This year the Copenhagen Index evaluated 150 cities for qualities including bicycle advocacy, gender split, and infrastructure. Beating many other top contenders, Montreal was ranked the most bike friendly city in North America. It was also the only city in Canada and the USA that made it into the top 14, coming in at #11 internationally.
Montreal saw it’s first bike paths as early as 1980, and now boasts 589 km of paths. Cyclo-toursim plays a role in the local economy as outfits like Fitz & Follwell give tourists a chance to experience Montreal bike culture through guided biking tours.
In 2008 Montreal pioneered a new public bike sharing system known as Bixi. The model has worked so well that it’s now being adopted by cities all over the world including Boston, Melbourne, London, Toronto, New York and Washington, D.C.. The systems are all fabricated in Montreal and then sold worldwide, making it simple for other cities to become bike friendly as well.
Additionally, city residents don’t just use their bikes to get to work and back, biking is part of a broader culture. Events like Friction Montreal showcase bike friendly artists creating instruments from bike parts, and the annual Tour de l’Île race features a 100km ride, opening many main roads to cyclists for the event. Artisans like Rose Pedals create earrings out of used bike parts, and community bicycle Co-ops throughout the city allow cyclists to share tools and resources to keep their bikes in tune. Montrealers like to have their fun as well; this year they participated in the World Naked Bike Ride for the 9th time.
Perhaps next year the city will climb even higher in the ranks. For now it’s amazing to be featured so close to the top! Here’s how the rest of the world stacked up:
I have written a lot aboutbike-sharing, and I work at a company now that designs and studies these systems every day. I especially love when it'sintegrated into a larger multi-modal system(trains, buses, etc). But if you had been there when bike-sharing was born (probably in many places in parallel at different times...), you might not have believed that it would ever work, at least not at the scale that can be found in some cities (Hangzhou in China has about 65,000 bicycles, and Wuhan about 90,000!). That's because, while bikes are relatively low-tech, managing the memberships and stations without getting all your bikes stolen is a pretty high-tech endeavor, and we're still figuring out the best way to do things (no two bike-shares are exactly alike).
It took many iterations before bike-sharing became truly viable:
Bicycle-sharing has come a long way since the 1960s, when 50 white “free bikes” were scattered around Amsterdam, only to be promptly stolen. A second generation of coin-operated bicycles still got nicked. A third generation solved that problem with electronic docking stations and credit-card payments. (source)
And now a fourth-generation is emerging with technologies like mobile solar-powered docking stations, smart software handling the distribution of bikes, more mobiles apps, etc.
Growth in bike-sharing is strong, even in more difficult markets like the U.S.:
According to a study by the Earth Policy Institute (EPI) in Washington, Europe accounts for most of the programs, but Asia has the largest number of shared bicycles, with over 350,000 in China alone. Even in often bike-hostile America, which in 2012 had 21 schemes with 8,500 bicycles, the EPI expects the fleet to more than quadruple by 2014, to 37,000. In London, which has 8,000 shared bikes, another 2,000 will be added later this year. In Paris the Vélib scheme, which opened in 2007, has already racked up 173m journeys. (source)
So if there's a bike-sharing program in your city but you haven't tried it yet, I encourage you to! Go for a ride with family and friends!
If you're curious about bike-sharing around the world, there's a pretty complete list here with number of stations and bikes.