It’s a popular topic on local radio talk shows, especially as this is an election year in Montreal. Of course, I refer to street configurations. Our current mayor, one Valérie Plante, is at best not a fan of cars. At worst she is downright anti-car. Since her election four years ago she has overseen the disappearance of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of parking spots in the city.
As she seeks a second term her project to make downtown Montreal’s main commercial thoroughfare a pedestrian mall is well underway. With any luck she will be defeated in November and her destruction of downtown can be aborted.
However, pedestrian malls are far from the only new use of roads. Many streets in Montreal have been re-divided to include bicycle lanes. Perhaps the most notorious of these rejigged streets is rue St. Denis. In fact, the merchants association threatened to sue the city over the issue.
But the plan went ahead. A very popular north-south artery, that was already dealing with significant traffic woes, went from two lanes of vehicles in each direction with parking on both sides, to one lane of traffic in each direction with parking on both sides and one lane of bicycles in each direction. Parallel parking a car now causes traffic delays all up and down the street.
But, it is one thing to reconstruct streets to accommodate both types of vehicle, and quite another thing to retrofit existing streets.
There are cities around the world with successful interactions between driver and cyclists. Bicycle lanes are not unique to Montreal. But, it is one thing to reconstruct streets to accommodate both types of vehicle, and quite another thing to retrofit existing streets. In many of the world’s cycling meccas the streets have been configured in a way that bikes and cars never, or rarely, interact.
Mind you, our current day politicians did not create ridiculous roadway layouts. In the photo above, my grandparents stand on the street where I live. They are going to, or coming from, an Armistice Day (now Remembrance Day), ceremony. It is believed it was taken sometime during the second world war, while their son, my uncle , was overseas. But the thing I want to point out is in the background. Not a bicycle lane, but fully grown trees smack in the middle of the street!
By the time I came to be, those trees had long been removed, yet I recall people talking about them. I hope they were taken down intentionally, and not felled by an unsuspecting motorist turning the corner to find a large tree in the street. Bicycles or trees, streets should be left to cars and trucks.