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Walking around in the Stade Olympique neighborhood of Montreal’s outskirts, I saw the perfect opportunity to illustrate how seamlessly medium density buildings can be integrated with classic single family homes (sans the hideous car ports). This picture above shows a row of multi-family buildings abutting one story and short two-story houses that are not unlike the ubiquitous kind of single family housing found throughout Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

This is the kind of infill that Miami 21 would make possible, in turn creating denser communities in an unobtrusive manner. This also makes it easier to build affordable housing that makes for diverse socioeconomic communities.

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Montreal…what a great city.

I spent the last several days there on a mini-vacation doing some urban exploration and enjoying the sites and culture that make the city so pleasant. Despite temperatures that were muy frio (Highs 25-32, Lows 8-20), it still was a great experience walking around the city thanks to fine urban design, livable streets, and thriving public spaces.

With that said, I’d like to walk you through (pun intended) some of my observations and experiences that both illuminate Montreal’s successes and Miami’s potential.

Transit System

Montreal’s subway system was very clean, efficient, and took us most places we wanted to go. I took a couple trips on the “Green line” that runs between Angrignon and Honore-Beaugrand. Levels of service were high based on my experience, whereas I never waited more than five minutes for a train even on Saturday and Sunday. At $2.75 per one-way trip, the fares were a little steep, though I’m assuming that would be mitigated if I had bought a 3-day unlimited or monthly unlimited ride pass.

Though it’s not transit per se, I was thrilled to see separated bike lanes at least a few major boulevards. Not only are they protected from traffic, they’re bidirectional unlike most Class II striped bike lanes and even some Class I separated lanes, like on 9th Ave in Manhattan.

Parks and Public Spaces

Ah, my favorite part. I’m a firm believer that it’s the quality of a city’s public spaces that make it a truly great place to live, which is why Montreal scores so high on my livability scale. The city is loaded with really nice parks and plazas that serve as social and civic gathering magnets. As far as plazas go, Place Jacques Cartier and Place d’Armes were my favorites, though several others could easily make the cut.

However, my runaway favorite public space in Montreal is the city’s namesake park, Mont Royal. When I first heard about Montreal’s “mountain”, I have to admit I was pretty skeptical. I figured it was a series of rolling hills at best, with just enough of an incline to force cyclists into a medium-to-low gear.

Was I ever mistaken.

Looking from downtown, which the park roughly abuts, it actually appears that the city abruptly stops up against a mountain on one side. To add to the effect, several bouts of snowfall from a long Canadian winter remained draped across Mont Royal’s landscape not unlike that of a small snowcapped mountain in Vermont or Upstate New York.

After scaling steep blocks just to reach the foot of the park, you’re faced with the task of climbing an even steeper mini-mountain — with a foot of snow on the ground.

The park is beautiful. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. If you want to climb it, you can either follow winding paths at a moderate grade, or you can take the shortcut and go straight up. About halfway up the views of the downtown skyline are already spectacular, but at the top you have incredible panoramic vistas of most of the city and the St. Lawrence River.

It didn’t matter that it was 32 degrees out with a foot of snow on the ground the weekend before April — the park was packed with joggers, walkers, sightseers, and even cross country skiers.

Sadly, Miami doesn’t really have a grand park that is centrally located and easily accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians. I consider Crandon Park to be pretty great, but it’s an isolated island and not a centrally located grand urban park. The beaches of South Beach and North Beach are adjacent to high density areas and are high quality public spaces, but they are in a different category and serve different purposes than a centrally located urban park. Museum Park has the potential to be great, but it’s limited size and extreme easterly location may keep it from fulfilling that role.

Urban Design

Montreal’s urban design was of high quality. The density of most neighborhoods is relatively high thanks to rowhouses and apartment buildings that helped define street space. Downtown was full of high-rises, but most of them were designed well to fit with human scale and the pedestrian realm. The architecture of both old and modern buildings was of high quality. Moreover, most streets were well in tact and had not given way to curb cut mutilation and excessive off-street parking.

Depending on where you are, certain neighborhoods have a “Brooklyn” feel to them, while others have more of a “Philly” feel.

Even the newly developed neighborhoods on the fringe of the city consisted of modern-looking rowhouses and apartment buildings, which was very encouraging to see. Overall, the streets were very clean and comfortable as well. Interestingly, the streets were pretty quiet with automobile traffic, drivers drove safely and courteously, and very little congestion was present.

What’s the lesson for Miami? Montreal serves as just one more example of a major city full of neighborhoods with medium-to-high density that is extraordinarily livable. Because buildings are built right up to the sidewalk and are often attached, they do a great job defining street space and making the pedestrian experience a pleasant one. You can walk all day in Montreal, in inclement weather no less, and not get tired or anxious because space is well defined and you always feel like you’re somewhere. Without these characteristics in most of Greater Miami, it often feels like even short walks take forever and go from nowhere to nowhere. Miami 21 will probably be our best opportunity this century to improve this condition.

Stay tuned for additional lessons from Montreal.

“At a length of nearly 19 km, the Canada Line will be an automated rapid transit rail service connecting Downtown Vancouver with central Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport — linking growing residential, business, health care, educational and other centres in the region — and adding transit capacity equivalent to 10 major road lanes. The Canada Line will connect with existing rapid transit lines at Waterfront Station and major east-west transit services, creating an enhanced transit network to serve the region in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The line is expected to carry 100,000 passengers per day at launch and 142,000 passengers by 2021. Travel times southbound from downtown Vancouver will be 25 minutes to Richmond Centre and 26 minutes to the airport terminus. Northbound, trains will leave Richmond City Centre and YVR every six minutes heading to Vancouver. The departures will be coordinated to allow for a train every three minutes on the main line in Vancouver.”

I’ve spent the better part of the past 5 days traveling throughout New York and Canada, articles will reappear later today as soon I as I recover… Here is a view of one of my recent traveling delays at JFK. We taxied in line of jets for an hour, waiting for 40 planes to take off before we were given the go ahead. Looking back, these were just a fraction of the planes waiting behind:
On the plus side, I did eventually get a pretty nice aerial view of Manhattan:

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The province of Quebec doesn’t mess around when it comes to cycling. A 250+ mile long route will be completed this August, making it the longest such route in North America. Known as “Route Verte” (Green Route), the trail has taken over 10 years to complete and will traverse 320 municipalities all across the province. To put that into perspective, it would be like having a continuous trail from Miami to Daytona Beach or New York to Washington.


According to the website dedicated to the trail:
“You can cycle the Route Verte all at once, section-by-section, or by following your own itinerary. Some people regularly use the sections close to their homes, while others make a special trip a few times per year. The Route Verte can be a personal challenge or a relaxing place to spend your leisure time. You can enjoy it alone, as a family, or with friends. Every year numerous groups organize special outings along portions of the bikeway. When it comes to leisure, tourism, health, and the environment, the Route Verte is an invaluable asset”.

Furthermore, Route Verte is marked with signs that display route information, including nearby services or attractions, making it very user friendly for locals and tourists alike.

Way to go, Quebec.

I think Florida is currently underutilizing one of the nation’s most scenic roads - A1A. If the state wants to send its own bold message that it is serious about cycling, while simultaneously providing a fantastic coastal transportation asset that would traverse hundreds of communities, it would step up and create a continuous A1A trail. It could be our “Orange Route”.

Photos courtesy of, Wikipedia, and Canadatrails’ flickr account

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Urban Planners and Medical Doctors are building a united front to tackle the link between sprawl and obesity.

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