By Doug Sweet
The infamous bike gates at the Milton Gates entrance to the downtown campus will soon be gone for the winter. Whether they return will be discussed by a broadly-based working group being formed at the behest of Robert Couvrette, Associate Vice-Principal (University Services), who says it is evident that the downtown campus community needs to have another discussion about how to handle the issue of cycling on campus.
This working group, Couvrette said, will bring together representatives from a wide swath of the downtown campus community, including students, cycling groups, academics who study transportation planning, Campus Space and Planning, Security, Health and Safety, the Office of Sustainability, the Office for Students with Disabilities, Campus Life and Engagement, and others who can bring both expertise and different points of view.
“It will be up to the group to decide how to proceed,” Couvrette said, “but their mandate will be twofold: to review a report on the pilot project we tried this fall in an effort to improve pedestrian safety on campus (the gates), and then to study the larger issue of cycling and pedestrian safety on campus and bring forward recommendations on how McGill should address this issue. We hope the recommendations would be made in time for the resurgence of cycling in the spring.”
Couvrette acknowledged that the pair of swinging gates installed in early September next to the Milton parking kiosk had sparked a strong reaction from some in the community. “This was a pilot project to see if we could encourage cyclists to follow the ‘please walk your bike’ rule that was brought into play back in 2010, when the lower campus became largely car-free,” he said. “Obviously, some cyclists obeyed the request, some got off their bikes to walk through the gates and then got right back on to continue riding, and some tried to ride right through the gates without stopping.”
University Services had always planned to remove the gates to permit snow clearing on the sidewalks over the winter, but recent vandalism (one half of each pair of gates was stolen recently) has advanced that timetable.
“I hope the working group is able to create a more constructive environment for dialogue. Cycling has been a divisive issue for McGill and I am confident that this group will be able to propose some creative, workable solutions,” Couvrette said. In the meantime, he noted, the walk-bike directive remains in effect and cyclists are still requested to dismount when entering the campus.
Couvrette said it will be up to the group to decide how it wants to proceed and how it will consult with the community, but consultation on this issue will be an essential part of its mandate.
“McGill has been trying to come to grips with this issue for some time,” Couvrette said. “The location of our campus vis-à-vis the City of Montreal’s bike paths, plus the size and nature of our own roadways make it a more complex issue than many people realize.
“We have to ensure the safety of hundreds of pedestrians at a time who are moving around the campus when classes change, we have blind corners at some spots, and hills that can facilitate speeding. We are at a geographic point where many cyclists who aren’t coming to our campus would like to ride through, from the end of the Milton Ave. bike path onto Sherbrooke Street.”
The complete membership of the working group will be announced within the next several days. Couvrette said he expects the working group to hold its first meeting in November.