SERIES: Exiting Toronto by bike – Exiting Montreal by Bike and Le p’tit train du nord
Story and photos by Alix Aylen
When comparing bike infrastructure in Toronto to cities around the world, people often lean on the old weather argument that “oh, it doesn’t make sense for Toronto to invest in that since we have such a long winter”. Well, they do invest in Montreal, and it’s a lot colder and snowier there too. Yet, Montreal has more extensive and better connected bike lanes and infrastructure than most other Canadian cities of a similar size. It’s not just Montreal that’s leading the way in Canadian bike infrastructure, but all of Quebec. La route verte was established in 1995 and has been developed throughout the province to connect all major cities and towns by a series of connected bike paths, lanes and cycling resources of all kinds. It is often marketed as a tourist resource and activity, however its network connects 400 municipalities in Quebec, so its impact has been to make communities of all sizes in Quebec easier to exit, enter and navigate by bicycle.
We took Rue Boyer, or “Route 1” northwest, all the way to Riviere des Prairies, the western limit of Montreal where you then cross the river into Laval. Riding out of the city on this route was effortless. We noticed no change or interruptions in the type and quality of lane on the route that led us out and over to Laval. We didn’t ever need to course-correct for any awkward and abrupt changes in our lane. Such a delightful contrast to Toronto’s “eclectic” collection of bike lane designs. The lane was consistent, and actually got us to where we wanted to go. Next on our route was Laval and then Le p’tit train du nord.
The p’tit train du nord is a bicycle trail that officially runs from Saint Jerome to Mont Laurier, QC, but is also well-connected to Montreal by way of La route verte connections. It is branded as a “linear park” and was developed in the 1990’s on what used to be an old logging route for trains and skiers in the Laurentians between Montreal and Mont Laurier. The railroad was constructed in 1890 but was never profitable. Following “rail trail” development, the old rail line is now a 200km uninterrupted stretch of well maintained bicycle infrastructure. Each of the old train stations have been renovated and maintained, now serving as resource centres, cafés and more excitingly, as mini cultural and historical hubs for the towns in which they are located. They exhibit works by local artists as well as vintage photographs and descriptions of the cycling, logging and cross country skiing cultures that have all contributed to the development of this region of Quebec.
The trail gets only as steep as a train can handle - with an average grade of 2% - suitable for a train, delightful on a bike. Traversing the Laurentians on a 2% grade seems like an impossibility seeing as these mountains are some of the oldest in the world reaching peaks of 3,905 ft. The route takes you straight through them and with great ease and scenery. Some people that I’ve met say they felt that it’s almost too easy of a ride. However you can always quit the trail and head off into the mountains for more rugged biking. As a commuting line, it’s fantastic. We were so distracted by the lakes, bogs, forests and rivers that become more and more plentiful as you make your way north, and signs of urbanization appear to come to a halt, that it took us, or rather, we took five days to complete the route, in contrast to the two to four day recommendation.
Like the lakes, rivers, valleys and other natural corridors that have long been utilized by people to facilitate travel, this bicycle corridor is a gorgeous portal that surrounds you with birch trees and wild berries while also serving as a thoroughfare to neighbouring urban centres. Unlike highways, which remove us from our surroundings so to reduce any challenges inherent to living and commuting within the natural environment, you’re faced with the elements and on a more level playing field with the activities of the local ecosystem. Weaving in and out of the sights, sounds, shapes and scents of the natural landscape as opposed to just ploughing through in a glass and steel bubble. It makes me dream of bicycle highways that might one day connect all cities,towns and communities across the country.
We exited Montreal by way of the route verte, and rode 260 km north before our bike lane ran out. If Mexico City was the most difficult city that I’ve ever attempted to enter and exit by bicycle, having spent two days planning a route, Montreal was certainly the easiest as I barely had to think about it.
The quality of the route verte is currently under threat as the Quebec government has decided to discontinue its maintenance program. After funding the program for 20 years, making it the largest bicycle network in North America, these cuts will likely result in closures of large stretches of the network. You can learn more about the route and sign the petition here.
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