From the category archives:

My Montreal

I’ve long held that the highway code is outdated in that it prioritizes the safety of drivers over the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. Now, some lawmakers are finally catching on.

This week, the City of Montreal released a series of recommendations to the provincial transport ministry on how we can make our laws better for cyclists. Among the recommendations:

  • Allowing the “Idaho Stop” — which takes physics into account and legitimizes the widespread practice.
  • Letting cyclists drive on sidewalks where their safety is compromised on the road and provided there’s no risk to pedestrians.
  • Removing the requirement that cyclists stick to the “extreme right” of the road — where they’re more likely to be at risk from buses, taxicabs or “dooring”.
  • Prohibit the use of mobile devices while cycling — this is common sense, or ought to be.
  • Increase fines but eliminate demerit points for cyclists — this makes sense since not all cyclists have a driver’s license.

Cycling is a funny issue. It tends to get people’s backs up as fast as, say, the abortion debate or middle east politics. It’s as though people identify on a visceral, tribal level as “cyclists” or “drivers” and they tend to get very angry and shouty and assume that their side is always right and the other side is always wrong. It’s very, very difficult to have a reasoned, sensible debate about cycling because of this. Not to mention, newspapers like the Gazette love to incite this controversy to sell papers. (Quickest route to insanity: Read the comments on any cycling article.)

As a sometimes-cyclist, sometimes-driver, sometimes-transit user and sometimes-pedestrian, I do see all sides of the issue.

Yes, cycling is a healthy, eco-friendly way to get around. I agree that we should do more to promote cycling, and that the laws need to protect the safety of cyclists.

Yes, there are some cyclists who break the law. But there are also drivers who break the law. And, yes, in both cases, it’s sometimes because they’re careless or reckless. But in many cases with cyclists, it’s because they’re trying to protect their own skin.

Take, for example, left turns. Now, the law says that if I want to make a left turn, I have to move over to the left lane and then turn against oncoming traffic, just as a car does. But in many, many places in Montreal, that’s a fantastic way to get killed. So I — just like many other cyclists — often do the two-step turn, where I cross straight first, then turn into the crosswalk lane, wait for the light to change, and cross straight in the other direction. The highway code says I’m not supposed to do this. My sense of self-preservation says otherwise.

Likewise with the Idaho Stop. Anti-cycling people will grumble about how it gives cyclists license to “break the law” by rolling through stop signs. But here’s the thing: Most stop signs are there as traffic calming measures, to get people to slow down in residential neighbourhoods. Traffic lights are typically deployed at larger intersections, and cyclists will still have to come to complete stops at red lights. But in most cases, cyclists are already going slowly enough that they don’t need to be “traffic calmed”. Moreover, stopping at a stop sign, hopping off your saddle to put your feet on the ground, and then starting again, takes a LOT more effort than merely pressing the brake pedal. Especially on the 50-pound Bixis. The laws of physics say that there’s little risk to allow a cyclist to slow down when they approach a stop sign, look both ways to make sure it’s safe to proceed, and then slowly roll through. Most do it already. Let’s legitimize the practice.

The most controversial recommendation here is probably regarding helmets. Right now, there are no laws requiring adults to wear a helmet while cycling, and the report says we should keep it that way. Now, I wear a helmet when I bike, and I’d encourage everyone else to as well. I understand that in jurisdictions with helmet laws, the cycling rate drops, which is bad for the safety of all cyclists — and for public health. But I’m still pro-helmet just as I am pro-seatbelt. And I see how an argument could be made for both sides of this one.

Overall, though, I’m encouraged by the recommendations in this report. Let’s hope the province adopts them into law, so that Montreal can continue to serve as a model of cycling-friendly cities.


Bixi’s back with a vengeance this season.

Last fall, the city of Montreal took over management of the financially-burdened company and announced that it had adopted a plan to fund and keep the beloved bikeshare service going for at least 5 years. This season’s launch was accompanied by celebrity bike designs, launch parties, and even rides by the mayor.

All this fanfare — and security — has renewed interest in Bixi, spurring the sale of a record number of memberships:

As with last year, 5,200 Bixi bikes will be available at 460 sites in the city, as well as in Westmount and Longueuil. The service is off to a good start, with a record 37,386 members already signed up. That’s 4,000 more than it had at the end of last year, when skittish patrons weren’t sure if the bike-sharing system that filed for bankruptcy protection would survive.

Good news for those of us who like the service, right?

The problem is, Bixi still only has the same number of bikes and docks as in previous seasons. And there are increasing signs that the added demand is causing some problems.

[click to continue…]


Excuse Watch: Luc Ferrandez on Plateau Snow Removal


Luc Ferrandez, the borough mayor of Plateau Mont-Royal, is short on action and long on excuses when it comes to snow removal this winter. Here’s a summary of some of the best ones he’s come up with so far: January 12: We’re not trying to save money; it’s just that too many blue-collar workers called [...]

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Quebec schoolboard elections: Why you should care


Folks, this is important: Quebec is having school board elections in November, and for the first time, the position of Chair is directly electable by the population. My wonderful aunt, Suanne Stein Day, is running for re-election as LBPSB Chair. It’s because she’s wonderful, and not just because she’s family, that I’d urge you to [...]

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Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques goes Quebec Solidaire


There will almost certainly be a recount in my home riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, won by QS’s Manon Massé by a margin of only 91 votes over Liberal Anna Klisko. Obviously, I would have preferred a Liberal victory over a Quebec Solidaire one here. The QS is staunchly pro-sovereignty, militantly anti-English, and has pie-in-sky ideas about [...]

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Montreal needs a reality check on customer service


We Montrealers have a love-hate relationship with our service industry. On the one hand, we bitch and moan about surly store clerks and wait staff. On the other hand, we have the unfortunate habit of viewing it as a point of pride. We’re not like those Americans who greet the public with overenthusiastic fakery, we boast. We’re better than that. Our service sector may be grumpy and indifferent, but câlisse!, at least it’s honest.

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How do you solve a problem like Bixi?


Montreal’s bike-sharing system is used by thousands of people, myself included, to get around. Montreal is a city where the ubiquitous orange cone is practically a symbol, with road closures and sinkholes and traffic nightmares and transit service outages the norm as opposed to the exception. In this context, Bixi is often the least stressful [...]

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Resign, resign, they shall resign


Quebec Solidaire co-spokesperson (and general pain in the ass) Amir Khadir has stepped down from his party’s co-leadership role, though he will remain MNA for his riding of Mercier. I’ve narrowly escaped being represented by him by about half a block — though my local Pequiste MNA on this side of the street is not [...]

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Open letter to Bixi Montreal, one year later


Dear Bixi Montreal, You and I didn’t exactly get off to the best start. Last year, I wrote you a letter about how badly I wanted to like you, but how, after a few bad dates, I’d decided that the relationship was not meant to be. Flash forward one year, and these days, I’m singing [...]

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University dropout rates: Chicken or egg?


Interesting food for thought by Henry Aubin in the Gazette, with a perspective of the high dropout rates among university undergraduates in Quebec: According to the organization that represents university heads, CREPUQ, Concordia is the Montreal school with the highest dropout rate. UQÀM is hard on its heels. Université de Montréal is substantially better, though [...]

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