The Path of an Activist

Riding along the bicycle path on De Maisonneuve  last week, I looked up to see a sign (photo left) dedicating the path to cycling activist Claire Morissette. Apart from Jeanne Mance, the founder of the Hôtel Dieu Hospital, the names of very few women grace our urban landscape.

On June 16, 2010, the Montreal city council voted unanimously to name the bike path after Morissette, and just one week later, the Bixi bike-share program reached its one millionth ride this season. If you remember, it took until October 22 to reach this milestone last year. Although many people will attribute the success of the bike-share program to a great product or an innovative idea, Morissette's tireless 30 years of activism to give urban cyclists their rightful place on our streets undeniably paved the way for Bixi's success.

Morissette began her cycling activism in 1976 when she and some 100 others staged a "die-in" at the corner of University and St. Catherines streets in downtown Montreal. She and fellow protesters lay down in the intersection, applied ketchup to symbolize blood and set damaged bicycle frames atop of them to protest the impact of motorists on cyclists and pedestrians. She and others also took ladders and toboggans aboard metro cars to protest the no-bike rule, which has since been changed.

Morissette went on to establish Communauto, an urban car-share program with now more than 300 parking stations in 4 Quebec cities. Communauto members can reserve a car for an hour, a day or longer at a reduced rate, which covers fuel, maintenance and insurance costs. In addition, members have access to child car seats, roof racks and other accessories and are eligible for special Bixi and public transit packages. Some 20,000 members have opted for the car-share program rather than buying their own cars, thus reducing pollution, fuel consumption and the number of vehicles on the road.

However, one of Morissette's greatest achievements was founding Cyclo Nord-Sud, a non-profit organization that ships our unwanted bikes to countries in the southern hemisphere. Since the group began collecting bikes in 1999, they have shipped over 32,000 bikes abroad. Our cycling activist has been quoted as saying that it broke her heart to see a bike in the trash heap when it could  make such a difference in the quality of life of another person, particularly women. As many of you know, women and girls in Africa spend on average 5 hours a day transporting 50 kg of water and wood for cooking and heat, and girls between the ages of 11 and 17, spend three times more time at this chore than boys the same age. As a result, girls spend less time at school. A bike is obviously a valuable resource, helping women to travel 3 times faster and carry heavier loads, freeing up time that could otherwise be spent at school or at some kind of paid employment. If you would like to donate a bike, just contact Cyclo Nord-Sud. There were 58 bike collection events last year.

Claire Morissette was an author, social activist and cycling advocate who fought for safer bike paths and better cycling infrastructure. Sadly, she died in 2007 after a long battle with breast cancer and was never able to see the Bixi bike-share program up and running.

She was more than worthy of having the bike path named in her honour.

(1) PHILPOTT Julia, "Women, Transportation and Poverty: the role of Non-motorized Transport", Perspectives mondiales sur le vélo, Conférence Vélo-Mondiale, Vélo-Québec, Montréal 1992. (2) International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), "Report Finds Severe Gender Inequities".[Cyclo Nord-Sud]

Related posts:

Fun Way to Track Bike Use and Carbon Foot Print
3 Compelling Reason For A Bike Share Program in Your City
City Cycling: Why Renting Beats Owning
A Review of Montreal's Bixi Rental Bike


Anonymous | July 16, 2010 at 6:47 PM

Claire was the first employee I ever hired, who ended became a good friend of mine and my families even after she stopped working for us. You are right when you say she was a good person who was very dedicated to many worthwhile causes (as you clearly mention).
She spent a tremendous amount of time working with Bicycle Bob Silverman and Le Monde a Bicyclette. She should also be credited with getting the STM to allow bicycles on the metro. I remember her once getting arrested along with Bicycle Bob and other activists when they tried to get on the metro with their bikes.
Although I am not crazy about the way they did the bike path on De Maisoneuve....I am very happy they acknowledged the work Claire did and named it after my good friend.
Jimmy Zoubris

Heather | July 16, 2010 at 7:07 PM

I'm just so surprised by how much she did. I've only written about half the information I found on her. She's really an inspiration.

Thanks for sharing your story with us. Heather

billy willbond | July 17, 2010 at 7:12 AM

Thank you for caring and sharing with the poorest of the poor.
Bicycles are used by health care aids workers to visit the sick and the donating bicycles is the hands on doing of the works of mercy- many thanks - billy ICROSS CANADA

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