City of Montreal to pump $10 million into expanding bike paths
Critics call the plan too timid, considering recent deaths
BY MICHELLE LALONDE, THE GAZETTE MAY 30, 2014
MONTREAL — The city of Montreal will spend $10 million to expand and improve bike routes this year and will likely begin construction of a 14-kilometre bike path along a Canadian Pacific rail line spanning the island from north to south.
The city will add a total of 50 kilometres of bike lanes and paths this year, in a total of 49 different locations. There will also be 24 projects to repair existing paths or lanes.
Aref Salem, responsible for transportation issues on the city's executive committee, said construction of a 14-kilometre "Véloroute" from Rivière-des-Prairies to the St. Lawrence River could begin this fall if negotiations between the city and the railway result in a settlement. If not, an arbitrator will be appointed to resolve the issue, but Salem said he is confident the project will go ahead.
The Véloroute will become the "spinal cord" of Montreal's cycling network, Salem said, connecting the Île Perry Bridge to Laval and the Notre Dame bike path that connects to Île Ste-Hélène, Île Notre-Dame and the South Shore.
"The Véloroute will enchant cyclists who want to cross the city completely protected from car traffic, in an environment that is welcoming to the whole family," Salem said.
He said construction on phase one of the Véloroute, from the Île Perry Bridge to Henri-Bourassa Blvd. should begin this fall. The route will offer easy access to métro and train stations along the way.
But critics immediately denounced this year's bicycle infrastructure plan as timid, considering the recent deaths and serious injuries of cyclists and the administration's promise to act quickly to significantly improve cycling safety through infrastructure changes. The city has budgeted the same amount as last year for bike routes, they noted.
The city's goal, according to the 2008 Transportation Plan, was to grow its cycling network from 400 to 800 kilometres of bike routes by 2015. (Bike routes include painted bike lanes, pictograms on the roads indicating safe bike routes, protected bike paths on roads, paths on sidewalks, and off-road paths shared with walkers and joggers.)
The goal was not met, Aref conceded, as the total is currently only 650 kilometres, but he said the new administration intends to exceed 800 kilometres by 2017.
"We would like them to be a lot more ambitious," said Mariane Giguère, Plateau-Mont-Royal borough councillor and Projet Montréal's critic on cycling issues.
She said more work needs to be done immediately to make intersections and major arteries safer, and more protected bike paths must be built if the city really wants to persuade more people to use bikes for transportation.
"It's not only about adding more kilometres of bike paths," she said. "We are looking for quality ... if we want to increase the number of people who use bicycles to get around the city every day, we need to offer safer routes, not just in the periphery but where most people live and work."
Suzanne Lareau, executive director of the cycling advocacy group Vélo Québec, said the plan for this year is quite good, but more could be done.
"We always want more, but 50 kilometres is not bad. There are some interventions that are really significant like at St-Laurent Blvd. and Bernard St., and remember that sometimes there are links of only half a kilometre that are extremely structurally important because they allow cyclists to go from Point A to Point B (safely) where there had been a gap in the route before."
But she was disappointed the city has still not announced a solution for giving cyclists a safer route leading from Old Montreal north up to the area where St-Laurent Blvd. and Bellechasse St. intersect. She said that segment of St-Laurent is very busy and dangerous for cyclists going north and they need a protected lane or a safer alternative route nearby, along Clark St. or St-Dominique St. for example.
The city plans to paint two more green bicycle boxes at busy intersections, similar to three existing pilot projects on Milton St. and University St., on Villeneuve Ave. at St-Urbain St., and on Laurier St. at St-Laurent Blvd. These painted green areas on the pavement indicate that cyclists can gather in front of cars at intersections and have priority to proceed before waiting vehicles when the light turns green. The new ones will be on Laurier St. at St-Denis St., and on Thimens Blvd. at Cavendish Blvd..
Lareau applauded these plans but said bike boxes should be painted at about 30 intersections where bicycle traffic is heavy, considering they are proven to improve safety and do not cost much. She would also like to see coloured bicycle lanes painted through the city's most dangerous intersections, so vehicles are expecting cyclists and so that cyclists follow a clearly delineated route.
But Lareau said she finds the new city administration of Mayor Denis Coderre to be very receptive to ideas for improving cycling safety.
"They really are in listening mode," she said.
*For the list of projects planned for this year, go to:www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/velo http://www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/velo*