Montreal’s cycling mayor on the bike path to success
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.”