Winter Biking: Advances and Challenges

Suzanne Lareau
February 1, 2019

It is often said that the best way to get through winter is to make the best of it. And these words definitely ring true given the harsh weather we have endured this year! For many – including myself, biking has become an essential part of the cold season. The most eccentric among us actually long for the first snowflakes to fall.

In Montréal, according to the Eco-Counter automated counting system, there was a 159% increase in the number of cyclists during the months of January and February between 2015 and 2017. And the cold doesn’t stop us! In 2017, 65% of winter cyclists pedalled on the coldest day of the year – when the temperature hit -24 oC. But we can still do better! While 13% of cyclists pedal year-round in Montréal, this percentage climbs to 20% in Ottawa.

The more people bike during the winter, the more people will talk about it – particularly if the bike network is better maintained. After some hesitation, the removal of snow on 45 kilometers of bike paths separated from car traffic was integrated into the activities of snow removal teams. With the anticipated deployment of new maintenance equipment equipped with rotary sweepers and brine sprayers in the central Montréal boroughs, the popularity of winter biking should continue to grow.

The issue over the coming years will also be to extend the famous white network. However, even if part of this network is made accessible year-round, bike lanes without physical separation from car lanes often become areas where snow is simply piled up before cleaning and loading operations. This idea of extending bike paths that can be maintained all year long is one of the focal points of Montréal’s Express Bike Network, which should be unveiled shortly. We can hardly wait! This urban development concept providing for winter maintenance is gaining ground not only in Montréal, but virtually everywhere. This was the approach of the City of Laval, with the facilities it recently installed. It is also the case in Québec City, which integrated this principle into its Vision des déplacements à vélo. In Gatineau, the municipal administration just publicly presented different scenarios for the winter maintenance of the bike network. A final plan will be implemented in 2019-2020.

It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of bikeway winter maintenance was inconceivable. However, it took a cultural shift to make cities realize the importance of this initiative and recognize how strongly their citizens support it!

Suzanne Lareau
President and CEO

P.-S. In order to make the most of winter, I was pleased to accept David Lecointre’s friendly challenge to participate in the Traversée du lac Saint-Jean à vélo, being held from February 14 to 16.