Win­ter cy­cling in this city an ex­er­cise in frus­tra­tion

Four-sea­son bike paths full of snow, mak­ing two-wheel travel dan­ger­ous

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JA­SON MAGDER

I’m feel­ing like a su­per hero as the lone cy­clist on the Parc Ave. bike path. With snow-cov­ered Mount Royal on my left, I’ve got a good pace. I’m warm and dry in my wa­ter­proof win­ter gear and I feel like I can con­quer the world. But in a sec­ond, my smug­ness comes crash­ing down. I find my­self sud­denly ly­ing on my back on Es­planade Ave., with two other cy­clists stop­ping in their tracks to ask me if I’m okay — ap­pear­ing out of nowhere just in time to see me wipe out. For a split sec­ond, my 40-yearold brain has vi­sions of hip re­place­ment surgery, long hos­pi­tal stays and months of phys­io­ther­apy re­hab un­til I re­al­ize I’m just fine. Only my ego is bruised. This is win­ter cy­cling in Mon­treal. A chal­lenge in the fairest weather with ag­gres­sive cars and pot­hole-laden roads that look like the sur­face of the moon, cy­cling with ice, snow and cold tem­per­a­tures to con­tend with isn’t for ev­ery­one. But for the bold (or the stupid, de­pend­ing on your point of view), bik­ing dur­ing the win­ter is a great way to get out­side and mov­ing. Nav­i­gat­ing the bike net­work, on the other hand, can be chal­leng­ing. De­spite prom­ises by the city that 75 per cent of its bike net­work is cleared of snow, only a hand­ful of the most pop­u­lar paths are ever rou­tinely cleared. I’m lucky enough to live two blocks from De Maison­neuve Blvd. where snow clear­ing is con­sis­tently good from my home in Notre-Dame-de- Grâce to my of­fice down­town. A tour I took this week of the city’s cen­tral bor­oughs, how­ever, re­vealed spotty snow clear­ing is just a fact of life in the city, even in bor­oughs that tout them­selves as bike friendly. I was in the Plateau-Mont-Royal when I fell, turn­ing left from Du­luth Ave. onto Es­planade, go­ing from one so-called four-sea­son bike path to an­other. On this day, how­ever, roughly 24 hours after a snow­fall of about 10 cen­time­tres, both streets were cov­ered in so much snow it was im­pos­si­ble to even see the painted white lines that de­mar­cate a bike lane.

One of the cy­clists that comes to my aid is Peter Boudreau. A McGill PhD stu­dent orig­i­nally from Ge­or­gia, in the U.S., Boudreau said he’s frus­trated that much of the paths on his usual five-kilo­me­tre com­mute from Lit­tle Italy are cov­ered in snow. Bik­ing on streets that don’t have bike paths is no bet­ter, be­cause snow builds up in the spot where cy­clists are sup­posed to ride. “A cou­ple of ma­jor roads aren’t re­ally taken care of on the sides,” he said. “It gets bad in the Plateau and the Mile End, which is ironic be­cause that’s where the bike paths are.” Boudreau says he still prefers to bike be­cause it’s faster than the bus, but he of­ten has to walk his bike when he runs into snow­banks or dan­ger­ous con­di­tions. “There’s a lot of dis­mount­ing, walk­ing, then get­ting back on again when you’re bik­ing,” Boudreau says. “It’s not fun, but at this point I’m used to it.”

There’s a lot of dis­mount­ing, walk­ing, then get­ting back on again when you’re bik­ing. It’s not fun

I get back on my bike, and con­tinue on my way. My sur­vey of the Plateau, which prides it­self in hav­ing the city’s largest con­cen­tra­tion of cy­clists, re­veals only a few places where the con­di­tions are ideal for them. Bike paths with con­crete bar­ri­ers sep­a­rat­ing them from the rest of the street like Rachel and Clark Sts. are cleared down to the pave­ment. How­ever, bi­cy­cle lanes that are just painted lines on the side of the road are rou­tinely slip­pery and slushy, be­cause that’s where plows tend to push snow. It’s no dif­fer­ent in neigh­bour­ing Rose­mont–La Petite-Pa­trie, where the bi­cy­cle lanes on ei­ther side of Bel­lechasse St. are be­ing used as a dump­ing ground with huge mounds of snow de­posited through­out. Outremont’s Côte-Ste-Cather­ine path — which is sep­a­rated by a con­crete bar­rier — has piles of snow and ice, mak­ing it dan­ger­ous for cy­clists. Be­fore I bail out at Stu­art Ave., I no­tice Outremont res­i­dent Cyn­thia Fish walk­ing through knee-high snow to cross the street where the path meets a pedes­trian cross­walk. She says pedes­tri­ans are just as frus­trated as cy­clists this win­ter. “It’s se­ri­ously atro­cious,” she says. Fish, an en­durance walker train­ing for the 6633 Arc­tic Ul­tra — a 380-mile trek through the Yukon that crosses the Arc­tic Cir­cle — was just be­gin­ning a four-hour walk. She reg­u­larly walks around the city and has no­ticed snow clear­ing has been worse than usual ev­ery­where she goes. “At least last year at the first freeze, they got it all up,” she said. “This year has been slow.” On my ride home that day on the De Maison­neuve Blvd bike path, I run into Daniel Lambert, a spokesper­son for the Mon­treal Bike Coali­tion. He says with so few bike paths and bike lanes con­sis­tently cleared, only the hearti­est of cy­clists ven­ture out. He has been push­ing suc­ces­sive city gov­ern­ments for years to im­prove snow clear­ing of bi­cy­cle paths, and has been dis­ap­pointed by Mayor Valérie Plante’s ad­min­is­tra­tion — now go­ing through its sec­ond win­ter. “The qual­ity of snow clear­ing is not at all what it should be,” he said. “For cy­cling to be a vi­able mode of trans­porta­tion, you have to be able to do it year-round.” Speak­ing for the Plante ad­min­is­tra­tion this week, Jean-François Par­enteau — the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber in charge of cit­i­zen ser­vices — ad­mit­ted snow re­moval on bike paths has been less than ideal. How­ever, he said the sit­u­a­tion has been slowly im­prov­ing over the last few years with new meth­ods be­ing tried, and new equip­ment pur­chased, like side­walk sweep­ers. Par­enteau said any­one who sees a bike path, side­walk or road that isn’t prop­erly main­tained should call the city’s 311 phone line, prefer­ably with a pic­ture show­ing the prob­lem. “For sure it’s not per­fect, but when you com­pare it to five, six or seven years ago, it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent,” Par­enteau said. “We need to fine-tune the city’s snow-clear­ing pol­icy and we’re go­ing to do that for next year. We’re try­ing to get bet­ter. We know that if we im­prove main­te­nance, we will get a be a good re­sponse from cy­clists.”

DAVE SID­AWAY

Cy­clists wait for a green light at Peel St. on the de Maison­neuve Blvd. bike path, a high-traf­fic cy­cling route, last week.

PIERRE OBEN­DRaUF

Year-round cy­clists are deal­ing with plenty of slush and snow on Mon­treal streets and bike paths this win­ter.

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