Thursday, May 26, 2011

Montreal's Bicycle Nightmare

You'd think that driving in Montreal is hard enough considering the deplorable state of the roads and the labyrinth of constriction sites that can turn any mundane journey into a nightmare, where a fifteen minute trip can morph into either an hour-long bumper-to-bumper trip through Hell, or a visit to the garage, to fix the car suspension, after falling victim to North America's worst pot-holed streets.

Adding dedicated bicycle lanes downtown, may just be the most foolhardy project that the city has ever undertaken and this in the city that has produced boondoggles like the Olympic Stadium. 
Montreal - Jaywalking capital of North America

Driving was never easy in Montreal. Poor planning and even poorer maintenance has resulted in a road system that is an embarrassment to its citizens and a humiliating indictment of incompetence of those who run the city.

79% of drivers say that Montreal streets are more congested this year over last year. 75% believe there are too many construction zones and most believe that these sites are poorly organized, complaining that the pace of work is slow, with  many sites lying dormant for long periods of time!

To make matters worse, Montreal drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are notorious scofflaws and so crossing any sort of intersection, be it on foot, on a bicycle or in a car is always a scary affair.
Adding dedicated bike lanes to the mix, with cyclists whizzing by helter-skelter, places another burden on car drivers who already suffer from sensory overload.

Overpass- FAIL
 The fact that drivers must worry if the overpass they are driving under or the bridge they are driving upon will literally fall down, either crushing them in their car or plunging them into the mighty St. Lawrence river, makes motoring in Montreal an adventure, not for the faint of heart or inexperienced.

It takes a steady nerve to drive the Metropolitain Boulevard, a decrepit elevated cross-town highway that boasts no run off shoulders and lanes so narrow that you can roll down your window and touch the eighteen wheeler racing along beside you.

Quality paving- a Montreal tradition.
To cross the St. Lawrence river over to the south shore, three out of the four bridge choices are problematic. The condition of the Champlain, the busiest bridge in Canada, has been variously described by experts as somewhere between ready to fall at any moment or good for another ten years....maybe.
The Victoria train bridge is safe but ancient and offers just one lane in each direction. The drive on the grated deck sends a jarring vibration up your spine to the point that it feels like one is being drilled at the dentist and being able to see (through the grate,) straight down at the raging river below is not for acrophobics.
The ever under-construction Mercier bridge is so decrepit and the road so poor that the all-too often closures due to safety concerns may be the least of driver's problems.

Falling concrete. Watch out below!
Then there is that other cross town highway, the elevated 'Ville-Marie' expressway that has chunks of concrete falling off of it on a regular basis, leading to months-long lane closures in order to facilitate ad-hoc patch-up repairs.
All the overpasses on the highway leading to Montreal's airport have had the lanes reduced to one from two, due to weight concerns and the fear that they too are in danger of falling down.

"Wait for the Green light"
Enough? Well, I'm not finished.
When I said that Montrealers are notorious scofflaws, I wasn't exaggerating. It seems that traffic signs and stop lights are merely suggestions. Any driver who assumes pedestrians will wait their turn to cross a street is dangerously out of touch with reality. Conversely a pedestrian who assumes that cars will politely stop at a crosswalk is taking their life into their hands.

What other city in North America has signs under traffic lights reminding drivers that they should wait for the green light to proceed?

You'd think city officials would try to come up with a plan to make things better, but if you did, you'd be displaying a childlike naivete and an utter lack of understanding of what makes Montreal tick.

Montreal is like your neighbour who drives a shiny car but lives in dump. It's a town that dresses up, but can't pay the VISA bill and like a family that goes on a vacation instead of fixing the leaky roof.

In other words it's a city with retarded priorities.

The left lane. Where experienced drivers don't drive.
Rather than fixing the road infrastructure at a cost of billions, it's easier to ignore the problem and dress up the city with spanking new bicycle paths, built at a cost of gazillions with nary a thought as to the legacy of all that lane trimming will have on traffic.
With it's five month long winter, its roads in such abominable condition and scofflaws for residents,  Montreal must be the worst-positioned city in North America to embrace a cycling culture.  Read this tale of woe.

Montreal's sad bicycle saga should serve as a cautionary tale to any large urban city considering chopping up their precious roads to embrace a phony bicycle/green culture.

I know that what I am saying is bordering on the heretical, but a certain level of rational debate must be returned to the question of bicycles in the city.

Granolas have argued the principle that bicycles are a green alternative to automobiles and represent a step forward in urban planning.

That, gentle reader,  is a cruel lie.

Studies in Europe and in North America all agree that there is no discernible decrease in car use with the addition of bike paths in a city. Bikes represent an alternative to public transport, that's all.

Bike paths are used mainly for recreation and leisure. Sure, there are students who bicycle to school, but the alternative is the bus or subway, not cars. The number of office workers, store clerks and downtown shoppers arriving on bicycles is negligible.

How many people do you know that have sold their car in favour of a bicycle and use it as their principle mode of transportation? I don't know any.

Considering that the downtown bike paths are closed five months a year BECAUSE OF SNOW, the whole project represents an egregious waste of the most valuable urban commodity of all- space.

Anyone  who tells you that bikes could and should be part of an integrated transportation plan is an dangerous idiot.

Then of course, there is the safety issue. Take a look at the picture on the right. It practically screams, "Accident ready to happen!"
Crossing the bike lane to effect a simple turn has become a frightening affair where helmet-less, earphone wearing bikers, fly innocently along, oblivious to what is happening around them, secure in the knowledge that it is the driver's responsibility to make sure no collision occurs.

And so driving in Montreal has become ever more dangerous.

There is a fierce bicycle lobby that has cowed public officials by tapping into the public's blind acceptance of any concept that is green, regardless of the costs versus any benefits.
Bicycle lobbyists continue to exploit the public's ignorance to advance a philosophy that benefits the very few at the expense of the many.

And so the public continues to be pedalled (excuse the pun) a bill of goods.
The vaunted BIXI bike rental program, a Montreal invention that is sweeping North America turns out to be a giant money-losing fraud with the Mayor now telling us that he expected the service, like public transport, to lose money. Of course he never told us that before the service was installed.  And so taxpayers are on the hook for another 100 million dollar loan to keep the program alive and cyclists continue to get a free ride at the taxpayer's expense.
By the way, if you don't have a sense of what a 100 million dollars is, consider that it's enough money to pay for a $300 bicycle for each and every child under 15 years old, living in the entire island of Montreal, that's 300,000 children!
BIXI has 40,000 members.

However one does the math, the benefit of bike paths versus the drawbacks don't add up.
When the public debate comes to your city over bike paths, don't say you weren't warned.

Further reading by  P. J. O'ROURKE  'Dear Urban Cyclists: Go Play in Traffic'


  1. The substandard infrastructure has been a headache and a bellyache since before I left for the better climes and infrastructure of Toronto.

    The Gardiner Expressway is Toronto's answer to the Met, and this past long weekend, it was closed from early Sat morning until early Mon morning to undergo repairs. That will be the case again the weekend of June 4th. Toronto has debated to death what to do with this nightmare on stilts, but they dedicate themselves to fixing it because it is an essential artery into the downtown area.

    The standing joke for well over a decade in Toronto was you could figure out with a sack over your head when you left the 401 in Ontario crossing onto the 20 in Quebec. The 401 was a smooth ride, the 20 went thumpety-thumpety-thump! Around 2000, I think somebody at the Ministère de Transport du Québec heard the joke, but it seems old habits are starting to return. I'll learn in a month when I come into Montreal for the first time in almost a year.

    Then again, the McLean's article seems to manifest here again. Hasn't there been a chronic problem with building and road materials in Quebec what with shady characters being involved in the materials distribution chain?

    I imagine all concrete in Quebec is from Lafarge and not St. Lawrence. I recall decades ago in Aylmer, QC, now part of the amalgamated Gatineau no less, once having to break up a freshly made sidewalk because the materials came from the Ontario side of the Ottawa River and had to be redone with Quebec materials. What f--kin'-eh lunacy! Of course, construction workers on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River couldn't even THINK of applying for construction work on the opposite shore while not the same for Quebec workers.

    I also notice how in a crew of a half dozen workers, five seem to be spectators while one works, and I'm sure the spectators all live in huge homes, own expensive vehicles and take fancy vacations those last two weeks of July and at another time as well every year. The biggest something-for-nothings on the planet besides retired politicians and IOC members! Small wonder Montreal municipal taxes, coupled with Quebec taxes are confiscatory, having to pay your society of something-for-nothings.

    So...who's to blame? Could it be the politicians and mobsters who have each other's hands in each other's pockets? Can it have to do with 1 in 7 Quebeckers who depend on a welfare cheque to live? Can it be the extremes in the weather between the short hot summers and the long, cold winters? YOU decide!

    In the meantime, I'll drive on my properly paved roads with nice, long acceleration and deceleration lanes on the highways and amply built and thoughtfully designed left-turn lanes on city streets while the nincompoops who run the disgrace of my old stomping grounds continue to stomp and break the pavement without ample repairs. I'll save my nail biting when I cross that bridge from Highway 40 in Vaudreuil over to Senneville with bated breath, and then again from Highway 13 over the Back River, or the Cartierville Bridge (both the "new" or "old" spans), or the Laurentian Autoroute Bridge, or the Champlain, Victoria or Jacques Cartier bridges...blah blah blah...

  2. You neglected one really important element,public transport. My wife and I have a combined income of $160,000 a year and we dont own a car.During the winter we bus and metro to work ,summer cycle.With the money we save by not owning cars we travel,this year a month in Barcelona. So everyone enjoy your commute,we are laughing at you.

  3. Yep anonymus i pay for 60% of the cost of ur ride, we pay too much for ur bike path that make driving dangerous, my question is: when will u pay for it's cost? That way I can pay my vacation by being less taxed. You are a BS at 160k$ a year u leech.

  4. Editor,

    Thanks for discussing this important issue regarding the sudden influx of bicycles on Montreal streets.

    For me the biggest issue is not the dangerous bike paths along streets like de Maisonneuve, Rachael etc. that conflict with the safe flow of traffic, but the legions of entitled, self-righteous douche bag riders who ignore the traffic laws with impunity. Worst of all are the Bixis riders. Most of the Bixi riders I’ve seen are glaring idiots wearing no helmets or other protective gear while they clumsily weave and wobble through traffic. The whole concept stinks and puts countless unskilled, unprotected, unlicensed, novice riders on the roads.

    I’m just waiting for my first accident with a cycle. As a driver and a pedestrian, I’ve had several near misses with clueless cyclist burning through stop signs and red lights, riding against traffic on one way streets, riding silently on side-walks, etc.

    If bike riders are going to impose themselves on the roads with motorists, they should be tested for competence, and charged a realistic licensing fee just like any other driver. Cyclists pose a significant inconvenience and safety risk to the free flow of pedestrians and motor vehicles in the downtown areas. It’s an absolute outrage that motorist pay for cyclist’s free ride, while they obliviously jam up the works.

    Ano @ May 26, 2011 7:30 AM

    Thanks for your self-absorbed, sanctimonious yuppie comment. Well done. I hope some tired and overworked trucker doesn’t crush you and your dreams of Barcelona, while you scream ‘I have the right of way’.

  5. Dear Something that smells
    Most people who write at 8 am are not inebriated, but thank you for your kind thoughts and rational arguments. I too pay taxes and hope that mine go to making this city more livable. You most, likely are a suburbanite that tears through my neighbourhood twice a day, do continue you pothole journey.I sincerely hope it gets worse.

  6. Sometimes it's seems that the one's calling the shots in this city are loud hipster Plateau types who rent rather than hard working taxpayers that risked everything they own and actually bought and invested in a buying a home in the city. The squeaky wheel always gets the grease as they say.
    I do a lot of recreational cycling in and around town and my major beef with the city is I think they really screwed up with the deMaisonneuve bike path. Firstly, it should have been built on the north side of the street. Most traffic along deMaisonneuve turns south, not north. Secondly, the bike path should have been separated with removable pylons and not a poured concrete barrier. During winter months, when it's barely used by cyclists, that bike lane is valuable parking space. The city needs to think things through rather than placate the vocal minority.

  7. Studies have shown there is no way to decrease car use with public transit as an alternative, the only thing is to throttle the traffic and remove parking spaces because of the increasing number of cars on the road. Many cities are experiencing the bike lane woes in north america and it's not gonna get any better since they're also implementing bigger sidewalks and other 'traffic calming' techniques.

  8. Dear anonymous retard, the thing is u get full face in the trough, your ride is subsidized at 60%, your bike path get subsidized even more since the low usage, on top of that driver pay extra to make sure your chauffeur makes 100k a year. And looking at the debt ur helping us build, it seem u are not taxed enough or do not pay enough for the gouging you are doing And nice jumping to conclusion u socialist turd, my job requires I be mobile with a car, I sincerely hope you get squashed crossing maisonneuve by a turning car, u would deserve it you trough gouger.

  9. Good infrastructure is major part of any city development, if we keep on ignoring that infrastructure & trying to implement some others like cycle lines which used by very very least percentage of people then no one can help them.

  10. And who's dumb enough to keep paying these taxes sheepishly without revolting against the insanity of it all? When will the heavily-taxed citizen wake up? City councils only get away with it because we the taxpayers let them get away with it by not speaking up and not lobbying as loudly as the special interest groups do.

  11. Something that smells
    Thank you for your comment and good wishes. You obviously are a very classy and distinguished gentleman. I will be thinking of you in Spain.

  12. I once worked with someone who was interviewed in person by a famous author for one of his books. My co-worker lived in the east end of Montreal. The author flew to Montreal from his home in Virginia, rented a car at Dorval airport, and drove along the Metropolitain Expressway to get to my co-worker's home. When the author arrived, he and his wife were visibly shaken. He said that he had driven in many cities around the world, but had never seen drivers as bad as those in Montreal. He was shocked by the number of speeders, lane jumpers and tailgaters - to the extent that he even mentioned it in his book. And this happened over twenty years ago, when there were considerably fewer drivers, and the roads were not as decrepit as they are now.

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