Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Montreal part 7: Bixis and Bike Parking

Welcome to Part 7 in the series "What I learned in Montréal," documenting the day trip a friend and I took in May to check out Montréal's cycling and transit infrastructure for lessons that can be applied in Ottawa. Previously, in Part 6, I talked about how Montréal cyclists interact with the Métro system.

Keeping on the cycling theme but climbing out of the subways, I next want to talk about Montréal's famous Bixi (Bicycle-Taxi) bicycle sharing system. And while I discussed segregated bicycle lanes and other cycling route infrastructure in Part 2, I'll also talk about what we saw that Montréal does for bicycle parking for those who don't use Bixi.

As soon as we got off the Greyhound bus, we crossed the street and came upon a Bixi station, as pictured above. They Bixi stations are labelled on the big advertising poster boxes, and this one at Berri and Maisonneuve had a very big capacity. Just behind the bikes, you can make out the segregated bike lane I posted about in Part 2 of this series.

This other downtown station also has a large number of stalls; I'd guess between 40 and 50. In an ideal system, only half the spots would be occupied, to provide equal functionality to people who are arriving on a Bixi looking for a place to park, and to people who want to rent a Bixi to ride elsewhere. This station, however, is full.

Further from the downtown core, it's a different story. This station at Bernard/Bloomfield has 20 spots, and all but four are occupied. Lots of people take bikes from the outer areas into the downtown, which is why these smaller stations are so empty, and the downtown ones are so big and full. I'm curious about the stop sign that seems to be loosely placed in the middle of the street. We sure don't get that in Ottawa. Is it permanent/semipermanent?

At Saint-Viateur and Clark (the red L next to the street names indicates which street is which), this station was completely empty. At one point, only one of us could find a bike. I believe a console at a different station (which had the one bike that we rented) directed us to this one, telling us a bike was available. Alas, when we got there, it wasn't. While in theory the console directing you to the nearest station would be helpful, we found the interface confusing to get to that information, and when we got the information, we didn't know where to go to get to the station it was directing us to. It would have been better if it showed a map, or at least if it had said "1 block west". Luckily, the stations are so close together that we just had to walk around for a couple of blocks in either direction and we found other stations that had bikes.

The Bixi stands are put right on the street, except where there are large, wide sidewalk areas like at the downtown stations we saw. When they're put on the street, they occupy about two car parking stalls. For non-Bixi cyclists, two parking stalls are taken over to accommodate bike racks that are delineated by yellow road paint and green bollards.

Both the Bixi stands and the standard parking stalls are installed between April 1 and October 31 of each year; the rest of the time, they are used for car parking. Even with this parking, you can see lots of cyclists locking their bikes to pipes along the wall of a nearby building.

There are a couple of key differences between Montréal and Ottawa on this. First, Montréal seems to have a lot more on-street parking spots than Ottawa, owing to its wider streets, so the loss of a couple parking spots to bicycles doesn't have the same impact as it would in Ottawa (where the loss of a single parking stall is met with hue and cry).

Second, Montréal has switched to centralized-payment parking, as Ottawa recently has. However, they have retained assigned parking spots. Ottawa's goal for Pay & Display is to increase revenues by removing designated spaces and thus squeezing more cars into the same parking zones. Montréal's goal is probably to increase payment options. As such, Montréal has kept the former parking meter posts, and has replaced the heads with information markers that identify the number of the parking spot, so that you pay for the correct one at the nearby kiosk (and don't need to put your receipt on your dashboard). The upshot for cyclists is that every one of these posts has a ring around it to allow cyclists to lock their bikes to the post. By contrast, Ottawa has removed the heads from parking meter posts (even ones with bikes attached!), and will be replacing only a fraction of them with Toronto-style post-and-ring racks.

Where the parking stall is being used for Bixi or standard bike parking, the identification head is removed and a bag placed over the post, which is still usable for secure bike parking because of the little ring.

That's the last I have to talk about regarding Montréal and cycling, though I'm sure I'd have more to share if I spent more time cycling there. Stay tuned for the last post in the series, Part 8, where I'll share some miscellaneous observations of the civic aesthetic in Montréal.


  1. Just a small correction: Montreal's parking system isn't Pay-and-Display. It's just... well... pay. You do not need to put the ticket on your windshield.

  2. I enjoyed the series when it was on Blogawa. Especially the posts related to Metro, which had interesting pictures and observations.