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Montreal’s Got a Cycling Problem

April 2, 2016  |  By Blair Smith

It’s been dubbed “Bikelandia” due to the popularity of cycling for commuting, for leisure, and for general lifestyle. It’s the #1 bicycle friendly city in North America, and #11 in the world according to The Copenhagenize Index. It’s got a network of bike paths that seamlessly connects the city. And it’s got a cycling problem.

Two recent articles, Montreal shifts gears to keep up with rising popularity of cycling in the Toronto Star and Cyclomaniacs rejoice! Bikelandia is open for business in the Montreal Gazette talk about the ascent of Montreal’s cycling culture, supported by progressive urban planning; while taking the opportunity to subtly contrast (read: jab) against Toronto’s current pro-car administration.

A recent Vélo Quebec survey estimated that 730,000 people–or ½ the adult population–ride their bike at least once a week in Montreal. Bicycling has become so popular that the city’s infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the demand. The downtown bike path is so crowded with bike couriers and business commuters it needs its own traffic reporter says Josh Freed.

The tension emerges as you increase densification in the city but you can’t widen the streets. There has to be a compromise and in Montreal it’s happening with the car. “The challenge is that we’ve asked people to start using their bicycles and they’ve done it so much faster than we’ve been able to change the city.” says Aref Salem, who is responsible for municipal transportation on the city’s executive committee.

While there is no perfect solution, the bike-friendly approach of city leaders in Montreal is helping deliver a healthier city for its citizens and one that’s recognized as having a world class system. “I thought it would be difficult to sell the concept of a cycling city, but we see that the reaction of people is not what we thought,” Salem said. “It’s a paradox that people are welcoming what we’ve offered.”

The challenge is that we’ve asked people to start using their bicycles and they’ve done it so much faster than we’ve been able to change the city. – Aref Salem

(Image courtesy of: Paul Chaisson/The Canadian Press)

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