Lessons from Montreal

Bad weather is no excuse for bad infrastructure.

Lessons from Montreal

My wife and I spent a couple days in Montreal last week. What a great city. Very walkable, very bikable, quite green. We went on an 8-mile bike tour and barely felt like we'd exercised.

In recent years Montreal has closed a number of major arteries to cars during the summer. The 1.5 mile stretch of Mont Royal Ave is the longest. 

Of course it seemed especially great in contrast to Austin's summer from hell, but we kept reminding ourselves that the weather isn't always better in New France. One of the reasons we came to Austin eight years ago was because we'd had our fill of sub-zero days in Wisconsin. It's a matter of taste, but I'd take Austin over Montreal eight months of the year.

Speaking of cold weather, I wondered whether nearly as many Montréalais bike during the frigid winter as during the summer. Of course not, replied the tour guide. Only 10% of summer cyclists pedal through the winter, he said.

Bike-haters in Montreal love to point to the cold winters as reason not to build bike infrastructure, he said. What's the point of building bike lanes that only the most deranged fanatics will make use of from November to March?

Austin's season of misery is shorter than Montreal's, and yet it is constantly invoked as an excuse to give up on biking. And walking. And public transit.

It's an understandable knee-jerk response, but I think any intellectually honest person who has ever invoked it would be forced to concede it's nonsensical if they followed the reasoning to its logical conclusion.

If August in Austin is the excuse not to build bike lanes, should it also be an excuse not to build parks? I'm certainly not taking my kid to the playground in 105 degree weather.

Without understating this summer's awfulness and the gravity of the climate crisis that is likely causing it, it's worth keeping in mind that Austin's weather is usually quite nice. It's historically been one of its big selling points.

Some of the hills here are a real bitch. That's true. And that's where e-bikes can help a lot.  

So yes, there are some people who will never bike and there are even more people who will never bike in the summer. But that doesn't mean bike infrastructure isn't a worthy investment. Indeed, any amount of biking helps to prevent summers from getting even hotter.

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