News  Cyclists dying for a change

Bike activists stage theatrical protest near McGill campus for Car-Free Week

An estimated 150 to 300 protesters lay motionless and covered in bloodied bandages at the corner of Ste. Catherine and McGill College at 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday. They later rose from the dead and marched down Ste. Catherine, chanting, “Get off your ass and save some gas. Fuck the car, it’s not that far!”

This was the scene at the annual die-in organized by Montréal à Vélo Collective. The display of political theatre attracted dozens of downtown Montrealers including bike couriers, business people, and families.

Laurent Levesque, the organizer of the event, explained the purpose of the die-in.  “We do this to symbolize the consequence of car culture in our society, the greatest [consequence] obviously being death,” he said.

Levesque was quick to point out that Gérald Tremblay’s Union Montréal, the current municipal government, has implemented “many measures to promote biking and walking.”

“They are doing a lot to make people feel safer, but what we can see in the statistics is that they’re not actually safer,” he said.

Participants reported encounters with aggressive or careless drivers that resulted in injuries.

Alexandre Hupé, an UQAM student, explained how he had been hit twice by cars that turned at an intersection without first ensuring that the bike path was unoccupied. On September 16, a woman was fatally hit by a garbage truck while biking on Jean-Talon near St. Denis, the fourth death of a cyclist in Montreal this year. In 2009, automobiles killed a reported 515 people in Quebec.

Eva Dawson, an event organizer, began the protest with an impassioned speech condemning the city’s efforts towards increasing cyclist and pedestrian accessibility in Montreal as “pervasive green washing.”

The current municipal government has been experimenting with pedestrian zones in downtown Montreal. This year, the Gay Village was car-free from May 26 to September 13. The City of Montreal’s 2010 budget also outlined the goal of increasing the network of bike paths to over 800 km by 2013.

Despite these advances, upcoming construction plans for the Bonaventure Expressway, Turcot Interchange, and Highway 30 extension are still centred on traditional automobile transport while including only the minimal public transport element of bus lanes. The solution, according to Montréal à Vélo, is to reduce the number of cars on the streets.

Police on bicycles monitored the demonstration which circled Phillips Square.

The protest was one of the events marking Car-Free Week in Montreal.  The Agence Metropolitaine de Transports (AMT) was a major sponsor and organizer along with the Montreal Urban Ecology Center and the Goethe Institute who have organized Car-Free Neighbourhoods Week, which features environment-related expositions and activities. Saturday will also see the closure of a number of roads in the downtown core.

Roads in the downtown core were blocked off from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, creating a “pedestrian friendly zone.” Sections of Ste. Catherine street were lined with grass, symbolizing the ecological benefit of limiting car-emissions in urban centers. Various intersections have recently been marked for the occasion by the work of Peter Gibson, the street artist and urban activist better known as Roadsworth.

The car-free perimeter extended from Bleury to McGill College and from de Maisonneuve boulevard to René-Lévesque.