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How Great Bike Infrastructure Encourages More Riders: A First-Hand Account

 Recently, Elaine Kramer from our office took a vacation to Montreal and Quebec, Canada.  Her experience with using the local bike infrastructure has changed her views on riding bikes in town.  This is her story:

I don’t like to ride bikes.

I don’t like the discomfort of seats and helmets, and I don’t like exercise that works only the leg muscles and makes my knees and arthritic hands ache. I don’t like hills and I don’t like the prospect of being on streets with cars and trucks.

I deeply enjoy nearly every other form of recreation, whether on water or land, winter or summer, indoor or out. Just don’t make me ride bikes.

My husband rides bikes. Loves to. Has a good bike. Knows all the trails. Texts me photos of pretty places he sees. Tries to lure me in.

Not only him, but people at work too. They all like bikes. Commute, ride to meetings, and enjoy combining exercise with transportation with a chance to be outdoors.

I’m surrounded by these people.

On vacation last month, my husband and I went to Quebec, Canada. He brought his bike; I brought my fishing gear, hiking shoes and a bag of books.

In Montreal, our first destination, we asked the host at our bed & breakfast her suggestion of how to spend the day. “See the city by bike! We have beautiful trails and cycle-tracks.” My husband’s eyes said, “I really, really want to.” “Sounds great,” I piped up, in an utter but enthusiastic lie.

We set out, he on his bike and I on a credible loaner from the B&B. We rode along the St. Lawrence River through a linear park. The trail was a two-way paved surface with yellow markings down the center. A separate crushed stone footpath wove alongside.

With the river on our left, the trail passed every conceivable park feature and element, all in full use. To our right, neighborhood cross-streets with their own bike lanes spit additional riders onto the trail.

People rode 30 mph or 5, but everyone was respectful. There were scores of people on motorized scooters sharing the trail, along with the occasional motor-assisted bike. With public bike stations throughout the city and along the trails, anyone could grab a bike and take a ride.

After a picnic lunch, we turned toward home base along a scenic canal, the park continuing. We passed miles of newly constructed apartments and businesses built to front the trail. Heading toward the city center, we passed several bike service stations as well as cafes, industries and office buildings all providing bike racks and direct trail access.

To reach the B&B, we had to leave the trail to meander on city streets. Our route was marked with bike “sharrows” and signs, and vehicles passed us with ample room to spare. The road was ours as well as theirs, and everyone acted like they knew that.

We made it back to our room, a little wind burned, but happy and relaxed from the scenery and exercise. I calculated the route was just over 20 miles.

Later in the vacation, we arrived in Quebec City with no specific plans. “What do you want to do first?” he asked.

“Let’s rent me a bike,” I said. “They have six trails marked out on this map.”

It is amazing how having great bike infrastructure can encourage someone who hated riding bikes to become more comfortable, excited even, to ride around town.