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A Bike Path Set in Stone

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Ceci est-il une piste cyclable?

A bike path set in stone in the heart of Montreal is a lovely metaphor, but I just have one question…

Is this for real?

Fortunately, I have a friend who was involved in planning this particular strip of bike path, so I can ask him straight up.

And he says yes, really, From Bleury to Saint-Urbain street, this pretty strip of paving stones is gonna be our bike path.

But it’s bumpy to begin with, and I can only imaging it getting worse in time as winter rattles the stones.

My friend is able to assuage my fears a little by explaining that the paving stones are resting on a concrete slab, which is covered in a fine layer of sand. They can’t budge more than a few millimeters. As proof, he points to the ones in the Quartier International which are still in near-perfect condition after 5 years.

But that said, he suggests one of the objectives of this design was to slow down both automobile and bicycle traffic in the Place des Spectacles.

Slow down cyclists? But the de Maisonneuve bike path is cyclists’ only East-West route through the city! The city is supposed to be encouraging cycling! As far as I’m concerned, this like building a highway out of cobblestone: it’s quaint but its not functional.

Well, says my friend, that is my first problem: the whole notion of highway-building is outdated, especially in the urban core. Fractioning up the urban landscape to accommodate different functions and zooming people through the city with maximum efficiency are a thing of the past. We’re moving towards shared streets that foster coexistence and a mixity of uses.

Um…ok, but isn’t it a little dangerous to differentiate the sidewalk and the bike path with a mere change in shades of grey?

Apparently I am underestimating people. People can learn and soon this bit of bike path will be set in Montrealer’s minds. Eventually the bike path will be used so heavily that the cyclists’ presence will speak for itself.

24 hours a day? 12 months a year? To tourists?

Having come near colliding with pedestrians on the regular bike path, which is clearly separated from the sidewalk by a curb, I am skeptical. Can’t we at least get some posts or something?

Nope – one of the conditions of the Place des Spectacles plan is that it can’t have any objects in it except for trees. It seems that even removable posts impose too much additional work on event organizers. When it comes down to it, this area was conceived first and foremost as a concert venue…

The real problem, my friend adds, is that this one and only cross-town bike path will be closed for festivals for a good deal of the summer.

I don’t know what to think anymore…What do the cyclists and pedestrians out there have to say?



  1. This area need greater differentiation between bike path and pedestrian zone, because a lot of people are clueless, on a good day. And often on a cell, texting, or otherwise oblivious to the dangers of bikes whizzing by. Another STUPID move by ville de montreal.

    I have already seen bike-pedestrian incidents here!!!

  2. Mixity is a great idea, except my faith in the driving and cycling and walking montrealer is pretty low. There is very little awareness or respect of other people in this city and I fully expect there to be a large number of accidents in this stretch. Particularly since the pedestrian portion is so narrow.

    The design places counter-directional traffic between slow traffic and fast traffic, and then forces confrontations with the faster traffic at intersections.

    Like most montrealers, I hate going slow (but I have the leg muscles to do something about it). I dislike this design, I will bike in traffic first – I’m going faster anyways.

    The fact that this stretch is unusable in the peak period is SNAFU for Montreal. Only nature (or god, or pixies, if you believe that) can succeed at putting a utility system through a recreational area.

  3. At least westbound bike traffic can go on the road if the path is blocked :(

  4. I work right there and I can confirm it’s a major FAIL! Pedestrians are in the bike path at all times and totally do not see the demarcation. Anyways, in the winter, with some snow covering parts of it, the most well-meaning person couldn’t tell the difference (and as noted, it’s closed in the summer because of the festivals). It’s a visual system not used anywhere else in the city so very few people will actually learn to recognize it and respect the path (especially visitor- wich is the exact clientele this “quartier” was supposedly built for).

  5. The bike path isn’t the only counter-intuitive, disfunctional and unsafe feature of the place des festivals. When Jeanne-Mance re-opens to traffic, a whole other problem could arise.
    From a distance, it’s difficult to tell where the pedestrian portion of the square ends and the street begins. The pavement of both these sections is the same colour. So parents better keep their small children within arm’s reach, or else we’ll be scraping up toddler pancakes before long.
    And don’t get me started on the stadium lighting and the deluxe mobile homes along the Musée d’art contemporain’s West wall…

  6. Not to engage in a clichéd urban cynicism, but rest assured that the City Gov’t & Tremblay will wear the achievement of “χ-kilometers of contiguous bikepath” on their sleeves at every upcoming opportunity.

    The statistic is what’s supposed to function here – not necessarily the path itself.

  7. I am really not a big fan of bi-directional bike lanes. In “biking countries”, if there is more than one lane, it is frequently in the same direction as traffic but used to provide space for faster riders to pass. The wide lane serves as a kind of “lover’s lane” where anything goes, and people can even ride side by side and talk. Bi-directional bike lanes are only appropriate in places where the bicycle traffic volumes are very low.

    As for Montreal, the city is making impressive *efforts* to improve the bicycle infrastructure, but I think that now they should take a bit of time to evaluate what works and what does not. Particularly at intersections!

    Did you intentionally differentiate your ‘dialog’ with ever so slightly different shades of gray?

  8. The problem with this kind of ‘mixity’ is that bike culture hasn’t been established in Montreal yet.

    While I’m sure many of us are cyclists and are aware of the behaviour expected from pedestrians when they come across bike paths, they simply are not a fixture in montreal’s urban design.

    A bike path like this can work – but not yet.

  9. Could they not at least put a mini-curb or something on either side?

  10. Both “j2” and “soup” commented that one option for cyclists is to just use the street. Alas, that would be illegal.

    The Code de la Sécurité Routière in section 492 states “Lorsque le chemin public comporte une voie cyclable, le conducteur d’une bicyclette, autre qu’une bicyclette assistée, doit l’emprunter.”

    Though I’ve never heard of this being enforced. (But from a city planning perspective, their planning surely has to respect the law.)

  11. Have you been to Amsterdam? It’s just like this, modes are rushing around everywhere. You can hardly tell the bike path from the sidewalk, and then people zip around in mopeds on it! I felt like I was going to die imminently the whole time, but actually the city seems to function perfectly well.

  12. I think it might be a good idea for the city to extend the Rene Levesque bike path all the way across town. This way, when the festivals at Place des Arts (or Crescent Street) are in full swing, Rene Levesque can become the primary cross-town bike route.

    I would also favor extending the Maisonneuve bike path east, all the way to Frontenac.

  13. I like it, I think it looks nice. The reality is, cyclists, like pedestrians, and drivers, need to use space in a way that is safe and respectful of others. And yes, unfortunately that means reminding yourself that you are not in the tour de france (and please, do leave the bike shorts at home, yech, what a fashion crime!)

  14. Re: ^

    Nevermind the fixed-gear crowd. Casual cyclists aren’t going to have any easier time getting by throngs of fest-goers, joggers, baby SUVs, etc. etc. All the people who do not belong in a designated (but not clearly demarcated) bike lane and aren’t really interested in “respecting” it.

  15. Cyclists ride on sidewalks and pedestrians stroll down bike paths. This new section of the de Maisonneuve path only reflects this reality.

    I commute by bike. I ride the street, using bike lanes if and when there is one. I leave bike paths to the people for whow they were designed: families and tourists.

    @ Sean: don’t worry about this rule from the Highway Security Code, : if pedestrians can’t figure out this is a bike path, you really think cops will? And should they ever do, just bring the above photo to the judge. Case dismissed! ;-)

  16. Je vis présentement à Strasbourg et beaucoup des aménagements cyclistes de la ville se présentent sous cette forme, des fois la différenciation entre l’espace piéton et l’espace cyclable est même inexistante. Pourtant, les vélos, les piétons et les tramways se déplacent sans trop de difficultés, on se regarde, on ralentit, on modifie un peu notre trajectoire.
    Malgré les très médiatisés Vélov de Lyon et Vélib de Paris, la France n’est absolument pas le pays d’Europe qui a le plus «la culture du vélo». Même ici en Alsace, où la proximité de la verte Allemagne a une influence sur certains comportements, et où l’utilisation du vélo comme moyen de transport est plus élevé qu’ailleurs en France, les gens associent souvent le vélo aux balades en famille du dimanche ou, au mieux, au moyen de transport des étudiants.
    C’est ce qui me fait dire que cette piste cyclable à Montréal a de fortes chances de fonctionner normalement. Pour ce qui est du manque de liens cyclables au centre-ville et de la fermeture durant les festivals, ça c’est un autre débat.

  17. generally i think that mixed mode is a good idea, but this just does not seem right to me!
    i guess the problem with that path is that the supposedly pedestrian’s share is so small that pedestrians are for the most part walking on the bike path …
    i’m curious to see how this works out in spring and summer when more pedestrians are using it – and where to go when it’s blocked
    a cross-town bike highway is still necessary i think – for the same logic that we don’t put mixed mode on the autoroute 20

  18. I can see many pedestrians being knocked down and then the media will seize on this, and the city will say that it does not understand how such a thing can happen after such careful planning… The bike path in this area is already a bit of a joke, what with it being closed for much of the summer months, and what with the Louis Bohème development having occupied the sidewalk for most of the past year, and forcing pedestrians onto the bike path. (So much for the Charte du piéton…) Cycling and walking as modes of daily transport are simply not understood by the current administration. Projet Montreal included, apparently…

  19. This is another “designer” project that reflects the fact the designer has not a clue about how things work outside in the real world.

    Oh, such a beautiful design!

    This entire block is the result of the city tearing down a perfectly good park full of grass and real trees and a nice slope and an amazing jazz festival concert space… and replaced it with oh such a beautiful design.

    conclusion: EPIC FAIL.

    Unfortunately, we will have to live with this disaster for the foreseeable future. And we don’t get to kick the asses of the designer, architect, planner etc who approved this travesty. NAME AND SHAME!

  20. Speaking of summer closures, the comedy festival a few blocks east closes the bike path at st-denis and puts the ticket booth RIGHT ON THE BIKE PATH! Even though the path is still open in the daytime, they put the booth right on the bike path. Unbelievable. Totally unbelievable.

  21. I think it looks nice, and if you can’t bike on flat stones and not run into people, than you’re a bit of a wimp and probably shouldn’t be riding a bike in the first place. :) Looks better than the rocks, broken glass, and mounds of snow-dirt on the cote ste. catherine bike path.

  22. Architect & summer bicycle commuter myself (using de Maisonneuve), I walked right on the bike part of it a few weeks back until I saw a sign that said it was a bike path & I looked down to see the stone paving delimitation…
    Not the best design, but the worst part of it is that the THE EASTERN “END” of the path ENDS with a 6in. CURB. I actually wanted to send you a picture of this nonsense before I saw this post.
    This is obviously not really intented for bicycles. I also pondered about what this paving will look like a couples of winters from now.
    As a designer, I can only tell you that this type of scenario is more often a case of a client wanting to do things that go against common sense & the professionnal he hired having to comply to it against his own recommendations.
    I’ve worked elsewhere for years & can tell you that Montreal is a designer’s worst nightmare in having to do things that go against any common sense in order to keep his job & satisfy a clint that always thinks he knows better…

  23. Hmm… I can’t get myself to condemn this either. It’s pretty, it’s a bike path, and you’ll probably have to use your bell to warn pedestrians that you’re comin’ through sometimes. Oh, well.

    If you really want to go fast, head down to the Lachine Canal bike path or even better go over the ice bridge. If you’re really in a hurry, well, you could leave just a few minutes earlier and you easily slow down for the couple of poorly-designed blocks.

    If anything, these blocks will be a continuation of the easy sailing before hitting the congestion of downtown. There aren’t THAT many pedestrians along this little stretch you know: there ain’t much around, most people walking across town are on Sainte-Catherine, and the métro entrances channel people elsewhere — even the one on Jeanne-Mance is used mainly for people waiting for the bus. So I hardly think this is going to be the disaster y’all are predicting with bleeding pedestrians and bike wreckage strewn all over those pretty stones :)

  24. I used the de Maisoneuve bike path last summer to get to work and hated much of it, especially the festivals and construction and what have you, when adequate provision is not made for alternate cycling facilities (especially necessary when going AGAINST traffic) — but this section of the path simply infuriated me because it was designed that way.

    Tristou, pedestrians do not react to the bell because they don’t even know they’re on a bike path.

  25. Actually I’ve often cycled on flat paving stones like this – these are NOT cobblestones, which are curved and do rattle the old bod and bicycle. Common in Amsterdam, and fine here if designed for our (usually) harsher winters.

    François, il n’y a personne qui dit que la France arrive en tête de peleton de la culture du vélo (quotidien), par contre c’est un des pays où la culture du vélo citadin en vêtements normaux a le plus progressé. Les progrès sont incroyables.

  26. How difficult is it to spray paint bike images on the path? Would this not solve the issue of what this path should be used for?

  27. Hmm… they still react when a cyclist uses a bell on the sidewalk, don’t see why it would be different here — I bet it’s something about the ear being sensitive enough to pinpoint the sound and realize it’s a crazy bike rider making a bee-line right towards them. I guess there’s no hope for those who are deaf or listening to particularly loud 80s hair metal on their Walkman, er, I mean Ipod :)

    My point is, like others here, that even if it’s poorly designed and things are mixing when they should be separating, the consequences won’t be disastrous after all. If we all want to use this as the ultimate sign of incompetence and even injustice, well, hey. Go ahead.

  28. Thank-you so much, Alanah Heffez, for writing about this. I happen to work near Place Des Arts and I’ve been complaining about this ever since I first noticed the construction of this awkward bike path. It’s nice to know that there are others out there who agree with me.

  29. This seems like irresponsible design to me. There is really nothing at all that denotes that pedestrians risk their safety by walking along this path.

    In the software world, we (are supposed to) do extensive usability testing before unleashing our creations onto the unsuspecting world. All this even though software doesn’t often kill people. I can’t help but wonder what “usability” measures are in place to protect users of this path. Has anyone done any focus groups, observational studies, surveys, anything? Is there an adjustment phase planned to make any necessary changes after a certain number of people get hurt?

  30. Tristou, I once believed pedestrians would listen to bicycle bells. Then I was on a path on Nuns’ Island where a middle aged couple was taking a stroll hand in hand. I rang and I rang, truly believing that they would move out of the way. I waited until the last possible moment, and then had no choice but to wipe out on the grass beside the path in order to avoid hitting them. They never even looked back. Since then I have realized over and over again that my bell is next to useless, even when pedestrians must be fully aware that they are on a bicycle path (e.g. Piste des berges along the river in Lasalle/Verdun). Only some pedestrians react, and they sure take their own sweet time doing so, apparently not realizing that I am travelling at 15-20 km/h. It is even more useless when pedestrians believe themselves to be on a sidewalk, as in this example.

  31. Does anyone have any idea to whom we could write at city hall to complain about this?

  32. “How difficult is it to spray paint bike images on the path? Would this not solve the issue of what this path should be used for?”

    It would ruin their pure Mies-Van-Der-Rohesque design. Like the crab-apple trees that were too asymetric. I thought that kind of concrete wasteland architecture was dead, I was wrong..

  33. Good news – I’ve heard a rumor that people working for the city have taken note… lets hope for some positive changes this summer. I’ll do my best to confirm and keep you posted.

  34. J’étais vraiment découragée quand j’ai vu cette portion de piste… Déjà que les piétons et joggeurs sont mystérieusement attirés par les pistes cyclables même si elles sont clairement identifiées, je n’ose pas imaginer ce que ça va être dans ce coin…

    Quelle excellente idée de faire une piste cyclable qui traverse une zone où ont lieu des festivals tout l’été! Je ne pense pas l’avoir vue une seule fois ouverte de bout en bout depuis son inauguration.

    Comme quelqu’un le suggérait, il faudrait vraiment ajouter une piste sur René-Lévesque pour qu’on puisse vraiment parler d’un accès cyclable vers le centre-ville.

    La ville se vante de de mettre en place des km de pistes cyclables (où ça d’ailleurs, à part le nouveau tronçon sur Rachel, je n’ai pas vu grand chose de neuf l’année dernière?) mais on repassera pour l’utilisabilité de celles-ci…

  35. What a horrible design. I’ve already had many problems on this stretch. Also, I ride a road bike with skinny tires and the transitions from street to sidewalk are pretty brutal if you forget to pop your wheels. When the work is finished, I’ll assess the situation and then make my complaints to the city.

  36. Considering the curbs getting on and off didn’t seem to factor into the design, I don’t bother with it – I take the street, as I see many many other cyclists do. The cars are far less dangerous than oblivious pedestrians, or worse: confused and hesitant cyclists blocking the way.

    (No, actually, the absolute worst are the bike cops on patrol. Somebody tell them how to ride a bike!)

  37. Oh come on, everything will be fine. Let’s not become paranoid like our neighbours below us. Pedestrians and cyclists will all learn to share sooner than you think. And even if there are a few people run over and a few broken arms, so be it! It’s worth the lesson of community/sharing.

  38. Oh well, as much as pedestrians do not belong on bike paths, bikes do not belong on streets. If anything, bikes should have a number of streets that are reserved for bikes only, and be banned form all other major streets. It would remove a lot of frustration from motorists, improve security of cyclists.

    You bikers are the most arrogant, ignorant and annoying things on the road, way worse than potholes, winter and road construction. You somehow believe you have some privileged status on the street. Imagine your life if you were to face wandering pedestrians on your bike paths, and a law that says that YOU are to avoid them all them time and they can do whatever the !@#@! they want. 

    This sharing thing does not work. It works for you as long as it’s someone else giving you something for free. You should be paying road taxes, plate fees, and pass biking exams as till now you were getting a free ride. Then we can start talking about sharing. Till then, you’re parasites.

  39. i am very glad to be alive.ha.ha.ha.

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