[ Robert Silverman ]
[ English Texts ]
[ Cybernetically, Bicycle Bob Xe-Dda.p ]
Twenty years with le MàB

Cars cars everywhere
What a stink
Packed together
Street by street
Eliminating our feet
We had nothing to like
Then we rediscovered the bike.



Le Monde à Bicyclette celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1995. That we are still here and have survived so many motivation-sapping winters is almost a miracle. Our bicycle advocacy movement started with a meeting advertised in the Montreal Star in April 1975. About 20 people showed up on bicycles to the great annoyance of our uptight landlord, George.

Encouraged by my Danish wife, I had rediscovered the bicycle while studying in France in 1969. Back in Montreal, I bought a second-hand bicycle and began enjoying cycling in the city but I noticed there were no facilities for bikes - no parking, no paths, no bridge nor metro access, nothing. I became "cyclofrustrated".


A new consciousness

I visited a distant cousin in Washington where I stopped at the offices of the local Bicycle Coalition. Later, I got in touch with the Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition. These groups' material gave me further inspiration and the conviction that there was a "new and global bicycling consciousness" in the overdeveloped world even in 1975. Although our local Fédération de Cyclotourisme du Québec (which later became Vélo Québec) was not really interested in becoming concerned with public transportation, one of its staff, Jacques Desjardins did and he was the one who thought of our magic name. Our English equivalent was Citizens on Cycles .

We did not have a clue. We were frustrated by our bicyclists' reality and still held weekly meetings at our apartment. Those who did not visualize bicycling as transport dropped out. Our first political actions were : giving our first collective yellow bicycle to our Olympic Mayor, Jean Drapeau; organize a late afternoon commuter race between two bicycles and two cars; organize The Great Cyclists Parade where 3000 enthusiasts shouted for more services along St-Catherine Street. That event later was taken over by Vélo Québec and eventually became Le Tour de l'Ile.

So we received a lot of media attention. Stimulated by the energy and novelty of these historic events, I wrote the first bicyclist's manifesto which was published in the daily Le Jour and the paper of l'Alliance des Professeurs de Montréal . The Milton Park Citizens Committee gave us some money they didn't need and Le Château clothing store chain bought a large quantity of our t-shirts Perds Pas les Pédales . We rented a small room at the International YMCA on Park Avenue and we were on our way.

Vicky Schmolka, our empirical cofounder received our first of many federal job creation grants which, in a mixed way, helped us over the years.


Getting organized

At our founding convention in March, 1977, about 60 people had to choose between the Reformists (governments should provide tangible facilities because of the bicycle's social desirability), the Revolutionary (the capitalistic auto and oil monopolies preclude any significant bicycle gains&) and the Poetico-Velorutionaries (the struggle for cyclists' rights is a new historical movement with a new consciousness and it requires a poetic-velorutionary approach).

In the end, the poetico-velorutionary tendency which I supported received the most votes and the members of the technical, reformist and revolutionary tendencies left .

The arrival in 1976 of Claire Morissette gave us a giant boost forward. She quickly felt at home in our movement and for many years she assured the coordination of our group. Her loyalty, her competence, her high sense of responsability, her accounting and organizational skills greatly contributed to our being an effective and visible lobby. And Claire's constantly growing literary skills were manifest in every issue of our quarterly newspaper.


Recycling the region

In the first ten years of Le Monde a Bicyclette Mayor Jean Drapeau's autocratic city government was hostile to bicycling. Communication with the city governemnt was virtually non-existant. Our letters were rarely answered and there was not yet a public question period at City Council meetings as there has been for the last several years.

So, to reach the public, we organized public cycling events or cyclodramas humourously illustrating our intolerable cyclofrustrations. But they did not bring about the necesary facilities. So we turned to more conventional methods. Patiently, Le Monde a Bicyclette obtained letters of support from provincial Mna's and federal members of parliament of the region and resolutions from South Shore municipalities for a bicyclists' link on the access bridge to Nun's Island.

Due to Le MàB's tireless efforts cyclists have won many victories and many cyclofrustrations, even provocations have been eliminated such as river crossings and Metro access. However the streets are still unfriendly to cyclists, bicycle parking is still scarce and commuter train access is minimal.

We have a great cause. Who could be against encouraging bicycling! In 20 years only 2 people have publicly attacked us: Jacques Duval, former automobile columnist at La Presse called me a freak while Jacques Barrière, longtime head of the Montreal Traffic Department during Mayor Drapeau's long permanency stated in a public speech "If we accommodate bicycles in our streets, will we put our cars in our pockets?"

Our arguments for a bicycle-friendly city are stronger than 20 years ago. To the local arguments in our favor like exercise, health, quietness, space-saving pollution reduction and random human contacts while bicycling, we now point out to life-threatening car related problems like the greenhouse effect and the thining of the ozone layer which were unrecognized in our beginning years.

In fact we have all the arguments but one in our comparisons with the car. For the private sector, the automobile is more conducive to profit-making than its bicycle replacement. That explains our slow advances in spite of our obvious social desirability. And that also explains the multiply verified first theoretical law of the velorution. Cyclists gains are inversely proportional to the cars need for the same facility. That's why we won bicycle paths along river banks, canals and rail lines, Metro access, St. Lawrence River crossings, commuter train access, parking on some downtown streets, St.Denis and St. Lawrence. On the other hand, our car-reducing demands got us almost nothing. It's like that almost everywhere.

For 19 years, a handful of volunteers and underpaid workers have maintained our bilingual quarterly newspaper, Le Monde à Bicyclette . Powerful papers like the Montreal Star , Le Jour and Montréal Matin have long gone but we are still here. Our paper has chronicled our struggles throughout the years from the Métro access to the North-south bicycle axis, to the bridges' provocations, etc. without interruption.

We wrote articles on the dangers of nuclear power plants, irradiated food, advances in microbiology, dangerous power lines, coopertive volleyball, natural vision improvement , ecological fluorescent lighting and medical mischief. Twenty years of passionate commitment in support a welterschaung -world view -of limits to growth, simplicity, pleasure,harmony and peace.

We pedal and we think. We have a documentary center and a library. Our main theoretical work is Ivan Illich's, Energy and Equity . Every day new pro bicycle and anti-car books are published. It's nothing less than a new and growing consciousness. Books like Recapturing the Streets , Geography of Nowhere and The End of the Automobile Age are current.

We are not alone. While the underdeveloped countries like India, China, Vietnam, Chile follow the road to ruin of motorcycle and then car, paradoxically, the overdeveloped ones advance towards a bicycle culture. In June 1996, the bicycle expert of the very bicycle-friendly city of Strasbourg (France) was the guest of the City of Montréal at City Hall.That in itself was a milestone.

Speaking to a group of guests and civil servants (another milestone), he told us that in Europe 30 years ago, when the workday was finished, factory workers got on their bicycles while the rich bosses took their car. Now, he says it's the contrary. The rich have finally understood and ride their expensive bicycles home while the no-less rich unionized workers get in their brand-new Toyotas and Renaults.


Groups like Le Monde à Bicyclette will always be needed.


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By Robert Silverman.


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© Robert Silverman 2000