Saturday, July 5, 2008

An outing in the quest of nature accessible without a car

This saturday my girl-friend and I intended to find a spot in the "nature", easily accessible without a car from the Plateau, being bored by the well-groomed parks of Montreal. Oka beach was out, since there are no buses running on weekends and while we once went together with a group, it's quite a journey to go to Canora train station (you can not bring bicycles in the downtown Bonaventure station) and go by bike 1 hour from Deux-Montagnes to the park.

So we chose to cross Pont Jacques-Cartier to Isle St. Helene and then Isle Notre-Dame, where after a lot of fences restricting access to the riverside I discovered some cozy places where nature has been permitted to run its course sufficiently long to appear more original on this artifically created island. The place I found was not too crowded, although it seems better to go early if you want a real private spot. Swimming is possible although I would not be surprised if it was forbidden there. Most of the people pass by only remotely, as it's off the main cycle road but a initiated photographer passed shortly with the to-be-married couple from a nearby wedding in front of a large weeping willow.

There were also a number of fruit trees (apples, pears, mulberry and elder) which were not ripe yet, although I'm looking forward to pick some there later in the season. Right now I had to satisfy myself with some raspberries.

Going back, there was an unpleasant experience, considering our bicycles. I had already been asked when entering the Festival Les Weekends du monde area earlier on to remove myself from the bike seat, and was not given a conclusive answer (other than: 'c'est le reglement') why it was not possible to ride around when there were almost no people in the place.

At the Pont Jacques Cartier, police told us that the pedestrian/cycling path was blocked from 8:00-11:30pm (for the fireworks, starting at around 10pm), for security reasons. An officer agreed with us that it was unreasonable but it was her job etc. and told us we could either go into the metro or on Pont de la Concorde. So we went to the metro station and (different) police told us that we were not allowed to enter the metro with our bikes. After some discussion they acknowledged that they were not in contact with the other group, and the whole thing was not well organised, but were not cooperative. We concluded that the other bridge would probably also be closed and anyway it would be a long detour, so we had to leave our bicycles on the island and to come back by metro (in which finally would have been plenty of space for our bicycles).

The feeling I get from this and past experiences is that the responsibles for these events and places make it easy for themselves and don't do any effort to accommodate people, like us cyclists, outside the car-driver (and sometimes pedestrian) metaphor. Lots of security persons are employed to block anybody violating the 'rules' (without questioning their sense) and block any constructive discussion about the validity or cooperation with the argument of 'security'. If people here let themselves be herded like sheep by the authorities, they don't deserve anything else.
On the contrary, the picknickers that arrived by car to the earlier mentioned spot (passing through a bicycle road explicitly restricting car access) surely had no problem getting their vehicle out of the island.

So, while it is laudable that people who are living in the densest areas in Montreal can enjoy some very natural areas not too far away, the city should give more incentive for people to abandon their cars, instead making it such a pain to choose an ecological, healthy and sustainable way of transportation as the bicycle.