Municipal candidates debate urban cycling

Infrastructure and snow plowing among issues discussed

Representatives of three of Montreal’s major political parties engaged in a debate on October 2 regarding the future implementation of bicycle infrastructure in Montreal. The debate, organized by the recently formed Montreal Bike Coalition, aimed to create political discussion about cycling in light of the upcoming municipal election.

Réal Ménard from Coalition Montréal, Philippe Schnobb from Équipe Denis Coderre, and Alex Norris from Projet Montréal all participated in the debate, which attracted around 100 people.

Major issues of the evening included the continued development of bike lanes across the city, the development of a ‘reseau blanc’ or a ‘white network’ of plowed bike lanes in the winter months, and continued funding for the city’s Bixi bike program. Increased bicycle parking facilities and improved timing for signalization along bike corridors was also discussed.

While all candidates present expressed the desire to improve cycling infrastructure and usage in the city, the candidates differed significantly on their preferred methods of doing so, especially in terms of financing.

Schnobb proposed a minimum expenditure of $10 million per year for the development and improvement of bicycle infrastructure. Other candidates didn’t put forward specific numbers, instead suggesting that the realities of infrastructure development were more complicated than could be described by a single figure.

Schnobb also expressed his desire for the development of a year-round ‘Reseau Blanc’ – the ‘white network,’ or winter bike lanes – and criticized Norris’s borough, Plateau-Mont-Royal, for not adequately clearing bike paths during the winter.

“When crossing Sherbrooke […] I had great difficulty cycling because the Plateau […] either never or at least very lightly, [cleared] the bike lanes,” Schnobb said.

Norris responded by suggesting that the design of select bike paths prevented plowing, and instead proposed that the paths be redesigned. He also criticized the funding for implementation of the ‘white network,’ stating, “No financing has ever been given to the boroughs to put [the white network] in place,”

Norris continued, “so each borough has only proceeded according to its means. To finance this, we need to take a look at where the money is coming from.”

Norris suggested the creation of a city-wide department to fund the cycling network, similar to those that exist for basic utilities.

However, Ménard disagreed that the city should be responsible. “It’s the boroughs that need to do it,” he stated when asked about implementation of the winter bike lanes.

A question submitted by an attendee concerned the legalization of contra-flow cycling on local one-way roads.

Norris believed that legalization was necessary. “Already cyclists ride in the wrong direction on one way streets,” he said. “It’s in the interest of everyone: drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.”

Schnobb also said he supported the idea, suggesting it would help distribute cyclists more evenly throughout neighbourhoods. However, Ménard reserved judgment on the idea.

“Yes, but with evaluation,” he said when asked about the implementation. “We have to see if the conditions are right at the level of safety.”

Differing opinions were expressed regarding the promotion of the financially struggling Bixi system. Norris proposed integrating Bixi into the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), and told the audience that it was a public service, while Ménard proposed re-investment into the system with the goal of eventual profitability.

All candidates expressed desires to allow cyclists access to reserved bus lanes – as is the case in a growing number of other cities, including some parts of Toronto.

Zvi Leve from the Montreal Bike Coalition told The Daily in an interview that the goal of the debate was to spread information about cycling policy in politics, as “Montreal has been a cycling city for a long time.”

Leve added that while he was happy it was an issue being debated in the election; the debate would hopefully expand to higher levels of government in the future.

“Our perspective is that cycling is a legitimate means of transportation, and we’re trying to get that recognized,” he said. “Given the extent that planning in general is done in a very political environment, it’s important that citizens are aware of the stances of the respective parties.”