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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The BIXI Gap

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While our home-grown BIXI’s have taken off in London England and beyond, they have yet to hit the streets in many parts of Montreal, including my ‘hood of NDG.

When guests come to visit or when a show lasts beyond the last metro, it occurs to me just how practical it would be to to tap this service that so many of my fellow Montrealers rave about. Last year we heard that BIXI would hit CDN-NDG in 2010, but the most populated borough in the city is still serviced by a mere 10 stations, all in the area adjacent to Outremont, at least 4 kilometres from where I live.

When I asked the borough when we could expect BIXIs, I was told that the Public Bike System Company, the division of Stationnement Montréal that manages BIXI, had only installed stations in the area adjacent to Outremont because they insisted that the bike docks to be a maximum of 300 m apart. However, BIXI stations were launched in Saint-Laurent, LaSalle, Lachine Verdun and Ahuntsic this summer, proving that there’s more than a little wiggle-room in the 300-meter rule.

I was excited to learn that a neighbour, James Maclean, was circulating a petition to bring BIXI to NDG, and I agreed to accompany him to the borough council meeting to present his collection of over 1000 signatures and get to the bottom of the issue.

Although the petition was well-received, borough mayor Michael Appelbaum refused to give any concrete answer about when we could expect BIXI in NDG. He reiterated the 300-metre rule and insisted that the borough had to wait for Stationnement Montréal to expand the network at their discretion. Yet when I had contacted the Public Bike System Company, I was told that decisions about expanding the bike-sharing network come down to the city and boroughs:

La décision de prolonger le réseau BIXI dans d’autres secteurs revient aux arrondissements et à la Ville, vu les impacts financiers sur les opérations de la Société de vélo en libre-service,” wrote their customer service representative.

Appelbaum also emphasized that the pilot projects that launched in far-flung neighbourhoods were intended for local trips only and were not part of the core BIXI network. However, the Public Bike System Company in LaSalle assured me that their bikes were part of the central network:

“Les nouveaux projetspilote font partie du réseau central, et sont donc compatibles avec les vélos du centre-ville,” wrote their customer service representative.

Even if we were adamant about the 300-metre rule, there’s an obvious flaw in this logic: The borough is a continuous territory and we’ve already got BIXI stations in the north-eastern part of the borough. Therefore, it should be possible to expand the network throughout CDN and NDG by placing stations every 300 meters.

The real insight came when councillor Helen Fotopulos asked Maclean whether he had thought of passing the petition around in Westmount. In June, the mayor of Westmount said he was in no rush to bring BIXI to the town, which would leave a 2-km wide BIXI-black-hole between NDG and Atwater.

“That has been a stumbling block,” Fotopulos said.


It’s no easy task for citizens to untangle a decision-making structure split between the boroughs and city, where responsibilities are regularly handed over to the private or institutional sectors. Based on the contradicting responses I received, it would seem even those directly involved in the decision-making don’t know whose court the ball is in. Do we really need to get a whole other city involved, or approach the elusive metropolitan level of government simply to receive a service that other parts of the city already enjoy?

I’m tempted to start waving around my broom but honestly, a 2 kilometer gap can be cycled in under 30 minutes easy. Let’s get on with it already.



  1. Even the management of the existing CDN stations seems to be somewhat neglectful: whereas those trucks that redistribute bikes from full stations to emptier ones (and from downhill to uphill ones) are quite busy around the Plateau, I live near the furthest out (from Centre-ville & the Plateau) station in CDN and it’s almost always full, while ones up the hill tend to be half-full to empty. Thus, coming home from the Plateau (via the lovely if incomplete bike path on Côte-St.-Catherine or the streets of Outremont), checking the availability of slots at the station near my building via the handy iPhone app (while stopped, of course), I’ve never been able to go to that station, but always end up leaving the bike at one of the uphill stations and walking a number of blocks downhill. Not a terrible situation, but still, when I have a somewhat heavy bag I’ve been toting on the handlebar rack…

    My sense is that there’s more potential demand for Bixi even just further west in CDN (west of chemin de la Côte-des-Neiges), as I’ve even seen Hasidim, who live here as well as in Outremont, riding them in my ‘hood.

    I’ve seen the petition in the Coop Maison Verte (where I’m a member though infrequent shopper) on Sherbrooke in NDG but haven’t signed it, even though I’m nominally a resident of the same arrondissement; should I? I’ve never felt like they are de facto the same arrondissement. It’s an odd grouping. But that’s another subject.

  2. I’d be happy with bixi stations at Vendome and Villa Maria metros, then a few stations scattered around Monkland village, and along sherbrooke to Concordia / Mtl West train station. It’d be faster than waiting for a damn bus!

  3. Please help support the Westmount Walking and Cycling Association in getting Bixi to Westmount, thus closing the black hole between downtown and NDG:

    A petition circulated in Westmount is essential I believe.


  4. What’s up with Westmount, anyway?
    They don’t want transit, don’t want bixi, don’t want to be part of the city that surrounds them.

  5. There are no Bixi stations in Lachine. Verdun was the other borough included in the expansion.

  6. re. Westmount:  I refuse to believe that Westmount city hall’s view reflects the view of each and every Westmounter.

  7. What is the official name of the company that manages Bixi? The only reference I can find to “Public Bike Service Company” through Google is on spacingmontreal. “service de velos publiques” turns up nothing.

  8. @Foobar: it’s
    Société de vélo en libre-service / Public Bike System Company
    fixed it in the post

  9. While I’m encouraged that so many NDG residents would like to see BIXI in their hood, it must be said that NDG is really badly equipped with bike infrastructure right now.

    The main drag – Sherbooke – is about as bike friendly as Jean Talon, and this is the spine of a limited access borough.

    A bike lane with a cement divider on Sherbrooke – from Atwater to Loyola Campus – would be a necessary prerequisite to expanding BIXI to NDG. But if this were to be installed, it could do really well there.

    With all the students commuting between Loyola and Sir George, it’s amazing how sadly inadequate the bike lanes are in the West End.

  10. NDG has a good network of bike trails. There already is a fully separated trail and a very popular one on De Maisonneuve. Then you have some painted lines on another main street like Fielding, and a network of trails going through internal streets. It’s much better than in some other places like Cote Des Neiges which already has bixi and where it’s proving very popular. 
    NDG has such a strong bike culture though, even before any bike trails were there. I see people biking all the time on Sherbrooke, and sure it’s not as biker-friendly as the trail on De Maisonneuve but there’s no way to compare it to Jean Talon. 

    I think the are 2 main reasons why Bixi isn’t in NDG yet. One definitely has to be the fact that NDG is surrounded by independent municipalities like Westmount, Cote-Saint Luc, Hampstead and Montreal West. I doubt these entities care much for having bike thingies coming from Montreal on their streets. The other big reason is probably because some parts of NDG are very ghetto. It may not sound PC, but I doubt Bixis would last a whole season out in the open in places like Fielding or Walkley. The whole area around Upper Lachine and Saint-Jacques is a dump. So there is a legitimate fear of having the bixi infrastructure vandalized.
    Funny though how no one is complaining about Montreal-Nord not having bixis yet!

    Anyway, bixi should implement at least pilot projects in some less scary parts of NDG, maybe around Monkland or Sherbrooke east of Grand Boulevard before deciding on the best way to ensure a comprehensive deployment.

  11. De Maisonneuve and bike path from Vendome to Montreal west on it is in terrible shape. Asphalt should have been change 10 years ago. Rollerblading is almost impossible, potholes are 90% of time up to the neck, etc… All together is one sad story while neighborhood streets with 10% of traffic that de Maisonneuve gets are being reconstructed.

    Yes, we do need BIXI in NDG since private bikes are being often stolen.

    Westmount is another story and all I would say would be politically incorrect :)

  12. The de Maisonneuve bike path from Vendome going west and the bike path going along Grand Blvd are a disgrace.
    Westmount city council is dragging its heels concerning getting BIXI.
    It seems to me that these are signs of how little importance is placed on cycling in these communities.

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