CDN/NDG bike paths just lipstick on asphalt

De Maisonneuve Blvd. W. at Decarie Blvd.

De Maisonneuve Blvd. W. at Decarie Blvd.

You’d think that Côte des Neiges and Notre Dame de Grâce, being so young, urban, working-class and eco-friendly, would have lots of bike paths spread across its huge territory. And yet, when you look at a map, you see only one, along de Maisonneuve Blvd. next to the tracks.

So I’m sure plenty of people got excited when they heard last Friday that the borough is working to vastly improve its bike path network, adding a new east-west corridor on the north side, about where the 51 bus travels. It would start from the western end of the de Maisonneuve path, go up West Broadway, east along Fielding and Isabella, then along Lacombe and Édouard-Montpetit until it reaches the Outremont town limit, where it will link up with the new path along Côte-Sainte-Catherine Rd.

Well, almost.

You see, looking at the map (French-only PDF), you see this strange grey zone with a grey bike path in the middle. That’s the town of Hampstead, and the grey bar in the middle seems to indicate that there will be a bike path of some sort on Ellerdale Rd. Except Hampstead hasn’t announced any such path. (A city representative had no idea of such a thing being approved.)


View New bike paths in CDN/NDG in a larger map

The new network isn’t perfect (notably lacking in north-south routes), but it’s a start.

The only thing is, none of these are bike paths. They’re, at best, bike lanes, meaning painted lines on the asphalt. In the Google map above:

  • Red lines indicate shared roads, meaning there’s no actual path, just some bike icons painted on the road. Cars and bikes are expected to share the road, just as they do on every other road in the city.
  • Orange lines indicate bike lanes between traffic and parked cars. These are both annoying and dangerous, creating the perfect conditions for cyclists getting hit in the face by the driver-side door of a parked car.
  • Yellow lines indicate bike lanes next to the sidewalk, where parking has either been removed or wasn’t there to begin with. These are much more tolerable than the other two, but still aren’t as safe as isolated paths.

These contrast with the path on Côte Sainte-Catherine, which is isolated from traffic with a median.

De Maisonneuve missing link is a death trap

Meanwhile, in case you missed it, the borough finally took a step a while back toward solving the missing link on de Maisonneuve Blvd. Before, the path would mysteriously end in a U-turn just before Decarie Blvd., only to reappear when it enters Westmount. Cyclists wanting to take both paths would have to navigate around busy intersections and lots of moving buses, all because nobody thought to connect the two.

The ideal solution would have been to continue running the path along the tracks, where it wouldn’t have to deal with traffic. Unfortunately, that would require expanding the overpasses over Upper Lachine and Decarie, and finding a way to squeeze it in next to the Vendôme train station. (UPDATE: Fortunately, as James points out in the comments below, this is exactly the plan when the new superhospital is built sometime in the year 3577.)

So instead, the borough just painted a bunch of lines on the ground. Allow me to explain with pictures, starting from the West.

Existing de Maisonneuve bike path in NDG

Existing de Maisonneuve bike path in NDG

The bike path between the tracks and de Maisonneuve Blvd. isn’t fantastic. At best you’ll have some poles keeping the traffic away. But on the plus side, there’s no crossing traffic so your trip is uninterrupted.

Sharp turn is more than 90 degrees

Sharp turn is more than 90 degrees

Heading east, the first thing that happens is this extremely abrupt left turn, which I estimate at somewhere between 100 and 110 degrees. More importantly, the turning radius is tiny, especially on the westbound side. This is a recipe for bikes colliding with each other.

How many people do you think could make this turn at speed?

How many people do you think could make this turn at speed?

Assuming you make it out of that alive, you now have to cross de Maisonneuve Blvd. (you’ll have to cross back a block later).

Clear as mud. Remember to go on the left side.

Clear as mud. Remember to go on the left side.

This crossing is confusing, partly because of the patchwork of asphalt, partly because of the faded paint, and partly because instead of going on the right side of the median, cyclists are supposed to go on the left (with traffic). This means that cyclists actually cross each other here, even if they’re not exactly made aware of that.

Cyclists ignore their sharp turns and take a softer diagonal approach to the bike lane

Cyclists ignore their sharp turns and take a softer diagonal approach to the bike lane

These things might be contributing to the fact that I didn’t see any cyclists actually making those two sharp turns. Instead, most went diagonally and crossed when there was a break in traffic.

Contrary to what you'd expect, here you have to drive on the left.

Contrary to what you'd expect, here you have to drive on the left.

Looking east, other than the strangeness of driving on the left, everything seems routine here.

Looking west from Decarie

Looking west from Decarie

The uphill climb heading west is certainly straightforward.

Where's the bike path?

Where's the bike path?

But heading east, the bike path disappears as the road becomes two ways. They don’t have much of a choice here, there’s simply not enough room for two lanes of traffic and a bike lane, so they have to share.

There's no sign saying so, but you're supposed to turn right here.

There's no sign saying so, but you're supposed to turn right here.

Then it becomes confusing. Not only is there no path, but there’s no indication anywhere at the route you’re supposed to take.

Once, there were lines indicating a bike lane here

Once, there were lines indicating a bike lane here

Archeologists studying this area might eventually conclude that there was once a short bike lane here, but it has long faded away.

A cyclist cuts across traffic to make a left onto de Maisonneuve from Decarie

A cyclist cuts across traffic to make a left onto de Maisonneuve from Decarie

Again, it’s not clear, but you’re supposed to make a left turn from this lane back onto de Maisonneuve Blvd., returning to its southern side. There’s no light for this, of course, so cyclists just kind of do what they want. For some, they’ll cross one way and then cross the other. Some might follow the green light like other traffic (even though they’d be turning left from the right lane), and some jut wait until a break in traffic and cut across diagonally.

Careful here, or you and your bike will both end up busted

Careful here, or you and your bike will both end up busted

Right away, you’re met with pothole hell if you’re not paying attention.

Looking east from Northcliffe, you see a lane of car doors waiting to open

Looking east from Northcliffe, you see a lane of car doors waiting to open

If you survive that, you face the gauntlet, sandwiched between speeding drivers on the left and parked cars or waiting taxis on the right, with the occasional jaywalking pedestrian thrown in randomly.

The bike lane disappears at the bus stop

The bike lane disappears at the bus stop

When you reach the bus stops at Vendôme, the lane disappears. From the odd dotted line here, I guess it means this lane is some sort of bus stop/bike lane combo. It’s not clear what that means if a bus is parked in the lane. Do you go on the left, trying to squeeze in between a bus and car traffic, do you wait until the bus pulls away, or do you hop on the sidewalk?

This car is in the bike lane. I think. It's not clear if there's a bike lane here, actually.

This car is in the bike lane. I think. It's not clear if there's a bike lane here, actually.

Finally, once you get to Claremont, you’re placed in the warm, comforting hands of a separated bike path, and you thank your lucky stars you’ve entered Westmount.

From now on, you think, I’m in a place that actually cares about cyclists and their safety, and doesn’t use awkward shortcuts to get around problems.

NDG’s paths are a step in the right direction, but the borough still has a long way to go before it can call itself bike-friendly.

UPDATE (June 10): The Suburban’s cover story this week is about NIMBY OUTRAGE that (some) street parking is being sacrificed in order to construct this bike path. They simultaneously argue that their businesses are doomed and that these streets are too dangerous for cyclists anyway. The borough passes the buck like a hot potato to Montreal city hall, and there’s talk of possibly rerouting the path from Isabella to a neighbouring street.

29 thoughts on “CDN/NDG bike paths just lipstick on asphalt

  1. David Pinto

    With regard to the picture Looking east from Northcliffe: at the eastern end of that line of cars is an Atlas Taxi stand. That’ll be fun, eh?

    Reply
  2. Justin Bur

    You don’t like the orange lines:
    “Orange lines indicate bike lanes between traffic and parked cars. These are both annoying and dangerous, creating the perfect conditions for cyclists getting hit in the face by the driver-side door of a parked car.”

    These paths are placed just where the cyclists already ride on any street. As long as the path isn’t too narrow, this sort of path is simply marking the cyclists’ space explicitly to drivers and urging them not to scatter themselves at random through this area. It may also remind drivers when they park that they are borrowing the bicycle corridor to open their door. Thus in my experience, this sort of path is neither annoying nor particularly dangerous, nor even a waste of paint.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      My issue (and I realize it’s a minor one) is that the lanes are too narrow, or at least too close to the parked cars. When I ride next to parked cars, I keep at least a door-length’s distance from them.

      Reply
  3. Homer

    Here is a radical Idea. Let’s get cyclists to pay registration like drivers. That way they money that is collected from them can go (in proportion to their numbers) to pay for improvements to bike paths! yay! And, maybe they can become part of the no fault insurance program of the SAAQ as well? Radical idea! Sick and tired of cyclists who want everything but pay for nothing.

    Reply
    1. morcego

      Pay registration “like drivers” to improve municipal infrastructure? As if the registration money we pay as drivers ever goes into municipal services! The money we USED to pay for bike registration went to the city, not the money for car registration. The money you (and cyclists who own cars or have drivers licenses) pay goes to the provincial government (SAAQ mostly). I’ve yet to see a single bike path or city street getting taken care of by the provincial government in Montreal! Those monies pay for the highways…and they’re off-limit to bikes already. (There is a municipal fuel tax in Montreal that funds public transit. So very indirectly, cars pay a little bit for that too, but not for bike infrastructure)

      The city pays for street infrastructure in general, and it benefits people in general. As an occasionnal driver, I can appreciate the space freed by cyclists and the purer air. Cars lined bumper-to-bumper is the only outcome of discouraging cycling as a viable mode of transportation.

      It’s ironic to see people take for granted that modern roads are a car infrastructure and think that bikes are on the roads almost “by accident”. It’s the bike lobby that got the cities to improve road conditions and provide us with something better than a muddy horse track. THAT paved the way for the automobile decades later. Bikes were there first. Whenever you ride your car on a paved road (or even a crushed stone road), you should remember that you’re using an infrastructure built for bikes first and foremost, not the other way around. Unless you’re ready to go back to horse-drawn carriages and muddy street, you should acknowledge the bicycle and what it gave you. The street is HERS, the car is the intruder if there is one. Oh, and rubber tires and most of early mechanical inventions necessary for the birth of the car comes from cycling too, just so you know.

      ps: Chateau Ramezay still has a great exhibit on bicycing in Montréal in the 1800s including its bastard child: the car. The very first Quebec car is on display there (actually built in France and imported). Interesting fact: to get carriages drivers to shut up about it not belonging on city street, the very first Montreal car-driver asked the city for a licence. Since it wasn’t horse-powered he couldn’t get a horse carriage license, but as a self-propelled mechanical device, it got a bike licence. He paid exactly 1$ (like all cyclists of the time) for his “bike” licence. That was the first and last time a car registration paid for city infrastructure and that was over a hundred years ago. The following year the province took over the registration for that vehicule (That licence number is Q1 btw and it was painted on the car itself). For years after that, thousands of cyclists continued to pay the city for their bike licence that paid to improve the quality of roads, both for themselves and that former cyclist turned motorist.
      He never did again however and neither have you.

      Reply
      1. Jean Naimard

        Whatever happenned to the licenses plates we saw on bikes many, many, many years ago?

        I recall inquiring about them some 30 years ago only to get inconclusive answers (and never been bothered since for not having one)…

        Reply
        1. Marc

          Last I saw those was in 1985-86 thereabouts. I had one. But when I went to city hall to get it I found out it was optional. Found that strange and haven’t seen them since.

          Reply
  4. Tux

    Someone should tell the city that painting lines on the ground does not a bike path make. They need to do it like they did downtown, build paths separated by curbs. Better yet, start closing streets to traffic and opening them to pedestrians and bikes!

    Cars aren’t the future. Massive efficient public transport and networks of bike paths are!

    Reply
  5. mare

    Nice post.

    Finally, once you get to Claremont, you’re placed in the warm, comforting hands of a separated bike path, and you thank your lucky stars you’ve entered Westmount.

    And you have to go to the nearest bike shop to buy a helmet (if you don’t wear one) since those are required in Westmount.

    I blogged about that last year:

    http://logloglog.com/archives/2008/10/helmet-2.html

    O, and people who want to complain about bike paths should fill out this survey from a McGill researcher.

    http://tram.mcgill.ca/cycling.html

    Reply
  6. Alanah

    I go through this intersection on my bike every day, once in each direction. Thank you for pointing out how completely ridiculous and life-threatening it is. One gets kind of numb to the experience.
    It is actually a big improvement from the first attempt, which gave cyclists NO guidance to cross de Maisonneuve and Decarie, and then directed them to cycle underneath parked buses. The system in place actually kinda works although it is not for the weak of heart (and could certainly use a new paint job).
    The main flaw is that I have only ever seen 1 car respect the yeild sign, which is supposed to halt traffic for cyclists to take that wide-radius turn. Thats one in a couple hundred.

    Reply
  7. Homer

    Oh? Well, I pay those taxes too. And yet the SAAQ seems to deem it necessary that I pay MORE. While I’ll admit that the taxes point might be a bit tenuous, I do think that REGISTRATION is going to become necessary soon enough. Cyclists CAN be at fault in accidents and should have insurance…

    Reply
  8. Homer

    Agreed on efficient public transport…

    But, “Bikes are the future”? Are you kidding me. Bikes are an alternative form of transport for all but the most dedicated (read: eccentric). I love to bike, but let’s be realistic, 4-6 months year bikes are not the ideal form of transport.

    Reply
  9. Dominique J-S

    As for turning left onto De Maisonneuve from Decarie heading east, I tried a bunch of different ways of crossing that intersection but finally decided on pretending I was a car and making a left turn from the left lane. The light starts off as flashing green so there’s no threat of oncoming traffic.

    Reply
  10. Marc

    The intersection of Decarie & De Maisonneuve is a disaster. It always has been. I’d say it would have to be re-designed but now with the McGill “super” hospital allegedly* being buiit right around the corner, it remains to be seen what will be done there.
    I’m with Homer in that bikes aren’t so great from Dec-Mar. Tux is right that painting lines doesn’t do all that much but how the downtown bike path should have been done is with removable concrete bollards instead of that permanent median. Then you can put the parking back for the winter months.

    * I say allegedly because it was supposed to have been built in the 90s and I don’t believe it will be built – until I see at least a couple floors up. But that’s a whole other debate. :)

    Reply
  11. James Lawlor

    All this talk about bicycles but nothing about pedestrians?
    As a pedestrian at this intersection, I’ve nearly been hit by bicycles several times. I live in St-Raymond district and I wait at the light at the NE corner (your first picture in the article) and then when the lights change, I walk to the Upper Lachine exit (the sidewalk below the left-most traffic light in the first picture) of the intersection. This means that I have to cross bicycles that want to take De Maisonneuve.
    The good news is that the new MUHC will completely change this intersection.
    The latest that I could find about the new layout can be found on page 3 of this file:
    http://www.cusm.ca/files/construction/Feuillet_information_en.pdf
    Even more reading can be found here:
    http://www.cusm.ca/files/construction/Rapport_Mise_jour-Etude_du_CUSM_vfinale_Internet.pdf
    You can see that in the new Décarie-De Maisonneuve intersection is a normal 4-way intersection. Upper Lachine road will be deviated to Crawley (work has started on this already).
    Cyclists should be happy since the existing bicycle path will run along the CP tracks and will pass over the intersection and pass between Vendome metro and the CP tracks before arriving in Westmount at the corner of Ste-Catherine & Claremont.

    Reply
  12. cc

    Really liked this post, I use that path a couple times a month and the first time I hit it I was totally confused as to what the hell the city was thinking. It’s a dangerous situation and a bad intersection.

    The Proposed NEW bike paths are not such a bad thing, though including “shared roads” as part of a bike path is just greenwashing. Some indication as to which route to take to a nearby bike path is good (which is what those little bike and arrow symbols mean to me) but they are not in themselves part of a bike path.

    A couple of weeks ago I wanted to do a similar photo-essay about the de-Mainsoneuve path, from around St. Laurent all the way west to past Concordia there was a time that you could not go a two blocks without some construction (of nearby buildings or tunnels or unknown), obstruction, or obstacle either completely blocking the path or making it more dangerous to use than the street. It’s a bit better now, I think there’s a stretch of three blocks that has no problems.

    It’s great to have bike paths, but better to have some that are usable!

    PS: the reason I did not take pics is because my camera packed it in.

    Reply
  13. Jacob

    This is a timely debate to be having about cycling. While it’s an “alternative” form of transportation here, proper bicycling facilities (read: NOT bi-directional segregated paths but uni-directional separated lanes on EACH side of two-way streets) and educational campaigns aimed at drivers and cyclists could have impressive results. From the Island of Montreal’s current 1.2% cycling share (although higher in the summer and much higher in central boroughs) I’d say we could reach 10% in ten years. 20 years is a long way off, but I’d be impressed if even a quarter of the middle class could afford to gas up their cars once a month so we may as well get used to biking.

    The impacts on local businesses would be impressive, allowing small retailers to regain some of the ground they lost to the big box behemoth where grocery shopping resembles stocking your bomb shelter in preparation for a nuclear holocaust.

    Mandatory bike registration, licensing and helmet laws have been proven to limit the expansion of cycling to more tentative riders.

    I doubt Montreal will ever have as many people cycling through the winter as you see in Copenhagen, but what they lack in snow they make up for in freezing winter rain blowing off the North Sea into your face.

    Reply
  14. Homer

    Jacob, you make some good points. Though I don’t understand why you think that increase in cycling would have an increase on local business. Specifically the types of businesses you think are being affected by the ‘big box’ stores. I think you’re mixing up two very different demographics.

    1. Your typical family of 4 won’t ever be caught doing a weeks worth of groceries on a bike.
    2. I don’t see anyone biking to Best Buy, or your local mom and pop electronics store. Buying at TV from a ‘small retailer’ vs. a Big Box store doesn’t make you more likely to bike there.

    Re: Mandatory registration. It also has the same effect on tentative drivers. But, we need to register cars because we need (believe in, rather) no-fault insurance and we need to make sure that only people who have the proper skills drive , as well as the knowledge of the rules of the road are buying/registering and using cars. I don’t see why cycling is any different.

    If cycling remains a leisure activity, then fine, registration is unnecessary. But, if you expect 10% cycling share in transport, then we are talking about the same level as motorcycles and last I checked they are registered/insured.

    Also, I believe that the concept of increasing cycling will reduce cars on the road is a fallacy. I can’t say I have numbers to back this one up, but logically, most dwellers of central boroughs, DON’T have cars to begin with. Putting them on bikes doesn’t reduce the number of cars on the road, it just increases the number of bikes with no additionnal revenue to pay for cycling infrastructure.

    Investment in more efficient public transport is far more important than cycling infrastructure at this point in the city’s development.

    Reply
  15. Sean

    I love cycling, and I love driving.

    I think the day will come when cyclists will have to pay registration fees. I know I had to pay $15 to register my bike in Cornwall back in the early 80’s, and I seem to recall having to do the same in New Brunswick in the 70’s.

    Now mind you, those were mere municipal licenses that were mainly used to keep track of stolen bikes, but the precedent has been set long ago.

    Motorists need to be more mindful of cyclists when they drive. I have seen so many motorists try to bully cyclists onto the sidewalk, or honk their horn at them when they are already keeping as far to the side as possible.

    Cyclists also need to change their attitudes. I know how hard (and tiring) it is to come to full stops at stop signs and red lights, but simply blasting through them is not a realistic option. If bikes are traffic, they must obey traffic laws. If they are not traffic, get them off the public roads.

    And I have seen a lot of cyclists insist on using St-Joseph in Lachine, despite the fact that there is a bike trail next to the road. That is just plain inconsiderate, unless they happen to be moving faster than the cars. But considering that there are 20-some stop signs along St-Joseph, I don’t see how any cyclist can remain legal without obstructing traffic. Use the trail.

    Reply
  16. Prakash

    To continue Fagstein’s point, the actual driver’s license fee is not enough to cover all the associated expenses of a car. By your logic, the License fee should be raised significantly, how about 500? Maybe 1000? And in terms of wear and tear on the road and actual maintenance expenses, the cars and trucks are responsible for a significant large share. Bikes on the road, and painting bike lanes, is a miniscule fraction in comparison.

    Reply
  17. Alain

    The western part of the De Maisonneuve path gives me more trouble than the Decarie intersection. The state of the asphalt between Cavendish and the train station is really really bad. And what do joggers and dog-walkers have against using the sidewalk ? When I have to go around them and around the potholes into the zipping traffic, my life is more threatened than when I cross Decarie.

    Reply
  18. Jean Naimard

    I don’t understand why the english should have their own hospital. The french hospitals are not good enough for them?

    What a waste of perfectly good tax dollars!!!

    Reply
    1. morcego

      “The french hospitals are not good enough for them?”

      Indeed they are not. It’s no surprise, they’re not good enough for us frenchies either!

      Agree with Fagstein, the fact that they are linked to an english university (and then get referred to as english hospital) doesn’t really make them english hospitals. I went to Royal Vic twice and everything was in french. Everyone I dealt with happened to be francophones. There MUST have been some anglos working there but I didn’t find any (wasn’t looking for them tough).

      Reply
  19. Jean Naimard

    There aren’t any English hospitals in Quebec.

     Oh! Silly me! Of course!
    The St-Mary’s hospital is lithuanese, the Montréal General Hospital is Albanian, the Voyal Victoria Hostpital is Peruvian and the Sir Mortimer B. Davis Jewish General Hospital is, well, Jewish.
    Sorry to have so misrepresented things. I won’t do it anymore. My bad.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Hospitals here aren’t defined by their ethnicity any more than they’re defined by their language. They all provide services in French, and those in Montreal and other anglophone areas provide services in English, whether they’re associated with English or French universities.

      Reply

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