McGill moves to study cycling on campus again

Posted on Thursday, October 31, 2013
New gates on the sidewalks at the Milton Gates, along with longer gates across the roadway, are designed to enforce the “walk your bike” rule on campus. / Photo: Neale McDevitt

The fate of the controversial Milton Gate bike gates will be discussed by a broadly-based working group that brings together representatives from a wide swath of the downtown campus community. / Photo: Neale McDevitt

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.


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Category: In Focus

5 Responses to McGill moves to study cycling on campus again

  1. M. L. Lambert says:

    “some tried to ride right through the gates without stopping…” They didn’t TRY – they DID ride right through, and on many occasions hit pedestrians with the gate and then continue riding away.

    If the gates are going to be re-installed, they have to be set up in such a way that they do not swing open so easily that a cyclist can ride through without getting off the bicycle.

  2. Dan Goodhue says:

    Considering the working group, the bike gates and the way McGill security polices cycling, a lot of effort goes into managing cycling on this campus. But I’ve never heard a single report of an accident involving a bike on campus. Are accidents happening, but just not getting reported widely? Or is this just some people regulating a problem that doesn’t exist? Common sense dictates riding slowly on campus, especially when there are lots of people about. Why not just have signs telling cyclists to go slow? If security sees someone racing through, they should do something about it. But all of this effort, time and probably money to enforce a walking policy to prevent accidents I’ve never heard of? Seems like overkill.

  3. Gail Youster says:


    I can’t help but comment about the bike traffic on Milton. I live downtown and walk to my work every morning and evening. Crossing Milton and Alymer street is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. Almost no one on bikes pays attention to any of the stop signs going east or west. Never mind just those streets all of Milton and the McGill Community is terrible. Why can’t bikes be redirected east on Prince Arthur.

    It’s just awful.

  4. Michael says:

    To Dan Goodhue: I completely agree. I feel like they’re wasting their time and efforts on a problem that simply isn’t there. And no matter what they do, there will always be cyclists on campus ignoring the rules.

    To Gail Youster: No offense but you’re completely wrong. It’s not dangerous at all. Coming from an avid city cyclist, we’re always watching everything around us. We see you crossing. And we avoid you. So look where we’re going, cause we’re doing a better job of that than you pedestrians. The amount of pedestrians I have seen get “hit” by a slowly backing up delivery truck with his reverse siren blaring is ridiculous. It’s not the cyclists who are the problem, it’s you!

  5. Onno says:

    The gates are useless and nonsensical. You have to get off your bike anyway to get on the sidewalk from the street, unless you’re riding a mountain bike with huge tires. But that does not adress anything. As long as there are literally dozens of parking lots and bug trucks driving on campus, how can McGill claim its campus is a “pedestrian zone”? All you need to do is go down Prince Arthur to see that in a REAL pedestrian zone, there are no cars allowed, either.

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