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Montreal’s Bicycle Bob Silverman of Le Monde à Bicyclette Celebrates 80th this Weekend

by John Symon

November 23, 2013 (Val-David, QC) – One of Canada’s most notable bicycle activists, Robert “Bicycle Bob” Silverman, will celebrate his 80th birthday this weekend. In the early 1960s, Silverman worked in the book retail business and there is a photo of him with poet Irving Layton in Layton’s collection. But Silverman mainly came to fame in the bicycle world through his work with the Montreal lobby group, Le Monde à Bicyclette, starting in the 1970s, often alongside his colleague, Claire Morissette (1950-2007).

Bob Silverman and John Symon  ©  courtesy of John Symon

The group was decades ahead of its time, advocating for Montreal’s first bike paths in a city that now boasts a network of over 600km. The group also called for a bike link across the St. Lawrence River and for bike access into Montreal’s metro (subway) system where they were completely forbidden. Today there are now bike paths on two bridges across the St. Lawrence and bikes are now allowed in the metro outside of rush hour.

To raise public awareness, Le Monde à Bicyclette held theatrical public demonstrations including mass “die-ins” with cyclists lying down in major intersections. They also hilariously filmed activists carrying bulky items (i.e., a ladder, skis, and a full-size papier maché hippopotamus) being allowed access onto the metro while cyclists were refused access. At one press conference, the group told media they finally had a solution for how to get across the St. Lawrence; then presented Silverman dressed as Moses and carrying a staff, as if ready to part the waters of the Red Sea.

“It’s no accident today that Montreal is the best big city for cycling in North America,” Silverman told Pedal by telephone. “All of this is due to the work of a lot of people, not only myself. We painted the first bike paths, but the big ‘cyclo provocation’ was the lack of metro and bridge access. We did activities on those two issues every week until finally the authorities realized that their position made no sense.”

Silverman is happy with his accomplishments, but points to how there is still a lack of good bike paths running north-south all the way across Montreal Island. He also agreed with the Quebec coroner’s office that penalties need to be increased for motorists who “door” cyclists.

Morissette went on to found Cyclo Nord-Sud, which recycles used bicycles from Canada, sending them to the developing world and helping to found Communauto, the oldest car sharing organization in North America. Promoting bicycles, environmentalism, community sharing, and feminism were essential parts of Morissette’s dreams, things that Silverman supported her with. Glenn Rubenstein, Development Coordinator at Cyclo Nord-Sud told Pedal this week that his group is now celebrating having shipped over 45,000 bicycles for a second life in the developing world.

Morissette’s 2007 obituary on Pedal (written by Silverman) here.
The Adventures of “Bicycle Bob” Silverman on Quebec’s Route Verte in 2009 here.
Cyclo Nord-Sud here.
Communauto here.

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