LINKing up with Montreal

Last week I was excited to join over a hundred Atlanta regional leaders on the 2023 LINK trip to Montreal

Two of the trip’s themes were highly relevant to our work at Propel ATL: Transportation & Mobility: Montreal investing heavily in transit expansion and Climate & Resiliency: Montreal going green in a big way. 

About to set out on a bike tour of Montreal.

Photo credit: City of Montreal staffer

Montreal seems to enjoy broad consensus on the urgent need to address climate change. Partly as a result, in recent years they’ve opened the floodgates for sustainable transportation options in their beautiful city. 

A highlight of the trip for me was hearing from Montreal’s 45th Mayor Valérie Plante. She acknowledged we were on unceded Indigenous lands stewarded by the Kanien’kehà:ka Nation, then spoke candidly about the challenges facing Montreal, including efforts to build a more inclusive city. She spoke at greatest length about the acute need to address climate change. On climate initiatives like planting trees (very popular) and designing streets for fewer cars (met with familiar pushback but ultimately successful), she was both inspiring and relatable. Mayor of Montreal taking urgent action to fight climate change | CNN 

I enjoyed the abundant public art and spaces, well-preserved historic buildings, and people everywhere embracing summer in Montreal. Read more about the arts and parks scene: Montreal: A Public Realm Built for Joy - Saporta Report by Jim Durrett, President of Buckhead Coalition and Executive Director of Buckhead Community Improvement District, and Michael Halicki, Executive Director of Park Pride

Photo credit: Propel ATL


I'm grateful to have had this opportunity! Most importantly, I brought back so many ideas big and small I hope to apply in our hometown. 


  1. Montreal’s wide downtown streets have plenty of space for cars but are increasingly designed and managed to prioritize people outside of cars. 
  2. Transit, transit everywhere: investments in transit continue to pay off.
  3. Streets that make space for protected bike lanes, sidewalks, and safe crossings are good for business.
  4. An array of designs provided space for people on bikes alongside cars and pedestrians. 
  5. Affordable housing requires housing initiatives, but having affordable transportation options can help. 


Montreal’s wide downtown streets have plenty of space for cars but are increasingly designed and managed to prioritize people outside of cars. 

Photo credit: Propel ATL


It was “construction season” in Montreal, a city where long and severe winters mean they can only build for a few months a year. Yet every construction project I encountered downtown provided a high quality and accessible temporary option like this one.

This sent a clear message that people outside of cars were respected users of the streets, and it wasn’t the only way I felt the message come across. 

We have “pedestrian scrambles” in Atlanta – intersections where people outside of cars have one signal phase to cross in any direction. (Propel ATL and PEDS successfully advocated for these crossings to be the norm for BeltLine intersections.) However, scrambles are often considered an impediment to car traffic and used sparingly. 

In Montreal I noticed areas where two adjacent intersections had these signals, often coinciding with multiple nearby transit stations, as seen here.


Transit, transit everywhere: investments in transit continue to pay off

Attendees of the LINK trip had many tour options to choose from. I wanted to pick them all, but ended up selecting Pie-IX Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and the bike tour. 

People on the tour of Montreal’s new light rail line, the REM, a new automated light metro network with 26 stations, said it was amazing. It’s the largest public transit project in Québec in the last fifty years and just started running in July 2023. Not to be overlooked: it created 34,000 jobs during construction. Another tour was led by Rito Joseph of Black Montreal Experiences. He noted that, among other influences on Montreal, Black men worked for railway companies as porters and employees of sleeping cars. The World's Newest Metro is Here!  


The Pie-IX BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) line runs about 7 miles and includes 17 stations. It launched service in November 2022 after a decade of planning and four years of construction. It serves a lower-income part of Montreal where fewer people own cars, but which lacked high quality transit. This reminded me of parts of south DeKalb County where transit is so needed. I hope one day we’ll be celebrating a transit line like this one in South DeKalb!  


We saw dedicated bus lanes, priority traffic lights, new sidewalks and buried utilities (but no bike lanes - we were told this was due to it being a heavily used truck route and that bike lanes were planned for parallel streets.) Crucial to the success of this service, the bus lanes are protected, with barriers physically separating them from car traffic. 

We noticed the colorful aquamarine glass in other public buildings in Montreal, a nice note of visual cohesion. 


Pie-IX BRT station

Photo credit: Propel ATL


Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this project was the extensive collaboration it required between the City of Montreal, City of Laval, ARTM, STM, STL, and other local and provincial organizations. The City of Montreal invested in the project by funding the streetscape elements, and shared contractors with the transit agency, saving costs. 


Not to be overlooked in all the transit options: bike share stations were everywhere. Bixi was the first large-scale North American system and still going strong. I rode an electric-assist bike from Leonard Cohen’s childhood home to the top of Mount Royal. Spectacular! 


Photo credit: Propel ATL

Far from being an embarrassment of riches, these abundant transportation options pay off in Montreal in two big ways: 

  1. Use: everywhere we went there were so many people walking, riding public transportation, and biking. 
  2. Safety: Montreal experiences about 17 overall traffic fatalities, about half of which are pedestrians, a year in a city of 1.78 million. The City of Montreal staff have Vision Zero within sight. Last year in Atlanta, just taking into account pedestrians, 39 were killed while walking in our city of a half million people.


Speaking of eliminating traffic deaths and injuries, we noticed fewer big/heavy SUVs on Montreal streets than in the U.S., where trends towards bulkier vehicles are killing pedestrians at higher rates. The answer was more about culture than regulation, but Montreal did offer one intriguing idea: The Larger the Car, the More You Pay to Park — Streetsblog USA 


(Something I didn’t hear was talk of a High-Injury Network like we have in most U.S. cities – those few streets that are disproportionately dangerous, usually because of institutional racism’s influence on policy decisions.) 


Montreal aims for 35% of commute trips to be made on transit – currently at 26% due to a drop in transit ridership during the pandemic. That figure doesn’t include the 15+% of commuters who use active transportation (walking, biking, etc). 

From STRATEGIC PLAN 2020 - Montréal 


Given the focus on climate in Montreal, the city focuses its energy on making cars less necessary by providing options that are healthy and enjoyable. From Montreal, where do sustainable transportation look? To Tokyo!


Streets that make space for protected bike lanes, sidewalks, and safe crossings are good for business


“This could be Peachtree Street – is everyone seeing this??” I exclaimed as we stopped to survey the foot, bike, and other traffic on Saint Denis and learn how it came to be this way. 


The signature business corridor was transformed in 2020 from a car-focused four lanes, often blocked by loading and stopped cars, to a people-oriented street. The lanes were trimmed and reduced to two. The city added medians, safe pedestrian crossings, and an “express” bike lane that’s part of the Réseau express vélo or “REV.” 

Photo credit: Propel ATL


Following the transformation, business occupancy rose from 75 to 82%. Expected expansion of Montreal express bike lane praised by cyclists, merchants despite some pushback. And it wasn’t just restaurants and bars who benefitted – we were told that even a mattress store increased its sales.

Taking it a step further, Montreal has an amazing network of pedestrianized streets closed to car traffic in warm weather months and teeming with people patronizing local businesses. Imagine Atlanta Streets Alive, but every day. An earlier program provided grants to business districts to implement their own temporary projects, with the goal of supporting local businesses by encouraging people to walk or bike, then linger. One aspect of these streets I especially loved was how kids had such freedom of movement without the constant admonition to watch for cars. 

Photo credit: Propel ATL


An array of designs provided space for people on bikes alongside cars and pedestrians. 

Photo credit: Propel ATL


Elements that provided physical protection from cars ranged from bike lanes elevated a few inches above the pavement to skinny flexposts. Both worked fairly well considering the minimal amount of space set aside. The goal is to maintain a connected network as much as possible: even those less-protected segments can make a big difference in your overall trip by bike.

Photo credit: Propel ATL


On other neighborhood streets, space was split between on-street parking and space for biking. Some had been converted to one-way travel to make space for this design. These streets had lots of traffic calming elements and felt very welcoming on a bike. I’d like to see this layout on some neighborhood streets in Atlanta where parking is at a premium, many people ride bikes and the housing doesn’t always include parking spaces. 

Photo credit: Propel ATL


Shared bus/bike lanes felt safe too, with potential applications for Atlanta streets, especially the many bus rapid transit projects in the works. 


In 2020, Montreal started letting people on bikes ride in some reserved bus lanes

Photo credit: Propel ATL


The street below illustrates how trees and bikes work together: bike lanes lined with shade trees. The trees get their own root boxes to support healthy growth while preventing damage to the street surface. Eventually, the tree canopy will touch across the street. 

Photo credit: Propel ATL

Vélo Québec, a venerable nonprofit with a robust budget and a commercial cafe, conducts a survey on transportation every five years. Partly as a result of all this connected infrastructure, 70% of the population of Québec has ridden a bicycle in the last year! This means more drivers who understand what it’s like to be on the other side of the windshield. 

Affordable housing requires housing initiatives, but having affordable transportation options can help


I saw much to love in Montreal, but every place has its challenges. On the Bus Rapid Transit tour, a hot topic of conversation was all the mid-rise multifamily housing along the high frequency transit route. Two to three story buildings offered enough low-rise density to support reasonable levels of transit service. 

Yet Montreal residents face rising housing costs as the city grows. While Montreal is still more affordable than Toronto, about 28% of its renters spend 30+ percent of their income on housing. According to the United Way, one in five greater Montreal households don’t have enough to pay their housing and essential needs. 

The good news? The plentiful transportation options mean many households can live without a car. While this doesn’t negate the need for more affordable housing, it does help make families more resilient when the cost of other essential needs rises. Affordable transportation and affordable housing go hand in hand.