Taking Responsibility for the Quartier des spectacles Bike Path Debacle

Obstruction on the de Maisonneuve bike path on August 26th

Paul Arcand, the radio show host, often characterizes Montreal as the city-where-no-one-ever-takes-responsibility. Yet, there are instances where the attribution of responsibility is clear, and the QDS bike path debacle is a case in point. The City made the commitment to keep it opened during all of the QDS project and for the most part, it did (other than during the Festivals, of course). However, the safety of pedestrians and cyclists alike was often compromised – especially in the last two weeks. Why?

Given that there is a committee in the QDS whose job it is to ensure that the flow of traffic – regardless of mode – continues despite the heavy duty work being carried out, one might ask whether this whole thing is not just another case of bureaucratic inefficacy. Having first-hand knowledge of the functioning of the Comité de gestion des entrave, I maintain that it was crucial in getting the contractors, the STM, the adjacent landowners and all other actors involved to work together and agree on a “traffic plan” (which updated every week). But evidently that wasn’t enough – contractors often disregard the plan or only comply with it partially.

Whose fault is it then? The contrators’? That would be too easy for an explanation… contractors working for the MTQ on highway projects, whether in Montreal or elsewhere, always (or almost always) comply with the traffic plan. So what exactly is the matter with Montreal?

The City certainly has its share of responsibility in this: the bike path was originally supposed to be on President-Kennedy, as is clearly indicated on p.37 of the original Programme particulier d’urbanisme (PPU), which can be downloaded from here. This would certainly have improved the situation, especially given the number of trucks of all sizes entering and leaving Place-des-arts’ loading dock which is right on de Maisonneuve, where the current bike path is. Yet, the City’s circulation division decided against it, pledging to make the necessary adjustments during the project to allow bike traffic to continue. Needless to say, these adjustments were never made. There were always provisions for a bike path in the traffic plan, and the contractors usually agreed to put up the necessary signage. But then they disregarded their own signage and often parked trucks and backhoe loaders in the bike path, without any consequence. The fact is: the City does not have the same clout as does the MTQ, but it could have imposed much stricter conditions in its contracts and followed through with them.

Believe or not, the Government of Quebec is also to blame in this. Few people are aware of this – and it may seem a bit esoteric to Spacing’s general readership –  but the work site of the new OSM concert hall was not managed by the QDS team or by the City. The OSM concert hall is a PPP project realized by SNC-Lavalin, and as is typical in such projects, the contractor-operator tries to avoid anything that might delay the project or cost money. As a result, SNC-Lavalin often didn’t show up a the Comité des entraves, occupied the public domain without asking the City for a permit or simply disregarded the traffic plan. For example, the trucks parked in the “bike path” in the above picture are actually under the responsibility of SNC-Lavalin. But when asked to adapt to the needs of other contractors and users of the public domain, SNC’s project manager would retort: “If you’re not happy go talk to the Minister”. Once again, a good example of the Quebec government’s colonial attitude towards Montreal: the Ministry of Culture undertakes a large infrastructure project in downtown Montreal, but makes no effort to coordinate the work schedule of its contractor with that of the City. The City and the citizens can always wait.

Last but not least, I would like to take some of the blame myself … and to place some of the blame upon all of you who have used the QDS bike path, nearly got killed near the St-Urbain intersection and did nothing about it. I think this is a very good example of our (Montrealers’) attitude towards authority: we complain about the City to everybody except to the City. We write blog posts about the failure of the bike path, but few of us have actually formally complained (I’ve asked around and heard of a few, but nothing significant enough to scare anyone). We tolerate the mediocrity of our public domain even as we despise the City for it.

I promise you: politicians don’t like trouble. And there are actually politicians who are well-intentioned and care about stuff like this. But very few of them ever use the QDS bike path, so it is our responsibility to let them know that tens of thousands of Montrealers actually do and that it is unacceptable to allow cyclists to risk their lives going to work simply because no one has the courage to tell contractors to step aside or else…


  1. Great post. It illustrates really well the segmentation of this kind of large project. And the public only sees what the telly will give them : the bad easy to yell at stuff. Not everyone is an ass an this post gives people some insight.
    I would recomment a translation in french for better diffusion :)

  2. Excellent summary of the poorly designed bike path through QDS section of the de Maisonneuve bike path and the spectacularly poor bypasses during construction. It is beyond clear than SNC-Lavalin couldn’t give two f***s about bikes or pedestrians. But what do you expect from a civil engineering company really? Social responsibility? heck no, they are engineers, i.e. people with neither a heart, conscience or soul and driven purely by the profit motive. (And sne step down the morality ladder below lawyers if you ask me.)

    It is a common thing in montreal to see bike paths used as parking for construction, delivery or lawn care companies. The cops don’t give tickets, so the truck rivers know they can park on the bike path. Shame on the cops!

    And don’t get me started about the idiotic bike and pedestrians on sidewalk with no dividers through the QDS section of the de maisonneuve bike path: it’s total and complete chaos through this section of the de Maisonneuve bike path. But then, it was designed by “designers” and we all know that means it is more useless that tits on a bull, as we country folk say about lots of things (and people) in the city environs. (Yes, I live in the city)

  3. “…(other than during the Festivals, of course)”

    How is this a an ‘of course’ that we have a bike path that during the nicest summer months is cut off. Not only is it cut off, but we have these festival organizers denying people with bikes access to a large area of public land – even if there are not that many people.

    It’s badly designed like that – and they way they tell bikes to detour either up the hill or on the sidewalk doesn’t really make sense.

    This attitude that bikes and people don’t mix is not natural. Denying unmotorized people access to public space is wrong. And not letting bicyclists make their own decision whether it’s possible to mix with crowds is patronizing.

  4. Most people don’t really know where they can formally complain to the city. Adding a link to the city’s site with info about how to complain would have been more constructive than an empty complain about people not contacting the city enough.

  5. A direct bike path on Maisonneuve is what people need. Changing for Ontario/President Kennedy is not a good idea. Biker normaly dont make a funny trip over the city. Each major street should have a bike path.

    The project of a new bike path during the Jazz fest for the bikers on Maisonneuve cannot be a good reason to make a permanent change. Maisonneuve bike should stay.

    For me the major security problem is the bike path stop a Berry. Normal biker have to continu in reverse trafic until Papineau or Frontenac!

  6. I gave up on that path, it is hopeless. In the QDS, there is simply no bike path and it will never come back as I do not consider those markings on the sidewallk as being one. Neither do the pedestrians, and they are right. I’m back in the bus lane on Rene-Levesque, much safer.

  7. Just a comment that I did complain to the Mayor, and several times to Richard Bergeron when he was on the Executive Committee, about this bike path. And never received a response… Maybe an email complaint is not considered “formal” enough.

  8. I find construction sites in Quebec to be very poorly managed in general, but I would not necessarily blame the engineering and/or construction companies for this. They do what they are told. If there were clear norms about safe practices which were enforced (with stiff fines) we would not find ourselves in this situation.

    It seems to me that the authorities are not holding anyone accountable for their work, and nobody is taking responsibility for anything. Perhaps it is time for the public to demand more accountability for how are money is spent. If infrastructure maintenance is poorly done, then the city should refuse to pay for it, until the work is done properly.

  9. I hardly feel as though I’m risking my life going to work because of some stuff blocking the bike path. Instead of crying injustice, I just go around it. Cars go around me. Everyone gets to work after all. End of story.

    I happen to love Montréal’s laissez-faire attitude for many things — so in my mind, careless contractors and lazy bureaucrats and blocked bike paths go hand in hand with my being able to ride with no helmet the wrong way down a street and ignore red lights, all in sight of a cop car, and get no ticket or even noticed. Aaaah, what a delicious sense of personal freedom and being naughty.

  10. I agree with Tristou that I much prefer the French “laissez-faire” attitude to the obsessive rules and nanny-state approach to public safety which is found in many Anglo-Saxon countries.

    On the other hand, public infrastructure in France certainly seems to be well built, and there seems to be a more professional attitude to the building trades in general. I do not recall construction sites causing such havoc, although I cannot say that I was doing any kind of “normal” commuting in a big city there….

  11. Regarding complaining to the city… I agree most Montrealers are lazy wrt to this. Easiest ways to complain without loosing too much of your precious time: call 311 to lodge a complaint, call Stationnment Montreal 514-872-9412 to report illegal parking, or the Police if they are closed 514-280-2222.

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