Cycling Celebrity

Mon­treal’s cycling mayor on the bike path to suc­cess

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Christina Palas­sio

The mayor of Mon­treal, Valérie Plante, and her bike path to suc­cess

The mayor of Mon­treal is hav­ing a good day. “My driver just in­stalled a bike rack on the car!” she says, over­joyed.

Valérie Plante and her bike – a Que­bec-made Devinci hy­brid with a milk crate on the back – were of­ten pic­tured to­gether dur­ing her cam­paign to un­seat in­cum­bent Denis Coderre. Since her elec­tion in Novem­ber 2017, though, Plante and her wheels have been apart more than she’d like. Not ev­ery may­oral func­tion is bike­able. Now, thanks to the rack, they’re in­sep­a­ra­ble again.

“For me, hav­ing a bike is about be­ing in­de­pen­dent, hav­ing free­dom. When I first moved to the big city of Mon­treal from my small town, the bike let me go any­where, very fast,” she says. Be­ing a cy­clist is also about mov­ing – and be­ing able to con­nect – at a hu­man speed. “Peo­ple say, ‘Allô Valérie!’ when they see me on my bike. But they call me Madame Plante when I’m not. It’s very funny.” Get­ting Mon­treal’s cy­clists mov­ing faster and more safely to­gether was one of the pil­lars on which Plante cam­paigned. Her pro­posed réseau­ex­pressvélo – the “bike highway” – would cre­ate a 140-km net­work of pro­tected bike lanes along seven ma­jor thor­ough­fares across the city. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity ear­marked $50 mil­lion for the pro­ject in its 2018–2020 cap­i­tal works pro­gram.

“We truly be­lieve we should max­i­mize sep­a­rated bike lanes, for rea­sons of se­cu­rity,” Plante says. But wheel­ing the deal will in­volve a lot of ne­go­ti­a­tion. “It’s com­pli­cated be­cause the lanes will go through dif­fer­ent bor­oughs, so you re­ally need to make sure that ev­ery­body in those bor­oughs is on board. What you want to avoid is some­one be­ing on a bike path and they cross into an­other bor­ough and, oops, it stops.”

Plante and her hus­band have raised their kids to be cy­clists. Pedal-pow­ered neigh­bour­hood ex­plo­rations – along the La­chine Canal in Pointe-saint-charles, around Mile End and Mont Royal – are favourite fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties. Plante’s two sons, who are in grade school and high school, are pick­ing up the skills and con­fi­dence they need to cycle busy down­town streets. But Plante knows that com­mut­ing tech­niques are only part of the equa­tion for all rid­ers out on the roads. “For us, it’s vi­sion zero. That’s re­ally about not wait­ing for an ac­ci­dent to happen,” she says. “With the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, it was more like, once there were four re­ported ac­ci­dents, then they started to act on an in­ter­sec­tion. We’re work­ing re­ally hard to look at all the cases where no one died but it was re­ported that there was a prob­lem.”

Lim­it­ing through-traf­fic on Mont Royal is one of her ar­eas of fo­cus. The area be­came a flash­point af­ter 18-yearold Clé­ment Ouimet was killed by a car there in Oc­to­ber 2017. Still, the plan is con­tro­ver­sial. So is her ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sup­port of the Idaho stop, the abil­ity for cy­clists to treat stop signs as if they were yield signs, and sup­port for al­low­ing cy­clists to turn right on red.

Even in a city with more than 700 km of bike paths – the most of any Cana­dian cen­tre – and a de­vel­oped cycling cul­ture, the way dif­fer­ent ve­hi­cles use streets con­tin­ues to change. “I find we’re in an in­ter­est­ing place right now where there’s more and more peo­ple who are not stuck with only one way of trans­porta­tion, so there’s a dif­fer­ent con­scious­ness.” Last year, when Plante was in Mex­ico City, she found in­spi­ra­tion in that city’s Sun­day Ci­clovìa, a day on which cer­tain routes are car-free.

In Mon­treal, the Tour de l’île is also a fam­ily favourite – es­pe­cially the night ride. “Bik­ing in the dark in the mid­dle of the street: how cool is that? Two years ago we all dressed as pi­rates. But we didn’t have eye patches,” she says with a laugh. They wanted to keep all eyes on the road ahead.

“For us, it’s vi­sion zero. That’s re­ally about not wait­ing for an ac­ci­dent to happen.”

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