Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Commissioner’s office reports on Montreal visit

Posted by on April 3rd, 2007 at 12:27 pm

Last month, Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams traveled to Montreal. Along for the trip was his Chief of Staff for Transportation, Tom Miller.

Tom gave me a brief report about the trip and shared his thoughts about how Montreal’s bike infrastructure and culture compares to Portland.

Tom noted that the quality and quantity of bike-related infrastructure pales in comparison to Portland’s. That being said, he did notice a dedicated, physically separated bike lane (in photo, below), which he described as “a cheaper version of a Dutch cycle-path.” Tom said he hopes to bring a similar treatment to Portland.

Miller says we might get a separated bike lane (or “cycle path”) — like this one in Montreal — on W. Burnside.
Photo: Tom Miller

Tom described the separated bike lane (a.k.a. “cycle path) like this:

“Essentially, it appeared the city either removed on-street parking or limited auto through-put. The distinguishing barrier was a simple line of curbs. Inelegant but clear. I suspect it’s the sort of treatment that would generate a lot of controversy in Portland; some would hate it because it limits one’s ability to use the auto lane to pass slower cyclists while some would appreciate it for providing more of a real barrier from autos than our six-inch white stripes do.”

You can get a sense of what the community thinks about separated bike lanes by re-reading the discussion we had about them back in January.

Tom is aware of the political risks it might take to create one of these cycle paths. Even in Portland, to remove on-street parking and/or limit auto traffic in any way can be a huge battle. Try to do this in business districts and/or on freight corridors and it’s an even more daunting task.

But while there may be political risk and some disagreement within the community about separated bike lanes, Miller says his office is convinced that they will have a place in the future of Portland. He told me this morning that they are looking at a potential separated bike lane treament on lower Burnside, between Broadway and the Burnside Bridge (as part of the Burnside-Couch couplet project).

Beyond bike lanes, Tom says Montreal (named Best Cycling City in North America by Bicycling Magazine in 1999) has a “really vibrant bike culture” which he attributes to,

“…an off off-shoot of its general culture, which is famously and proudly more European than any other city in North America (save, perhaps Quebec City). Bike use is clearly not to the level of the Dutch (which has 40% bike use split, compared to Montreal’s 25% non-car split), but stronger than here because the neighborhoods are more urban, more concentrated, and hence the bicycle makes more sense.”

After the trip, Tom concluded something that I’ve said many times, that Portland has the most active and vibrant bike community in the world, but we have work to do,

“I’ve never seen a community as interested and passionate about the machine itself as Portland; unfortunately its use as a transportation tool remains limited to the enthusiasts, I think, because of our decentralized land use patterns and auto-centric transportation infrastructure. Of course, both are changing, but at the current rate we’re talking about 50 years or so before the paradigm would resemble anything like one sees in the European cities with really diverse mode splits.”

Thanks for that report Tom.

It just so happens that two other BikePortland readers are currently visiting Amsterdam and have offered to share reports and photos. Stay tuned for those.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Todd B April 3, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Per your interest in a two way in street bike path…both Eugene and Seattle have it in use for many years.

    Seattle’s is a better example. It is along Alki Beach where they pushed out a parallel parking lane and removed a travel lane to extend the shoreline path into the street. This was an easy and affordable way to reduce bike on ped conflicts along a crowded trail.

    Some of the difficult design aspects of this type of facility is how to manage driveway access (driveways must be closed), right turning movements, and pedestrians accessing parked cars, fast bike through traffic, etc.

    You can see it in use on Bike TVs visit to Seattle WA in 2005. http://homepage.mac.com/trorb/BikeTV/iMovieTheater67.html

    I will send you some photos.

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  • Matt Picio April 3, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Todd – perhaps Seattle’s is better, but where *is* Eugene’s?

    I’d like to take a look next time I’m down there. Thanks.

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  • Jonathan Maus April 3, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    Matt (et al),

    I snapped these photos while on a tour of Eugene’s bike facilities with the BTA last year:

    this lane is on a central downtown street near U of O. Auto speeds are very low.

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  • N.I.K. April 3, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Anybody have any idea how the city could justify the expense of creating these things without them ultimately serving as MUPs? I get that not everyone feels comfortable cycling on the street, but I wince at the prospect of going from contending with real vehicular traffic to contending with headphone-wearing roller bladers (who won’t hear shouts of “on yer left!”), folks with jogging strollers, and other leisure-seekers when I’m trying to get somewhere.

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  • Brad April 3, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    They might need to be marked as “Bike Only” and police enforce the usage. If a sidewalk is still available, then the peds don’t belong in the bike lane.

    Oh yeah, ride really fast also. That scares the beejeezus out of them.

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  • Michelle April 3, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    A cycle path is probably not meant as a substitute for a sidewalk. So if there’s a sidewalk adjacent, those joggers and walkers will probably prefer that, right? I don’t think pedestrians particularly like being passed by bicyclists.

    How about a cycle path alongside the Oregon Convention Center on MLK? That sidewalk is wonderfully wide, and the district can be tricky to navigate en route to the Esplanade.

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  • Qwendolyn April 3, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Ok, so they have one seperated bike path. Whoopee.

    I’ll take riding in the rain over 8 months of winter, thanks.

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  • Adam April 3, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    I was in Montreal a couple of years ago. I didn’t ride there, but I was impressed by what I saw of the cycling infrastructure. I never saw any pedestrians walking in the separated bike lanes. And people were used to them enough that they even looked both ways before crossing. Also wanted to mention that Montreal is home to the world’s biggest bike festival (Bridge Pedal is #3 in North America). http://www.velo.qc.ca/english/home.lasso

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  • Tbird April 3, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    In other places of the world where this type of bike way is common the ‘concern’ that slower or more recreational riders impeding the faster folks is not such an issue. I am sad to say that this is more of an American thing. The analogy I use is the car. You COULD drive your car 100mph, but SHOULD you? OK, maybe that’s over simplified, but you get my idea…
    I think it is incumbent on the slow and fast to both be aware/considerate of each other, even on the open street.

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  • David April 3, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    The “I’m trying to get somewhere” crowd needs to slow down and put other people’s safety before their own convenience.

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  • DR April 3, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    “The “I’m trying to get somewhere” crowd needs to slow down and put other people’s safety before their own convenience.”

    This statement is completely true with regards to shared infrastructure (like the Hawthorne bridge), but if we’re serious about making cycling a real transportation mode, we should consider which types of infrastructure allow people to “get somewhere” as quickly as possible. Seperated bike paths can help or hinder that goal, depending upon how well they’re designed. We should proceed very, very carefully.

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  • David April 3, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Ainsworth seems like an ideal place to put in a separated bike lane or bike boulevard. It is already a boulevard street with sufficient space, few stops signs, and no driveways.

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  • N.I.K. April 3, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    The “I’m trying to get somewhere” crowd needs to slow down and put other people’s safety before their own convenience.

    David, what part of “I get that not everyone feels comfortable cycling on the street” don’t you understand? The concern I expressed was of PEDESTRIANS using bike-dedicated infrastructure because some of them may not sit well with the notion of the city using funds to cut a whole section out of the street and maintain it for bikes and bikes alone. Other folks have pointed out that this doesn’t seem to be an issue in places where similar bike lanes exist (and believe me, that’s good news).

    Nobody else, however, has made the error of mistaking my concern as being anti-safety,jerk-ass road cyclist elitism, or anything else you may want to reflexively jump on strangers for. All I’m talking about is making sure that, if said infrastructure is created, it gets used for what it’s intended for and its use is not misappropriated because the community fails to understand its intended use or disagrees with its intended use in some capacity. That’s all.

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  • David April 3, 2007 at 8:20 pm


    Your post was followed by a post from Brad who encouraged buzzing pedestrians. It was my mistake for bundling your post with his.

    I generally agree with your post. If the space is allocated specifically for cyclists, then there should be some measures to discourage pedestrian use. And headphone use is dangerous and irresponsible when mixing with traffic.

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  • Clark April 3, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    Montréal is very progressive. IIRC they also have free parking for motorcycles downtown.

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  • N.I.K. April 3, 2007 at 9:42 pm

    Ah, apologies then, David. Just as much my mistake there.

    And you’re right: buzzing pedestrians is a *bad thing*, and in such a hypothetical case as I described, it’s likely to only promote further hostility – if the improper use of the path hadn’t been initiated in an anti-cycling spirit, such behavior would certainly shift things more in that direction. And besides, even if one were a thoroughly evil mustache-twirling villainous type, I’d have to ask endanger both another human and yourself? Running into a hundred or two pounds of muscle and bone at speed isn’t going to feel good to anybody.

    The headphone thing is a debate I’d rather leave for another time – preferably one that doesn’t come up. I only mentioned headphones because it’d be an especially nasty combination w/ anyone careening along said space and engaging in erratic lateral movement in addition to the usual forward kind. 😉

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  • Todd of Bikestation April 7, 2007 at 12:34 pm


    How about posting one of the photos of the Alki Seattle facility I sent in, as it is a better example than the Eugene one? So folks can see it and go visit it.

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