Pedalling for votes: Montreal's parties eye the cycling demographic

The explosion in recent years of the number of cyclists in Montreal has created a new and valuable demographic that is actively being courted by the two main challengers for city hall in next month's election.

The 2 main contenders in Montreal's municipal election are putting cycling concerns front and centre

The cycling demographic is actively being courted by the two main challengers for city hall in next month's election. (Charles Contant/CBC)

The explosion in recent years of the number of cyclists in Montreal has created a new and valuable demographic that is actively being courted by the two main challengers for city hall in next month's election.

Both Équipe Denis Coderre and Projet Montréal have been upping the ante against each other in an effort to secure as many votes as possible from the estimated 1 million Montrealers who cycle on a weekly basis. 

Their reaction to last week's death of a cyclist on Mount Royal underscores just how seriously the two parties take cycling issues.

Over the weekend, Équipe Denis Coderre promised a series of new measures aimed at securing the mountain for cyclists. 

They had already promised a working group to study safety improvements following the death of Clément Ouimet but went a step further Monday, saying they would implement traffic-calming measures on Camillien-Houde Way, where Ouimet collided with an SUV performing an illegal U-turn.

Marc-Antoine Desjardins — a candidate for city council in Jeanne-Mance — also announced that the mountain would close to vehicular traffic on Sunday mornings over the summer. 

"Camillien-Houde will be made safer as of right now," Desjardins said. "People are already concerned."

About 250 cyclists took part in a memorial ride for 18-year-old Clément Ouimet, who was fatally injured on Camillien-Houde Way last week. (Sara King-Abadi/CBC)

These were among a flurry of cycling promises that Coderre's team made at a Monday news conference. Others included the building of elevated bike lanes around Viger Avenue and Saint-Antoine Street and across other major arteries in the city as well. 

Also on the table is a covered velodrome, Desjardins said. No dollar figure was given, but previous reports suggest such a project would cost around $20 million.

Lack of ambition?

​The promise by Équipe Denis Coderre to implement traffic-calming measures on the mountain comes after Projet Montréal accused the mayor's administration of failing to act on a previously tabled report that contained several safety proposals for the area where the accident occurred.

"I think there is a big lack of ambition in what [Coderre] is presenting," Projet Montréal's leader, Valérie Plante, said Monday. 

Plante said that while the city has expanded its bike network over the past four years, it has done so simply by painting bike lanes onto city streets, as opposed to creating bike lanes that are actually separate from vehicle traffic.

Projet Montréal has promised to build a 140-kilometre network of bike paths. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
Projet Montréal is proposing to build 35 kilometres of bike lanes annually over a four-year mandate.

"If you really want to make sure that cyclists, pedestrians and car drivers feel safe you need to do separate bike lanes," Plante said.

Debate on cycling issues

On Tuesday, the Montreal Bike Coalition will be hosting a debate at the Centre Saint-Pierre focusing explicitly on cycling issues. 

Équipe Denis Coderre will be represented by Marc-André Gadoury, the city councillor responsible for bike safety, and Projet Montréal, by Plateau–Mont-Royal borough councillor Marianne Giguère.

The biking issue is one in which Plante's underdog campaign feels it can score points against Équipe Denis Coderre.

The boroughs run by Projet Montréal — Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie and Plateau–Mont-Royal — are known as cycling havens. Their borough councils have also implemented extensive traffic-calming measures, often at the displeasure of businesses.

Meanwhile, cycling enthusiasts blasted city hall earlier this year for shutting down the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve over the summer. 

The racetrack — which is a popular site for serious cyclists to train — was given over to a private event promotions company, which used the site to host summer concerts while the city has been building it an amphitheatre in Parc Jean-Drapeau. 

The best way to encourage cycling in Montreal is by putting into place more designated bike lanes, advocates say. (Radio-Canada)
On Monday, Desjardins vowed the Coderre administration would, in the future, better accommodate cyclists who use the racetrack. 

"For 2018, and the years to come, if ever there are concerts and other reparations, we will ensure access to a closed track for cyclists," he said.

But under Coderre, Montreal has also committed to Vision Zéro, a promise to reduce traffic deaths on Montreal streets as much as possible, ideally to zero.

As part of that commitment, Coderre announced last month the city would spend $150 million over five years in an effort to further develop the city's cycling infrastructure.

The Montréal Bike Coalition debate begins at 7:30 p.m. at 1212 Panet Street.