The Jacques Cartier Bridge bike path will be open all winter — but only for 25 cyclists

Officials will be trying different ways to clear snow off the bike path with a budget of $250,000. Some parts of the bridge's path are more difficult to clear than others, so the path is usually closed at the first sign of snow.

A small group of volunteer cyclists will be chosen to test out the cleared lanes

Cyclists use the Jacques Cartier bridge bike path after the first snowfall in 2017. (CBC)

For the first time, the Jacques Cartier Bridge will have a cleared bike path and be open all winter — but only 25 cyclists will be allowed to use it.

The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated (JCCBI) — the crown corporation responsible for managing both bridges — announced Thursday that it plans to allow a small group of cyclists to use the bike path during winter as part of a pilot project.

Usually, the 2.7-kilometre path closes every year at the first sign of wintry weather, to the dismay of many cyclists who use it to travel between Montreal and the South Shore.

This winter, officials will be trying once again to test out different ways to clear snow off the bike path with a budget of $250,000.

Before the path is opened to the wider public, 25 volunteer cyclists will participate in the project by using the path when weather conditions allow and reporting back on how it went.

The volunteer cyclists will be chosen on a first come, first served basis.

"What we want are cyclists who can really cross the bridge or use the path on a regular basis when weather conditions permit," said Nathalie Lessard, the director of communications for the JCCBI. 

The cyclists will also have to sign an agreement with the JCCBI and commit to attending an information session and meeting the conditions for using the path, said Lessard.

If conditions are too dangerous, the path will be closed, and cyclists will be alerted by email, said Lessard. 

Several types of equipment used to clear snow

Winter cycling enthusiasts have been lobbying for years to have the bike path on the bridge kept open year-round.

Clearing the snow poses several challenges because, while some sections can be easily maintained, other sections require more complex snow-clearing procedures, said JCCBI.

The most difficult portion of the bridge to clear is the 600-metre long stretch in the superstructure of the bridge — near the illuminated section.

"You can't blow snow in the St. Lawrence River, obviously, but with the superstructure of the Cartier bridge, [...] if we blow snow in the structure, it will damage the illumination equipment that is there," said Lessard.

In the winter of 2017-18, the JCCBI tried another pilot project aimed at keeping the path accessible to cyclists.

The bridge authority offered a shuttle bus service between Montreal and Longueuil for cyclists, while it looked into organic and chemical de-icing techniques, as well as conventional and unconventional methods of removing snow.

But the pilot project did not come up with a conclusive method to get rid of the snow and thus keep the path open, despite the $1.67-million investment.