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How a Massive Bike Tour Inspired Montreal to Become a Bike-Friendly City

Especially in the warmer months, Montreal is simply alive with street life and, of course, lots of bicycling. Its car-free spaces are inviting to everyone, and there's so much art and interactive installations in public space.

In 2001 and again in 2003, I got to ride the Tour de l'Île in Montreal while on group trips with NYC's Five Borough Bike Club. Both times were incredibly exciting, not only because of the rides, but because I could see and use wonderful, safe bike infrastructure. It helped me realize what could be possible in NYC one day.

I was invited by Vélo Québec to participate in this year's Tour de l'Île (as well as the Tour la Nuit), and I still think it's the best group ride in the world.

Riding this year, I was accompanied by many advocates and journalists from other cities. I learned how the ride's formation in 1985 helped inspire much of the city's bike infrastructure, and how it has kept pressure on the government to continue building more.  There are cyclists everywhere in Montreal: One report puts the bike-to-work mode share in the Le Plateau – Mont Royal neighborhood at about 18 percent.

So just go to Montreal. And go often. Don't bring a bike -- they have Bixi. That's all you'll need. If this video isn't enough of an endorsement, how about this: In all my riding over five visits, I've only ever seen one car parked in a bike lane.

Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • The_PainfulTruth

    It's nice, not not all rosy. A spoksman for the police department in 2013 was quoted as saying “We want cyclists to be afraid.” in regards to police officers. They also have a law that groups can be no larger than 15 people, any more and you can be ticketed. Not to mention that bicycles have virtually no right to the road. If the police think you are slowing motorized traffic, you get slapped with an insane fine. There are thousands of complaints online from just the last year about police harrasment in Montreal. So while there undoubtedly is some improvement, they still have a LONG way to go. I'll take my city where police generally ignore cyclists, even ones blatantly breaking the law over one with better infra, but an oppressive police system.

    Then there was this
    http://globalnews.ca/news/746737/cyclists-and-police-face-off-during-critical-mass-gathering/

  • Ralph

    Denver, are you paying attention?

  • lagattamontral

    What became Le Tour de l'île started out as La Journée internationale de la bicyclette, a protest event to call for cyclists' rights, more bicycle lanes, and ultimately, an end to what we would now call carcentric societies. This was organized by the more activist group Le Monde à bicyclette. Vélo-Québec took it over and the political content was largely forgotten.

    PainfulTruth, of course not all is rosy. There are often motor vehicles stopped in the cycle lanes (I live along one). But I don't know where you live; we have certainly achieved a lot more than most places in North America.

  • HamTech87

    It is truly a great cycling city and best in North America -- especially for tourism. There are some minor problems, like the fact that during the big Jazz festival, there are no alternative bike lanes put down to get around the crowds. And some big roadways to avoid.

    The other piece is that the bus and Metro systems are also great. The #55 bus runs "north-south" through the major arteries to fun 'hoods with a high frequency and span. And Metro and Bixi are just great.

    Start with a all-ages tour or two from Fitz & Folwell, tourguides with hearts of planners, and you can't go wrong.

  • William Farrell

    Moving from Montreal to NYC next week and hoping I can take some of this cycling spirit with me!

  • Bartholemew Cubbins

    Montreal is spectacular. I am sure it has some problems with the police and drivers - just like most other cities in N. America - but surely they are in much better shape than most U.S. cities. The scope and safety of the bike lanes are top notch. Maybe if you are living there it might not seem that you have it well, but you do. I'd swap the cycling infra in my city anyday!