Opinion: Let's give the new bike lanes a chance

You’ve probably heard, or seen, that the borough of Verdun added bike lanes to Verdun Avenue this spring. It’s a two-year pilot project to last from May to the end of October and - here’s the part that has people upset - it has meant the elimination of some parking spots on the street. This is understandably worrying to some residents and merchants.

As with any pilot project, there will certainly be glitches to work out, but at least this is happening in summer! The borough is encouraging residents who have parking spots behind their properties to use them instead of the street. Sounds reasonable. For those who come to the street to shop or eat, the borough is promising more free parking on side streets adjacent to Verdun avenue.

I understand that some people have limited mobility and no choice but to drive places. What if those of us who are able-bodied made an effort to leave the available parking spaces for them? Personally, the knowledge that there will be less parking on Verdun avenue is making me ask myself whether I really need to take my car. At least for the summer months, before reaching for the keys, I’m definitely going to ask myself,  “Can I walk, can I ride?” With any luck I’ll be in better shape when the summer’s over than I am now.

The most common complaint I hear is, “There are already two bike paths, along Champlain and along Lasalle boulevard. Why do we need another?”

The assumption behind this question seems to be that people just ride bikes for recreation or exercise and so they should be happy to stick to the picturesque paths along the river and the aqueduct. It ignores the fact that a lot of people use their bikes the same way you use your car. If a cyclist needs to get to the bank and the pharmacy on Verdun avenue, the Champlain bike path is of limited use to them. Many Verduners use bikes, especially in nice weather, to get to work, or take their kids to daycare; others ride their bikes to the metro and leave them there while they use public transit to go to work or do errands. Shouldn’t we be encouraging this kind of environmentally responsible behaviour? These cyclists are not the enemy of cars, they are people who otherwise might be fighting you for a parking spot!

It’s not like people didn’t already ride bikes on Verdun avenue. It’s much safer for all concerned to give them their own lane than to have everyone trying to share the same lane. The grisly truth – and one of the reasons for creating these lanes - is that there are on average two serious accidents per year involving cyclists on that street. Designated bike lanes are intended to make the street safer for everyone.

To those who say that cyclists don’t respect the rules of the road, I say, you’re right: there are as many reckless drivers on two wheels as there are on four. We all – including pedestrians – need to be reminded that we share the road, and that everybody just wants to get where they’re going in one piece. The borough is adding several new stop signs along Verdun avenue this month. All drivers and riders will be expected to observe them.

Even if you hate them, remember, the bike lanes will only be there for the summer and fall, the months when bicycle use is at its highest; by winter, the eliminated parking spaces will be restored. The borough of Verdun didn’t add these bike lanes without a lot of consultation. They will be evaluating the pilot project over the course of this first summer, and listening to legitimate criticisms and suggestions. In the meantime, let’s give it a chance.


Banner illustration is from a painting by Carole Spandau.