Saturday, August 27, 2011

Four Days in Montreal

I got back last night from four days (well, three and a half if you subtract bus travel time) in Montreal. This was not the first time I had been to the city, but I noticed a lot of new stuff since I was last there for two weeks in the summer of 2007. Namely, more and better public spaces, changes to the street system, and perhaps most drastically, the addition of the Bixi bike share program and a slew of amazing separated bike lanes.


The above picture is Rue St. Catherine, which is one of the main drags in downtown Montreal, spanning the gay village, the Place des Arts, and the major shopping street. The city is undertaking a massive change in tone to the streetscape along certain stretches by taking out the curbs that separated cars from pedestrians and laying the whole road in the same material. Although only parts were open, it's already obvious that this changes how the street feels entirely. Given that when I was there in 2007 for the jazz festival this street was the one closed off for the largest outdoor stage, it only makes sense to be able to create a space that converts easily between road and pedestrian plaza.

This is another section of Rue St. Catherine in the gay village. For multiple blocks beginning at Rue Berri the street has been shut to car traffic from May until September in order to create a pedestrian street where the many bars and restaurants in the area are able to extend their patios. The result is an amazingly vibrant area filled with all sorts of people. We drank many a beer and people-watched along this strip, as it was busy even late into weekday nights.

Montrealers seem to love their patios (who doesn't, actually?) and examples abound all over the downtown. Sometimes it's just a few tables and chairs out on the street and sometimes it's more formal, like in the above picture. While it makes walking the crowded streets sometimes difficult, it definitely adds to the atmosphere and makes for a more interesting walking experience. Plus, you get to see what everyone is eating.

Public Space

Montreal's waterfront, while still littered with industrial remnants, has some really great spots with wide walking and biking promenades and plenty of green space to sit. However, it didn't really feel all that coherent to me, meaning that as I walked along the waterfront there wasn't a sense of unity between all the different pieces. There were a few gems, though, like the small pond/canal featured above.

The area around Place des Arts, where much of the jazz festival takes place, has really bloomed with public spaces since I was there last. There are a lot of plazas, including the one above with some cool water spurts that glow different colours at night. The area consists of a bunch of medium to large-sized public spaces, some with grass, but most with hard surfaces, that all connect up to each other. My other favourite, which I didn't manage to get a picture of, was a grassy field with a strip of sidewalk down the middle that oozed water vapour that was lit up different colours at night. Biking through the fog was a good way to cool down on a hot day.

Here's a strange piece of public art on Rue St. Catherine. The letters looked randomly placed until you stood in the right spot and they coalesced into a sentence. If only I knew French.

And of course there is the square at the Berri-UQAM subway station that turns up in many a tourist photo of Montreal. This square has a sloping grassy hill complete with water features and a hard surface plaza on which you can play oversized chess. At night they moved in a giant movie screen and played Persepolis while a truck nearby handed out free food to those who needed it.


I only took the (bouncy--it has tires!) subway system once in Montreal. The rest of the time I was on a Bixi bike or walking. Twelve dollars bought a three-day subscription to the system, and, with the amazing and connected separated lane network, I could get virtually anywhere I wanted in the city without feeling squeezed by traffic. There was a Bixi station on almost every block, so we didn't have to worry when we went somewhere about where to park. It seemed like every third bike that road by (and a lot of people ride bikes in Montreal) was a Bixi bike.


  1. The public art of St-Cat:

    "Il y aura une place pour chacune des libert├ęs que vous voudrez bien vous accorder"

    "There will be a place for each of the freedoms that you will grant youself"

  2. a shot of my friends in the park with the mist vents and some BIXIs: