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Commissioner’s office reports on Montreal visit

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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.

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