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Cycling for a Better World

Using a bike in Montreal - 2009




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In September 2009, I visited Montreal and had the chance to cycle its streets and use their new bike-share system.



Montreal is a good city to cycle in.
There is a nice waterfront with a generous bike lane,.... img_2214.jpg (235175 bytes)
img_2215.jpg (238829 bytes) ... with fancy boats in its harbour at the door steps of Old Montreal... img_2217.jpg (132855 bytes) ...and even the odd cruise ship. img_2218.jpg (179937 bytes)
img_2231.jpg (119709 bytes) One can follow the canals,.... img_2229.jpg (151861 bytes)
. img_2224.jpg (360566 bytes) img_2226.jpg (240413 bytes)
...explore its old quarters,....  



img_2213.jpg (277963 bytes) ...pedal through business districts... img_2223.jpg (327619 bytes) ...or slide over to the artsy areas like near St. Denis. img_2234.jpg (247569 bytes)
Bike lanes are many: img_2219.jpg (200362 bytes) ...single- or even bi-directional... img_2197.jpg (246091 bytes)
img_2198.jpg (219694 bytes) ...with intersections often having sharrows painted to alert drivers of the right-of-way img_2220.jpg (235303 bytes) Bike parking seems no problem, like in this case on the car's parking marker. img_2194.jpg (231543 bytes)
The year-old BIXI bike-share system is well-used and seems functional... img_2199.jpg (214047 bytes) ...with simple instructions and reasonable fees... img_2200.jpg (71915 bytes) ...even though there were some wrinkles that I encountered. See the box below.
How the BIXI System worked for me:

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  1.    The bikes seem well-designed: easy to ride, with three gears somewhat in the low range to make allowance for the many hills in Montreal, wide tires that can cope with difficult road surfaces, an easily adjustable seat, simple pedals. I lucked out and had a new 7-speed model on one leg of the trip and thought it to be great! One thing is apparent, though - good maintenance of these bikes is key for customer safety and satisfaction. The bikes I rode were in good or excellent condition with one exception. It's brakes were marginal - a quick tuning would have fixed it. I doubt that one can rely on users reporting problems - few folks will take the time and go through the reporting process, no matter how simple it is. If there isn't a regular inspection of all bikes at the garage, there should be one.
  2.    The payment system is simple: straight-forward rules with an intuitive pay mechanism via credit card. Being new to it, I had some minor problems:
    • I could not find the dock's keypad for entering the five digit code that associates your payment with the bike that you have selected. I was looking for something like a phone key pad - with nine or ten buttons. After three failed tries the machine rejected my credit card and caused me a minor panic. I tried at the next box station not far away, and there it dawned on me that there were only three unique digits in the code and thus easily noticed the "key pad" - it has only the buttons: 1, 2, and 3...
    • When not being able to return the bike, it would have been nice if the station would have told me where the next available stations would be.
  3.    Finding a bike station was easy in the down-town area (Rene-Levesque E and St. Denis) and there were ample bikes available on the Saturday morning. My route down to the port and along the Lachine Canal gave me a chance to return the bike and pick up another one  several times without trouble. But a visit to the popular Atwater Market ran into trouble. The bike station there had no empty docks and thus I could not return the bike. Neither could I park it and visit the market because there is no lock on the bike. I waited for a while, beyond my grace period and started to rack up extra minutes on my credit card. After a while, I followed two cyclists who had the same problem but they knew where the next station was. It turned out that that one was full as well and so was the one beyond it. I ended up returning to the core of the city and I returned the bike outside the train station at Place Ville-Marie.
       The problem seems to be caused by pattern of travel to this attraction: the market is a popular destination for BIXI users and thus "everyone" is there at the same time thus overloading the facilities. It may be smart to visit such places choosing a time that avoids the "rush".
       I commend BIXI for their website and clear info at the bike stations themselves. A nice added touch is the Google map with up-to-date info on bike status for each station. I sure could have used an internet-enabled cellphone!
  4.    Cycling safety is generally good because motorists seem to be aware of cyclists and are tolerant of the sometimes generous interpretation of traffic rules by cyclists. There is less tension on the road - I saw none of that testosterone-laced attitude of Toronto's drivers towards cyclists. I guess Montrealers are more mature.
       As an out-of-towner, I realized that at times I was not familiar with the written and unwritten rules of the road. But because of the usually well laid-out paths and the tolerant attitude of fellow road users, I never was in trouble and felt safe at all times. Click here for the link to Bixi's advice on Montreal's traffic rules...


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