Friday, January 13, 2012

Winter cycling in Montreal: study

At the end of December, the Montreal Gazette featured an article about winter cycling. 
Huh? Well yeah. 
Seems like the topic of cycling has gained so much momentum that it has become worthy of being discussed in the Gazette in December!!
Ok, so what is this study all about?

Quick summary

The number of cyclists is big enough now, with many of them continuing cycling in the winter, that the city has a duty to start clearing out all bike lanes and paths, the same way they clear all streets, including those that barely see a rat's ass in a 24hr period. Why? Because what really bothers cyclists is not so much temperature or weather conditions than road conditions... Duh!! I discussed it in November here and here!!
All of this, we have known for a very long time, but the researchers are finding out now, or so it seems...

Not surprisingly, the researchers found that the warmer cities retained a higher percentage of cyclists from summer to winter.
But Montreal’s winter cyclists seem less affected by temperature changes during the winter season than those in Vancouver and Portland. A smaller percentage of Montreal cyclists were discouraged from winter cycling because of drops in temperature, or intense precipitation.
“Montreal presents the lowest elasticities, suggesting that winter cyclists in Montreal are less sensitive to adverse weather conditions,” the study notes.
The big factor for Montrealers willing to cycle in winter seems to be not cold or precipitation, but road surface conditions.
“The surface condition is the main factor, and if we maintain good surface conditions throughout the winter we could improve these numbers dramatically,” said Miranda-Moreno.
He notes that European cities with similar winter weather to Montreal see cycling levels fall to only about 50 per cent of summer levels in winter.
“Cities can have four-season cycling. We don’t have to stop in winter. It doesn’t mean everybody wants to cycle in winter, but Sweden and Norway have very high retention of cycling rates in winter and we have similar weather.”
Full article here

It is not obvious but there is a full glassy ice coat right there

It may shock some but I am totally against this nonsense.
Pushing this stupid winter cycling agenda will only alienate everyone that does not cycle in the winter. 

Montreal is not Vancouver or Portland or wherever else. We do get big-ass snow falls and major-ass storms. Snow management is an absolute pain in the ass. It costs us fortunes every year. People fight over parking spot issues ("You motherfucker shoveled your snow on my car/spot/driveway!"). 
The city can never clear the streets fast enough to everyone's taste. And what about the sidewalks? Everybody and their mama who's ever slipped sues the city. Back alleys are not cleared. People sometimes spend up to 4 hours stuck in traffic during or right after snowstorms.

Budgets are tight. Plateau Mont-Royal's administration put up this website where you can play with the borough budget and see for yourself how much the different activities cost. Snow management is by far the biggie. People had to demonstrate this fall to ensure some swimming pools and other local services would remained open. The central administration is sucking the local boroughs dry by tightening theirs finances.

In that context, why should the local administration divert extremely rare funds from regular snow removal to clearing bike paths when only wackos ride in the winter? 
Whether or not what I just said is true, a lie or an insult is irrelevant. This is how the average Joe will perceive it. And we don't want that. Why? because it is hard enough to allocate valuable tax money to expand the cycling network without Joe balking. 
Between clearing out the paths in the winter for only 12% of cyclists to enjoy and building more paths for EVERYONE to enjoy during the regular season, the choice is easy. And right there, you've got the entire "regular" cyclists community agreeing with me. 

So it is us all, regular cyclists, plus all regular Joe's in their cars, against a tiny minority. It's ugly, it's petty and mean-spirited but as long as the pie's size is small, that's what it boils down to. The day the pie starts growing again and we've got an optimal cycling network in place, then yeah the city can spend money on winter cycling.
Until then, well.... Actually Plateau mayor, Luc Ferrandez, says it better:
The Plateau Mont Royal borough has been criticized for refusing to clear the Rachel St. bike path, which is supposed to be part of the Réseau Blanc. Plateau Mayor Luc Ferrandez says keeping that path clear costs about $150,000 per winter. The task is complicated by the fact that cars park beside the path if it is kept open in winter so there is nowhere to push the snow when clearing it.
Ferrandez said the Réseau Blanc is a nice idea that doesn’t really exist because the boroughs are not given resources by the central city to build and maintain a true network of safe paths. He said the central Ville Marie Borough gets extra snow clearing funding to keep the de Maisonneuve path clear (which despite this extra funding is filthy as ever). His borough would need not only more money for clearing, but money to build more and better designed bike routes to make the Réseau Blanc a reality.
“If there was (a Réseau Blanc) and I was stopping it by my stubborn cost-cutting habits, that would be one thing. But we don’t have a Réseau Blanc,” Ferrandez said.
As always, Luc Ferrandez is the man. Pr. Miranda Moreno rocks as well, but in this particular case, he needs to get real.


  1. " . . .as long as the pie's size is small . . ."

    The size of the pie is ginormouse. In fact simply that portion of the pie that is beyond historic precedence is ginormouse.

  2. Question: how extensive is Montreal's public transportation system? Because I have to believe at least a few of those "wackos" are in fact regular cyclists who are just trying to get to work. I am now lucky enough to have a job where I could take PT to work if I wanted/needed to, but the job I had before this one had ZERO connections to PT and it was also too far to walk. Honestly, I was a little scared about how I was going to get to work if/when it froze over. (I'm in Baltimore, MD, USA, which isn't nearly as cold as Montreal but it still snows here!)

    I also note that there's no choice about whether to pay for snow removal for roads or build new highways. There is always room in the budget for both of those things and nobody considers them a waste.

  3. @ Erica

    Those who cycle in the winter are those who want to, not those who have to.
    Our PT system is organised well enough that it takes you everywhere on the Island that is urbanised. It may take quite a lot more time but you do get there. Suburban areas are an entire different story. But they don't count anyways as you usually have to take the highway and bikes are not allowed on the highway. And those who live there necessarily have cars. We have an extensive bus system, a metro (subway) and a suburban train network. There might be the odd ball who lives in a suburb but cycles 100%. Not enough to justify an extra expense in the eyes of the general population.

    Listen, yesterday was -18 Celcius. I saw one or two dudes on their bikes. They usually go from one neighbourhood to the next. Nobody in their right mind would cycle 15km in these temperatures. Usually you have: bike messengers, homeless folks, one or two cookies, i.e. mostly hardcores.

    As for the budget allocation, it is not that simple (man, I wish it were): snow removal is a local/city responsibility. It is considered an expense and is funded through local taxes (school and municipal taxes). Highways are a federal or a provincial (state) responsibility, are funded through the general taxe pool (income taxes) and are considered "strategic" investments.
    The whole system is so entangled with our several levels of administration who don't talk to each other: the Feds will very often close off streets or roads without informing the city, the city will do major repairs without telling the borough etc. such a mess.
    And for the general population, highways are sacred. And so is snow removal. So there is no "either or". And you can't anyways as most roads have to constantly be rebuilt: from -25 in the winter to +35 in the summer, big trucks and snow plows do destroy the roads, there are so many cracks our roads look like some third world country.
    Now, NEW highways are not even under debate. Somebody at the top decides and we all have to accept. Such projects go ahead regarless of demonstrations, opposition etc. It's hopeless!

  4. Yes, but you could say the same thing about snow removal for people who live in isolated rural areas, that it's a waste of money because not many people will use it. My in-laws live on the top of a mountain, and I'm sure it costs the government a TON of money to clear the roads for the dozen-odd people who live in their "neighborhood." Yet, if the government just stranded them, we'd say it's totally unfair because they pay their taxes and they have the right to leave their rural outpost every once in awhile. So it is with these cyclists; they pay their taxes, why shouldn't they get use of the roads, just because they're outliers?

    (I cycle 100%, don't drive, and used to live in the suburbs where few other cyclists dared to tread. I didn't have a job then so it didn't matter as much if I was stranded, but I'd hate for someone at the top to potentially screw me out of my job or other opportunities just because I'm an "odd ball." Especially considering all the dumbass stuff the government spends money on, I don't think snow removal for cyclists is that bad.)

  5. @ Erica

    I see your point but please note that nobody is being stranded here. Everybody gets to use the road as the snow is removed off roads for eveyone, whether rural, suburban, odd ball cyclist or dowtowner.
    The issue is whether extra money should be put to remove snow specifically from bike paths and lanes. The road is cleared for everyone. Basically, in the winter is it vehicular cycling for all.
    If the goverment would allocate money to clearing cycle lanes and paths WITHOUT affecting the total bicycle budget, I would be cheerleader #1. But such is not the case. So I give it a resounding NO. Any money should go to more lanes and paths until we have a decent, Dutch like network.
    Hold on!! Actually, that's not true! Even if there were extra money, such extra funds should go to cycle path network as well!!!!

    But don't worry, those who cycle in the winter (messengers, hardcores etc.) fare very well and are usually the type who don't like/don't need cycle paths. And I am not even going into the fact that cycle paths cleaning will probably be botched by those who do it, making those paths impracticable anyways with no one using them, i.e. waste of money. You only have to see how sidewalks are being done!

    Anyways, Pr. Miranda Morena's idea was that cleaning paths in the winter would increase ridership in the winter. What I say is that winter does not matter much for the moment. Let's concentrate on the bigger picture and bigger issues: more lanes and paths.

    Only my opinion of course!

    1. It appears to me that your bigger picture has nothing to do with bike lanes and that doing something about the bigger picture is what is needed to achieve both more lanes and their proper maintenance. You being caught between the horns is the very symptom of the problem.

      Disclaimer of Bias: I am a reasonably happy vehicular cyclist who nonetheless appreciates good separated infrastructure, but who would be afraid of being caught dead on some of your bike lanes in the best of times. Not that I'm likely to until the world's longest "friendly" border becomes rather less infested with dickheadedness, but I guess that's another story for another day.

  6. @ kfg

    "It appears to me that your bigger picture has nothing to do with bike lanes and that doing something about the bigger picture is what is needed to achieve both more lanes and their proper maintenance."

    Of course! However, we are soooo *NOT* there yet, you have no idea... Let's concentrate on what is feasible. The administration has recently kind of cottoned on the idea of cycling as a legit mode of transportation and there seems to be some sort of momentum on building a bigger network... Let's not screw that by divesting efforts onto secondary issues...

    When the social revolution happens, and we have kicked those morons from the City Hall to replace them with the "PT party", then we'll make all the grandiloquent demands possible and imaginable!!

  7. " . . .you have no idea.."

    I am considerably closer to Amsterdam, New Netherlands than I am to Amsterdam, Holland. Trust me, I do.

    "Let's concentrate on what is feasible."

    Keeping the peasants fighting each other over cake crumbs in order to prevent them from uniting to demand loaves of bread is one of the oldest tricks in the book.

    1. I know, I know, uncle Marx said that too but hey, can't bake a cake with flour you do not have...
      Let's build critical mass first. Unless you have a better idea!

  8. Well, let's say that I do, but as I rather suspect it's going to get rather worse before it has any chance of getting any better; not tonight, I have a headache.

  9. What bothers me is you referring to the opinions of those with whom you disagree as "nonsense" and "stupid". (I'm scrupulously avoiding the editorial issues, galling though they are).

    The role of activists is not the same as that of elected officials, even progressive ones such as notre ami Luc Ferrandez. Les éluEs have to try to meet the objectives set forth in their platform despite a lack of resources. Where I live (Petite Italie, in Rosemont - La Petite Patrie) we don't even have the funds to fulfil the promised community centre in Quartier 54, with a much-needed library and swimming pool, as well as other facilities.

    The role of activists is broader (though I applaud those who will take on governing under such adverse circumstances). We have to mobilise public opinion against spending for war, for the tar sands and all manner of "destructive development" to ensure universal - and universally cleaned - cycle paths and other public needs.

    The recent heavy snows have been exceptional this season. I cycled until mid-December, and I'm sure I'm much older than you; moreover I have more than a bit of arthritis. What stopped me was not the "cold" but the lack of maintenance of road shoulders and bicycle paths. I've cycled at -10 in Amsterdam, and it was far less scary with more designated paths. And as you know, paths are cleared in Copenhagen and points north which get significant snow.

  10. Well, I guess I am opinionated, which is my total and most absolute right given that this is a one person's private blog.

    It is awsome that you've been cycling so far into the season. However, you are the exception, not the norm. I am sure you noticed how things got lonely on the paths once past the end of November, i.e. way before the sonw. Those people who abandoned the paths because of the cold and not the snow, THEY are the norm. and please note that by norm, I do not mean "good". It is just what people do.

    I am neither activist nor elected official so I am not caught up in their limitations: I am a private citizen who gets around on wheels. I do not have to push agendas that do not make sense just because it is expected of me.
    However, I do pay taxes and I sure as hell want to see my tax dollars put to optimal use.
    My point (and opinion) here is that critical mass during bike season is what matters. Winter is the wrong battle.


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