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Two Wheels, Four Seasons: Winter Cycling in Montreal, Canada

Two Wheels, Four Seasons: Winter Cycling in Montreal, Canada

Montreal, Canada is a winter city. From November to March (and sometimes even April) the city grows cold, the days are short and it snows – sometimes a lot. Even so, in recent years cycling in winter months has increased dramatically, according to Vélo Quebec. As I write this post, it is a beautiful 6°C

Montreal, Canada is a winter city. From November to March (and sometimes even April) the city grows cold, the days are short and it snows - sometimes a lot. Even so, in recent years cycling in winter months has increased dramatically, according to Vélo Quebec.

Two Wheels, Four Season, Montreal, Canada

As I write this post, it is a beautiful 6°C (43°F) in Montreal, over five degrees above the average temperature for this time of year. Nonetheless, on December 27th we were hit with record snowfall, as a total of 45 cm of snow fell in less than 24 hours. While it is warm today, the temperature can fall well below -20°C (-4°F) in the dead of winter. This poses a challenge to year-round cycling, as many people retire their bicycle in the winter, preferring public transit or driving. This is something Environnement Jeunnesse, a Quebec environmental not-for-profit group, is trying to address through its newest “2 roues, 4 saisons” campaign.

For over ten years, an event called  ”Action citoyenne à vélo” has taken place in Montreal. This is a winter bicycle ride, which traditionally had cyclists from all over the province converge on the capital, Quebec City, to advocate for measures to increase the safety of cycling. This year Environnement Jeunnesse (ENJEU) has given it a new spin and a new name, “2 roues, 4 saisons” (2 wheels, 4 seasons). This campaign is specifically designed to get people on bicycles year-round. The campaign includes videos about dressing for winter cycling, winter bicycle maintenance, and cycling traffic safety advice.

Two Wheels, Four Season, Montreal, Canada

Véronique Arseneau, Project Coordinator at ENJEU, insists that the biggest challenge to winter cycling are people’s attitudes. This campaign aims to convince people that they can cycle in the winter and that there are significant advantages, including health and reduced spending on travel.

In recent years, the city of Montreal has become more active on the issue of sustainable transportation, including a transportation plan that intends to double the bicycle route network and to add a “white network,” a network of bicycle routes that would remain cleared of snow for regular use in the winter months. It will be interesting to see if Montreal, known for its cold and snowy winters, will be able to significantly increase its bicycling mode share over the next few years.

Credits: Images by Devon Willis. Data linked to sources.

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Devon Paige Willis is a native Montrealer and recent graduate of McGill University where she did her B.A. in Environment and Political Science. She discovered a passion for urban and transportation planning in her final year, during which time she at...

  • Luis Lozano-Paredes

    Very Interesting to see how people in Quebec endure this harsh conditions and are willing to continue their regular lives including the use of bicycles as a sustainable transportation mode. That’s resilience!

  • http://www.theglobalgrid.org Courtney McLaughlin

    Great article, Devon! As a Calgarian living in Vancouver, BC, I think this model developed by ENJEU is really inspirational for other Canadian (and international) cities that have harsh winters. Bike Calgary (http://bikecalgary.org/winterriding) has recently begun a larger campaign to target winter riders, and I think they could continue to grow with the sense of community that has been developed in Montreal by ENJEU. In Calgary, we’re lucky to have one of the largest bike path systems in the country – the paths are well-maintained year round and I think it’s just a matter of getting a community engaged to emphasize the importance of biking in the winter and change the attitude. Thanks!

  • http://www.theglobalgrid.org/the-grid/ Devon

    Luis –
    Thank you for the reply. I am glad you enjoyed the post. It is definitely a growing phenomenon in Montréal.

    Courtney –
    Thanks for the great information about Calgary. Some of my family lives in Calgary so I have had the opportunity to bike out there quite a bit. I found recreational cycling awesome, but getting around her suburb was a challenge (deep South East of Calgary).

    I think attitudes towards active transportation are changing quickly though and hopefully winter cycling will be facilitated in Montréal in the coming years via better (read: quicker) snow removal and maintenance year-round of bicycle paths.

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  • Magali

    Montreal winter cyclists are also pretty active on a Facebook group http://www.facebook.com/groups/velodhiver/ with over 600 members. It was never formally organized but helps develop a sense of community and solidarity among cyclists. And many useful tips are exchanged on a daily basis :-)

  • Devon

    @Magali: I am a member of that Facebook group. I think it is great and I agree, they are fairly organized.
    Thank you for reading!

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