Bikes and buses in traffic: What can Montreal learn from other cities?

Bicycles and buses in Montreal have a fairly intimate, and almost always antagonistic, relationship. This is not news to those who’ve used either a these types of transportation at least a few times in their lives (eg. almost everyone). But now the union representing STM bus drivers says the St. Urbain bike path is unsafe, as drivers must constantly cross the path of large numbers of cyclists. The union petitioned the CSST – the province’s health and safety board – to intervene, which refused. (Their mandate is to protect the drivers while at work, not cyclists on their way to it. This may explain why they forgot to mention the danger caused by the many car drivers parking and exiting their parking spaces.)

Rather than allow this little tiff to escalate, Mayor Tremblay has asked the STM to look into this with the union. Let’s hope STM President Michel “Vélo” Labrecque can live up to his name and work out a solution to this most obvious of problems.

This incident prompted me to reflect on my recent bike trip in Ireland and Denmark. Traveling on bike, experiencing how buses and bikes share road space was a fairly visceral part of my travels.

The Copenhagen-style bike lane: so simple, so obvious

Cycling conditions in Irish cities are, in a nutshell, similar to Canadian standards (except for being on the left side, of course, and the many roundabouts). A cycle track (‘ron rothar’ in Irish) consists of either a narrow band taken out of the outer lane (occasionally a long band of auburn paint on the roadway), a painted line on the sidewalk where the path hops up to join the pedestrians for a bit, or is a “shared” lane with buses. Not surprisingly, it was the final configuration that caused the most grief. Why anyone thought putting a vehicle that makes frequent stops and one that avoids stopping as much as possible in the same lane is beyond me, but there we have it. (Regretfully I have no picture to share of the more atrocious ones, but I was generally gripping too tightly to my handle bars to get the camera out. If you’re curious, there’s a website out there that aims to dispel the hype of their city government and tell the world the truth about Dublin bike lanes.)

Cycling in Copenhagen was, by comparison, a much gentler experience, where bike lanes are generally separated from car traffic and pedestrians in a wide, single-directional lane. They also occupy their own space slightly below the sidewalk level and above the road level. In many but not all areas, bus stops are little islands between the sidewalk and the road where bus passengers can board and alight the bus. These aren’t any great secret – we have at a few spots around Montreal – but if they’re well-design and big enough, they make cyclists and pedestrians’ lives much simpler. I’ll probably post some other Copenhagen photos and videos, but I thought this issue was particularly salient at the moment.

Let’s hope the minds that meet to solve this very un-unique problem take the time to learn how other cities are dealing with this issue.



17 comments

  1. Having just ridden that very bike route today right behind a bus, I have to agree it’s not a very safe route for either buses or cyclists. The bike “path” swerves to the right at each intersection, as if it would make sense that a cyclist hug the curb at a green light around right-turning cars and idling buses.

    My fingers are crossed that city planners figure out that dedicated, separated-from-traffic bike lanes are the only safe alternative for bikers, and for drivers.

  2. Another problem with bike paths in Montreal is the fact that they are simply poorly located on “dead” roads, where the regular folks simply don’t go for everyday stops. For cars, streets such as Rachel, or St-Urbain are good for their flow is constant and rapid. However, an urban bike user, rides to go to the grocery store, or to go to work, but will do a few stops on his/her way there, or his/her way back. Bike paths need to be on Mont-Royal Ave, on St-Laurent, on Ste-Catherine. Because right now, I see a lot of bike paths almost empty, but streets like Mont-Royal flocks of cyclists… Let’s get smart about this Montreal!

  3. Let me replace the term “dead” roads with, “transit” roads

  4. Bike lanes are oxdung. In more than 30 years of biking, I seldom use them.

    They are dangerous; by segregating bikes from cars, neither learns to interact with the other.

    They are useless; too often, they are invaded by strollers, pedestrians, dog walkers, skunks and, in the case where they are painted on the pavement, by parked trucks.

    The very worst are those between parked cars and the sidewalk; people are not accustomed to check for bikes when they open their doors.

    Most stupid is the regulation that says that bikes must use the bike lane; in many places, the bike lane wanders in a park, significantly lengthening the distance bikes must travel compared to cars.

    A bike lane on St-Urbain is the epitome of stupidity; traffic runs fast there, the street is utterly ugly and uninspiring thanks to the traffic, and there are plenty of quiet side-streets available for long-distance runs.

    St-Urbain has the additionnal disadvantage of having a heavily-used bus line; since a bus has the same average speed of a (relatively) nonstop bike, bikers will be repeatedly passed and be passed by the same bus (this can explain the annoyance of drivers — because, let’s not be fooled, drivers don’t care about the safety of bikers, they are just annoyed to have a narrower lane to drive in).

    Myself, when I hit a bus, I take another street for a while so the bus can go ahead enough so I don’t keep running in it.

  5. Separated bike lanes like on deMaisonneuve are “great for safety” except when you cross an intersection – drivers aren’t always looking for you. It’s an exception to well established driving patterns – you now have to cross two highways to get through an intersection (car + bike).

    Not to mention the idiots on bikes who cross without looking at either traffic or lights.

    Honestly I think they’ve solved the wrong problem. People driving in straight lines is the easiest to solve but with the least gain.

    (ObConfession: I’m a(n aggressive) bike rider who rides pretty much like a car – I ride fast and cross lanes and signal my intentions. I.e. I learned to ride in Ottawa – where cyclists have the same responsibilities and rights of a car – and the same tickets).

    Amsterdam does well with a high volume of traffic but they are an order-loving people. I suspect the drivers know they are second class citizens.

    I think the solution has to do more with the psychology of the people in cars and then the educamation of the people on bikes.

  6. What can we learn?
    Stop being lazy by painting lines on the street. Re-do the sidewalk for pedestrian and cyclists to share and give vehicles there own space.

  7. In my experience, _all_ bike lanes are dangerous at some time or another.
    Bike lanes between parked cars and the sidewalk hide cyclists and create many situations for possibilities of collision.

    Bike lanes between the street and parked cars increase the chance of getting opened-a-door-in-the-face at and they annoy car drivers because then cyclists are in their blind angles.

    Generally, cycling with the traffic makes you more visible. But watch out, because some drivers will roll on you.

    Blech, moral of the story: cycling in the city is not pleasant at all, anywhere.

  8. oh, just thought of one lane that I enjoy using: The new Côte Ste-Catherine bike lane between Vincent d’Indy and Villeneuve. Separate lane, no parked cars and traffic lights that enable you to roll through intersections with the traffic.
    There’s one advantage, though: not much streets allow drivers to turn left on them so car drivers having to cross both lanes (car+bike) are a rare sight.

  9. One simple solution to the St. Urbain bike path solution: move the bike path to the left! Sure, it wouldn’t be perfect, but since this is a one-way street and the bus is on the right, put a bike path on the left. (Or put the bus lane on the left…)

  10. Personally, I find the St. Urbain bike lane not bad at all. When I take that route I am looking for the fastest route straight downtown. Bicyclists, just like car drivers, want safe, direct, and convenient routes which do not require extensive detours and perturbations.

    Montreal has just started to ‘roll out’ their latest generation of bike lanes. It took the Scandinavian cities decades of concerted effort to achieve their current infrastructure systems. Given the efforts that the city is expending on this, it is about time that the traffic engineers start understanding how cyclists travel: they have different operating characteristics from other motorized vehicles and are certainly not pedestrians.

    BTW: the cote ste catherine is a surprising success in many aspects, but there are a few intersections where cars going toward downtown turn right and cross the bike path without seeing the bicyclists who are crossing the intersection at effectively the same speed as the cars. I witnessed a rather serious accident, and was almost involved in one at the same intersection the very next day. Bike lanes do provide a certain amount of security, but most car/cycle accidents happen at intersections, not on the direct sections. It at the intersections where bike lane safety is all too illusory and it is there the road engineers need to focus their efforts.

  11. Despite its faults (there should be a dedicated bicycle lane, or at least a different coloured pavement on the road) the St-Urbain strip is FAR safer than the trip downtown was before it was created. I used to cycle in rush hours from near Jean-Talon Market down to Guy-Favreau, and it was hell. At least with the cycle strip cyclists are recognised road users and this ups numbers, increasing safety.

    Bicycle lanes are necessary to achieve a qualitative leap, as in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and surprisingly, increasingly in Paris. (So there to the idea that cycle paths are only for ultradisciplined Germanic northerners)! Not everyone can cycle at the same speed as cars, and as you get older, you won’t be able to either…

  12. Tough call. I commute everyday by bike from the Plateau East to NDG (about a 45 minute cycle). I use cycle lanes in places and avoid them in others for reasons of speed and safety. For some reason the cycle path on Rachel seems to work well (few near run collisions), but I completely avoid the one on De Maisonneuve which I consider a death trap. In general, I’d much rather be with traffic where drivers are aware of my presence on the road.

  13. as St-Urbain is a one way, why not just put the cycling lane on the left side of the street, as they did on Maisonneuve downtown ?

  14. Also, I’ve been a bike messenger for 5 years in Montreal and I can say that many cyclists are just douchebags who like to get angry at cars at every opportunity, and never take responsibility for their own behavior on the road.

  15. What if that paint (ie bike lane) was not present on St Urbain? Cyclists are allowed to use (pretty much) any road, and they could still use St Urbain. Where would they be? The same place! The law requires they ride on the rightmost part of the roadway. So in a way getting rid of the bike lane would change nothing. I guess there would be less cyclists, since a bike lane presumably attracts more of them.

    Clark (one block west) has a mix of segregated paths, bike lanes, and designated shared roadways. One solution could be to get rid of car parking on one side, and make the whole length of Clark a bike path.

  16. MurrayYou have got to be kidding me. Your cmtumoe time has been increased by 20 minutes since the bike lanes were installed on Jarvis??? You must have been in the same math classes as the brothers Ford. According to the City of Toronto staff report on the issue travel time increased by approximately two minutes in both directions following the installation of the bike lanes in the a.m. peak hour and by three to five minutes in both directions in the p.m. peak hour. Much of this increased travel time could be attributed to the delays and queues experienced at the intersection of Jarvis and Gerrard.Removing the bike lanes on Jarvis is not going to remove the bike riders from Jarvis. Wouldn’t you rather have the bike riders in their own lane so that you don’t have to worry about moving around them? As for using Sherbrooke or Church why don’t you do it?All bike riders want is to SHARE THE ROAD. I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of sharing most of us learn about sharing in kindergarten. I guess some of us are just better at it than others.

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