Montreal; What a Difference, Cycling to the Airport
The last time I cycled from downtown Montreal, Quebec to the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport in Dorval, the last kilometre was a challenge or should I say a game of risk.
Cycling out of Downtown Montreal is very pleasant, starting with separated bike lanes just a block from the hotel. Then come the bike trail along the Lachine Canal that continued along the St. Lawrence River to Dorval. The bike trail is also known as La Route Verte number 5 (http://www.routeverte.com/routeverte_carte/index.php?langue=en).
Then the cycling infrastructure becomes a combination of bike lanes, bike trails, and separated bike lanes, past the airport to the Ontario provincial line. From there the route becomes the Waterfront trail that follows the mighty St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario and Toronto and then on to Fort Erie. Now, the trail continues along Lake Erie, the Detroit River, and Lake St. Clair to Detroit and to Sarnia and then along the Georgian Bay to Lakeshore. (1,400 km; http://www.waterfronttrail.org)
Now, if your interest is cycling between Montreal and Toronto, it is a 3.5 to 5 day experience, not too challenging, with plenty of scenery and a few wineries along the way.
For this trip, the destination was a gate lounge in the airport. So twenty-three kilometres from the heart of Montreal that is preparing for a car race this weekend, Rue de Dorval appears. The route has changed from a bike trail along the waterfront to bike lanes. At the intersection to the Rue de Dorval, peaceful two-lane neighbourhood streets with bike lanes are replaced with a four-lane street bounded by suburban shopping and a deteriorating curb lane. Potholes, cracks, unsmooth asphalt pavement, and other obstructions face the wheels of the cyclists’ bikes. While the street looks overbearing, the traffic is somewhat light. So, a few blocks of this and one enters a truly challenging, unfriendly intersection. A three lane roundabout underneath an expressway needs to be crossed. Fortunately each leg of the intersection is controlled by traffic signals, not the usual case. So with a bit of leaving the fear on the bike rack, an arm is thrust out signalling a crossing of an exit ramp and the roundabout is traversed.
Now comes that terrible underpass below the main CN Trans Canada rail line and the local commuter train lines. This is a horrendous underpass. The road drops and then rises fast. The approach is at an angle and line of sight is not to be had. On the other side, the situation does not improve. The two lanes leaving the roundabout become narrower just as the car and truck traffic starts accelerating with the Cote De Liesse expressway approaching. The off-ramp to the airport is just past the underpass. I did this route the last time and it was something where it is best to leaving the nerves behind.
Of course there are the two sidewalks on the underpass. One problem though, the sidewalks stop halfway through the underpass with no opportunities to go forward. This underpass has been in construction for the last 3 or 5 or ? years now. Will it ever be finished?
As one approaches the roundabout there are no signs to warn drivers of the presence of cyclists. There are no sharrows, bike lanes, or coloured intersection crossings. There are no wayfinding signs for cyclists to lead the way to the airport.
However, as previously stated, life is now better once the roundabout has been traversed and you have some idea of where to go. You will not find that information on any Montreal map or on the airport’s website. In fact, a Google search did not bring any suggestions on how to get there.
So, here goes. As the roundabout is traversed, cycle into the access road leading to the VIA Train Station. You could also continue your thrill of roundabout cycling and go through one more exit to the commuter train station. Assuming that you do not want to challenge any speeding cars or trucks hastening to the underpass and you have exited at the VIA station road, then cycle up to the west loading platform. Then walk north over the underpass to an exit gate leading to the commuter station. Then proceed to the station entrance and take the ramp down under the rail tracks. At the other end, walk up the ramp and through the exit door to the passenger drop-off driveway.
Back on the bike, cycle to a separated four lanes road, Ave Cardinal, but do not cross. No wayfinding signs are about where to go to next. Look to your left and there is a two-way bike path adjacent to the curb. Proceed on it past the barrier with the sign ‘fin’. Just keep cycling on the stony crud for about 500 kilometres to a three or four-way stop signed intersection. Then cross Ave de Cardinal unto Boulevard Albert de Niverville leading to the airport.
As one cycles through the intersection, one can notice that there is an off-road ramp for cyclists located conveniently for you somewhere were you cannot reach it. So, go to the next intersection and bend onto a two-way bike path next to the street curb. This will take you straight to the airport, well, until you have to make a couple of bends. Then the pavement switches from asphalt to concrete and the bike path markings disappear as a building appears with a car-parking ramp. A sign directs pedestrians to the airport. What about cyclists? Well, just continue cycling on the sidewalk past the corner of the building. As the path widens, the departure level of the airport appears just a few metres along the way.
You are there without the frustration of what used to be one of the worst cycling entrances to an airport. Now, it is quite enjoyable and could be more positive of an experience if only there were wayfinding signs from the La Route Verte Number 5 bike trail by the river. Now, if the cyclists’ passage were only marked through the roundabout. Now, if the bike path on Ave Cardinal were completed just that extra distance. Then the trip to the airport from downtown would be just as pleasant as the cycle from the Paris airport through the countryside past Tremblay-en-France and along the canal to the Paris Gare de l’ Est train station.
Oh well, at least the underpass for the CN railway’s main intercontinental line does not need to be cycled through.
H-JEH Becker, Velo.Urbanism, Third Wave Cycling Group Inc., 2013
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013, unless otherwise noted. If you wish to expand the size of any image, then click on the image.