Cycling in a Winter Wonderland

The City Closes About Half of the Bike Paths in the Winter Months

About half of Montreal’s bike paths will be closed during the Winter. Photo Nikolas Lintzenberger

Halfway through the month of November, we can no longer deny the fact that winter is coming. While many of us break out hats and scarves, Montreal’s cyclists are also getting their cold-weather gear ready: ski goggles, a balaclava and a helmet—everyday essentials.

On Sunday Nov. 15, the City of Montreal closed more than half of the city’s bike paths and removed many bike racks from the streets. Signs were plastered around the city announcing that the official biking season is only from Apr. 1 to Nov. 15.

For cyclists around town who are already fighting with cars for their right to the road, this comes as an unpleasant surprise.

According to Le Devoir, last year 260 km out of 680 km of bike paths were open and maintained during the winter months.

According to the City of Montreal website, more than half of the population cycles for transportation— it’s a city that thrives on being bike-friendly. Every year, it works towards opening more bike paths and creating laws to secure the safety of bikers on the road.

However, there’s one thing that paralyzes the city’s cyclists—winter weather.

Émilie Miskdjian, spokesperson for the Ville-Marie borough, said that even though the city closes some bike paths in the winter, they still encourage cyclists to continue riding.

Since it’s practically impossible to remove all the snow, a lot of it gets pushed to the side and impedes the bike paths, making them inaccessible, she said.

However, Miskdjian said that in the Ville-Marie sector, the majority of bike paths do stay open and are shoveled.

“The snow removal procedures that maintain the streets in the winter don’t convene with the size of our streets,” said Marianne Giguère, spokesperson for Projet Montréal, the official opposition party.

Giguère, and Magali Bebronne of Vélo Québec both mentioned the bike path on Brébeuf St., which closes in the winter and becomes a car-only road. The street is too narrow to allow both cars and bikes to circulate on the same road with the snow.

Giguère said that in order to advance with the vision of four-season bike lanes, Montreal must rethink its snow removal procedures.

“The city has to reflect on whether it’s willing to invest time and money in properly maintaining the bike paths,” said Giguère. “[It] has to be ready to rethink the way that streets are being used by cars.”

“The city has to be ready to rethink the way that streets are being used by cars.” — Marianne Giguère, spokesperson Projet Montréal

She spoke of a financial investment—buying new snow removal machines that are smaller and more efficient—as well as a political and societal investment in rethinking why the city privileges cars.

The only sustainable solution to the problem is building bike paths that are separate from the main road, said Giguère.

“We’re never pleased about the closing of the bike paths,” said Bebronne.

Vélo Québec was successful in adding 15 days to the bike path season a few years ago.

Despite the fact that bike season is apparently over, there are 10 to 15 per cent of people cycling through the winters, according to Bebronne.

“This is a problem,” she said.

In the meantime, cyclists will have to contend with both bitter weather conditions and city regulations, until there is more movement on the front of cyclist rights.