Montreal Considering Separate Traffic Laws for Cyclists

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Maisoneuve bike lane

The age of vehicular cycling is coming to an end.

Many cyclists (including this one) complain that rules designed for cars don't make sense for bikes. Some even occasionally just slow down for stop signs. In the City of Montreal they are finally having a look at this, and developing new rules for cyclists. Oliver Moore writes in the Globe and Mail, quoting a city councillor:

'This kind of vehicle cannot be treated that same way as a car, and it’s illogical that it was,' said Councillor Marianne Giguère, who sits on the mayor’s cabinet-like executive committee and is responsible for sustainable development and active transportation. Telling cyclists that the rule says you have to do a complete stop ... the message is you have to be as cautious as a car is, even though you’re a lot less dangerous.

Montreal is not the first city in North America to do this. The states of Idaho and Delaware permit the "Idaho Stop" where cyclists get to treat stop signs and yields. According to Moore,

The Idaho stop, brought in there as a way to prevent scofflaw cyclists from clogging up the court, seems also to have had an effect on safety. In the year after its introduction, a 2010 study found, the bicycle injury rate in Idaho dropped by 14.5 per cent.

It should be noted that Montreal has always been a leader in the war against "vehicular cycling", the idea that cyclists "fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." Montreal got its first separated bike lane in the 80s and has been treating bikes as a separate mode of transportation ever since. The city aligned itself more closely to what was happening in Copenhagen and Amsterdam than to John Forester and vehicular cycling advocates in Los Angeles.

Peter Walker of the Guardian also describes how Montreal activists played a role in 1975, including Robert Silverman, AKA Bicycle Bob, part of...

..a loose collection of mainly artists, activists and anarchists who, styling themselves the “poetic velo-rutionary tendency,” pioneered many of the direct action tactics common to modern protest movements. “We had a lot of what I call cycle frustration,” Silverman says. “At the time there was no infrastructure, nothing to encourage biking, all the transport spending since the war had gone into cars.”

The city still has a bit of an anarchist tendency, but at least it faces the reality of situations; years ago, when researching an article on bike lanes in Montreal, I asked a planner about their use of contra-flow lanes on one-way streets. He responded that everyone was going the wrong way against traffic anyway, so they might as well legitimize it and make it safer.

Palmerstion Avenue

Lloyd Alter/ Palmerston Avenue, Toronto, with stop signs every 266 feet to slow down cars/CC BY 2.0

It's not that all cyclists are anarchists, they are just realistic, which is why we have been talking about this forever. (Just look at the related links below!) I always use the example of the first street in Toronto with 4 way stop signs on every corner, 266 feet apart. It used to be a racetrack for cars, and now it is a lot quieter. But when I am on my bike, should I be expected to stop every 266 feet? Even the cars rarely do, but commenters on my post go, "Dude, it is very simple. If you are using your bike as a means of transportation from point A to point B on public roads, you are expected and required to obey all traffic laws, just like autos. Period."

It is not so simple, dude. Bikes are different. The rules are written by drivers but the world has changed and it is time for the rules to change too. As Oliver Moore concludes:

Susanne Lareau

Suzanne Lareau of Vélo Québec/ Lloyd Alter after Tour de l'Île/CC BY 2.0

“We want equity in the safety code, not equality,” said Suzanne Lareau, chief executive of Vélo Québec. “A bike [doesn’t have] as much weight as a car, you don’t go as fast as a car, you have better peripheral vision. It’s not the same and we have to take that into account when we manage the law.”