Last weekend, I took part in Walk the Region, a journey on foot Pointe-Aux-Anglais, in Oka, to Sainte-Hilaire, in an attempt to understand what the heck they’re talking about every time I hear mention of the Montreal Metropolitan Area.
I’ve been meaning to share this experience on the blog, but the 3-day journey was not the kind of thing that sums up tidily. Places that were once names and contours on a map resolved into landscapes, but my understanding of them has also become imbued with the physical and emotional state I experienced in them.
To be honest, the biggest surprise for me was how physically challenging the expedition was. All-told we walked 105 kilometers in 3 days. While I was spared the sprawling blisters that afflicted some of my colleagues, I discovered shinsplints. By the end of the first day – during which we covered 40 kms lugging camping gear – each step hurt.
Quickly, our priority became to find the shortest route from one point to the next. The problem, of course, is that suburban roads are anything but straight and narrow. Consequently, we ended up in some unlikely places: the collector road alongside the 116, or dirt-bike trails that cut through the fringe of woodland between Saint-Bruno and Saint-Basile.
But the physical challenge was also a pleasure: feeling like rugged travelers, we had fresh eyes for our home town. Under the beating sun, we sincerely appreciated the respite of air-conditioned malls and chain-store ice-caps, and the comfort of a strip-mall pizzeria at the end of a long day.
And while those things cannot be captured, here are a few photos of the region as we experienced it…
The ebb and flow of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure was fascinating to watch. I was surprised that cycling has ground far from the city, even though what was intended as cycling infrastructure could sometimes have used some improvement…
La Route verte, along highway 344 narrows out in the distance… We did see dozens of bikes along the route, but 50 kms from the city all the cyclists were in spandex: it’s clearly a sport more than a mode of transportation.
We shared the bike path with more cyclists and some young roller-bladers in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac.
It’s nice that they thought about cyclists on the overpass to Highway 13 in Laval… but painting bikes on the road does not, in and of itself, improve cyclists’ safety and wellbeing.
Saint-Marthe-sur-le-Lac recently added a lane reserved for human beings on their road network. I like to call it the proto-sidewalk.
The only cycling infrastructure on the corner Cousineau and the 116 in Saint-Hubert was in the planters… but there’s no denying that cycling has penetrated the suburban ethos…
We often found ourselves scratching out heads at the appearance and disappearance of sidewalks in the South Shore. I get the sense that it’s up to each individual developer to incorporate a sidewalk onto their property if they so desire: some houses had them, other’s didn’t. Some strip malls did, others no. There was reliably about 10 feet of sidewalk around the bus stops and public buildings, although whether that would connect to anything was anyone’s guess.
But although there was certainly room for improvement in cycling and pedestrian infrastrucutre – on the island as much as off – there was really only one moment where we felt seriously unsafe as pedestrians. That was crossing the 30 in front of the Promenades Saint-Bruno (map).
It’s no easy feat to run through traffic when you’ve got shinsplints!
That’s all for now – more on the urban and surburan form across the region soon!