Even though I lived in Montreal for a good part of my life, indeed from 1965 to 1995, I never thought of Montreal as a bike city, I have to say.
Some friends rode bikes in summer, Martin, Dorothy and Marie, for instance.
I took little notice, apart from a few nice glides along the Lachine canal on a Sunday or two. I cant even remember owning a bike though Katya says I did.
It was in Montreal that our Ellen was born
Montreal is an apartment city and many of the triplexes have steep exterior stairs.
Getting a bike up to your apt. especially in winter when those stars are slippery, is, let’s say, discouraging.
I also have to confess that, though my friend, Martin Duckworth told me on several occasions about Bicycle Bob, the amazing Bob Silverman, I paid little attention to that interesting character either.
Journalist Josh Freed, in a 2007 article, called Bicycle Bob the Johnny Appleseed of cycling.
Yet the American apple tree planter was less colorfully extreme, I suspect than Bob Silverman.
For example, in the 1970’s he and his guerilla band lay down one afternoon in a Montreal intersection in rush hour traffic, covered in ketchup blood, to protest the mayhem caused by cars on bikes and pedestrians .
On another occasion , Bicycle Bob dressed as Moses, tried to part the vast St Lawrence river which runs past the city, so that cyclists could escape the unfriendly (for bikes) island on which Montreal sits.
Bob must be getting on now, but also taking pleasure from what’s happening with bikes today, because, I guess, it all starts with him.
I miss Montreal, miss friends, the things I used to do and those I didn’t do also, like ride a bike.
I was busy making movies. It never occurred to me, when I writing the scripts for the family feature films I made with legendary producer, Rock Demers to make bikes a part of the plot, even though many of our characters did rush about on two wheels when they needed to.
Here are some of the faces from one of the movies which preoccupied me.
It pleases me a lot that these faces would be well remembered by the many Quebecers now riding on Bixis, (see below)
They are the stars of Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveler. In French it was; Les Adventuriers Du Timbre Perdu, and in both languages, a hit, even without bikes.
I saw no magic in bikes in those days. The young heroes we put on the screen, moved magically around the world in another way, on postage stamps, willing prisoners in the little pictures.
Tommy Tricker was our rascal.
So, it comes as a great surprise to me that Montreal is now one of the leading bike cities in the world. Indeed, probably the leader in north America though Portland, Oregon, has had that title for some time and still holds it in some respects.
Montreal now streaks ahead due to the brilliant street bike rental system it has created with a sit-and-beg type bike called; the Bixi.
5000 Bixis have just finished their first summer in the city. And, as if by magic, these sturdy but fun bikes, have rolled Montreal into a new reality.
(I don’t know who took these photos. Hope you don’t mind.)
The stats are impressive. Firstly, the whole shebang all was put together in record time
There have been approx. 400 pick up and drop off stations around the city. In some places, they are so numerous, that you can see one of the solar powered docking stations from another.
Apparently, the planners knew that the scheme wouldn’t work unless the bikes are literally everywhere and getting one, was seen as, “no problema ”
Bixi now has 8419 members. Those are the locals who’ve paid an annual fee and have unlimited access to the bikes.
Visitors swipe a credit card . For them, the first half hour is free, and many of the million borrowings this summer, were for a half hour or less, and so free. What an encouragement to try using a bike as transport, eh?
The name Bixi comes from putting bike and taxi together, and indeed, they are decongesting the city of both taxis and cars.
It’s impressive that these Bixis have kept almost a million kilos of green house gasses out of the atmosphere, according to their controllers.
This first season saw approximately 3.5 million kilometers ridden on Bixis.
It’s very weird for me to see these streets I know so well with this curious new public furniture on them.
What does it do to the head, I wonder, to have a constant visual reminder of this other way of getting around, not only reminder, but easy access as well.
Surely bikes, esp. these often derided sit-up bikes, have made a stratospheric leap in status?
No wonder that over 100 cities around the world have made inquiries, that London already has its 6000 Bixis. Boston is on the brink of getting 3000 , and Melbourne has just signed a contract for 600.
Hm, 600 only? Didn’t I read that these schemes won’ t work unless the bikes are everywhere?
Here’s a related movie made by the famous, Streetsblog, blog It’s a happy birthday to the mother-ship of bike share schemes, the Velib system in Paris.
20,000 or is it, 30,000 Velibs are now on Paris streets. This film also argues that you have to swamp a city with bikes for Bike Share to work.
Otherwise, it’s a novelty tourists might try out as an attraction, but no local would rely on. This film on Velibs addresses another mystery as well. How are these bikes paid for?
Why do locals love these systems? It’s a no brainer, actually.
Here’s a bike you don’t have to take care of. (Bikes do get punctures frequently you know, and those gears are always out of adjustment, aren’t they? )
Secondly, you don’t have to worry about it being stolen, the bike owner’s nightmare. Thirdly, you don’t have to carry it up all those stairs to your apartment, nor store it through a cold winter. It’s a dream situation .
A dream for vandals and the disaffected too, apparently, with 80% of Velibs already trashed and replaced.
Montreal has not had that problem… yet. Montrealers are immensely proud of their bikes and the new identity they bring to the city. They hope things won’t turn destructive like that, there.
The Bixis cost approx. $2000 each. That’s ten million dollars in bikes on the streets. Wow!
They are managed and paid for by the city, through Montreal’s parking authority, not by street advertising rights, as in Paris.
Andre Lavalle, the Montreal city politician behind the Bixi success, opined that the city parking people had the infrastructure and know-how to run this thing.
I should not have been surprised to hear that Montreal had become bike famous almost overnight because it’ s a city famous for its flair. When they do something, they do it with style.
I remember Expo ’67, the Worlds Fair which was predicted to be a flop so late it was in the building, and yet it was launched on time as one of the most thrilling displays of human creativity and good vibes, ever seen on the planet. That was Montreal at is best. It’s a summer I’ll never forget. I was working for the NFB, then.
Here’s the US pavilion at the famous fair, a Buckmaster Fuller dome.
Expo 67 was supposed only to last a summer, but so good was it, that the summer fair went on for years after as Terre des Hommes, with the temporary pavilions somehow lasting long past their use-by date.
So, Bixi is in that same tradition. It will be a great surprise if it turns out to be a passing fad.
All over the world cities are just getting on with Bike Share, not waiting for foreign experts, not agonizing, just doing it.
In this video, Spain, which does not have a strong bike culture, we see Bicing taking off in Barcelona.
Note the commentator reports that in one year, the number of cyclists has doubled. Many people are riding for the first time, and the city, hitherto almost without bike paths, is now building 160 kms. of them
He concludes, “we could wait 20 years or do it all in a shorter time.”
Australian cities wont be able to hold out for long against this seduction, the benefits are too compelling.
Indeed, Melbourne and Brisbane have signed small, cautious contracts, too small to work, say some experts.
But, as previous posts have pointed out, we are hamstrung by our very atypical helmet laws. You see no helmets in the Paris video, the Bixi material, nor on the Bicing users in Barcelona.
It first struck me how far behind we are, when I took a camera with a friend when cycling around Sydney one beautiful day, and saw only 6 other bikes in as many hours. Compare this with the Barcelona images.
I think bike share will be the truth teller for our helmets laws, a sort of touchtone. It may go like this.
I understand that only about 10% of Montreal rider wear helmets. If it turns out that even with the larger numbers on bikes in Montreal this last summer, (moreover riders who ere less experienced, plus tourists who didn’t know the city and it’s traffic)
If even with all of that, the injury rate is not significantly up on last year, then it will strongly suggest that our helmet laws, and the constant fear-based promotion of helmets, may have been bogeyman talk.
We shall see