Sunday, July 31, 2011

Montréal complètement cirque!

Earlier last Sunday, I came across a gathering of people.

As the "Montreal complètement cirque!" festival was drawing to an end, I caught these images...
Circus is a biggie in here. Unfortunately I did not get those dudes' company name but they were totally awesome!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Gangs of cyclism

As in any activity developed or mature enough to have a substantial base and a critical mass, the bigger community will further divide itself into sub-groups, tribes or factions. This is absolutely normal. Normal and healthy. Confrontation between (even the bickering among) these groups eventually generates progress, new ideas, so long as the general interest is kept in mind by all. Any social movement pushing a specific agenda experiences this phenomenon. Most manage to keep some sort of balance between these tribes and keep those tensions in check, the goal being to avoid jeopardizing the movement. The key idea here is to avoid jeopardizing the movement.

Well, that's not the case with cyclism.
 Anyone who thinks (or pretends) that cyclists are one big united community, "We are family!" type of cotton candy picture is living in a severe bubble-gum cyclotopia.
There are several nomenclatures for the different cycling tribes. This one is mine:

- Commuters
- Urban cyclists
- Sports
- Recreational / week-end / occasional / fair-weather / fitness
- Vehicular

Some of these groups overlap: vehicular cyclists tend to be commuters but are also present among sports cyclists. Most urban cyclists commute. Yet these distinctions make sense to me as they separate different mindsets and realities.
Particularly, people often wonder about the difference I make between commuters and urban cyclists. This differentiation is really mine, I have not seen too many people emphasize it so much.

Basically, urban cyclists are those for whom a bike is the only transportation vehicle, along with maybe public transport in the winter and some occasional car-sharing (i.e. Communauto). They do everything with their bikes. Commuters on the other hand seem to overly focus on their commute. Going to work and back, that's about it. For other activities, a significant proportion of them seem to revert back to their cars, which they usually still own as opposed to urban cyclists who do not own cars. Urban cyclists will live in town or very close. Commuters will live slightly outside of the city core, but in an environment that is still considered "urban". They'll bike to work, but if they have to visit friends or family or get groceries, all the sudden, there are all kinds of good reasons why it is not feasible yet for them.
I actually have lots of respect for this; I see it as an intermediary step toward full urban autonomy. Usually after a few years, they sell their cars and move into full urban mode.
The progression usually follows this pattern:

Casual-leisure-part-time cyclist => Commuter => urban cyclist

Now, back to the greater picture. Among cyclism's sub-groups, some do not and have not always behaved with cycling's best interests in mind. Cycling has got two main internal enemies:

- Those who do not care at all because cycling is only and exclusively a sport to them:
They cycle like others go to the gym or play hockey. They will load their bikes on their SUVs and drive up to their recreational centers, sometimes honking at and endangering some of their fellow cyclists along the way. Traffic, commuting, transportation mean only one thing to them: cars.

These really are motorists and nothing else. They are like foxes in a hen house. If allowed to much say in cycling organisations they will block any progress towards better cycling infrastructure and will oppose traffic calming measures as if their lives depended on it.

- Those who are very comfortable with the way things are: 
Crazy traffic, psychopath maneuvering, criminal speeding, bring it on! They love it, gives them such hard-ons... Just merge in with the freaking traffic and "drive" your bike like a car... three, four, five lanes... gotta love them! Just make sure you signal all right, so the dude coming at 70 km/h behind you will give you all due respect for that oh-so-visible fluorescent jacket. And as you switch from lane to lane to make that left turn, make sure you are pedaling at traffic speed with 2 years old junior in the back seat, pooky the chiwawa bobbing his head in the front basket and one week worth of groceries hanging and clanking in the side panniers.

(Meet Pooky!! Yeah, I know, that's not a chiwawa... Just for the sake of argumentation, let's pretend it is)

These folks are called vehicular cyclists
For them, if more people do not cycle, it's because they're too chicken. They're whinnies and pussies who need to be shaken up. So they'll offer cycling classes. Organise all sorts of campaigns. They'll push gear like it's cocaine. Then they'll shove you into traffic. Manage!
Mind you, they'll never encourage their own children, wives (yeah, most are men, surprised?) or grannies to attempt any of this. But YOU yes.

These folks are absolute enemies of cycling. They are a selfish little clique of elite cyclists who only care about themselves. They are not interested in see cyclism grow or in making it easy for beginners. On the contrary, they want to keep it a chasse-gardée for their own little elitist and egocentric enjoyment.
They are the worst type as they can go largely unnoticed until it is too late. By the time people realise what is happening, it is usually too late: they've taken over most prominent cycling organisations and started advocating against infrastructure improvements, claiming bike lanes and bike paths are dangerous.
They've controlled most western cycling organisations from the seventies up to very recently. They've preached their nonsense for all these years. Results: none! Cycling rates never passed 2% in any of the countries in which they have wrecked their havoc.

They've got to be squashed to silence and verbally beaten down to a pulp as they have been harming the cycling community for too long.

Now, I am NOT saying that all sports cyclists are so careless, nor that all vehicular cyclists are that thick. Lots of them are perfectly fine people. However, in general, urban/commuting cyclists will usually not receive much help from these people.

Strategically speaking, it would much better to forge alliances with:

- Pedestrian associations 
- Health associations of all kinds promoting sound lifestyle policies and comprehensive disease prevention
- Child obesity concern groups 
- Child safety groups
- Lots of school administrations would love to see car traffic decrease in their areas
- Folks against sound pollution and urban noise (they exist)
- Elder leisure groups who like to walk and visit their towns
- Architectural heritage folks who like to preserve cachet and correct the mistakes from the 60s and 70s (like the movement for the removal of urban highways)
- Better living, liveable environment folks
- Voluntary simplicity folks
- Those in the degrowth movement (stronger in Europe)
- Peak oil activists (those ones really rock the cashbah)
- Those for the empowerment of minorities, of people living in poorer neighbourhoods and for the integration of immigrants
- Student associations
- Political parties who are very clear on cycling infrastructure issues
- And of course urban planners of the new school type

That's a lot of folks. Properly ganged up, there is no reason for the situation not to change fast.

(EDITED for pictures and links)

Follow-up post:" Ganging up: TRANSIT"

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Peak Oil: How will you ride the slide?

Peak Oil is round the corner... How will we ride the slide?

On our bicycles of course!! And in style at that!
Bring it on baby, we're ready.


Watch part two of the serie - "What Peak Oil means: the End of Suburbia"
Watch part three of the serie - "How to survive Peak Oil: the power of community"

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Partners in crime

Meet Lady Vermont, my accomplice since 2007. She is a "comfort hybrid" that I had to fully equip: kickstand, rear rack, mudguard, basket, bell and lights. Yep, she came totally naked just like most bicycles available back when I was in the market for one.


I desperately looked for what I did not know was called a "dutch" bike, and kept wandering from store to shop, haggard, babbling confusingly about childhood memories of "not being folded over my bike" and "having a straight back and the handlebar coming to me". Those few shop employees who even paid me the slightest of attentions quickly shut me up with firm and definitive "such bikes don't exist anymore".

Alas, I had to face reality and deal with the fact that, given the circumstances, the best I could get was this, a "comfort city and path" bicycle.

Additional information: detailed specs and geometry.

Not so bad after all, far from ideal but functional. Double suspension makes it very heavy, it weights a healthy 20 kg which is carefully NOT mentioned anywhere in Norco's literature. Yet I heroically lift it up and down one level of stairs every time I need to ride without much problem. Weight is overrated.
Thanks to dear hubby's tweaking I am able to sit bolt straight which is crucial for me. 

To be noted: all the gizmos I had to add to make that baby useful in an urban context, ended up simply doubling its price. That would have purchased some decent "dutch" set of wheels.

That's life I guess. For the moment we're both partners in crime. She is still way better than the *thing* I used to ride even before this one. Ahem! Even the *thought* of it is an embarrassment... Well, this is Montreal after all, I did fit in nevertheless, let me tell you!
One day though I shall replace her. For now I am taking my sweet time...

Monday, July 25, 2011


The other day, on my way to the library, I took a few pictures.

Along the Berri bike path. This lane dates back from the 1980's and boy does it show! It could definitely use some renovations.

Plenty of people, as the segregated lane gives them confidence that traffic can never get into them.

As casual as casual can get.

 Almost empty Bixi station, busy day...

Bicycle share, more popular than ever!

The library bike parking lot.

Ste Catherine, pedestrianised for the summer. No bicycles allowed as the little "walk you bike" green signs says.

Whatever, seriously!! We can perfectly share that space. Police never enforces this nonsense anyways. When the crowd gets too thick, i.e. Friday/Saturday nights, people will naturally step down and walk/parks their wheels. Nobody needs to tell them... you could not get through anyways!

 Yep! territories are clearly marked. The is Beaudry metro station, the Village's core.

No ambiguity possible.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pimping up your city

In the art of marketing a city to its own inhabitants as well as to foreigners as a cycle-friendly environment, several approaches are possible. Yet, most will fall in either of two categories: minor league vs. major league style.

- The minor league approach

This video is an example that perfectly illustrates the points I am attempting to make.
Vancouver will be hosting the 2012 Velo-city Global conference. This video is a preview that debuted at the closing ceremonies of the 2011 Velo-city in Seville. It was produced under tight time constraints in a end of winter, beginning of spring context which may explain some of its shortcomings.
Still, it has all the elements of a minor league cycling approach.

In a minor league approach, unimportant elements will be prominently emphasized. In the video above, Vancouver's Olympic status is waxed on despite a complete lack of relevance to urban cycling. 

Gear will be thrust in the viewer's throat, if not verbally, at least visually. Helmets will be pushed like drugs, and safety-oriented contraptions will be displayed in very not-so-subtle fashion: high visibility vests, fluorescent apparel, protective gear etc.
This point is extremely important as the psychological impacts of such tactics run very deep in the collective psyche. The subliminal message behind this is that cycling is dangerous. Then it promotes the idea that a person's safety and physical integrity are an individual matter. Do not expect society or your city to be organised to ensure your protection because it won't. Don that armour and be afraid, very afraid... Should a car hit you, it was your fault. Everybody knows helmets and protective gear stop cars from running you over by creating an electro-magnetic field that repels motor vehicles.

Cycling will be portrayed as a tough-guy, sports kind of activity. In this video, the presenting host, Skip Swain, Norco's VP Sales, looks and sounds like a biking John Wayne avatar. The tone is dynamic is assertive. You see scenes of cycling along busy highways. You have the mandatory stop at the bike shop, i.e. cycling as also being about the mechanics, get-yer-hands dirty kind of attitude. Commuting is the biggie. There will be talks of showers and locker rooms at work, because you know, cycling is about sweating buckets and you necessarily have to arrive at work drenched in sweat. 
Untold psychological messages are that quality of life in such places is something for go-getters that one sweats to obtain. Not something casual, easy going, that everyone deserves for just being.

There will be no diversity in the people sampled. Only a few women, of the hard-ass type and mostly white break-ya-neck twenty something males or white mature hardcore men. Racial diversity will be minimal with no children or elder folks to be seen anywhere. 
Demographics will be terribly homogeneous which is a problem in the case of this video as Vancouver is a highly racially diversified city. What happened to the Asian community? Don't they bike as well? If yes where are they? If no, doesn't it tell loads about the "normalizing" of cycling in Vancouver, i.e. it is only a sub-cultural activity for whites only and has not yet reached mainstream status?

Unfortunately, this approach will only seduce those susceptible to identify themselves to this limited portrayal of cycling.
Which terribly sucks as Vancouver is actually a much grander cycling city than portrayed. I am convinced that none of these "mistakes" were intentional. They derive from a very pervasive take on cycling that is typical of North America. But with this approach, they ensure cycling rates will never improve beyond the residual sub-cultural groups already interested in cycling.
What you want is mainstream appeal.

- The major league approach

This second video is Seville's Velo-city 2011 Global conference promotional video.
Feel the difference.

In a major league approach, a woman does the talking or someone with a soft voice in a relaxed tone. No need to rush or hurry, there is plenty of time. 
The focus will be on the city itself as a liveable and safe environment. Quality of life is a given. It is being promoted. It is something the authorities will stand for in your name. Attacks on the car culture are clear and to the point: "cars are a thing of the past", "cars are the main polluters", there is no noodling around this, no talk of composing or compromising with the car culture. We fight it in your name! Trains and tramways are rubbed in your face.
Cycling is not just an individual choice, it is being pushed as public policy for everybody's benefit. Cycling will be presented as an integral part of a urban transportation cocktail of which bicycles are the centerpiece.
In that kind of approach, there will be talk of how laws and structures have been modified to ensure protection of citizens, whatever their transportation choice. You see loads of normally dressed folks cycling at a leisurely pace on nicely organized lanes. Women in flowing dresses, women in heels. Casual hats. People carrying groceries. Wicker baskets. Children casually accompanying their parents. Minimal helmets including on children.

You might also see folks strolling bare-feet by the beach or along marinas on cruisers. Bikes parked in front of terrasses and cafés whose owners are sipping expressos and caipirinhas. Folks cruising parks. Lovers of all kinds holding hands or piggy backing because it is safe to do so. Folks giving each other lifts. Racial and age diversity will be obvious as every community and every demographic will feel safe in joining in.
There is talk of culture as well as sports as these are major components of urban and fulfilling quality of life.

So, where do we stand in Montreal?
Montreal cyclists overwhelmingly are voting of a major league approach as they take over the city on their clunkers. However, our authorities and administration are still stuck in minor league scared as they are of God knows what...

A similar discussion already took place at the Urban Country which you can read here along with James' amazing analysis.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nice songs: À bicyclette

A classic by Bourvil.

À bicyclette

Je m'en allais chercher des oies
Du côté de Fouilly les oies,
A bicyclette.
Soudain, qui vois-je devant moi ?
Un' belle fille au frais minois
A bicyclette.
En arrivant à sa hauteur,
J'y fais un sourire enchanteur,
A bicyclette.
Ell' rit aussi,
On parle alors
Et ell' me dit dans nos transports,
A bicyclette :
"Est-c' que vous et's coureur ?
- Non j'ne suis pas coureur.
- Ah ! c'que vous et's menteur !
- Moi, je suis balayeur.
- Avez-vous fait le tour ?
- Tour de France,
Non mais j'ai fait des tours,
Des détours des contours
Et même d'autres tours…
"Des tours de quoi ?", qu'em dit.
- Des tours d'vélo pardi !
- Vous êtes un blagueur.
Ah ! c'que vous et's coureur !

Vous parlez d'un raisonnement.

Dans les champs chantaient les grillons,
Le soleil dardait ses rayons
De bicyclette.
Ell' voulait que je chante un brin,
Mais à cela j'ai mis un frein
De bicyclette.
Près d'un tournant y avait un bois
Où l'on se dirigea, ma foi,
A bicyclette.
Mais comme ell' roulait près de moi
Voilà qu'em'fait presqu'a mi-voix,
A bicyclette.

- Ah ! c'que vous et's coureur!
- Moi… j'ne suis pas coureur.
- Ah ! c'que vous et's menteur !
- Moi, je suis balayeur.
- Vous savez fair' la cour !
- Oui, j'y réponds, car pour
Ce qui est de fair' la cour,
Je la fais chaque jour.
- La cour à qui ? qu'em' dit.
- La cour d'la ferm' pardi!
- Vous êtes un blagueur.
- Ah ! C'que vous et's coureur !

Vous parlez d'un raisonnement.
Y fallait pas qu'elle soit intelligente pour toujours dire ça. Enfin !

Dans l'bois, j'y disais "Voyez donc,
Sans boussole nous nous guidons"
De bicyclette.
Mais ell' répétait, pleine d'ardeur,
Que j'étais un coureur coureur
A bicyclette.
Je l'étais pas, ça c'est couru,
Mais alors, je le suis devenu
A bicyclette.
Et comme je courais vers le but
Voilà qu'em fait comm'au début,
A bicyclette

- Ah ! c'que vous et's coureur !
- Moi… j'ne suis pas coureur.
- Ah ! c'que vous et's menteur !
- Moi je suis balayeur.
J'y redis en courant,
Car j'continuais d'courir
Vers l'but à conquerir
(Vous êtes au courant)
Moi a forc' de courir,
Parcourir, discourir,
L'vélo s'est dégonflé
Et j'suis pas arrivé.

Moralité : Rien ne sert de courir.
Il faut partir à point…
Comme l'a si bien dit la F…. La F….. la tortue.

Le gamin au vélo

I have not seen that movie. I do not know whether it is good or not. Here is a link to a critique in the Guardian.
It won the 2011 Grand Prix du Festival de Cannes.

I just like the images. I wonder about the impact such images can have in the long term. What will happen as more and more bicycles are featured in mainstream media?
And would it be enough? Are PR, marketing and image communication enough? Should we give up on traditionnal advocacy?

Here is the official trailer

The kid's bicycle is pretty well featured throughout the film as something normal that normal people do.

Of course, it's a French movie and the story happens in France where the approach is more of the Major League type.

We can only only wish that this trend continues. For sure it will at least have some sort of positive subliminal impact.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Political balls

Now, this is what you get when you give some power to folks who have balls... real big and furious political balls.
Check this out:

Los Angeles (Not Amsterdam or Copenhagen) is passing an ordinance prohibiting and punishing cyclists harassment on the road.

(Image courtesy of the Reeves Law group)

Major victory for cyclists!
This is also a major victory in that it finally recognizes that such things exist. It shuts the mouths of all the bubble-gum naives living in lalaland and to the hypocrites who know how things are in reality but pretend everything is fine.

The next step is for everyone to start lobbying in their own municipalities for a similar law. Folks in Washington are already on the warpath:

To all mental motorists out there:

Yeah, bring it on bitches!

A week-end adventure: Boston

July 1st was Canada Day, so dear hubby and I decided to take a full five day week-end to explore Boston.

We toyed for a while with the idea of bringing our bicycles along but, fortunately, we decided against it. Because it would have been the hassle of hassles. As car-free people, we would have had to either rent a car, and then struggled the entire week-end to find parking for both car and bikes, or haul them with us in the bus which looked like a pain, as per what we observed from the two people who did it in our group. Another option would have been to rent some there.
But we quickly realised that Boston was not a city in which we could cycle. This, by the way, is no judgement with respect to those who can, it's only a factual statement.

Boston is a highly acclaimed place in Montreal and rightly so.
First because it is pretty close and easy for us to come and go. Second because it has the reputation to be "similar in body and spirit". Unfortunately I have to disagree with that one.
- Boston is definitely a New England Beauty with this very old Brit touch. Montreal's older areas are totally Vieille France,
- Boston has a je ne sais quoi that is very bourgeois, typical of wealthy successful cities such as Bordeaux, in an old money type of way.  Montreal is heavy on blue collar heritage, with a bohème flair.
- Montreal is very multicultural, Boston seemed very WASPy.
- Montreal is a city with lots of cookies, weirdos, bozos, zozos, kekes, name it, we have 'em. Boston on the other hand looked dignified, pulled together, with an elite club type of vibe. If I did not know better, I could have believe that this place was conservative...
- Montreal is decently cyclable and totally walkable. Boston was... not.

Now, of course I am totally biased, and I perfectly realise than in five days, you do not get to see enough to pass judgements. But boy, were those pedestrian push buttons pissy!!
No wonder people j-walk left and right with a fury: how can such a civilised city organise its traffic so that it is up to pedestrians to do the push-button legwork, wait to no end that the lights finally turn green for a miserable few seconds, all of that to have people squirrel on the crosswalk like mice as cars roared in impatience at those annoying pedestrians wasting their time. Car traffic is absolutely demented, folks speeding like their lives were at stake.

I guess the problem is mine. I take full responsibility for it. I allowed myself to get sucked into the whole Boston/Montreal sisterhood thing which is a myth. And then I did not research it enough, basing my decisions on the perception I had of the city from the abusive consumption of nice blogs such as Lovely bicycle, a wonderful one that I consult everyday. Had I been more attentive and more discriminating, I would have realised that Montreal's cycling reality, i.e. active and vibrant cycling downtown vs. dead suburbs does not necessarily transpose to other cities. Made that mistake in Chicago years ago as well and boy! was that week-end boring. Well, that template could not be applied to Boston either. 

We stayed in the South end, a lovely hip neighbourhood with a subtle and toned down gay twist... Could never figure out whether this was the official gay village (I did not investigate, mind you). Montreal's gay village is promoted as such and things could not be clearer once you've stepped into the territory. Major social mix as well which is always nice unless you like golden ghettos.

We walked the entire "downtown": Back Bay, Commons, Chinatown, Seaport, Beacon hill, West end, North end/Little Italy, Charlestown, and we metroed to Cambridge. Utilitarian cycle paths were practically non-existent, with whatever existed narrower that the skinniest fixie handlebar and squeezing you against the curb! Some nice recreational ones along the Charles river.
Cambridge, Harvard area, was another surprise. Campus was as stately and impressive as I expected, but again students did not seem to be avid cyclists. I know, it is summer recess... Cliché comparisons between McGill and Harvard did not hold water either: Harvard seemed way too formal and serious a place, while McGill is all about Frosh, pyjama parties, and rez showdowns these days (bias!). Ok, I can never take this Alma Mater of mine too seriously, despite all these years. Cycle traffic around McGill campus forced the school to ban bikes on-site and the city to create all kinds of (crowded) lanes around campus and in the Ghetto, including one fully segregated to connect with the Claire Morissette lane. Did not see any of that around Harvard, despite the school's Ivy League status and alleged influence over the State and the city.
Big surprise and slight disappointment.

Other that that, nice hot week-end. Lots of deliciously maintained refreshing parks (now, there Montreal could take a lesson or two). We walked our feet out. Dear hubby categorically refused to try the rickshaws, fearing for his life.
We saw maybe a hundred-ish cyclists in total. Over five days.
Local Bixi, the Hubway, was launching that very week-end and received a warm welcome of some sort. Will to have follow up on it.
Finally, on the very last day, we stumble upon Urban Adventours which nicely provided us with the much sought after "best of Boston by Bicycle" map, which confirmed what we intuitively figured: whatever bike paths there were we actually touring trails. nothing utilitarian.

We came across a cookied fellow who owns a bike shop downtown, makes customs bikes, and spent his entire time insulting European bicycles, especially Dutch ones (Gazelle, not to name any brand), calling them toys and detailing how shitty they were. Of course, we all know that the Dutch et al. do not know the first thing about bicycles, right, with their lousy and pathetic bike culture. On the opposite, Boston has great lessons to give to Europe, right, with its vibrant bicycle industry and its extensive market base. Ahem...

On Beacon Hill, we took a picture of a sample love letter the city left to several of its cycling citizens:

Now, all bikes on the street had this sweet notice attached to them. All were nicely tucked and secured, no anarchy or dumpster-like parking like we have. All were very fine bicycles, "fine" as in clean and nicely maintained, nothing like Montreal's dreadful clunkers that the police either auctions out (when salvageable) or sends to eco-social recycling (when complete junk). No alternative parking accommodation was to be seen anywhere. It is reasonable to assume that the apartments on that streets were either too small or too cluttered to welcome these bikes. What is a cyclist to do really?
What is this about, honestly? What is the point? How is it that city officials have so much time in their hands?

All in all, nice and highly educational weekend. Wonderful time. Next time we shall try Cape Cod.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Me too!

Recently, in the public and political landscape, all sorts of "cyclists" have started to pop up like springtime dandelions. 
Cycling is cool. It's in. It's trendy. It's the newest thing to be a part of. Every public persona and their chiwawa cycles now.
All kinds of folks have been exposing themselves, "coming out of the closet" as avid cyclists. 

Of course, some of them are real and honest everyday cyclists, like David Byrne. Others are as ridiculous as ridiculous can be. Yet others are in just for the image and public relation benefits.

In addition of course to the traditional load of fair weather cyclists, Sunday riders, part-time fitness sports cyclists etc.
Somehow though, this new found status is supposed to give these people some sort of authority in discussing cycling issues. "Look! Me too, I am a cyclist so I know what I am talking about..."

Well no you don't. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, this is what being an urban cyclist means:
"We're talking hoping on your clunker and zipping left and right to the movies, to the theater, to the Jazz Fest, to have a drink with your pals, to go get some ice cream, to go to the pool, the grocery store, to the bachelor party, to the library, to the park, to the gym, to the guitar lesson, to pick up your kid etc. in addition to, of course, going to work. You've got your laptop  and gym stuff in a pannier or in that messenger bag, salad, bread and lemonade in that wicker basket and your cell phone within reach because, man! Those buddies of yours changed the plans again: apparently the lounge/restaurant sucks ass so you guys are going straight pool sharking at Ratty's. 
If that's not what you are doing, you're not in business. Period."
If you are not doing any of it, you have no authority in urban cycling discussions. Regardless of who you may be in your everyday life. You do not fully understand the issues. 
You are entitled to your opinions of course, but only as a bystander. You are no expert. Your opinions are as random and as valuable as anybody else's. And better even, we do not really care what you think or don't think. Especially when it is complete nonsense.

While not too much a fan of dorks, I can give all due respect to a lycra who knows his business. But someone who only puts his ass on a bike every freaking blue moon, to loose some cellulite while riding 15 min through culs-de-sac and back alleys has no relevant transportation advice to give to an urban cyclist.

The latest in that bullshit trend is STM bus driver Richard Dion reacting to Christian Déjoie's piece in La Presse. Christian was denouncing the bullying cyclists often experience on th road, coming for STM bus drivers. turns out that Richard Dion also cycles: yoohoo, me too, another one!
This so-called "cyclist's" advice goes as follow: "Park your bike". 
Yeah, you read that right. A "cyclist" telling another cyclist streets are too dangerous, don't cycle!
Any suggestions on improvements? New segregated lanes? Design arrangements? Speed reduction policies? Traffic calming measures? Police intervention? Urban reorganisation? 
No. zit. Just do not cycle!

That may make sense to a wannabe such as me-too-I-am-a-cyclist Richard Dion. To a person for whom a bicycle is the main transportation vehicle, this piece is a big load of horse dung.
If you ain't got nothing good to say...

On identifiying criminals

On June 26th a 67 years old lady, riding her bicycle in Bécancour along road 132, was aggressed by two criminal motorists. The car pulled close to her and the front passenger, extending his arms, pushed the lady to the ground. She suffered minor injuries.
Other motorists, who had witnessed the scene, took down the license plate as well as other relevant details and all that information was communicated to the police. The owner was tracked and the car was found all right. It belongs to some 21 years old.
Now, one would think that now on, the investigation would run smoothly right?

Well, no. Because, you know, they cannot identify the criminal. You know, how exactly do you determine who was really sitting in the car? Because, of course, when one owns a car, there is a gazillion people susceptible of using it. Everyone, especially in Quebec, leaves their keys on the dashboard, everybody is welcome to randomly jump in any car they see parked along the road, go for a ride and return it later... so common!

Sounds familiar? Remember how this asshole had to turn himself in before the police would do anything?

Well there you go. Welcome to the reality of motorists impunity, unconcerned police, and soft-assed traffic and criminal laws.
Next time you're a victim, make sure you take a clear picture of the criminal. In action, if possible. Better even, ask them to freeze a pose in their nicest profile, Cosmo style, so the police does not have to make any freaking effort in identifying the asshole. Cos' well all know that's a victim's responsibility. Lest the police does any work, that's not their job.

Seriously, unless we all start carrying video cameras to prove bullying and aggression, I think we are in to be road victims for a long long time...
Dominic Ratthé is totally appalled. Hang in there baby, we ain't seeing the end of this yet.

Sleeping with the ennemy

On July 15th, a dude called Christian Déjoie was brave enough to speak up (and lucky enough to be granted a column) in La Presse about one of the most terrifying road experiences a Montreal cyclist could ever face: the dreaded encounter with a STM bus driver. The STM is Montreal's public transportation service. These guys are notorious bicycle haters and they seem to derive no greater pleasure than harassing cyclists on the road.

Everything Christian Déjoie describes in his piece, I have experienced... from the inside, i.e. while riding the bus. Well, yes, because it sometimes happens that I ride the bus. And I have seen some of these psychopaths in action, maneuvering purposefully to squeeze a cyclist against the curb by accelerating, waving on the left and then closing the angle on the right, some even slamming the brakes. To the point that once, an outcry erupted at the front of the bus with random normal citizens protesting this behaviour. The smug asshole answered with a pervert smile: «Inquietez-vous pas, il va être correct!», i.e. «Don't worry, he's gonna be fine!», as in «Don't worry folks, I am a professional (harasser) I do this all the time, so far they (my victims) have all survived!!».

Well, faut croire que sometimes they don't. The STM is a notorious contributor to the yearly cyclists massacre.
Actually, it looks like the STM is determined to become Montreal cycling community's worst enemy:

1. They have historically opposed any type of cycling accommodations, starting with access to the metro. There was a time when you could bring in ladders, ironing boards etc. but no bicycles ("Deux roues un avenir", Claire Morissette, p.194). Finally, access was granted but limited to impractical hours, i.e. 10 am to 3 pm and after 7 pm, i.e. forget about it. How complicated is it to reserve an entire car for cyclists?

2. They oppose improvement and innovation. They are currently fighting against bicycle racks. Watch this:

Bicycle racks litterally had to be shoved up their asses as the slugs found them to be dangerous. You heard it: everywhere else in the world, they work fine, but in Montreal, they will be dangerous. Of course, given the way these guys behave on the road, no surprise if carnage increases. 
Hey, maybe they can use bicycle racks to mow down even more cyclists? More effective than the squeezing technique!!!

3. They oppose bicycle lanes. They fought tooth and nail against the St Urbain bike lane.

Every minor improvement is a struggle and has to be forced down their throats. Their main argument is usually, whatever is being proposed is dangerous and it will force them to slow down. Big freaking deal!

Systematically, Montreal cyclists are surprised, hurt and feel betrayed.
Why is any of it such a shocker? After all, most of these STM guys are not Montrealers at all : they live in the suburbs (Laval, Longueuil, Repentigny etc.) and like most proud 450s, probably hate Montreal and everything typical about it with a pathologically consuming passion. Proof is, during winter storms, the main reason for the public transportation network stalemate is not so much the snow in itself (i.e. blocking the roads) but the fact that bus and metro operators are themselves stuck in traffic, in snowbanks, in their own driveways, just like every motorist out there!
How can anyone expect a public transportation service to run properly in a city of which most operators live in other cities?

Why don't more Montreal cyclists realise any of this and stay damn well away from bus drivers?
Because we are d'indécrottables romantiques. True.

Granted, Yves Montand is French, and so are those images. But you, know, France/Quebec, Quebec/France... Kif-kif bourricot!!
Anyhow, Montreal cyclists are total romantics. We have this bubble gum idea of Public Service and Public Transportation. We, deep inside our collective progressive and liberal hearts, firmly believe in it. We support it. We defend it. We are its most faithful users comes winter. We analyse it all the time. We blog about it (ahem). We're armchair and desktop urban planning experts. 
And in that cotton candy utopian mental world of ours, in Montreal cyclists and public transportation lovingly go hand in hand, riding poetically into the sunset.

Bizous bizous les Bisounours!


Now, back in the reality of the real world, going to the police with your harassment story is a complete waste of time. Just like sexual discrimination or racial discrimination, unless you have (credible i.e. non-cyclists) witnesses and hard proof, you're doomed. It's your word against theirs. And you're the irresponsible hippy and their are the respectable public servant who would never lie. They've got the moral and social status immunity. And cops would never dream of going after fellow public servants.

Even those organised enough to have a camera on them recording the whole scene were not able to get the police to move their asses.

As in this one:

Straightforward right? License plate in plain view, aggression on video, what else do you need?

"Although the registered keeper of the car was easily traceable it seems that on the day in question the vehicle was left unlocked with the keys in the ignition, only for it to be taken without consent but somehow later returned to the owner by person or persons unknown.
Could happen I suppose, after all there are some very considerate, violently thuggish car thieves out there who sometimes repent and, racked with guilt, simply return the stolen vehicle to its rightful owner completely undamaged."

Realistic and totally believable right? Turns out that "before this clip the driver had forced one of the riders off the road while going through a speed restriction, had stopped and got out to verbally abuse the rider, had got back in and driven off, clipping the handlebar of this cyclist with his wing mirror."

Criminal right? Should get the police all worked up right? The sandwich is in front of their mouth, all they need to do is open their traps and chew it off right?
Well no, that's still too hard. 
Bottom line, the criminal ended up turning himself in, so I guess the corrupted British police, had no choice but to, reluctantly, finally handle that case...

Back in Montreal, were our very own cowboys think nothing of shooting randomly left and right, and killing an innocent citizen, all of that to apprehend some mentally disturbed homeless holding a knife.

How do you want these guys, Christian, to take our complaints seriously?


UPDATE: "Me too I cycle!" one of the STM assholes speaks up

What exactly does "Montreal" mean?

We all throw these names around, New York, Portland, Toronto, San Francisco, Vancouver etc. with the assumption that the receiving party knows what we are referring to. But do they?
Does New York actually mean the same thing for a New Yorker, for an American tourist, for a European tourist, for the tax payer, for the consumer etc.? For years, New York meant Manhattan to me. What a complete shock to find out that "New York" is actually a conglomerate of five different boroughs, four of which had been totally off my radar.

Similarly, what exactly is Montreal?
- It is the downtown area?
 - Is it the area comprised within the reach of a metro station?

- Is it the area comprised within the reach of a suburban train station?
- Is it the whole Island?
- Are Westmount, Hampstead, Côte St Luc, TMR and all the independant municipalities part of "Montreal"?

 - Is it the whole metropolitan area, i.e. are the suburbs part of Montreal? How far can you live and still be living in "Montreal"?

Well the answer depends on what you connections are to this maze of identities, and how strongly you feel about them. It also depends, more prosaically, on where you live.
But more importantly, your answer to that question will be more informative about your daily cycling experience, your enjoyment of the infrastructure, the availability thereof and your perception of what the city's bike culture is all about, than anything else you may have to say about Montreal.

Now, this is my personal take on it. You are totally entitled to yours.
Please note that I live downtown, which crucially and deeply affects my perception of reality and conditions my lifestyle. Please further note that this was a choice, we all choose where we live, and this choice turned out to be a lot less expensive than that of those who chose exile.

1. Any area off the island is not Montreal.
Montreal being an island, you either live on it or you don't. And where you have an island you have bridges. Those are hell to cross. We are talking one hour, up to two or three after snowstorms.

2. Anything outside of the island is a suburb, the 450 area (code).
If you live there, whatever bicycle activity you engage into can simply never be included in Montreal's cycling culture. Lots of sporting, week-end, fair-weather and recreational cycling. But nothing urban. Nothing utilitarian. Nada.
Ok, a few die-hard hard-asses practice long-haul commuting, crossing bridges everyday, arriving at work drenched in sweat etc. That's not what we are talking about here either.

We're talking hoping on your clunker and zipping left and right to the movies, to the theater, to the Jazz Fest, to have a drink with your pals, to go get some ice cream, to go to the pool, the grocery store, to the bachelor party, to the library, to the park, to the gym, to the guitar lesson, to pick up your kid etc. in addition to, of course, going to work. You've got your laptop  and gym stuff in a pannier or in that messenger bag, salad, bread and lemonade in that wicker basket and your cell phone within reach because, man! Those buddies of yours changed the plans again: apparently the lounge/restaurant sucks ass so you guys are going straight pool sharking at Ratty's. 
If that's not what you are doing, you're not in business. Period.

3. Anything outside the reach of a metro station is a suburb as well. Depending on the bus network around your area, you might still live in a urban context, but most often than not, it not the case. See point 2.
Typically, West island and East end are not "Montreal".
However, independent municipalities such as Westmount, TMR, Hampstead, Côte St Luc and Montreal ouest are "Montreal" (unfortunately, more on that some other time).

 4. Within "Montreal", not all neighbourhoods weight the same in terms of influence on the city's bike culture.
Some are insignificant and merely followers. Others are leaders in that respect. The Plateau Mont Royal is such a neighbourhood. Actually, it is the main trend-setter, like it or not.
Now, everybody loves to hate that neighbourhood, especially the 450s who cannot spit enough venom about it, yet would sell their souls and their mamma's to live like that. Plateau Mont Royal is Montreal's Williamsburg... enough said.
However, people in there worked hard to get that place to be way it is now. Bicycle lanes did not fall from the sky, nor did they bloomed after last rainfall.
People in there vote for the appropriate people, who in return defend their interests like they are supposed to. And they do it for real. And they have the political balls to hold on tight to these decisions. Chapeau!
Instead of being jealous and bitter, we should do just the same, instead of voting corruption in. Bitching and whining while sitting on one's ass and doing nothing never got anyone anywhere. Again, enough said.

Bottom line, whenever you interact with someone from Montreal, know that unless you know exactly where that person lives and their roaming range, you cannot usefully interpret their take on the city's bike culture. Unless they live or frequent areas where it is really "happening", their take will actually be worthless.

What is the point of all of this rambling?
To help interpret cycling and commuting rates. Throwing cities modal share rates around mean nothing unless we can break it down into neighbourhoods.
In this document I found on the Internet, nine cities are analysed in great details: New York, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Minneapolis and Washington. Very interesting read.

More interesting even are the neighbourhood breakdown maps, on pages 460-462. We get to see exactly where in Portland, Washington and New York people actually cycle. We can see that only certain central areas really matter, the remainders being more or less cycling deserts:

- I am actually not very impressed by New York's detailed rates. With all the hype being waxed on about Williamsburg, one would have expected rates in the 5 %. Alas, New York it is barely pushing the 2 % even in its hottest areas.
- Portland on the other hand has a VERY interesting configuration. On page 461, we can see 6-8% in central boroughs, then a sharp drop outside of that area.

Montreal's Plateau Mont Royal, the most populated neighbourhood, blasted the 10 % this year, as Velo Quebec's President announced in June, while Rosemont, Outremont and Downtown are pushing the 5 %. All of it with a non-supportive administration contrary to Portland.
The latest report on cycling in Quebec is available here in English.
It is therefore not normal that Montreal suffers such under-representation in the blogosphere and on the international cycling scene.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Major league vs. minor league attitude

While in North America, cyclists would rather bicker and fight among themselves over such trivial and secondary issues such as helmets or so-called scofflaw behaviour, to the point of actually drafting open letters to officially and publicly insult each other, Belgians are resolutely stepping into the 21st century with flair and avant-garde type of attitude.

The Commission Infrastructure de la Chambre, most probably a sub-committee of the parliament on infrastructure issues, is about to vote the right for cyclists to turn right on the red light. Neighbouring countries such as France, the Netherlands and Germany are all experimenting on the same vibe with no increase in accident rates. Of course! Cyclists there probably did not await the advent of a law to practice common sense... To be noted: Idaho already has a law allowing cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs.

Which puts them all on a whole other level, in major league, where structural aspects of society are being analysed and reviewed in order to promote cycling. They estimate that cyclists waste up to 20% of their time waiting stupidly for the green when they could simply roll the red (coast being clear of course), preserve that precious momentum and be home faster than those in tuna cans.

Meanwhile, back in minor league, bogus journalists cook up dishonest videos, based on which they produce shallow analysis, police cracks down on inoffensive behaviour, and the majority of Torontonian cyclists (or so it seems) moronically agree with the whole thing.

How does Montreal fare amid all this nonsense? As usual, we have our butt stuck in between: on cheek in upper league, one cheek in lower league.

The lower cheek: it seems that the police has given up on such crack downs and is adopting a "campagne de sensibilisation" attitude. So far, they've been distributing warnings to those cycling around while listening to music. Funny thing is cell phone on bikes is perfectly legal. Given the Bluetooth epidemy, one wonders how will the police sort out the geese from the gander.

However, there is some hope.
The upper cheek: on December 10th 2010,  the Loi 71 was adopted, updating the Code de la sécurité routière du Québec with, in my view two major changes:
1. The requirement to use cycle paths when present was dropped. One can cycle on the road despite the presence of bike paths.
2. The most important: municipalities can now officially organise bike circulation against traffic in secondary streets. This could mean against-traffic lanes which, anyways, was already the case all across the Plateau (too many to quote), the Mile-end (Clark) and the Ghetto (Milton).

That's nice, but what I would like to see is this:

Or this:

Even both at the same time:

On all residential and secondary streets.

Finally some candy for the eyes. City of Lille created a nice cycling pamphlet/guide. Note how displaying people riding against traffic with no helmet looks so normal and natural.

Damned froggies...

Partage la route

Vélo Quebec launched a new "share the road" type of campaign last month.
Of course, it will probably prove itself to be as inefficient as all the other "share the road" and "vehicular cycling" nonsense we've been feed with since the 1970's... but hey, it's a cute and romantic little TV commercial that, at least, should not do any harm.
Obviously, the only real solution if we want to see cycling rates improve and fatalities decrease, is to have better cycling infrastructure, better urban planning, better policies and tougher laws on delinquent motorists, including getting rid of Quebec's no-fault bullshit laws.
This requires political balls (more on that some other time).

Until then, we can find solace in the ineffective but inoffensive commercial.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Le pourquoi du comment: some background

Ever since I began exploring the internet for cycling information, the virtual cycling community has never ceased to amaze me for its dynamism and resourcefulness. Places like Portland, San Francisco and others were being celebrated to no end as cycling heavens.
However, sometimes, some things would just so ring wrong in my ears: as a regular Montreal cyclist, details from these descriptions would simply not balance out... little tidbits of no individual importance but which collectively created a cognitive dissonance in the back of my head.
Somehow, the more I explored the blogosphere, the greater that cognitive dissonance became, as I read countless bloggers wax on lyrics about achievements that sounded so trivial... to me.
“Woohoo!! They've painted the second bike lane of the city on street so and so and it runs over 100 m!”
Commentators would join in the rejoice and the city would be celebrated as one of the greatest cycling cities in North America.
While happy for them, I could not help but think about the segregated bike lanes, each running a few blocks from my home, dating back from the 1980's, that every Montrealer and their dog takes for granted.

Finally, in 2008, equipped with my Norco Lady Vermont under one arm and dear hubby under the other, I arrived in New York to attend the Five Boro Tour. We endeavoured to cruise around town in search of the oh-so-celebrated wonderful cycling culture. Oh boy! Death breathed down our neck the entire week-end, especially on Staten Island... But I finally understood why every single progress was such a big deal: they were starting from far behind and swimming upstream a megalomaniac car-obsessed culture. No wonder even the smallest victories were so huge. My thoughts did not go any further however, and the dissonance, while tamed and muted, kind of remained and would pop up every time articles celebrating such and such city's vibrant cycling culture.

Fast forward a few years to this past June. Mikael Coleville-Andersen comes to Montreal to present his “Four goals for promoting urban cycling” conference. His passage is well covered by the Montreal media who just love when Europeans come all the way here to tell us how much we are like them.
And indeed, it seems that Montreal has got that little something that could (finally) propel it into the league of the grown ups (i.e. Amsterdam & Copenhagen) as the leading North American cycling city... if only... if only someone had the political balls... but more on that some other day.
Montreal is not receiving all the credit that it deserves. At last, someone finally articulated what has been in the back of my mind for all those years. This post has been a real eye opener for me as all of what he is describing is completely taken for granted by Montrealers, while being totally ignored by the international cycling community.
Yet, Mikael is so taken with our dear Villa-Maria that he comes back home all confused, still thinking about it... and announces that he shall be back: no problem, your groupies will await your return!!

This is how I came to the realisation that I should create a blog where I would intend, at my very humble scale of course, to contribute to reveal this wonderful and vibrant cycling to the world.