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Montreal, neighbourhoods, transport, urban projects

Softly, softly… infrastructure is shifting right under our noses

ImageI’ve been renting an apartment in my old neighbourhood, Montreal’s sought-after Plateau/Mile End hipsterplex. I was warned by the owner to look both ways when walking out the door, since one of the city’s busier bike paths is 2 steps away (before the parking and roadway). No mishaps so far, and it’s been nice hearing bikes whizz by at night – I’ve heard far more of them than cars.

Last night – not so great. I was woken at 2:45 by sustained strobe lights, clanking and happy shouting of the “If I’m up, you’re up!” variety. Turns out it was a painting crew adding big crossing indicators to the bike lane as it traversed a larger road. Not a HUGE road, mind you, but there could be kids, and I’m sure there is a Plan. Why this had to be done in the middle of the night and with such a ruckus is something I’ll take up with the arrondissement.

It struck me as I went back to bed, all pissed off, that bicycles have arrived*. Whether privately owned or in rental fleets like Montreal + Toronto’s Bixi, London’s Barclaybikes (née Bixi, a.k.a. Borisbikes) or Paris’s Velib, bike transport is now ingrained in our cities.

There’s been a slew of articles and reports about “new” cycle-related traffic issues, whether they’re bike-on-bike, car-on-bike or bike-on-car-on-elderly pedestrian. However, roadworks, fleet logistics, signage, PR, and online info systems are also part of the every-day mix now. It’s more common to see a trailer of rental bikes making the rounds in central London or Montreal than it is to see a tow-truck. I’d like to believe they’re all being shuttled to the most useful places based on up-to-the-second user info. Experience has shown that many of them are going to the home for battered bikes, but rental car fleets don’t fare too well either.

Another thing I’m seeing in Montreal, though not yet in London, is better awareness. Shared space/roads are by nature a free-for-all, and can be annoying and/or dangerous at the outset. But on this visit, I’ve seen cars wait for pedestrians (in Quebec!!), almost everyone really looking around at intersections, and most people – taxis and that guy in the white shirt excepted – slowing down a little.

This kind of thing gives me hope for cities. Not for humanity in the long term, mind you, but that’s another topic.

*Where they’re not still futile or used for target practice, at least.
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