Test ride: Montréal’s separated bike lanes

Text and photos by Chris Riddell

I’ve been living in La Belle Province for a month now, and in this time I’ve seen so much amazing cycling infrastructure. Everywhere I go there seems to be another bike lane. In fact, Montréal has 650 km of bike lanes spanning the city, and 70 km of those are bi-directional separated lanes with concrete medians, painted lines, and traffic signals. These lanes are at minimum 3 meters wide, and provide enough space for cyclists to pass each other.

The separated bike lane at Rue Berri and Rue Saint Catherine, a busy downtown intersection. On the right you see commuters waiting for the bus to arrive.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to bring my bike with me when I moved from Toronto. I couldn’t fit in my rental car with all my other stuff. I'll go back and get it soon, or perhaps just buy a new bike here, but until then I am sans velo.

But I was happily charged with the task of testing out these separated bike lanes for dandyhorse, and rented a BIXI bike for the first time ever. It was a beautiful and sunny Saturday and the weather could not have been better. Montréal is reputed to have terrible winters, but it seems the cold temperatures are taking a bit longer than usual to arrive.

From my home in Côte-des-Neige I took my BIXI down chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine. At first there was no bike lane, but after riding a few blocks the separated lane came into view. A smile spread across my face as I whisked along the asphalt.

The start of the separated lane on Chemin de la Côte Sainte Catherine

To my left there was a concrete median separating me from the traffic, so I didn’t have to constantly look over my shoulder to see if there were any cars coming up behind me, and it ensured I’d be safe from collisions with cars. A thick yellow line was painted down the middle dividing the bike lane in to two; east- and westbound.

I came to a bus stop with a dozen or so people waiting just as a bus pulled up to the curb. Just as a car would do, I stopped at the line before the bus stop and let everyone board before continuing on. I could see the lane continue on the other side of the intersection, but the light was red so I waited at the stopping line for it to turn green.

Then I thought, “This is a lot like driving a car...” and it is. Riding a bike in separated lane makes it much akin to driving. You have your own lane, you have your own traffic lights, and you have your own signs along the way.

The separated lanes are also a great way to explore the city. Rue Berri has an excellent separated lane that sends you through the heart of the city, and downhill to Old Montréal with its port and 400-year-old buildings. Here, I followed the port-side bike lanes along the water and noticed the "Arret" signs painted on the asphalt.

The separated lanes are marked with many signs and symbols, like this one.

Then I continued along this path, over a bridge, and around to a path along the Lachine Canal which led to a stunning view of the city.

With vistas like these, the Lachine Canal is a great place for a ride on a sunny afternoon.

After this I spent the rest of the afternoon riding my BIXI around looking for more lanes to take on. During this search for separated lanes I also discovered what it’s like to ride a bike through the busy downtown streets of Montréal with no bike lanes at all. Sainte Laurent was gridlock, and riding northbound I had to weave around cars to get through. This was nerve wracking because in Montréal the roads are not as wide as in Toronto, and drivers can be much more aggressive. This city definitely needs bike lanes, because without them, biking here would be a white-knuckle affair.

Place des Arts has a unique bike lane running along its north side. The lanes are made of white and grey bricks, clean and smooth. There is also a pedestrian walkway along the side, and all the lanes are clearly marked with painted lines. These special lanes are elegant and an artsy touch for the Quartier des Spectacles area of the city.

The last separated lane I toured was on Parc Avenue, running alongside Parc Mont Royal. Going uphill was a tough slog on my heavy BIXI, but going downhill I had to squeeze the brakes to keep from going too fast. The lane goes through an S-curve, crosses the street, and goes through another series of curves and turns to connect to the McGill student ghetto. It was a fun ride with all its curves and slopes.

Eventually I returned the BIXI to a docking station on St. Denis and stopped to watch a free POP Montréal performance.

The separated lanes are excellent. They were a pleasure to ride on, very safe, and also made for a great way to explore the city on a bike. There are so many lanes in Montréal that you can easily ride around the whole city using them. The way the lanes connect is convenient and intelligent. There are also sharrows for you to follow through intersections, so there is never any question of where you should ride. The cyclist traffic signals were a great added feature too because it serves to make it even safer. It made me feel more obliged to follow the rules of the road.

Many intersections in Montreal's network of separated lanes have their own cyclist traffic signals.

Bi-directional separated lanes go a long way in making cycling safe and accessible. I can only hope that Toronto can start to build some of its own separated lanes and upgrade its cycling infrastructure to something more like what we have in Montréal. If they do, cycling in Toronto will be safe and fun for everyone. There is no doubt in my mind that if Toronto does this, it will see more people on bikes, and it will see less cycling fatalities.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Harbord parking okay but bike lane design up in the air

What's happening on Harbord? Bike lane improvements we hope

Harbord Bike Spotting

What's it like biking on Sherbourne

Other cities love bike lanes



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One response to “Test ride: Montréal’s separated bike lanes”

  1. hamish wilson says:

    I only had a weekend on my bike in Montreal a couple of summers ago, and yes, it was inspiring, and easy to see why it has surged ahead in overall bikeability. But the context of bi-directional especially is important: are roads wide?, only one-way motorized traffic? many short blocks?
    Sadly the quality of the planning, execution and politricks in Toronto are not conducive to really getting a high-quality infrastructure – we don’t even have a continuous done-with-paint network yet, and some of us think that’s the place to start ahead of costly rebuilds that seem designed to gobble up budgets but not actually do much real for commuting cyclists ie. new bike lanes – and where they’re needed.

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