New bike infrastructure arrives in Montreal

This summer has seen the arrival of two new types of biking infrastructure in Montreal: bike boxes on Milton and a hybrid bike path/lane on St-Urbain.

Milton bike box at University.

Bike boxes are not a new concept; they’re just new to Montreal. Simply put, they provide cyclists with the ability to stop in front of cars at an intersection, thus improving their visibility and safety. They are generally used on streets with bike paths and a high volume of bike traffic. It’s a technique which has demonstrated its usefulness elsewhere and the question here is how Montreal cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians will adapt to them. The Milton locations are being used as a pilot project and the city will evaluate the possibility of creating more next year.

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The St-Urbain bike lane at Duluth (photo credit: Zvi Leve).

The St-Urbain bike path is the city’s attempt to address cohabitation problems between bikes and buses on this stretch of road. This previous incarnation of the St-Urban bike path had long been criticised by the bus divers’ union as unsafe since cyclists and buses often have to cross paths and compete for space at corners with bus stops. The city’s solution is to have cyclists stick to the far right at all times by having the bike lane go against the curb at intersections, with buses stopping on the other side of a small dividing median. This organisation of space is something new in Montreal. It’s the first time that bikes are being directed between transit stops and the side walk, and it’s also the first hybrid between the protected bike path model and the completely exposed bike lane model.

Experience show that new bike infrastructure tends to bring out strong opinions. So, Spacing Montreal readers, what are your thoughts? Have you had a chance to try out these new features? Are they steps towards ensuring a better cohabitation on Montreal’s streets, or do they create as many problems as they solve?

21 comments

  1. While I’m all for increased separation from traffic, this seems like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and it probably cost a good amount of money to do so. I never understood why they didn’t put the bike lane on the left side of the street in the first place. Left side bike lanes are standard practice for one-way streets in New York City, and for good reason. They reduces the chances of getting doored and eliminates the conflict with buses. This solution, however, still forces transit riders on a frequent bus line to have to cross a well-used and fast-moving bike lane to reach the curb. Also, anyone on a wheelchair on the bus looks like they get screwed by this design, since there are no ped ramps to get from the new island to the curb. The island also looks to be pretty narrow and exposed place to wait for the bus.

  2. Yeah, a left lane on St. Urbain would seem to be a better solution – certainly a cheaper one.

    The hybrid lanes are interesting in theory, but the paving job they did was awful. The two or three spots are really bumpy – maybe they’re designed to force riders to slow down, which is understandable I suppose, but the fact that the asphalt is so uneven can’t really be considered safe.

  3. I agree these things aren’t ideal for bus people but I’m not sure what the solution would be (on two-way streets). If the ashfalt of the bike lane makes a nice bump up to the level of sidewalk/island it would solve the wheelchair problem wouldn’t it? I’ve seen this elsewhere in Montreal (the bike path rises to sidewalk level for pedestrian crossings).

    I mean the alternative, which is to have just painted lines, is terrible for cyclists/bus drivers.

    Sorry I’m arguing for a 2 way street when the above was for a one way.

  4. I think the bike box is positive and I hope this will help the cohabitation bikes/cars.

    For the bike lane on Saint-Urbain, I’m not as enthousiast! First, the pedestrian tend to walk there as if it was part of the sidewalk.

    Second, it’s incorrectly designed. At this place, Saint-Urbain is downhill, meaning that bikes tend to go pretty fast. But the turn that is needed to go in the separated path is tight at high velocity. So usually I don’t take it (and I’m not the only one).

    Last, it’s quite narrow…

    I agree with Jacob on the idea of left side bike. Then again, there would be an adaptation needed (bike would naturally go to the right), but it’s probably a better idea.

  5. Bicycle boxes are most effective for creating ‘platoons’ of bicycles and for helping them to get an early start on the cars and buses who are stuck in traffic. Being in front of the traffic greatly improves bicycle visibility, and hence safety as well. Plus, bicycles are light so they can accelerate from a stop far faster than cars and buses, with little effort. Bicyclists often are faster than a car for the first 50 metres or so, and most cyclists can easily travel at 20 kph which is faster than the *average speed* of vehicles stuck in traffic. We should be encouraging the free flow of cyclists (and buses!) instead of the stop and start congestion which plagues are urban roads.

    The bike box on Milton at University is a ridiculous choice for a trial location. Few cars arrive at this intersection (on Milton) and they are already hugely dominated by the cyclists and pedestrians who are crossing all over the place. Putting some sort of protective area on University to facilitate the left hand turn from University onto Milton would have made more sense. Then again, the cyclists going North should have been kept on the East-side of University so that there would not be this mess at the intersection. But that would have required some fore-thought (or at least some after the fact evaluation). In my opinion, the bike lane on University should be exclusively for bike traffic going South toward Sherbrooke. Then there should be sharrows (or a painted bike lane) on on the East side of University for bicycles going North with traffic. I am not denying that there are problems with the bicycle/pedestrian/car traffic at this intersection, but a bike box on Milton is not the solution.

    I think that bicycle boxes could have been a more appropriate solution on Saint Urbain! Bikes and buses travel at similar speeds and both want to stay out of the way of cars. We need to find a way to increase the number of dedicated bus lanes and to have buses and bikes safely share those spaces (see this example from London – http://www.flickr.com/photos/zvileve/3616262732/). In my opinion, the painted bike lane should have stayed in the same position, even in the sections where the buses stop. That is, there should be a ‘weaving zone’ where the buses need to pull over to the right (yes *across* the bike lane) to stop. Most of the cyclists are going straight so they should not be forced out of the way.

  6. Anything that promotes getting out of cars is a good thing, as long as there is a decent follow through. Like so many good ideas that have been tossed around, there’s a real danger this will get forgotten or scaled down.

    There should be more promotion of cycling in the city. The people in charge should go to like Amsterdam where urban cycling has been done right.

  7. The new “protected spaces” on Saint Urbain also distance the bicycles from the traffic, which makes it harder for cars turning right to see the cyclists (and vice versa). This is particularly problematic at Pins, where quite a few cars turn right but almost all of the cyclists are going straight.

    The potential for a cyclist going fast to hit a car has significantly increased due to this design. Technically the cyclist going straight has the right of way in this situation, but the media (and probably the police too) will report this as cyclist negligence due to “excessive” speed – even though the cyclist is travelling well below the speed limit. The dangerous situation here is really caused poor design. If this was in the US, the city would be sued for such an accident.

  8. There is a precedent for this configuration: the bus stops along the Cherrier bike path, where the 24 runs for a few blocks between Parc Lafontaine and Sherbrooke metro. On Cherrier, it’s more of a variation on a bus bump, as the island is a bit wider and the bike path ramps up to the level of the sidewalk — like where the Clark path meets Bernard.

  9. Those islands aren’t anything new in Montreal, if anything they are quite old!
    Just bike on the Rachel St. bike lane and you’ll find many.

    As a matter of safety, they aren’t much better for the cyclist.
    I had an accident once, slamming into a pedestrian that just came off a bus and didn’t look before crossing the bike path.

    Hitting a pedestrian seems better than being hit by a car or a bus but eating pavement is never fun. I still have the scar.

    Left side bike lane is ideal solution when buses are sharing the road too.

    I wonder where is the publicity campaign for these new additions? Will the city explain these new measures (to the uneducated and unfamiliar) or will they wait for them to fail on their own before removing them amidst confusion and frustration from the public?

  10. Marc touches on a very important point – where is the publicity/education campaign for these measures? And more importantly, is anyone doing any kind of systematic analysis of what works and what does not?

    Clearly the desire to “do good” is there, but it seems like all of these interventions are being done without any sense of context, and there is no follow-up or learning drawn from them.

    And why the hell is it so hard for the city to put paint on the streets?! Nothing seems to be done until Summer is almost over, and even then very little is maintained for the entire “active season”…. Pedestrians and cyclists are active from April to December!

  11. I’m not convinced about the St-Urbain setup… It might be a bit safer at intersections and bus stops but the rest of the path is still unprotected (especially the vehicular exit from Hôtel-Dieu). The work was done quickly but it seems like a large expense for such a piecemeal solution.

    As for the bike box, I was quite impressed, especially by the quality of the paint. I’ve seen them in Europe and was worried that the paint would be slippery. It is not the case. They’ve been able to maintain the grip of the asphalt even with a thick coat of fluorescent green paint. That’s essential for the safety of bikes, pedestrians and other vehicles. Now, we’ll have to wait and see how the paintjob withstands the long winter months…

    Drivers will also have to get used to stopping further from the intersection, which will probably take time. An SUV was stopped directly on the bike box when I went by but there were no bikes. The new “ligne d’arrêt” would have to be strictly enforced by SPVM since the bike box itself doesn’t command any authority as per the Code de la sécurité routière.

  12. I hope that bike box lime green paint isn’t slippery.  Usually with that amount of paint + wet weather = slippy slidy.  Unless it’s a new variety of paint or they added an anti-skid agent to it…

  13. Regardless of whether it represents a placebo effect or not, concrete dividers give an added sense of safety and will encourage more people to cycle.
    In terms of cyclists who ride into people alighting from buses, they’re no less guilty than drivers who hit cyclists. A vehicle is a vehicle, and if can’t stop in time to hit a potential hazard, it’s going too fast.

  14. “It’s the first time that bikes are being directed between transit stops and the side walk”

    Umm, what about the Cote-ste-catherine bike path? It’s entirely between transit stops (mainly the 129 bus) and the sidewalk.

  15. The Rachel lanes in Rosemont, east of Hipsterville, are exactly like this and have been for 20 years. You wait for the bus on the sidewalk. As the bus approaches, people make their way to the median and board the bus. No problems, the cyclists see the bus and the people. The people see the cyclists and the bus. Everyone cooperates.

    I’ve just returned from 3 months in Berlin and Amsterdam. Berlin has heaps of sidewalk edge lanes like the ones in QDS. Pedestrians stray, all cyclists have bells and lights. Cyclists slow down and ring their bells. Pedestrians move and apologize. They cooperate. In Amsterdam, cyclists and pedestrians intermix everywhere. Cyclists zip through the throngs of pedestrians in the Red Light, merrily ringing their bells while pedestrians go about their business. Everyone cooperates. 

    I return home and everyone is bitching about the latest piece of cycling infrastructure. If the lane had have been located on the left, the right laners would be bitching. If the box was placed somewhere else, the yet another placers would be bitching. Cyclists have to remember that pedestrians come first. They may do stupid things and encroach on bike lanes but cyclists are to pedestrians as cars are to cyclists. There is no perfect bike lane, cooperate. It could be worse, we could be Toronto where painting a simple fucking line on a street requires 17 city council meetings and results in 483 editorials and special reports!

    And if you don’t have a bell and functioning lights on your bike then shut the fuck up. You’re a menace.

  16. I love the bike box and would like to see more of them around town, especially at busy intersections on major roads.

    I’m not convinced about the concrete dividers on St. Urbain though. They did the same thing to Rachel nearby despite the fact that traffic can’t turn right at the intersection of Rachel to St. Urbain. But at least they are not actually in the way.

    I live on St. Urbain and use the bike path there every day and I have been avoiding the new “protected” lanes. I usually try to stay one lane left when crossing the intersections so I am not in the path of any turning vehicular traffic. These are trying to force cyclists to do the opposite and if something goes wrong both cyclist and motor vehicle have less room to manuouver.

    Another commenter mentioned “weave zones” and I think that is what is required here. Perhaps it would have been better to put the path on the other side of the street but then there are similar issues but with cars turning left, though no bus stop worries.

    Ideally it would be good to put an underground parking lot beneath the hospital there and have a bi-directionsl bike path on the left side of St. Urbain instead of the on-street parking. Maybe one day…

    A minor quibble is that the actual road work seems to be of low quality, the road surface is in bad shape and it just looks bad. Similar to what they did on Rachel earlier in the summer.

    @Todd: not sure why people need a bell, most of us have voices that work well which can provide information quickly. I agree that lights are important however.

  17. Todd, I have to say I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. I’ll admit that I don’t have a bell on my bike (I do have lights that I use if needed) – I used to, and at one point it stopped working and I never replaced it. I probably should get another, but to be honest, I used my old one maybe 4 times in two years, and I cycle 12km round trip per day from April to November.

  18. @Todd – right on! Just keep in mind that the cycling infrastructure in Northern Europe did not happen overnight – it required, and still requires, sustained, dedicated, and coordinated efforts from various authorities. And there must be a willingness to analyze what has been done and to improve upon it.

    We are making the effort now in Montreal (and in other cities in Canada). It remains to be seen whether these efforts can be sustained – the recent election results in Toronto and the ongoing Conservative support do not bode well. Things are well coordinated in Vancouver, and they are very proactive about learning and analyzing what works and adapting cyclist infrastructure to their specific needs. Things seem to be done in Montreal in a very piece-meal fashion, with very little coordination between the various stake holders and virtually no analysis of the results.

  19. It’s not paint. It’s actually pre-cut textured plastic which has been bonded to the asphalt with heat. I saw the crews installing it the other day.

    Now if only something could be done about all those idiots who insist on going the wrong direction in the bike lanes…

  20. Many people have suggested moving the bike lane to the east side of St Urb would have been better.  I’m not at all convinced.

    For one, I’m not sure it would be legal, as the CSR art 487 says “Le conducteur d’une bicyclette doit circuler à l’extrême droite de la chaussée et dans le même sens que la circulation, sauf s’il s’apprête à effectuer un virage à gauche, s’il est autorisé à circuler à contresens ou en cas de nécessité.”

    But more importantly, I believe it would be the only beast of it’s kind, as opposed to what they’ve actually done, which despite what the author says, is quite common, as seen on Rachel, Cherrier, and Cote St Catherine. Standardization has its advantages.

  21. I always avoid bike paths and prefer to use small streets.

    There is one exception: the Maisonneuve bike path, because of the many golden opportunities to yell at stupid turning motorists who don’t yield to straight-going cyclists.

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