Westmount's Unique Southeast

Dear Mayor Smith  

I recently read the AGIL report on Westmount’s Southeast .  This report, which recommends
 a major reconfiguration of Dorchester Boulevard, excludes the option to include a bicycle
path for the following two reasons:  Building such a path without the collaboration of the 
City of Montreal constructing a similar path on Rene Levesque or Atwater would be of 
little use. Also, with the inclusion of such a path, the street would be wider and limit the 
amount of developable land.  I wish to make a few points as to why a bicycle path should 
be included, which this report does not address.

Downtown Montreal currently has only one east-west bicycle path, the heavily used, old 
style bidirectional de Maisonneuve path.   Given the stated desire of Montreal to greatly 
increase the cycling modal share, additional east-west bicycle path capacity will have to 
be added to the downtown in the near future.  There are only three possible streets: 
Rene Levesque, Ste Catherine, or Sherbrooke. Of these three, Rene Levesque is the 
only one that already has a bicycle path (the route verte number 5 east of Berri).  Within
 the downtown portion, the lanes of Rene Levesque are presently oversized, so it is a 
relatively easy street to add bicycle paths with minimal reduction of traffic lanes or parking. 
 Westmount should anticipate that Rene Levesque Boulevard will have a bicycle path at
its doorstep in the near future.

Sherbrooke street, which has many desirable destinations along its western half, is 
already heavily used by cyclists despite the very real dangers to them caused by not 
having a protected bike path.  Given the expected growth in cycling fueled by the 
growing “right to safe access” movement, along with the environmental, health and 
quality of life benefits of active transportation, the provision for bike paths along both
those streets are highly likely.  

A major reconfiguration in an urban arterial street is a rare event and sets the groundwork
 for which mode of transport will predominate.  To modify Dorchester by allocating all
 the available space for moving cars and storage of parked cars, excluding the safe
 passage of bicycles is very short sighted.  This will ultimately cost Westmount more 
by trying to retrofit a path later. Let us not repeat the mistake made by urban planners 
on Sherbrooke street in the post war years. They allocated all the street space for cars 
exclusively, making it the most dangerous Westmount street for cyclists.

Excluding a bicycle path on Dorchester would also be a lost opportunity for Westmount
to showcase to both residents and visitors its long connection to cycling and its 
commitment to a sustainable future.  Westmount’s Southeast is uniquely situated to do this.

Exploring cities by bicycle is an increasingly popular form of  eco tourism. The Lonely 
Planet names the top 20 bicycle-friendly cities of the world and Montreal is the only 
North American city listed.  It is a natural destination for cycle-touring enthusiasts who 
wish to visit this continent. These cycling tourists want to see first hand how different 
cities are accomplishing the transition from automotive to a more eco-friendly method of 
transportation.   As cyclists, they are also interested in the cycling history of the places
 they visit.  Many also do extended tours between cities and write detailed blogs of their

The present Westmount Athletic Grounds (WAG) and Westmount High School were the
 site of the former Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA) grounds, built in 1888.
 The MAAA was founded by the union of three clubs: the Montreal Lacrosse Club, 
Montreal Snowshoe Club, and the Montreal Bicycle Club in 1881.  The MAAA grounds 
hosted many local, national, and international cycling events of the Penny Farthing era as 
well as the world-wide bicycle craze of the 1890s. In the booklet “Our City, Our Sports” 
published for the 1894 Canadian Wheelmens Association Annual Meet, held at the MAAA 
grounds, the Montreal Bicycle Club boasted of being the oldest bicycle club in North America 
as well having as president the first rider of a High Wheel Bicycle on the continent.  This 
same booklet also has a poem about Montreal written by the then future mayor of 
Westmount, William D. Lighthall. It is interesting to note that 1894 was also the year a 
Sarnia to Montreal relay race was held to promote that Annual Meet. A letter was carried 
by the relay riders petitioning for better roads for cyclists and signed by all the Mayors 
along the route. The ride took just over 33 hours.

The WAG and Westmount High School sites are unique in the history of Montreal cycling.  
Once the Rene Levesque path is constructed, the nearby park at Dorchester and Clarke will 
 be the western starting point of a modern bicycle path that extends to Berri and then 
continues on the  existing Route Verte 5 path past the the eastern tip of Montreal, all the 
way to Quebec City.

Dorchester park, which has a unique place in Montreal’s cycling history and will be the 
starting point of a bicycle path connecting Quebec’s two principal cities, should have a 
commemorative symbol to indicate it’s special status.  The High Wheel Bicycle, also know 
as a Penny Farthing, is an iconic image of the past, and of cycling, which is itself a 
enduring symbol of sustainability. I believe a statue depicting a man riding a Penny Farthing 
at this unique location, would prove extremely popular amongst residents and visiting tourists.
  It would symbolize a link between cycling’s past, and together with the adjoining path be 
a symbol of a sustainable future. This could be an iconic starting point for touring cyclists 
travelling from Montreal to Quebec City.

I have attached some photographs related to the MAAA grounds, early Montreal cycling,  
as well as pictures of the symbols that mark the start of the P’tit Train du Nord and the C&O 
canal mule path that touring cyclists use between Cumberland MD and Washington DC.  
One thing that almost all cycling travel blogs have in common is photographs of the start 
and end points of the paths traveled.

Yours Truly
Malcolm McRae


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