This article was adapted from a larger feature article on sustainable transportation, A Better Way, originally published in Canadian Geographic’s June 2012 Environment Issue.
Take a stroll along Montréal’s Boulevard de Maisonneuve on a cold January day, and you might wonder who’d be hardy enough to cycle along this popular strip in winter. But since the city started clearing snow from this busy cycling thoroughfare, winter ridership has taken off. In 2007, Montréal completed a flagship bike path along the boulevard, about 3.5 kilometres of separated lanes that take pedal-powered commuters east-west through the heart of downtown and the wealthy Westmount neighbourhood. Known today as the Claire Morissette path, named after the late Montréal cycling advocate who passed away in 2007, the bike lane is one of the first to be open year-round — a section of the city’s Réseau blanc (“white network”) that will one day total up to 63 kilometres of bicycle paths maintained for winter cycling.
It’s part of a larger effort to increase active forms of transportation and to decrease automobile use. With the release of Reinvent Montréal in 2008, an ambitious transportation plan that outlines a host of sustainable transportation initiatives, the city made a strong commitment to reinforce its image as the “most bike-friendly” urban centre in North America.
In addition to its white network, Montréal plans to double its 400-kilometre network of bike lanes within seven years and to create five times the number of bicycle parking spots. To further integrate bicycles with its transportation system, the city is also adding more bike racks on city buses and taxis and plans to build indoor spaces near busy transit stops, where hundreds of bicycles could be parked. These bicycle stations would offer a variety of services for cyclists, such as lockers, repair shops and toilets.
One of the most innovative projects in the city’s transportation plan, and certainly the most well-known, was the creation of a system of self-serve bicycles for rental at key locations. BIXI Montréal, launched in 2009, offers residents and tourists the chance to rent more than 5,000 bikes from over 400 stations throughout the city.
BIXI Montréal’s success is based on its automated payment structure. With an easy touch-screen interface at stations throughout the city and online credit card payments for year-long memberships, regular users can ride any bikes in Montréal for 30 minutes or less with no additional fees. They can also get up-to-date stats on how many bikes are available at each station by visiting the BIXI website.
The concept is catching on beyond Montréal. BIXI has now spread to other cities, including Ottawa, Toronto, London (England) and, most recently, New York City, which will eventually have the largest bike-sharing system on the continent, with 10,000 bikes and 600 stations.