The City of Montreal put forward a controversial request to the Quebec government to amend the Quebec Highway Code to allow cyclists to perform a rolling stop – popularly known as the “Idaho stop”, named for the state that legalized it in 1982 – which would eliminate the need for cyclists to come to a full stop at stop signs, under certain circumstances.

This request has drawn the ire of many motorists, who already see cyclists’ generally unpredictable habits and disregard for the law as a threat to their comfort and safety. Common sense dictates that formalizing what is perceived as reckless behaviour would only succeed in putting lives at risk.

It must be said that what is considered common sense is not necessarily true or accurate, especially when it comes to risk assessment. Policies and practices that can improve safety are often counterintuitive, such as the example of mandatory helmet policies, which have been demonstrated to not improve overall safety.

Studies have shown that drivers are less likely to give cyclists a wide enough berth when passing, if the cyclist is wearing a helmet. Let me be clear that I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t wear helmets when cycling, but the kind of head trauma that helmets protect us from is comparatively rare to the other dangers faced on the road, and legislation should encourage rather than discourage cycling.

Which brings us to the Idaho stop.

Formally, the change will allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, meaning that we could slow down, gauge if there is oncoming traffic, and carry on if the coast is clear. Functionally, we already do. As an avid cyclist in the city of Montreal for the better part of thirty years (and more recently a driver), my habits are unlikely to change and the risk of being fined for running a stop sign on my bike has never been a deterrent, which is true of most cyclists in the city.

The reason is twofold.

First of all, cycling is a very physical activity, and maintaining efficiency is what makes it worthwhile. The amount of energy expended coming to a full stop, and then starting again from zero is significantly greater than maintaining some forward motion and balancing upright while scanning for traffic. Having to do this at every intersection would be a deterrent from riding at all.

City councillor and member of the Mayor’s executive committee Craig Sauvé knows this distinction.

“Pushing a pedal in a car to accelerate is not the same as moving one’s entire body to accelerate as a cyclist does,” he told me when I asked for his input.

This difference in acceleration contributes to the second factor: safety. As is often the case at an intersection on our crowded roads, I find myself next to a car, or stopped in their blind spot. And Montreal drivers aren’t exactly known for their consistent use of turn signals.

If I’m at a full stop, and a car – or worse, a truck – suddenly veers in my direction, I very likely will not have enough time to accelerate fast enough to get out of the way. However, if I maintain motion , I can accelerate or stop as needed very quickly, and will also place myself sooner in the driver’s field of vision, so they don’t accidentally clip or crush me.

Zvi Leve, a member of the Montreal Bike Coalition, views this kind of policy as a way to shift the focus of our enforcement efforts away from ineffective traffic calming methods and towards actions which are truly dangerous to others.

“We need infrastructure which is designed for the safety needs of vulnerable road users. We have designed our cities for vehicle circulation, and then we wonder why pedestrians and cyclists keep getting injured.”

Leve doesn’t suggest that this should be a free for all for cyclists, and is quick to point out that pedestrians are the most vulnerable, and need the most protections.

“Cyclists also need to understand the ‘rules of the road’ and to cede the right of way when necessary. In fact, that is what it comes down to: The ‘right of way’ can be ceded but it should never be taken.”

Hopefully, this mindfulness of courtesy regarding right of way will catch on with drivers as well. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to further infrastructural changes that will improve safety, and in a tangible way, save lives, and so is Sauvé:

“The reality is that the current highway safety code was made a half a century ago with only cars in mind. Society has evolved and there are more and more cyclists on the road every year. We have to change our highway code in Montreal to reflect that reality.”

* Featured image by Richard Mason/Cyclelicious via flickr Creative Commons

The Plante Administration really isn’t wasting much time implementing their election promises. The pit bull ban is gone, so is the Formula E, and now cars won’t have a mountain shortcut to get from one side of Montreal to the other as part of a pilot project this spring and summer.

The city will close Camillien Houde to cars between Beaver Lake and Smith House (the big lookout) while allowing buses and bikes to pass. This stems from a promise to do something about bike safety on the mountain in the wake of the death of cyclist Clément Ouimet last summer.

Their strategy seems to be get as much done as possible early and let Montrealers grow to like the changes over the next few years. Since this is the first time Projet Montreal, or any left-of-centre political outsiders for that matter, find themselves in power here, it makes sense.

But is this particular plan a good idea? One that we will come to appreciate in four years’ time? Yes, but only if it goes further.

Winding Highway in the Middle of the City

Not everyone is happy with this pilot project, as expected. Even some Plante supporters aren’t for the plan. Some feel this was too hasty and decided without enough consultation while others wonder why they didn’t just make a separate bike path. Most criticism, though, centers around additional traffic on other routes.

Living in Montreal my whole life but not being a driver, I have traveled that stretch by car and taxi many times. It always felt like I was in a racing video game, even with cautious, responsible drivers behind the wheel.

The lack of stops turns it into a highway by default. And at that, it’s a highway that winds and curves its way up and down a mountain. It was a bad idea to begin with, albeit a convenient one.

Yes, this will mean more cars on other roads, but the safety concerns for both cyclists and drivers outweigh the inconvenience. Also, public transit users will still be able to take advantage of this shortcut as buses will still go through.

This is a needed move. My only concern, though, is that it doesn’t go far enough.

The Shortcut is Gone, But the Risk Remains

Blocking off a chunk of Camillien Houde will mean fewer cars, but not no cars. Now, all those who drive up the mountain will be doing so to visit a part of the mountain such as Smith House and then return.

Well, almost all. There will inevitably be those unaware of the change who will make their way up expecting to end up on the other side only to find out they have to turn back.

If this seems like just a minor problem, it won’t be. The only thing worse than drivers barreling down a winding pseudo-highway is frustrated drivers trying to make up lost time barreling down a winding pseudo-highway.

A Proposal

The #11 Bus at Parc and Mount Royal about to travel over the mountain

There is an easy fix, though, and it’s one I hope the Plante administration considers:

  1. Stop all car traffic at Parc and Mount-Royal on the eastern end and Beaver Lake in the west.
  2. Create two lanes, one in each direction, for city buses and emergency vehicles, two separate lanes for cyclists and, if possible, a space for pedestrians.
  3. Add more buses on the route and create stops: one at the Camillien Houde lookout midway up from the east, one at Smith House and one at Beaver Lake for now and maybe more later. All stops should be wheelchair accessible.

If people want to visit the mountain and are unable to do so on foot or by bike (or just don’t want to), they can do so by bus. There’s already a parking  lot at Beaver Lake. For this plan to really work, the city would need to make another one near Parc and Mount-Royal. You can drive to the mountain, but not over it.

If this seems like a permanent change, then good. A pilot project can only go so far and risks alienating people without fully showing the payoff.

Eliminating the mountain shortcut will draw the same ire if you cut cars at Smith House or at Parc and Mount-Royal, so why not go all the way and fully eliminate a pseudo-highway that was a bad idea to begin with.

* Featured image of the Camillien Houde lookout via WikiMedia Commons

Panelist Ron Roxtar and host Jason C. McLean discuss Montreal turning sidewalks into bike paths, caleche horses and more. Plus interviews with Projet Montréal City Counselor for St-Henri, Little Burgundy, Pointe-St-Charles and Griffintown Craig Sauvé and music legend Shawn Phillips, Community Calendar and Predictions!

News Roundup Topics: Caleche horses in Montreal, shooting guns at a hurricane, clowns protesting, POP Montreal and Lady Gaga

Panelist:

Ron Roxtar – Entertainment Journalist

Host: Jason C. McLean

Produced by Hannah Besseau (audio) and Xavier Richer Vis (video)

Craig Sauvé and Shawn Phillips interviews by Jason C. McLean, edited by Xavier Richer Vis

Recorded Sunday, September 10, 2017

LISTEN:

WATCH:

* Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

In 2014, a truck ran into and killed cyclist Mathilde Blais as she rode through an underpass on St-Denis. City Hall opposition party Projet Montreal and other groups immediately called for something to be done. Now, it seems like the solution Mayor Denis Coderre’s administration came up with is to turn a potentially dangerous situation for cyclists into a different potentially dangerous situation for both pedestrians and cyclists.

The sidewalk on Atwater Avenue between Rene Levesque and St-Antoine heading towards the underpass near Lionel Groulx Metro is now also a bike path. At least that’s what the paint city workers put there indicates.

“They’re basically setting up future collisions between pedestrians and cyclists,” said Craig Sauvé, City Councillor with Projet Montréal in a phone interview, “or worse, if a cyclist has to veer into traffic at the last second to avoid hitting a pedestrian.”

Sauvé, who represents St-Henri, Little Burgundy and Pointe St-Charles and is a cyclist himself, knew that changes were coming, changes he and his party had pushed for, but seeing what the Coderre administration had actually done left him feeling bewildered and a little bit panicked.

“They’re not securing,” he commented, “they’re putting paint and saying it’s secure. In order to secure places, you have to give cyclists their space as well and if you don’t they’re going to take it and it will be the same zero sum game as there was before.”

Montreal’s bike paths are controlled by City Hall, regardless of the borough or boroughs (or even de-merged cities) they run through. Atwater isn’t the only recent painted change to come to light. On Montée de Liesse, paint directs cyclists to somehow drive onto a part of sidewalk that doesn’t even dip. If they dismount, they would be doing so in traffic:

Photo credit: u/butidigest on reddit

For Sauvé, a good solution to this mess would be delineating and protecting part of the roads going through underpasses with an actual barrier like one made of cement or even plastic poles. Something which, he observes, quite doable on Atwater as there are currently three lanes of traffic in either direction, one of which could easily be turned into a space for cyclists.

And that’s exactly what Sauvé, fellow politicans, activists and concerned citizens were asking the Coderre administration to do. It’s really not that hard. Instead of paint, just bring some plastic poles.

It seems like Coderre is all for bike safety as long as it doesn’t inconvenience motorists in the slightest. The health and safety of pedestrians is not even an afterthought, it’s inconsequential.

As a proud member of the BMW Set (bus, metro, walk), that just doesn’t fly. I’ve walked through that particular underpass countless times on the sidewalk and know that, especially when walking up the rather steep hill, the last thing you want to contend with is bikes whipping down it.

I wonder if anyone involved in planning these new “bike paths” had ever rode a bike or walked through any of the underpasses in question. It honestly looks like a mistake, one that they are repeating all across the city.

Could it be that they just don’t know? More likely they don’t really care and see bike safety as something they grudgingly pay lip service to and pedestrian safety as something that only matters when a bad story makes the news.

If the city really wants to make things safer for cyclists, they should ask cyclists what to do and really should consult pedestrians before dual-zoning a sidewalk on a rather steep incline. Otherwise they’ll wind up replacing one dangerous situation with one potentially more treacherous.

* Listen to the full interview with Craig Sauvé on the next FTB Podcast

A young cyclist died after a collision with a truck on Monday afternoon in Montreal. The driver didn’t see the 24 year old woman when he made a right-turn at the intersection of Iberville and Rosemont. The opposition in City Council, along with advocacy group Vélo-Québec, are calling, once again, for enhanced protective measures for cyclists.

“It’s terrible,” said Luc Ferrandez from Projet Montréal, as quoted by Radio-Canada. “We are lagging behind. And Mayor Coderre is the mayor of these citizens who are getting hurt and who are dying. He should do something.”

Coderre responded by underscoring the work that is already being done on some intersections to make their configuration safer for cyclists. He also reminded the opposition that some changes have already been implanted in the existing regulations (namely law 107).

The issue keeps resurfacing as accidents keep happening. A few times a year, a cyclist gets run over and the city council promises that they are working on ensuring fair and safe sharing of the road.

Now, there is another phantom-bike to add to the city’s rapidly growing collection.  At the rate we’re going, they will soon be as much of a banal part of our urban landscape as the infamous orange cones.

Rising Accident Rates

Montreal is by far the Canadian city with the biggest number of cyclists and the largest number of bicycle lanes. While there is no doubt that Montreal’s bike culture is alive and well, the same can’t be said for its cyclists.

The number of bicycles on the road is on the rise and so are the number of accidents. There were 763 recorded bike accidents in 2015, including three lethal ones: a 16% increase compared to the previous year.

In fact, a study published in 2015 crowned the city as the Canadian queen of bike accidents. According to the Pembina Institute, Montreal has seven bike accidents for every 100 000 rides; much more than all the other large population centres in the country. In fact, a bike ride in Montreal is seven times more likely to come to a brutal end than it is in Vancouver.

These findings were based on data from 2008. However, considering that both the number of bicycles on the road and the rate of accidents have risen since then, the current numbers are probably even worse.

We Need to Keep Up

But wait, isn’t Montreal the most bike-friendly city in North-America, or something? Well, it was.

In 2013, Montreal ranked as the 13th most bike-friendly city of the world in the Copenhagenize Index. It was the only North American city in the top 20. But we’ve been slipping since then and Minneapolis (Minnesota) has surpassed us.

Montreal desperately clings to the 20th spot in this year’s ranking.

As population growth and air pollution put more and more pressure on urban centres, cities around the world are wising up. Investing in biking infrastructure is not progressive and cool anymore; it’s necessary.  It seems that our political leaders have failed to recognize that in today’s context, not going forward means falling behind.

Quebec’s ambitious plan of reducing its greenhouse gas emission by 38% in the next 14 years does not even contain any consideration for encouraging cycling as alternative transportation. And the strategy it put forward instead to address car-related pollution is being called into question.

According to the City of Montreal’s own numbers, there are now 1.3 Million bike riders on the Island. Consideration for their safety should amount to more than a couple of days of indignation after every tragic accident.

Getting our respectable number of protected lanes connected into a coherent network, and, for the love of God, ensuring their proper maintenance, would be a great place to start.

As the Copenhagenize Index recommends:

“Better winter maintenance is a must, cycle tracks along main arteries should be a no-brainer (especially with the shocking state of the asphalt on the roads), and feel free to borrow traffic-calming inspiration from Paris and Barcelona.”

* Featured image: homeexchange.com

The summer is coming to an end but that’s no reason to let the seasonal effect disorder kick in just yet. Live life spontaneously, don’t give a fuck what people think, and have all the fun. Today is what you make of it. With very little effort you can be an extremely happy human. I woke up smiling today and you can to!

Here are some tips:

1. Say Yes to Naked Mac and Cheese!

mac and cheeseNever accept that you can’t get what you want and settle for less, just make it yourself. My roommate and a friend, Max and Seth, went to a bar that will remain unnamed to get mac and cheese at 2:30 am post show. After making Max put on a shirt (he was only wearing a fur cape) and probably looking at me twice because I was in full cat makeup, we get in.

We order water and get unnecessary menus. One thing in mind, we all know exactly what we have want. The conquest is almost complete. Guess what? Mac and cheese was no longer on the menu, I imagine because it was the cheapest thing on the menu and didn’t include “truffle oil.” Bummer.

So whatever, tipped the hot bartender a dollar, and was like “Boys, we are going to Wegmans!” If you love people cook them tasty food… I’ve seen this on a bumper sticker and love it.

By 3am we were balls deep in deliciousness. Our homemade mac and cheese was fucking immaculate cheese! We got the most kinds of cheeses, the best kind of pasta, and the secret ingredient is that Max cooked it butt ass naked.

I like to be naked as much as possible and don’t trust people who don’t like nudity. You have got to be comfortable in your own skin and not judge those who are.

2. Strap on a Fanny Pack

fanny pack catFanny packs are considered by some a serious fashion faux pas. Popular with the bingo crowd and dads at Disney World. I have proudly been wearing my camouflage fanny pack since Buffalo Pride and couldn’t be happier.

I get more compliments on this thing than I would any designer handbag. It’s everyone too, from young beautiful hipsters to grandmas. Wearing it seems like the most functional and rebellious thing I have ever done, and I’ve done some shit.

I had a friend who talked so much shit about fanny packs. She made fun of my other friend’s Winnie the Pooh fanny pack (I mean come on, how funny is it to say “I have Pooh on my fanny”?). Then one day the fanny pack hater’s new boyfriend came over and guess what he was wearing?! Yup, a fanny pack!

3. Take Time for Last Minute Road Trips

It feels so good to be in another city where nobody knows you for a night. You open your world up to new experiences when you travel.

I went to Cleveland the other day to see my friends’ band play and it was incredible. It happened to be at the coolest punk bar I have never heard of. Fantastic beer selection, a skate ramp in the back, and a whole bunch of sexy humans I never would have met otherwise. Life is about new things and if you don’t leave your home town you will never find true bliss.

4. Oh Baby I Like it Raw!

sushi

Get sushi with your bros. I often bond over meals, and sushi is one of those things that makes life a little more beautiful. I got called in late to work yesterday and was excited to make the most of my day. I instantly made plans with one of my best friends to get sushi. We ate like fucking queens.

A Couple More Tips for Life Success:

Volunteer: It makes you feel better and more connected to the world around you! Small gestures of love can change the world. The little things in life like sharing your leftovers, complimenting a stranger or acknowledging someone’s birthday make all the difference.

Bike to Work: Today might be the last day of summer. Going to a festival and it rains out? Go anyways and dress appropriately, and if that means a Batman mask and rain poncho do it. Make the most of moments and act now because time is running out.

Don’t Waste Your Life: There is more time then you think. Do things for you. Buy the bag of weed, get that extra side of feta. Yeah you need two new pairs of sunglasses from the Chinese dollar store. Take time to smell the roses, get high, pet your cats, and hug your parents. You fucking deserve it. Smile. You are beautiful and today is positive.

“Nice bike!” “Actually, it’s a trike!” —Me

Yes, I’m 28 years old and I ride a tricycle. It’s a magical machine painted floral and Barbie pink, beautiful with streamers and a basket. Riding my tricycle has changed my life. She is my baby and she inspires me to fearlessly explore my city in unimaginable ways. I am healthier and more in tune with the world at large because of my trike. A whole new world has been opened to me. The people I have met and the community I have gained access to is by far one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

Everyone remembers their first time. That wind blowing through your hair – the thrill of moving fast and having independence is intoxicating. I remember learning to ride my first bicycle when I was a little girl. My huffy was a rockstar, I chased many ice cream trucks on that bad boy. Biking is a way to regain childhood innocence and zest for adventure. Just put down the car keys and strap on a helmet, you will instantly feel better.

Cat cycling (7)
Before and after: A trike transformed

Being a cyclist is more than just a hipster trend; it is a way of life and passion for better living. Bicycles and their variations are a healthy and quick means of green transportation. Fixed gear bikes have a sleek design that fills the need for speed. Many people go to great lengths to customize their rides into moving masterpieces. Freak bikes may include double decker bikes with two welded frames, low riders, pimped out tricycles, unicycles, and other even more creative mods.

Vintage cruisers are popular for leisure riders and in the fashion world. Runway fashion shows featuring bikes are trending. I was lucky enough to be in one! Dressing for your destination is a theme. Tweed rides are slow roll bike rides where riders don vintage tweed apparel. It’s so charming to put on those cat eye sunglasses and vintage dress , hair done up with extra hairspray of course, and cruise on a sunny spring day. Be careful with billowy dresses though- they can get caught in your wheel. What I normally do is wear shorts under my dress and tie it in a knot when riding. You learn that real quick.

Cat cycling (6)
Chelsea Lee Jones

My trike is pretty. I often think that I am going to get mugged by a gang of Hello Kitty clad 8 year old girls for it. It’s so me, it’s the ride I always dreamed of. A very close friend of mine, Chelsea Lee Jones, was a passionate cyclist and true creative force of nature. She helped me transform a tricycle that I picked up out of a garbage pile into a magical ride. She insisted that I pimp my ride. We disassembled her and painting everything with spray paint and lace as a stencil. It is a true work of art. I am very proud of the work we did. Tragically Chelsea passed away shortly after the trike transformation was complete. Every time I ride it’s for her, she is with me protecting me, she is in my heart.

Chelsea didn’t give a fuck. She danced, she was loud, she loved, and she biked in mini skirts. I remember biking with her during Buffalo Porchfest, drinking beer, watching bands, and enjoying life together. I will forever miss her beauty, wit, and sweet grace.

My trike is like me: slow, colorful, and it has a wide ass that gets her into all kinds of trouble. I smile 100 per cent of the time I am on it. I’m always the last one at the midnight bikeride, a ride where at least a 100 riders explore Buffalo into the wee hours of the morning. But I can carry a case of beer and a boombox, so I always have friends. I don’t endorse or recommend riding under the influence of alcohol, but honestly that’s why I ride a trike, stability.

My precious trike is a real panty dropper. I have literally picked up guys (and a few girls) in bars with the line “get in my basket” and rode off into the sunset with them behind me. Winning.

I’m not the only tricyclist in Buffalo. Madonna is my trike style inspiration! She is hardcore. She is a truly incredible woman. Her outlandish style is perfectly eclectic and simply charming. Her trike matches her look, a vibrant spectacle of stuffed animals, horns, and found objects adorn her epically pimped out trike. She is the personification of a smile. Check out this blog about her here.

Cat cycling (1)
Madonna photo by Jon Piret

Buffalo is a very bike friendly city. More and more bike lanes and paths are popping up and it is easy to ride to any part of the city. Big rides like the Critical Mass Midnight bikeride on Sunday nights, the slow roll, the sky ride, and even more smaller rides make it fun to explore with friends. Go bike buffalo advocates bike safety and infrastructure and holds workshops for cyclists young and old as well as bike recycling.

Shameless plug time. I work at the Hostel Buffalo Niagara. It’s actually where I write most of these blogs, last minute the night before deadline. This place is fantastic, anyone who plans on coming through Buffalo should come say hi. Besides the art gallery, kick ass VHS collection, a sexy staff, and rad ping pong table we also have a free bike share! I have also been incredibly inspired by the cyclists who have come through here on their way across the country. I will never feel lazy riding on the slight up hill on my 2 mile ride home again. We also have a discounted rate if you are traveling by bike! Food Not Bombs happens here every Saturday with bike carts carrying free food for all. It’s a magical place. Calling all Montreal cyclists to come up to Buffalo, let’s go for a ride together! It’s a beautiful day.

Academia has once again nit-picked at something that has helped bring positive change to the urban landscape.

In a survey conducted by researchers from McGill University’s School of Urban Planning, the city’s rent-able Bixi bikes have caused an 86 percent decline in other environmentally friendly modes of transportation, such as the use of personal bikes, public transportation and good, old-fashioned walking. There was a two percent decline in car trips, and an eight percent reduction in taxi use.

These revelations were presented to the public in the Montreal Gazette earlier this month. While researchers have claimed that Bixis aren’t a bad thing, they believe that its environmental benefits may be an  exaggeration.

Hailed by Greenpeace as a great tool for fighting climate change, Bixi bikes have lead to a decrease in the use of public transportation, taxis and car use and an increase in physical activity. So what’s the big deal, McGill?

“They say that the ‘environmental’ effect, in terms of carbon emission reductions, is not the most important effect of the Bixi phenomenon. They certainly do promote healthy living, spread the idea through tourists, and put pressure on cycling infrastructure to expand even more, which are all good and have an overall ‘greening’ effect, though not immediately measurable in emission reductions,” said environmentalist and McGill alumni Tomas Urbina.

Some direct benefits of using a Bixi are not having to worry about having your personal bike stolen, their abundance in economically unfavored regions and its popularity amongst tourists who opt for a spin rather than a cab.

“I think they are quite green, but could be greener. The trucks that drive them around use gas and should be electric. Also, people using bixis make more room on other public transport, making it more accessible and less crowded. True that it is not used yet as a car-replacement, but that will come soon enough with more infrastructure, especially in places where car use is prevalent (e.g. people in a suburb driving to a train station),” said Montreal activist Donovan King.

While it’s great to analyze and assess how new programs are faring, it would be more beneficial for urban regions and bikes in general, if research went into implementing car-free regions of a city, for example. This study highlights some important statistics, but it exacerbates a cyclical problem regarding the environment.

Beneficially-green initiatives are beaten down and taken apart while businesses and restaurants in cities are not obliged to recycle. The Eye of Sauron needs to find a new Mordor to terrorize in the search for its precious ring of criticism. There’s a lot more potential for change if we choose to study local habits that are having a direct negative impact on the planet, like the non-recycling bars, restaurants and offices in our concrete jungle. You know some of these places. Talk to them about doing what makes sense. Make sure to ride a Bixi there, and bring some academics with you.

Where is my next preciousssss......

What does your bicycle riding habits have to do with the most recent environmental disaster?   Everything.

The British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that began on April 20, 2010 continues to wreak havoc on the diverse flora, fauna and ecosystems of the region.   The spill has encouraged deeper discussion on the need for alternative fuel sources, although the debates are like a tired tennis match.

This is where you can come in.

Oftentimes, when great societal shifts are needed, they are not made at the larger government level.   Grassroots efforts have been the driving force for many revolutions.   Rosa Parks, the Civil Rights movement and Love Canal puts the proof in the pudding.

The momentum needed for the mess we’re now in lies at the grassroot level, to a degree.   Normalizing behavioral changes is one way of doing it, but it doesn’t stick without a bit of background knowledge.

Re-usable shopping bags aren’t “green” if they aren’t used, for example.   Making a conscious effort to bring them for any expedition is.   Just a small mention of the Texas-sized trash vortex in the Pacific Ocean should do the trick of educating against the over-use of plastic.

Likewise, taking the bike to work instead of a car is plain common sense, if it is feasable.   It should be, since ideally, you live close to work.

The benefits of bicycle use are enormous.   Increasing personal health, well-being, inner and outer strength and a fond appreciation of well-maintained road infrastructure are some of the immediate perks.

The environment benefits because of your zero-emission transportation choice and decreased wear and tear of the roads, which means less extra resource use for road maintenance, not to mention a decrease in the volume of traffic.   Spending more time outside reacquaints us with the importance of conserving the environment and, it is plain, old fashioned fun.

Some cities are notoriously bike-friendly.   Muenster, Germany has a vivid and healthy biking community.   At the age of 3, children are taught about cycling in kindergarten by police officers.   The are tested when they are 9 years old and follow strict rules adhering to bicycle safety.

The above photograph was taken in Muenster, Germany during a study of the space needed for three different   modes of transportation.   On bikes, 72 people are transported on 72 bikes and required 90 square meters.   In cars, based on an average occupancy of 1.2 people per car, 60 cars were needed to transport 72 people, requiring 1,000 square meters.   On a bus, 72 people can be transported, which only requires 30 square meters of space.

Amsterdam famously has an equal ratio of bikes per person and low rates of lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes and heart complications.

Montreal has recently become more bike friendly since the introduction of the Rio-Tinto Alcan bike rental system, Bixi.   Despite the fact that it uses unsustainably mined aluminum taken from Native land, it does encourage a healthier alternative to an already car-burdened metropolis.

Events such as car free day, the Montreal bike fest and upcoming clean air day point to the importance of decreasing car usage for our health and for the environment.   In bike-utopia, with more bikes on the road, smog days will be less critical, especially for people burdened with lung diseases who are bound indoors on the worst of days.

For SOS Velo, bicycles have been transformed into a social mission.   Taking donated, beaten up old bikes, this group employs troubled youth and adults, developing a strong work ethic and social skills.   They are recycling in the most beneficial way possible: by re-using old bikes to make beautiful, new ones and by motivating individuals who want to have another go at providing for themselves.

The decision should be simple for able-bodied individuals and the opportunity to bike even as an alternative to public transportation will save you money and maybe even a bit of time.   It even helps ease the guilt of skipping a gym workout routine.   Go ahead an indulge in the freedom of a bike ride.

It’s springtime in Montreal. Lots of eye candy. Heavy coats are doffed and the flowers are in bloom. That’s all of the positive side of it, but this is a rant.

With the springtime come the scourge of self-righteous roadblockers. Between the idiots on skateboards and the overpaid workers who dig holes in the street and then stand around them, for months at a time, there are those I hold a particular contempt for: the bicycle gangs that take over the streets, blocking traffic and generally being a public nuisance.

The Tour de l'Ile as seen by Tourism Montreal, Laurence sees it differently

I’m referring, of course to events like the tour de l’ile and other things. Don’t get me wrong, I used to be quite an avid cyclist until I developed a cyst in my knee and then lost both my bicycles while moving.

I enjoyed the vast array of bike-paths this city has to offer. In fact, Montreal has among the most bike paths out of any North American city.

So why must a bunch of self-righteous “greener than thou” louts spoil it for those of us who cannot bicycle, for whatever reason, and tell me “Kiss my ass” when they jaywalk in front of my car??? I ought to do just that – kiss their asses, with my bumper.

It’s true that I would see bigfoot monster trucks enter into the tour de l’ile, with their windows blacked out so the drivers couldn’t see anything. Okay. So I would see a Godzilla-type creature come and knock down this city. This city has never really been good to me anyway.

Also, they always seem to pick a day when I need to move furniture. They make me drive for miles, on a very long, circuitous route, costing me a lot of time and a heck of a lot of fuel, more than necessary. How is this “greener?”

So I now have to watch out for that idiot kid who thinks he’s Evel Knievel on a bicycle with no lights or even reflectors coming up and hitting my car when I’m at a red light, touching my hood and taking off sideways as soon as the light turns green for me to go.

That’s almost as bad as those stupid kids who cycled right up to me and blew an air horn directly into my ear and then they told me “suck my Ddck” – I know, Teenagers will be teenagers, but why do they have to be so Damned ANNOYING?!?!?

Most bicycle accidents are the fault of the cyclist. The car drivers get blamed, but it’s the cyclists fault. Bicyclists, generally, it seems, have zero regard for traffic laws. I recently heard on the news that a bunch of cyclists were killed or injured when they were hit by a car, while riding on a busy highway. On a HIGHWAY!!! I’m sorry, but if you’re that stupid, to bicycle on a highway, YOU DESERVE TO BE HIT! YOU’RE BEGGING FOR IT!

Therefore I conclude that any cyclist who rides on a highway is either incredibly stupid or brainwashed by the cycling fanatics who think this sort of behavior is acceptable and even necessary(!) or is just plain suicidal. At least Evel Knievel used a motorcycle!

Getting out my gel seat, tire pump and grease this weekend was good foreplay to the first bike ride of the season. Flipping my bike on its rear, I cranked the pedals until the chain’s rust of a cold winter were moistened away. Taking her for a little test spin around the block, we were ready to take off on our first bike promenade of 2010.

Choose your path (photo by Roger Kenner)

Riding along quiet and busy avenues, I indulged in feelings of eco-superiority as I turned a passive 15 minute car ride into a fossil fuel free forty-five minute hustle. I had the opportunity to smell the exhaust AND the roses, as well as see the bright neon colors of crocuses, all missed in the television-like flashes of a car window.

The visual appeals were not ones prompting me to consume a Pepsi-May West Eaton’s sandwich, but were inviting me to breathe air; hills challenging my out-of-shape self to reach the top and the other-side-of hills, letting gravity and inclinations reach speeds of 30 km/hr.

Clad in jogging pants, t-shirt and beat-up hiking shoes, we were momentarily in stride with groups of aerodynamically spandex covered biking pros. Without disbelief, we were soon left in the dust, but for a few seconds, before they passed us, we were in the lead. Life is all about these momentary spurts of victory.

Reaching my first destination disabled my stair descending abilities and I eagerly flopped down on a sofa for a time while reading a newspaper article on why Nickleback is the world’s most hated band (“I’d ask for a full refund, not just a nickelback” said one critic).

After inhaling a much desired lunch and glass of wine, we were back on the scenic route back home. At that point, it wouldn’t matter if my gel seat were made out of the fluffiest pillows. It was sore riding from here out.

Riding into the sunset, watching people play street hockey, walking dogs, hating Quebec roads on a whole new level, smelling the water along Lakeshore road. Yes, it was a great bike ride.

When a festival’s event finishes on lower St-Denis and the next one happens in Lafontaine Park about 2 kilometers away, it’s not generally a foregone conclusion that most of the audience will make it to both.   That changes when traveling from one spot to another is an event itself.   That was the case last night at the Bicycle Film Festival.

The BFF started nine years ago in New York City and currently holds 39 different events worldwide.   This is the festival’s first edition in Montreal.   It’s a three-day affair which may be smaller than some of the other fests, but it’s still full of bicycle-related things to do.

It features screenings of bicycle-related movies at the NFB Cinema on St-Denis, a series of bicycle-related shorts combined with a barbecue (from a bicycle equipped with one, no doubt) in Lafontaine park, group bike rides through the city like the one last night that brought people from the first event to the second one and even Bicycle Polo.

scene from Where Are You Go

Last night’s program at the NFB began with two shorts.   Made In Queens by Joe Stevens & Nicolas Randall showed the ways some of the youth in the New York borough have really pimped out their two-wheel rides (think giant speakers and a DVD mixer attached to a BMX).   Thoughts On My Bike used watercolor drawings to illustrate filmmaker Andrea Dorfman’s views on her bike, bikes in general and the environment.

The feature of the evening was Where Are You Go, a very interesting documentary by Benny Zenga & Brian Vernor about the annual Cairo to Capetown bike race across Africa.   The filmmakers were on hand for the screening and to take a tour around the city with their tall bikes, one of which we see being made in the film.

The Cairo to Capetown is much more than a race, though, just as this documentary is about much more than bikes.   It’s about the different cultures and landscapes encountered and the different people who are making the journey.   Real world politics even make their way into the film as the group is forced to fly over Kenya due to political turmoil.

The festival is also about more than bikes.   It’s about bicycle culture and all of its diverse aspects.   The shorts screened in the park exemplified this diversity.   There was everything from videos of people doing tricks with BMXes and using traffic as an obstacle course to mini docs about the Bikes Not Bombs program and its benefits to some comedic bicycle fiction including the absolutely hilarious 80s short On Time by Ari Taub.

Some of these shorts are being screened again tonight along with new ones as part of two programs at the NFB, 1564 St-Denis, one starting at 6pm and the other at 8pm.   This will be followed by an after party at Bikurious, 1757 Amherst, starting at 9:30pm.   Tomorrow there will be another bike ride leaving from Phillips Square (St-Catherine and Union) at 6:30pm (meeting time is 5:30pm) followed by an in-store cocktail party at the Little Burgundy Shoe Store, 1127 Ste Catherine West, at 9pm.

If one thing is certain, it’s that Montreal is a bike-friendly city.   It’s no surprise that a festival like this will do well here.   The only surprise is that it didn’t get here sooner.   Now that it’s here, it won’t be surprising if it continues to grow year after year.

Ever wanted to catch a flick in Griffintown?   Ever wanted the drive-in experience without having to pollute the environment to get to the theatre?   Well, on Thursday, May 14th the Bike-In Theatre gives you a chance to do both.   All you need is a bike to get there and an FM listening device.

“It’s a great opportunity for a bunch of people to congregate with bicycles and meet other cyclists” claims Roni Mizrahi who co-founded the event with Jason Hendrik, “it also goes along with a central theme in my life: the avoidance of and contempt for automobiles.”

The Bike-In Theatre is one of many projects that fall under the umbrella of free parties that use an FM transmitter.   It started with the Bring-Your-Own-Boombox street party that happened last fall, though this event encourages people to listen at whatever volume is comfortable for them and any type of FM radio will do.

You don’t absolutely need a bike to attend the screening, but seeing as it’s taking place in   Griffintown near the corner of de la Montagne and Wellington, it’s pretty much south of anywhere.   This means that two wheels are definitely the most convenient way to get there.

“It’s a ‘hood that’s beautiful, has an awesome atmosphere, is rich in history and little nooks and crannies,” Mizrahi observes, noting that he’d like to hang out there “as often as possible before it gets gentrified as the consesnsus seems to predict.

Indeed, as recently as last year, developer Devimco was planning on turning the whole neighbourhood into one big mall.   Despite opposition, plans were moving ahead until a stumbling economy put the plans on the backburner.   If the developer ultimately gets its way, the only type of film you’ll be able to see in   this historic neighbourhood will be at a multiplex and cost at least $10.

So while cinema in Griffintown is still free and car-free, what type of movies should one expect to see?   Organizers are currently taking suggestions and debating between “classic sci-fi/horror, old talkies, avant garde, romantic comedies, or basically anything that will have your eyes and ears glued to the branch-hung sheet for a screen” and whatever listening device you bring with you.

* The Bike-In Theatre is Thursday, May 14th, at 7:30pm in the triangular greenspace across from Parc Gallery near de La Montagne and Wellington.   If the screening gets rained out, it will most likely be moved to the following Thursday.