Public transit

Public transit

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Montreal Gazette Editorial: Cycling safety should be a high priority

 Cycling safety should be a high priority

The five-way intersection of Décarie and de Maisonneuve Blvds. is certainly a headscratcher.

It slopes, there is a train overpass, there are bike paths. Upper Lachine Rd. forks off at an odd angle. Add in pedestrians from the nearby Vendôme métro, the surrounding residential area and the McGill University Health Centre a few metres away and it is arguably one of the most treacherous crossroads in Montreal for anyone trying to navigate it on foot, aboard a vehicle and, especially, by bike. And things will only get more complicated once a short section of de Maisonneuve just west of the intersection is opened to two-way traffic.

To be fair, the intersection no doubt poses a serious design quandary for even the most ingenious engineers.

But this is a puzzle Montreal is going to have to get a lot better and a lot faster at solving, as cycling continues to grow in popularity as a mode of transit. The current state of affairs is symptomatic of a tendency of officials to pay lip service to the importance of two-wheeled transport, but then fail to address some of the most pressing problems, especially when it comes to safety.

Montreal has indeed made great strides in installing hundreds of kilometres of bike paths, like the arteries on de Maisonneuve Blvd. and Rachel St. It also has an ambitious plan to expand the network — but it is already far behind in implementing it. Existing routes have become victims of their own popularity. They are now so crowded that they displace many avid cyclists onto parallel streets where there is no protection. Worse, these long stretches dedicated to cycling often end abruptly, putting cyclists at risk. Two examples are the path on St-Urbain St. that ends at the bottom of a hill with little room for cyclists to turn onto President Kennedy Ave., or the dodgy design of a brand-new path on St-Laurent Blvd. from Mile End into Rosemont.

These intersections are tough to configure so that everyone is accommodated. But there seems to be a lack of willingness to find a safe, common-sense solution for cyclists, especially if that means added costs. The city also simply neglects to make room for cycling when it’s not convenient, like on the grand new Robert Bourassa Blvd. or the Rockland St. overpass.

Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough council is taking a wait-and-see approach to adjusting the flow of traffic at de Maisonneuve and Décarie. Officials want to see the impact of the opening of the new superhospital over the coming year. This is understandable. But the risk in waiting is that a bad accident occurs, one in which someone is badly injured, or even killed.

This has been the tragic case with other areas known to pose problems, such as the dark, narrow underpass on St-Denis St. where cyclist Mathilde Blais was crushed under the wheels of a transport truck last summer. Already this year, only a few weeks into the cycling season, Vélo Québec is sounding the alarm about a series of cycling accidents that have left one dead and two seriously injured.

No one should have to die before safe, adequate cycling infrastructure is pushed up the city’s priority list.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Montreal Underpasses, Cyclists and Pedestrians

Like many cities Montreal has its share of underpasses. The one pictured above gives motorists, cyclists and pedestrians safe access from one side to the other of a fairly busy rail line. The poor lighting and narrow passage, with no road shoulder for refuge make these underpasses dangerous for cyclists. Just last year a 33-year old woman was killed while biking through one.

Needless to say a solution was required. In an effort to keep cyclists out of harm's way, the city decided that they should share the sidewalk with pedestrians for the length of the underpass. That's a fine idea, but as the signage indicates the notion of having cyclists walk their bikes was almost an afterthought. Whenever cyclists and pedestrians share the same turf, unless the bike is being walked, it is dangerous - for both. I can assure you that, having passed this way countless times, I have yet to see a cyclist walking his or her bike through the dark tunnel, but have on several occasions had to dodge a bike.

Is it too much to ask cyclists to walk their bikes when on a dark sidewalk through an underpass?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why aren’t training or tests mandatory for riding a bike?

Here's an interesting commentary piece from the Globe and Mail.

Why aren’t training or tests mandatory for riding a bike?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Park Bike Lane

Google Earth Blue line = pedestrian walk. Red line = bike path

Just up the street from where I live is a lovely park. It's been there for ages, and has seen several make-overs and additions.

At one time, up until the early 1970s, a street ran right through the middle of two green spaces. The decision was made to block the road and have drivers circumnavigate the park. A temporary roadblock was installed, large signs a block away were erected to warn motorists that the street no longer ran through the park.

In my opinion these signs could not have been improved on, yet on an almost weekly basis someone would plow their car through the roadblock, shaking we locals from our beds. As one might assume, for the most part these incidents occurred in the wee hours of the morning and involved the consumption of alcohol by the driver. Eventually a permanent barrier was set in place, landscaping was done and the idea of reopening the street was forgotten. It was a wise decision.

Over time as bicycle traffic became heavier a long stretch of the street on either side of the park was lined with a dedicated bike lane.  Once again the issue of the park arose, as now cyclists wanted to continue on in a straight line, but this would require a path through the park where the road once was. And so the two bike lanes were connected via a path through the park.
Google Earth Red box = Entry to bike path. Blue box = Entry to pedestrian walk

This is when some problems arose. As the photos illustrate the pedestrian walk and bike path are not only parallel, but are very close to each other. Unfortunately there will always be some who for reasons known only to themselves will walk or jog on the bike path. But a more important concern in my opinion is those who inadvertently find themselves in the midst of bike traffic.

At first the strip of bike-dedicated lane that ran through the park was left unenclosed. Young children and older folks often walked onto the path unintentionally. The former did so not understanding the concept, while the latter group just could not grasp why anyone would be allowed to ride a bike through a park.  With time this has been reduced by placing hedges along the edge of the path, not only adding some greenery, but some safety as well (although in some places green snow fence is used, but that's still better than nothing).

Now the main problem with the configuration is cyclists ignoring the stop sign as they enter or exit the park, thereby crossing a sidewalk where, not surprisingly, pedestrians of all ages are to be found.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Montreal Editorial Touts Cycling

Here is an editorial from today's Montreal Gazette that addresses the upcoming bicycling season.  The original, with functioning links, can be seen here.

Bixi stands are reappearing on Montreal streets and soon they will be stocked with bikes.
Meanwhile cyclists are pulling their own rides out of storage after a long and bitter winter and giving them a spring tune-up.
Within a matter of weeks, if not days, there will be an influx of two wheelers on Montreal roads. But as a new cycling season dawns, city infrastructure is ill-prepared to handle and accommodate the growing number of bikes.
Dangerous conditions persist in places where tragic accidents have previously occurred. The de Maisonneuve Blvd. bike lane near the new McGill University Health Centre is a complicated mess to navigate — despite years of lead time to have planned a safe trajectory. New stretches of bike path are oddly designed and potentially perilous, like an L-shaped curve in the $5.6-million part of St-Laurent Blvd. linking Mile End to Rosemont. Existing infrastructure, on de Maisonneuve or Rachel St., is clogged, overused and no longer adequate. New roads like the Rockland Rd. overpass and the transformation of Robert Bourassa Blvd. are being designed without room of bikes.
Cycling has been rising in popularity in Montreal, not just as a leisure activity, but as a way of getting to work. A recent study of 4 million commuters in the region showed that while the car is still king, active transport like cycling and walking have climbed 9 per cent, with 120,000 daily trips now being taken by bike. But in Montreal especially, Vélo Québec statistics show cycling is increasingly a preferred mode of transit with 53 per cent of cyclists in Montreal using their bikes for practical purposes in 2010, up from 25 per cent a decade earlier.
It’s not that Montreal has done nothing to give cyclists their due. Since 2008 Montreal has added 250 kilometres of bike paths — which is great, except that the city’s stated goal was supposed to be 400 km. The city unveiled plans in late 2014 to double the number of kilometres of shared and separate bike lanes on the island to 1,200 km from the current 600 km in five years. But its track record for delays or projects that don’t materialize suggests hitting this target could be an uphill climb. The problem seems to be inconsistency, a lack of will or simply resorting to excuses when the work of implementing bike lanes proves difficult.
Accommodating the legions of cyclists in the increasingly congested traffic matrix is no easy task. It shouldn’t become a competition between proponents of one mode of transport looking to displace another. Bikes and public transit should complement each other. There needs to be better coordination with cycling groups to give them input on the design of new projects. Addressing danger zones should be a priority. There is a need for bold thinking and experimentation. Why not try a pilot project giving cyclists priority and limiting traffic to residents only on some side streets? Not all the solutions need to be expensive and involve bulldozers.
The city should be supporting cycling as a means of getting around Montreal. It is both economically and ecologically friendly, part of a healthy lifestyle, a solution to gridlock and less expensive to subsidize than public transit or highways. Cycling is here to stay and it deserves proper consideration when it comes to planning and investing in Montreal’s transportation network.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Drivers Are from Mars, Cyclists Are from Venus.

With another summer season fast approaching in Montreal, after an interminably long cold winter, the annual battle of the roads will soon, like the temperature, be heating up. I refer of course to the combat among drivers, cyclists and pedestrians that grows in leaps and bounds each year. As one who is, at various times, all three of these - but a walker for the most part, I like to watch things unfold on the streets of Montreal. Last May I wrote a piece that ran in Montreal's The Gazette titled Drivers Are from Mars, Cyclists Are from Venus. From my observations it seems that the same folks can experience the same event, yet have diametrically opposed views of it.

John Kenny/The Gazette

In the ’90s bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, author John Gray illustrates how the genders differ. Men and women can experience exactly the same event, and yet have totally different takes on it. Much like cyclists and drivers. Perhaps Drivers Are from Mars, Cyclists Are from Venus should be our approach to the seemingly never-ending conflicts between these two groups as they duke it out on city streets. Sadly these confrontations often result in more than just the wagging of fingers of accusation. They can be tragic. 

In an attempt to create a safe urban cycling experience, many cities have adopted bike boxes at busy intersections. These areas in front of the car stop line at the red light give cyclists a head start so they can gain momentum. An advanced green light ensures they get away from vehicles and get up to speed without cars nipping at their heels. Is it time for a similar alteration to the stop sign law? 

I know, it’s a crazy concept, but let’s face it, cyclists are going to do this anyway. By alerting drivers to that fact, and having them expect the cyclist to pass through, these potentially fatal altercations can be reduced, if not eliminated.

Recently, as a pedestrian observer, it became clear to me that drivers and cyclists are on totally different wavelengths. The setting: a three-way stop sign at a T intersection. The driver arrived at his stop sign, came to a full and complete stop, looked to his left, saw nothing, looked to his right and noticed a cyclist slowing down while approaching his stop sign. The driver, incorrectly assuming the cyclist was coming to a stop, entered the intersection to turn left, only to encounter the cyclist already halfway through. 

The cyclist had in fact not come to a full stop, but merely slowed down, thus giving the driver — and this pedestrian — the impression he was going to stop, as it was the driver’s turn to go. However he then accelerated once again and proceeded into the intersection, evidently thinking the driver had deferred to him. This time we were lucky: A few toots of the car horn and a couple of angry epithets hurled by the cyclist and everyone was on their way again. What struck me was that I believe both thought they were doing the right thing. How could that be? 

Drivers understand that they are required to come to a full stop at a stop sign — even if many don’t — check for cars, make eye contact with any other drivers, cyclists or pedestrians so everyone knows where they stand, then continue on their way when it is their turn. Cyclists apparently have a different concept of what takes place at stop signs: they seem to believe they are required to slow down as they near the intersection, make eye contact with any stopped drivers, but then continue through the intersection in an attempt to maintain their momentum, much like at a yield sign. 

It is my hunch that cyclists, regardless of the law, are not going to desist from coasting through stop signs. So in the interest of public safety, let’s make certain that all motorists — and pedestrians for that matter — are well aware of this.

To motorists, the eye contact indicates: “I see you slowing down, you’re going to stop, so it’s my turn to go.” For cyclists, eye contact means: “I see you and I know you see me; now you’re supposed to let me pass through the intersection so I don’t lose my momentum.” Venus and Mars writ large! This is a recipe for absolute disaster; two groups of road users with virtually opposite understandings of what should happen at a stop sign. 

Is there a realistic solution to this potentially deadly problem? I believe so. Placing police officers at all intersections to enforce the law might work, but I did note we need a realistic solution. It is my hunch that cyclists, regardless of the law, are not going to desist from coasting through stop signs. So in the interest of public safety, let’s make certain that all motorists — and pedestrians for that matter — are well aware of this. 

In keeping with the adoption of bike boxes, I suggest we alter the Highway Code to make this “bicycle stop sign slide” legal, then most importantly educate the public through ad campaigns and road signs. Clearly informing all that cyclists are required to cautiously slow down at stop signs, then proceed without stopping when safe. I know, it’s a crazy concept, but let’s face it, cyclists are going to do this anyway. By alerting drivers to that fact, and having them expect the cyclist to pass through, these potentially fatal altercations can be reduced, if not eliminated. 

It only takes an extra second at the stop sign for a driver to let a bike pass, and everyone comes out alive. In fact, many drivers already do this. Think of it like the right of way accorded to public transit buses as they pull into traffic. But everyone has to understand what is expected, be on the same page, sing from the same hymnal, whatever. These different takes on stop signs can be deadly. To cite another bestseller, we could call it the “I’m OK, You’re OK” approach to stop signs.