Montreal is just a two-hour train ride from our home in Ottawa. When my work schedule allowed a break, my daughter, Anna Sierra, and I took a few days vacation together, just the girls. Our plan was to rent bikes when we arrived and take in the city on our own wheels.
(We measured Anna Sierra on a BIXI bike and she's still a little small, so bike sharing will have to wait another year or two. And although it's possible to take your bikes with you on the train, service is limited to a few train choices a day in the low season.)
Before leaving, I asked friends who live in Montréal, grew up there or visit often for suggestions of kid-friendly, bike-friendly spots we should check out. So we arrived with some ideas of great spots to visit.
We learned that riding up Mont Royal is lovely, especially at sunset. And we discovered that separated bike lanes make riding in new cities dreamy. There are lots of spots in Ottawa where I'm not comfortable having Anna Sierra ride on the road. But after less than an hour in Montréal, she was leading the way along separated bike routes on Rue Berri and Rue Rachel. It was incredibly freeing to see my nine-year-old daughter riding proudly in a new city.
With glowing recommendations, we tried three fabulous restaurants: Le Prato Pizzeria, Poutineville and La Grand-Mere Poule and loved every single one. Our criteria was simple. I wanted peanut-free selections (I'm allergic). Anna Sierra wanted restaurants that offered vegetarian food, that were cozy and that would allow elbows on the table. All three fit the bill. (As did the numberous little spots where we stopped for coffee and snacks throughout our adventures).
One of our first stops was a tea with our friend Jean-François, of Vélo Québec, at the café that's just downstairs from his office, La Maison des Cyclistes. Ideally located across from the beautiful Parc de la Fontaine, the café looks out over the intersection of two bike paths and provides endless bike-watching entertainment.
Knowing that along with recommendations of great restaurants, lovely outdoor markets and the usual spots for kids like the Biodome and the Insectarium, I would of course want to visit the latest complete street initiatives, Jean-François suggested we ride over to Rue Laurier the next morning.
Immediately outside a busy downtown school, a section of Rue Laurier was under construction and on a serious road diet. The road was being transformed from a two-way street into a one-way street, with bike lanes on either side of the street separated from slow-moving traffic by parked cars. The sidewalk in front of the school was expanded to be at least four times the regular width of a sidewalk. And the part of the sidewalk closest to the road was given over to alternating bike racks and trees. I was thrilled to see such a great use of public space and took quite a few pictures and will gladly share them with anyone interested in innovative traffic calming measures but thought for general interest I'd go easy on the detailed bike infrastructure discussion.
But I wasn't the only one blown away by smart, bicycle-friendly urban planning! On the phone to her little brother, Anna Sierra asked if he could guess what shape traffic lights in Montréal are. After he guessed square, triangle and rectangle, she told him, "No, they're little bicycles. Isn't that fun!"
We'll be back for more bike fun, this time with the whole family, in the spring.
After all, some of us need to check up on Rue Laurier, some of us want to swim in the outdoor pools we biked past and others of us need to see those magical bike traffic lights with our very own eyes.