Cycling in Montreal in 1897

Montreal bicycle map from 1897
Montreal bicycle map from 1897

What does the future of mobility look like in North American cities? I would suggest that in many ways it will look like its forgotten, pre-oil past. In my hometown of Montreal, evidence exists in the form of a bicycle map from 1897.

Now over 120 years old, the map is remarkable in at least three ways;

1) The range which extends into suburban regions that today are most accessible by car

2) The margins suggest that in 1897 the city had a mature cycling business ecosystem with an insurance company and tire manufacturer plying their trades

3) The city’s present road infrastructure owes a forgotten debt to cyclists who advocated for quality road networks well before cars made the scene

Montreal would get its first car two years after this map was produced. It begs speculation as to how infrastructure and urban development might have evolved had the automobile not arrived to disrupt a thriving bike culture. Car use in the city is presently outpacing population by two percent per year. With two million motor vehicles on the road, cycling is far from its 19th Century heyday.

The city is still considered the best in North America for biking, and efforts are underway here and in cities around the continent to restore cycling to its rightful place in sustainable urban mobility. Understanding that bicycles once ruled the roads illustrates just how far we are from achieving their full potential.

References:

Montreal’s 1897 Bicycle map

Current Montreal Bike Paths Map: https://caroulemontreal.com/en/tools/maps

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