Thursday, July 31, 2008

Montréal: What NYC should aspire to

After this first visit, Montréal is by far my favorite North American city. The use of public space was totally unique. Only Portland, Oregon even comes close. The city is clearly owned and used by the people who walk and bicycle and ride the metro. It's packed with public parks and spaces that are open - and I didn't see a single bench that had been outfitted to prevent someone from lying down on it. That alone is enough to make me love this city.

Parc Mont-Royal

Yes, every city has its problems, but what I noticed here was that residents and police alike didn't waste their time and energy trying to "clean up" the city. That said, it was cleaner by far than New York, where people regularly throw trash on the ground as they walk, completely oblivious to the city around them. Montréal has pan handlers, street kids and punks, sex clubs, cinemas and sex shops - and the city goes about its business. I didn't see police with lights flashing everywhere or cops harassing the street dwellers as you do here every day in NYC.

Sex shops and street culture and open parks and walking streets and seating designed for humans give a city life. Montréal seems to have learned that policing public space doesn't make it safer - instead they've opened it up so it's always filled with people. That's smart.

Here are some bicycle culture photos:

This bicycle locking space on the 'parking meter' is clever - and they were also widely used. It's an easy thing that any city could do to the parking meter system, if you still have them. I like how Montréal designates which space you're paying for in the pay-to-park scheme, it's very organized, but probably annoys drivers...


Here's a 'meter' bicycle rack in use.

Bicycle and car parking sharing space.

You can take your bicycle on the subway - but only in the first car.

I kept remarking that Montréal was like Portland, OR + Paris, France - kind of smashed together... And here's another example, these could easily be Portland bicycle police. But in fact they're Cadet with the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal.

Overall, I was VERY impressed with the way that Montréal has designed many streets to be pedestrian and bicycle friendly. I especially like the way planters are used to slow down traffic and create a very 'public living room' feel on these side streets.

I was stunned to see these wooden bicycle boardwalks in downtown. You can see in the larger photo, the blue and yellow sign promoting them.

At the FrancoFolies music festival, I found this ultimate irony - Ford was the sponsor for the valet bicycle parking.

And right across from where we stayed - this local bike shop.

Offering more than just bicycles...

And they had a makeshift sign for the Anglophiles as well.

The public space around the Mont-Royal Métro station was lovely, lots of space for bicycles.
Métro Mont-Royal

And the Mont-Royal neighborhood (Plateau) was full of cyclists, including this guy with a child seat on his bicycle.

There is much, MUCH more to the bicycle culture of Montréal - bicycles for tourists offered by information booths, plans for a citywide bicycle loan program starting this fall, pedestrial streets everywhere, many paths through the huge and beautiful city park (where drinking, drum circles, debauchery and spontaneous public gatherings are allowed and encouraged!) - and so much more. But there are bloggers who cover this all very well, visit them and then visit the city!

And, if you'd like to see some other photos from this trip of where we stayed and where we went, you can find them here.


Sigrid said...

Yay! You are back and with a great post from your travels. I'm sold on a visit north. Some great shots there - like the haircuts and bike parking combo.

Welcome back.

Sigrid said...

Yay! You are back and with a great post from your travels. I'm sold on a visit north. Some great shots there - like the haircuts and bike parking combo.

Welcome back.

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Jason said...

Montreal is a great city. I lived there for almost 9 years - without a car! I'm now in the US and I bike to work as much as possible but it's very difficult to live completely without a car here.

It's interesting to read about your impressions as a tourist in Montreal. Public transportation is amazing and I got around mostly by foot and metro while I was there. I wasn't as much of a cyclist as I am now. I had no problem walking anywhere downtown or in the Plateau anytime of the day or night. (I made a quite a few post-midnight trips to get steaming hot, fresh bagels at St-Viateur Bagel!) It felt safe because there were usually other people around.

They have some interesting traffic rules for cars like no turning right on red. And at some intersections they protect the pedestrians on the crosswalk by giving cars a green arrow for the first few seconds after turning green. The arrow points straight ahead, meaning you cannot turn until you get the full green (circular green light), giving pedestrians the chance to get part way across the street before cars start turning. It's definitely pedestrian and bike friendly and a real pain if you're driving.

There is more of a laissez-faire attitude there as you mentioned. For instance, drinking wine is ok in public parks as long as you have some food to go along with it - like baguette and cheese... Very civilized.

m e l i g r o s a said...

very nice post! thanks for sharing the pics, muy inspiring :)

Cycle Fun Montreal said...

the boardwalk was temporary and it would be the regular sidewalk during the comedy festival. The ticket booth of the comedy festival blocked the sidewalk and mobile bikes and slower pedestrians were coming into quite intimate and unsafe contact.

shishi said...

you missed all the excitement in NYC. Your trip looked great and now I have to plan a trip.