Montreal tops in North America International survey cites Bixi and other infrastructure initiatives by 'visionary politicians' in ranking city eighth in the world By RENÉ BRUEMMER, The Gazette September 21, 2011
Montreal has placed among the top 10 in a survey of the world's most bike-friendly cities, earning the highest ranking of any metropolis in North America.
The Bicycle-Friendly Cities 2011 index, compiled by urban-planning Danish consulting firm Copenhagenize that specializes in cycling issues, noted that even the survey producers were surprised cities like Montreal, Rio de Janeiro and New York were among the top 20. The firm looked at 80 major cities around the world.
"Montreal is North America's premiere bicycle city and comes in at No. 8.," Copenhagenize writes. "The city has had a bicycle infrastructure since the mid-'80s, which should embarrass other cities on that continent, and the rebirth of bicycle culture is noticeable across the city.
"A strong, successful bike-sharing program has been implemented and a strong advocacy NGO (Vélo Québec), together with some visionary politicians, make the bicycle's future in Montreal look rosy."
Montreal has expanded its bicycle network in recent years, to a total of 535 kilometres, with the intention of increasing it to 800 kilometres by 2015. Bixi, the bicycle sharing network, has proven extremely popular.
The cities that came before Montreal were Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Tokyo, Berlin, Munich and Paris. Among North American cities, only Portland (13), San Francisco (17) and New York (20) made it into the top 20.
The ranking is one of many in recent years to acknowledge Montreal's ascendancy in the bicycling realm, noted Martine Painchaud, a spokesperson for the mayor's office.
"We are very happy about this, but it is important to note that this did not come about by chance," Painchaud said. "It came from a political vision that Mayor (Gérald) Tremblay had to enact policies that would create a culture of cycling in Montreal, and that included cycling as part of its overall transportation plan. . The idea was for it to become not just a pastime, but a means of transportation."
The investments have paid off, Painchaud said, with the number of Montrealers who say they sometimes use a bicycle as a means of public transit jumping from 25 per cent in 2000 to nearly 50 per cent in 2010. And Bixi is up to 40,000 members.
There is still room for improvement, however, note the authors of the index. The infrastructure must be expanded, because "funnelling the many cyclists down single streets is not the best way to encourage more cycling."
Similarly, the authors suggest Montreal graduate from bi-directional on-street bike lanes, and instead put lanes on both sides of the street, for safety reasons.
It also suggests retailers must offer more European-style bicycles with high handlebars and high seats that can be used in regular clothes, as opposed to the racing-type bikes commonly sold.
And offer Bixi year-round, it suggests.
The Copenhagenize Index gave cities marks for their efforts toward re-establishing the bicycle as an accepted and feasible form of transport. Cities were scored on 13 criteria, including bicycle culture (are regular citizens using it?), bicycle infrastructure, presence of a bikesharing program and the level of social acceptance (how do drivers and the community at large regard urban cyclists?).
Montreal's bike network has been experiencing growing pains of late, with the de Maisonneuve bike path considered one of the busiest in North America, and pedestrians, drivers and cyclists all jockeying for space in the changing vehicular landscape, often with their elbows up.
Painchaud noted that with the growth, there is a need to adapt, and the city is in constant evolution.
Copenhagenize CEO Mikael Colville-Anderson said the city must move away from the car-centred culture of the past.
"Montreal is 'crowded' simply because the city still treats bicycle users as second-class citizens, funnelling them down chosen streets instead of providing separated infrastructure on the main arteries," he wrote in an email.
"You must build infrastructure where people want to ride - instead of forcing them to ride where YOU want them to ride. 'You' means the city."
Montreal commuters of all stripes can perhaps gain solace in Amsterdam, perennial front-runner in cycling friendly cities, which has established peace among its many different forms of transit.
"The cycling atmosphere (in Amsterdam) is relaxed, enjoyable, and as mainstream as you can get. This is the one place on the planet where fearmongering about cycling is nonexistent and it shows."
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