Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Montreal isn't the best for Cycling... yet

(Screenshot from I BIKE the short film-> )

Spring is here and Montreal is starting its yearly buzz of Bixi banter and cycle path discussions and although I'm happy and excited that finally there is no excuse for the people around me to say that it's too cold to ride their bike, there's something that just doesn't sit right with me. Yes, it's that little gut feeling that makes me feel like not everything is okay.
What is that feeling? Well, it's that bikes are "just bikes"and are treated like a sort of toy rather than a way of changing the way the city works and looks. There's a sort of condescension when ever people talk about the role bikes play in this city and although it may not be everyone's cup of tea, I see bikes as the most feasible way of reorganizing our city.

Now, if you already think that everything is okay and that we don't need to change anything then maybe this isn't for you to read, but as someone who has come to analyze every waking moment of life, I can't help but share my perspective on how majorly we screwed up a lot of things and how cycling could fix some of it.

Before I get started, I'd like to say that my angle with all this is one of economic development and sustainability through a more balanced transportation world. I think it would be naive to say that cars shouldn't exist or that we should some how all be riding fixies to work. But I do think that there is a massive over consumption of those delicious fossil fuels, and if we can adjust how we consume them- which would be more like a glass of wine every couple days and not like water- then maybe we can save ourselves from a total disaster...maybe.

What Bikes Are Not:

A Hipster Fad That No One Should Care About

Sure, hipsters are running wild in the streets on their "vintage cruisers" and "badass fixies" and sometimes you just want to smack them, but they are playing an important roll in our visual landscape. You see, cars are REALLY cool to most people and this is not only because of the incredible marketing engine that the auto industry has but also because we see way more cars than bikes every day. Imagine for one second if every car advertisement you saw would be an ad for a bike, don't you think the city would look a little bit different? What if every parked car was a bike? I think it's no exaggeration to say that if healthier food was put on the table, we would all be eating healthier.


I think one of the saddest things I hear regularly is that bikes are dangerous and that people don't want to ride them because they are afraid of getting hit by a car. If we could just take a moment to reflect on this, that would be great.
Why should the safe mode of transport be put second behind the dangerous one? Yes, streets are built for cars I know, but since when are we  in a world based on devolution? Are we not for the most part interested in creating a more comfortable and safe place for everyone? If thats the case, then the car should be put secondary on the street hierarchy (if there even is one) and there should be an immense push to not only get more people on bikes but to encourage safer behaviour in cars. A big task I know, but an important one. It's about transitioning away from victim blaming and reducing the presence of things causing the harm.

An Opportunity to be an Asshole

We've all heard the person who says, " All cyclists do is clog up traffic and act like idiots. They need to  be controlled not encouraged!" Apart from being very frustrating to hear and NOT TRUE, there's a deep misunderstanding about how people on bikes behave in traffic. For example, from a car you could see someone swerving and maybe looking reckless, when in reality, they are trying to miss a pot hole the size of a watermelon that will toss them off their bike if they hit it. You see, we cyclists don't exactly have the front and rear suspension you have, or the air bags or even a windshield, so when it's rainy and windy, it's in rainy and windy IN OUR FACE and this sometimes makes us have to act a certain way. 
Even though we may look like assholes sometimes, our intentions are nothing more than to get where we need to go safely. What's that expression? "Don't judge a book by it's cover" ?

What Bikes Are:

A Tool not a Toy

I'm not sure how many times I've had to explain what I've done with my bike, but it strikes me as bizarre that this incredibly useful TOOL is being written off as a TOY. I'm not sure it it's anyone's fault necessarily  but I see a serious mental block in people's heads when it comes to what they can do on their bike. Winter biking, bike couriers, cargo bikes, bike tours, food delivery by bike, are all concepts that have existed for a long time yet somehow people still ask the question 'How did you do it on your bike?"
Maybe that's a bit harsh, but I think we need to take a step back and really asses where we are as people  if putting a sandwich in a messenger bag during the winter to deliver it, is a difficult concept to understand.

A Way of Connecting with the City

How often have you felt alone? How often have you felt lost? How often have you felt disconnected from the city? If you've answered "often" to any of these questions, you need to get on a bike. Why? Because smelling the air instead of your car air freshner is maybe all you need in order to feel more at ease in the city. There's an expression that goes something like, " Don't expect different results from the same action." and I think this rings true about this situation. How do you expect to connect with a city if you can't connect with it when your body feels like it needs to? To be able to stop and hug your friend on your way to work if you run into them, or to stop and look at the graffiti for a moment because it makes you happy. These moments are precious and cycling encourages interaction with the city and the people who live in it.

A Universal in a World of Limits

Bikes do not serve one purpose and people have proven this time and time again. The things that people have done on bikes specifically designed for certain things and with bikes that aren't designed for anything, are incredible in their complexity and their simplicity. To be able to use one thing for so many actions is unique and should be recognized. With my bike I can deliver huge packages, find a conversation topic at a party where I don't know anyone and stay in shape all without subscribing to any sort of routine or tribe. In a time where almost everything we buy has planned obsolescence and has a limited use unless you buy more, the bike rules all.

What Bikes Can Be:

 Now this is what's exciting....

Sure, people have written blog posts time and time again about what bikes can do and how they can change the world blah blah blah , but I think that there's a missing link in why it hasn't actually happened. The problem is that most cycling advocates seem to believe that the solution is in the individual riding a bike where as I believe the solution lies in the economic development of the bike.

The city unfortunately talks more in money than in beliefs or values so to succeed in such a world, you need to talk their language. This is where I come in.

There is an immense potential to create a sustainable and profitable transportation system in Montreal and it's not complicated, it's just problem solving and rearranging an already existing network of people and businesses.

There Should not be any Deliveries by Car Downtown

After running a bike courier company for almost 5 years, I know a thing or two about logistics and I can tell you right now that there is no better tool or ressource to move things quickly and efficiently than a person on a bike. There is no reason why a car should be allowed to pick up a package to bring it five blocks away downtown. It's a crime to our city that we allow systems like this to exist and if we are going to talk about steps to improve our lives in the city, there needs to be rules about what businesses can and can't do in the downtown.

In an industry completely void of legislation and guidance, package transportation companies are not being viewed as anything more than a necessity that exists independent of the rest of the city and business world. This is wrong, they are huge polluters of not only our air but also our traffic space and minds. They exist because we are afraid of change and not because change wouldn't be good.

If we were to look at all deliveries done downtown by car and transition them to bike couriers and cargo bikes, what would that do? I'll tell you what, it would create a new visual landscape of able bodied and motivated individuals interested in making their city cleaner. It would help the bike courier community who are an abused sub section of the city and are desperately in need of regulated wages, regulated working conditions and support. It would force more money into a corrupt section of the economy and bring light to the injustice that exists within all courier companies. It would finally encourage a transition in thought where we could think outside of the car culture we live in and maybe start thinking more creatively.

More Food Delivery by Bike

When I look around my city I can't help but notice how inconsistent our reputation is with our actions. Yes, we have BIXI, an immense network of bike paths and more bike shops than one could count, but are these things actually what we need in the bike conversation? Or do we need to start looking further than that and encourage restaurants to transport their food by bike?
If you look at New York, almost every pizzeria has a fleet of couriers hustling their cheesy bread across town and to this day, I have never seen a courier transport a pizza. Why not? What's stopping people from doing that here? What would happen if every restaurant who chose to transport their food by bike was given a small government allowance to pay part of the biker's wage as part of the sustainable development of the city? This is not rocket science yet somehow we aren't doing it.
Meals would be delivered faster and once again, our visual landscape would be improved by people acting as ambassadors for a cleaner city.

Bike Delivery in Other Areas of the City

Having spent hours cycling streets from Pointes-Aux-Trembles to Beaconsfield I can tell you that bike delivery can exist everywhere. I'm not just talking about the guy who delivers cigarettes and beer from your corner store,I'm talking about a strong business delivering packages of all sorts. There's no reason that there can not be businesses using couriers in Point Claire, Anjou or Lasalle. In fact, these types of initiatives would help generate an economy that has not yet been tapped. Everyone needs things delivered whether it be medication from the pharmacy or legal documents to your lawyer. What if we were to encourage these types of initiatives? This would not only help people think more creatively about bikes in general but could also give jobs to people who can't find other work. 

Challenge Me

What all this comes down to is that I don't think we can wait any more to have this discussion. I think that change needs to happen right now and if we don't start thinking about the economic development of bikes, we are missing out on unused people power. We have the ressources and people available to do it, we just need to come together and finally do it.

There is only so much I can write about this so I encourage you to challenge what I am saying here. What don't I get? What am I missing? Are these ideas really crazy or can we move on with this and see what happens?

I've been talking to a lot of people in recent days and I see almost definitive evidence that something like my company Cycle-Bird should exist again and should be taken seriously by everyone as a part of the overall plan of Montreal's sustainable development. If you are a business or an individual who wants to support such an initiative, email me and I will let you know the progress of this conversation.

If we can get enough people to talk about what deliveries need to be done,  I'll help make it happen with what ever knowledge or resources I have and transport Montreal into a whole new level of what it means to have a "bike friendly city". 

Challenge me, I can assure you it'll be fun

Twitter: @thecyclebird

1 comment:

  1. Great article, thanks for the thoughts Cam. I would say this:

    Bikes are a tool AND a toy. I think it's part of the joy of having one, owning one, riding one. I feel like there is this stigma with messengers that they 'created' the fixed gear scene. Who cares?, track bikes have been around for ages and I've always been annoyed by this thought. it's like asking who the first hipster was... It's just a new term for a look that's existed in the past in a different form.

    I think one question that needs to be asked on both sides, Why I am doing this and with what. for example, carrying a huge parcel on a bike that makes it dangerous for you to ride, dangerous for others around you (I know this will get some hate, that's ok), when it SHOULD have been delivered by car.

    The question shouldn't be 'How did you do it on your bike?' it should by 'Why would I not do it on a bike?'

    The flip side of that is someone taking an envelope across town to deliver it. Why would you ever take a car for that? I definitely agree with you when you say that inner-city messages should not be done by car. (p.s. I think the mail service is fantastic and by delivering everything en mass we are saving fuel compared to sending out a fleet of 10000 bikes in every city to hand deliver mail, that's just crazy...

    Planned obsolescence.. haha what do you call a state bike? or a pure fix?. Biking is becoming a fad and unfortunately consumers and distributers are sacrificing quality and craftsmanship. I don't believe that everything has to be made locally, (though that would be awesome) there are many frame artisans and quality builders all over the world, but if bikes keep going the direction they are with the fixie 'walmart' trend, it's just adding to the garbage heap.

    Ride hard, ride safe :)