Thursday, August 18, 2011

Avoidable death

Again from the Montréal Gazette:

"Death highlights bike path peril

Cement truck crushes cyclist"

This article has got to be the weakest analysis I have read in a long time.

On August 9th, a 56-year-old cyclist was crushed to death by a cement-mixing truck as it turned north onto Frontenac St. from Notre Dame St. Both truck and cyclist were travelling west, probably obeying the same green traffic lights. The truck driver didn't see the cyclist.
Now, to represent cyclists, the reporter interviews Suzanne Lareau, Vélo Québec's CEO. She declares:
"whether it's a cyclist or motorist approaching an intersection, they have to slow down, that's the only way you'll be able to see everything that's going on around you and be able to react to the unforeseen."
Wow, what an analysis. We could never have figured that one without her. And then it goes on:
"Lareau doubted whether a separate set of traffic signals for cyclists would make a difference along Notre Dame St., noting that an existing system of signals for cyclists along Rachel St. are so unsynchronized they don't even allow enough time to cycle across an intersection."
For some reason, the Vélo Québec folks are always making soft-assed statements, such as these above, every time they are interviewed by the media. They never says anything deep, concrete or energetic while we all know they could do much better. What's up with that? Scared of loosing some financing or what?

So, we are to understand that because Rachel St. lights are unsynchronised, it means no improvements should be made on Notre Dame St., Right? No? Then you would think that she would offer suggestions... like... hum... What about proposing something... such as... uh... well... hum... let's see... Oh, yeah, getting the damned lights, well, synchronised? How hard is it to just say this? Just that bit, nothing more, bare freaking minimum but at least she would be suggesting something!!
Well, in her defense, maybe she did and it was cut out by the interviewer... Maybe...

Well, as it turns out, the problem on the Notre Dame bike path is extremely simple: poor design
It is a mostly recreational type bike path carved out in a park-like setting (the path is lined with trees on both sides) while trailing along a highway type boulevard where cars go particularly fast. This path was obviously an after thought and is not well integrated. At every intersection big surprise: Cars turning into the lane do not see cyclists coming until the very last minute and vice-versa.

 Here is the light at said intersection. Does anyone see a problem?

 When the light turns on green, first the upward arrow appear along with the pedestrian symbol followed, barely seconds later, by the turning arrow. 
This should never be allowed: you cannot have conflicting sets of road users, i.e. right turning cars vs. pedestrians and cyclists moving forward, acting on the same light.

So why did this guy die? Because nobody in this damned city has the balls to make the necessary changes, meaning:

- Stop requiring cyclists to "obey the rules of the road" and car "traffic lights". This is bullshit, and we all know it. Bicycles are NOT cars, are cyclists are NOT motorists.
Cyclists are nothing more than fast moving pedestrians. They should have the same lights as and have the green at the same time as pedestrians, each proceeding on their respective parallel infrastructures, i.e. bike path for the cyclists and crosswalk for the pedestrian.

Like this one

Or that one

- While these two categories of road users proceed, the third one waits on a red light. When the motorists lights turn green, pedestrians and cyclists wait. They alternate but can never proceed at the same time.

What's so freaking hard about this? We actually already have intersections like this in the city, so what's up with that? Is it because Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is a poor blue-collar neighbourhood nobody gives a fuck about? 

Or rather, because Notre-Dame boulevard is "sacred". Can't touch it, can't slow the damned traffic even by one km/h otherwise it would be the Apocalypse! It is already totally gridlocked at rush hour:

The necessary traffic interventions will increase waiting time at the lights for sure. So what? 
Aren't people in cars sitting comfortably anyways? Isn't it the reason they prefer cars anyways? Then, they can wait a little bit, it won't kill them but will save both pedestrians and cyclists lives.

The cause of traffic is traffic. Simply that, too many cars. Sounds silly but the only reason anyone gets stuck in jams is because they choose (not all but most of them) to take their cars to travel instead of any other mean. Traffic is not caused by lights, pedestrians, cyclists, cycle paths, Festivals, God or any other scapegoat one might come up with.

Now, it would be nice if the people supposed to represent us were more assertive in their demands for a change. Speak up! If Vélo Québec really wants to represent urban cyclists, it need to grow balls.
In the meantime, when it comes to traffic lights, cyclists should always follow the pedestrian signs. If it is not safe for a pedestrian, then it is not safe for a cyclist either. 

Last point, and the gem in the article:
"This possibility has led Montreal police to repeat their warning to cyclists and pedestrians to establish eye contact with the driver turning onto an intersection they are about to cross."
Transposed into different context:
"This possibility has led Montreal police to repeat their warning to women at risk of getting raped to always wear a female condom when walking outside, just in case."


  1. Yes, I wish we still also had a more activist cyclist association, as in the days of Le Monde à bicyclette. But I doubt it will be founded by people like me who were in the original group from 1975 - it would take a new generation of urban cyclists recognising that despite the progress made here, a lot needs to be done and while there are some improvements here in Montréal, our city is ringed by "la troisième couronne", a second ring of car-dependent sprawl beyond Laval and Longueuil/St-Lambert etc with no effective public transport.

    It is absurd that a person on a bicycle path, obeying the law, should be mowed down by a truck.

  2. "our city is ringed by "la troisième couronne", a second ring of car-dependent sprawl beyond Laval and Longueuil/St-Lambert etc with no effective public transport"

    This issue is beyond any type of cycling advocacy, it is even beyond the control of *heros" such as Luc Ferrandez and others. This requires laws prohibiting sprawls. No more conversion of agricultural lands into suburbia. And public transportations should only serve densified areas. Only when sprawling is brought under control can we dream of organising better bus/metro/train lines to suburbia. Why should we spend all that money to pick up 10 random zozos?


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