Published in the Montreal Gazette on September 21, 2015
With the recent closure of the city’s sparse network of seasonal pedestrian precincts, Montrealers on foot find themselves once again, everywhere, face to face with our town’s notoriously aggressive drivers.
Just recently, while crossing the intersection of Sherbrooke and St. Urbain Streets, I was nearly knocked down by a young woman quite determined, in turning, to cut across on-coming traffic before losing her green light. The trouble is that I was in the middle of the crosswalk when she decided to undertake, quite suddenly, her hair-raising manoeuvre. To make matters even more maddening, she was conversing on her hand-held mobile phone at the same time. Not a police officer to be seen.
While neither Sherbrooke nor St. Urbain were ever off limits to automobiles, my frightening close-encounter reminded me once again why perhaps they should be. Although I realize, of course, that most will not concur with me in this regard, there is an easy remedy to these often-deadly incidents, similar to the one I just experienced, with which many might agree. It is the four-way all-vehicle stop.
The formula is already in place at the busy intersection of St. Jacques and McGill Streets in Old Montreal. For those not familiar with it, this approach halts motorized traffic movement in all directions for a period of ten to fifteen seconds, permitting pedestrians to traverse the junction safely, even diagonally if they so choose. As a result, there is no need to look over your shoulder in order to determine if there is a power-driven conveyance inching up impatiently behind you.
A four-way stop would have eliminated my nasty episode at the corner of Sherbrooke and St. Urbain Streets, permitting me to have crossed the road quickly and securely. There are countless intersections in this city that call out for them, not the least of which is that of Notre Dame and de la Montagne Streets, truly a fatality waiting to happen.
Although this solution makes sense, I am not optimistic with regard to its widespread implementation. To begin with, Montreal’s traffic overseers rarely respond favourably, if ever, to citizen-generated suggestions. I can only suppose that it is perceived as a challenge to their bureaucratic power.
However, the real reason the four-way stop will most probably not progress throughout the city centre is that it will undoubtedly slow automobile flow, even if that stoppage is only for ten or fifteen seconds. In Montreal, motorized transport has always, in my lifetime at least, been given priority over those on foot.
This bias has been most recently on display downtown at rush hour when Montreal’s finest (even in their camouflage jeans!) have taken control of the traffic lights at many of the area’s more problematic crossroads.
Yesterday, for example, at the intersection of St. Antoine and University Streets, seemingly hundreds of pedestrians waited patiently for the longest time for their opportunity to cross the road while the policeman in charge of the stoplight fixated exclusively on the movement of automobiles within his purview.
How a motorized vehicle, more often than not transporting just one individual, ever came to have priority over those travelling on foot, I do not know. Yet it would seem that this unfortunate fact has been deeply rooted from earlier times in this town’s driving culture.
Responding to similar passions present over a century ago, The Montreal Star editorialized about local drivers on June 20, 1908: “If they will be as considerate and courteous in a car as they are out of one, all will be well. But they must never forget that they have a powerful engine under their hands, that their car may be a juggernaut.”
I hope that youthful driver who nearly struck me at the corner of Sherbrooke and St. Urbain Streets learns one day to take that advice. I also hope that the city authority will shore up its inadequate number of intersections with four-way stops. Short of restricting automobile access to all of the city centre, it seems like an appropriate compromise.
Below, Gazette photo of the intersection of Metcalfe and St. Catherine Streets in June of 2015