing service or public transit pass has not only made her save money, but it’s often more pleasant.

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

Collette said 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 gas prices and new vehicles skyrocketing, urban transportation experts say the rest of Canada should look to Montreal to learn how to boost cycling culture.

Stein van Oosteren, spokesperson for a Paris-based cycling association, says now is the time for Canadian cities to make big strides in changing the way people get around.

Van Oosteren, who grew up in the Netherlands before moving to France, said the rise of cycling in both countries was partly due to high petrol prices.

In the early 1970s, “the Netherlands looked like the Canada of today: a country centered on the automobile, where the car was the basis of transport, and it was very unpleasant and dangerous to travel by bicycle”, said van Oosteren, who was in Montreal this week to speak at the Go Vélo bike festival.

This began to change due to a campaign for safer streets, launched in response to the death of a six-year-old girl who was hit by a car and the petrol shortages triggered by the 1973 oil crisis. .

“The government, under pressure both from citizens who wanted livable cities and the real gas shortage problem we had in the Netherlands, decided to promote bicycles,” he said.

In France, bikes began to gain popularity in 2018, when a tax increase pushed the price of gasoline to nearly $3 a litre, he said. In Paris, meanwhile, that growth continued as the local government quickly created temporary bike lanes in 2020 to encourage people to enjoy the outdoors at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. he declares. Many of these paths have become permanent.

“It created a whole generation of cyclists who today commute by bike, and once that critical mass exists, it will attract more,” van Oosteren said.

Montreal, he said, is a North American cycling leader, particularly because of the city’s focus on building a contiguous network of bike paths that are protected from the rest of the street. . Protected routes attract a wide range of users because the infrastructure increases the feeling of safety for cyclists.

In North America, the majority of bicycle trips are made by men who are experienced cyclists, said Owen Waygood, professor of transportation engineering at Polytechnique Montreal. Safer infrastructure, he said, will attract more women, older people and children.

“Montreal has excellent leadership in this regard,” he said.

Bike counters – automated sensors that detect and count passing cyclists – indicate an increase in ridership on new routes that are part of the city’s “express” bike lane network, the Réseau express vélo , said Waygood. The city began building the REV in 2020.

About 2,000 cyclists a day, he says, use a recently built 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 hard to come by. The provincial government conducts a travel survey every five years, but Waygood said the survey captures a limited snapshot and is typically done in the fall – when there are fewer cyclists compared to spring and summer. ‘summer. There is no pan-Canadian survey that would allow comparisons between different cities, he added.

Statistics Canada collects data on the daily commute of Canadians, but the most recent public data from the federal statistics agency is from 2016. This indicates that Vancouver and Victoria have higher cycling rates than Montreal, which, according to Waygood, makes sense given the milder year. round time.

Ry Shissler, 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.

Toronto, however, keeps its bike-share system operational year-round, while Montreal packs up its bike system — called BIXI — for the winter.

Stephen Miller, spokesman for Transit, a mobile trip-planning app for public transit, said people can get around Montreal car-free largely thanks to the city’s high-quality transit network. .

Transportation projects that have been launched 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 and London.

“Montreal benefits from a culture of innovation in transit and mass transit,” Miller said.

Collette, who said she sometimes goes months without driving a car, said there was now a rush hour on Montreal’s bike paths, but she said it was much less stressful than get stuck in traffic.

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

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

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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