Published in The Montreal Gazette on October 3, 2016
Forgive me if I write that I’m skeptical about the Coderre Administration’s adoption of the ‘Vision Zero’ plan to reduce the number of individuals killed in automobile-related accidents. (“Vision Zero plan calls for lower speed limits,” Gazette, Thursday, September 15, 2016, A-2) The reason for my uncertainty is that time and again City Hall has proved itself as liking to talk the talk, without ever really walking the walk.
In other jurisdictions where the ‘Vision Zero’ philosophy has been implemented tangible measures have been adopted in order to deliberately slow down the movement of motorized vehicles, if not in fact curtail their access to certain parts of the urban landscape altogether.
There are several areas where Montreal could proceed tomorrow with substantial changes to the chaos that reigns more often than not in the city centre. The only thing that is lacking is the political will.
Since the police force, for whatever reason, seems reluctant to address the issue, speed bumps in strategic places would immediately hold back vehicles to a more acceptable rate. Passing a by-law that reduces the velocity, while looking good on paper, changes little if, like the old statute, it is not rigidly imposed. Indeed, as René Bruemmer pointed out in his Thursday report, part and parcel of the internationally acclaimed ‘Vision Zero’ approach is predicated on the absolute enforcement of the regulations affecting the movement of motorized conveyances through densely populated areas.
The current municipal administration is actually conflicted about its strategy in coping with day-to-day life on the streets and sidewalks of the city. For instance, after years of prompting by various lobby groups, a four-way red light has finally been placed at the intersection of University and Ste. Catherine Streets. Unfortunately, it allows pedestrians only twelve seconds to cross the road before opening up the thoroughfare once again to automobile circulation. Too bad for the elderly and handicapped.
The overdue move begs the question: why only one intersection? Is it to ‘study’ its impact on drivers, who, I would have thought, would also be happy with the change? What possible argument could be made against it?
Virtually everywhere we look we see the Coderre Administration’s partiality towards motorized vehicles. Rather than actively discouraging individuals from bringing their automobiles to the city centre, the municipal authorities pay big money in overtime in order for police officers to direct rush hour traffic at various challenging intersections. For whose benefit is this being done? Certainly not those on foot.
Last Wednesday, I stood at the intersection of Robert-Bourassa (University) and René-Lévesque (Dorchester), along with hundreds of other individuals, a full ten minutes waiting our turn to get across the road. The police officers, whose instructions are clearly to keep commuter traffic moving at all costs, were totally indifferent to the number of pedestrians amassing on all four corners. What signal does this send to those on foot, to those who opted not to bring a personal automobile into the downtown area?
Below, ‘waiting our turn’
Yet another annoyance that would require next to little effort to correct is the ‘don’t block the box’ phenomenon, which Rick Leckner mentioned in his most recent piece (“Some practical ways to mitigate Montreal’s traffic chaos,” Gazette, September 14, 2016, A-13). How many times are those on foot forced to deviate dangerously from the pedestrian crossing path because there is an impatient and inconsiderate driver stuck in the congestion bedlam right over the crosswalk? An analysis is not necessary to correct this aggravation, just the political will to address it, and then see that the lines are painted and the by-law applied.
Montreal’s biggest problem in all of this babble is, of course, found in history. It seems to be in our municipal DNA that city statutes are simply ignored. As the Montreal Star editorialized on the same subject in September of 1910: “One of the beautiful things in connection with municipal by-laws for the protection of citizens is the advantages we would derive from them if they were enforced.”
If the Coderre Administration is serious about its ‘Vision Zero’ approach to reducing the number of deaths on city roads, it is going to have to move from immeasurable talk to concrete action. Trying to have it both ways will no longer cut it.