- In the face of a growing number of pedestrian deaths in the last decade, Montreal adopted the Vision Zero campaign, which aims to not only establish concrete measures to make roads safer for everyone but also reframe the way we think about shared public space.
- We spoke with Vision Zero director about how, exactly, the city plans to make its notoriously hazardous roads safer for pedestrians and drivers, alike.
This past decade, vehicle-pedestrian collisions contributed to over 230 pedestrian deaths and thousands more serious injuries in Montreal. For the city's leaders, these statistics were unacceptable. There had to be a radical new program to manage the safety of the most vulnerable road users. Montreal unveiled the Vision Zero campaign in October 2019, boldly declaring that the city would eliminate all pedestrian deaths by 2021.
Curious about how they planned to do that, MTL Blog sat down with Eric Alan Caldwell, director of the Vision Zero campaign and Executive Committee member.
Before Caldwell joined City Hall, he was a vocal advocate for traffic management and pedestrian safety in his home neighbourhood, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. He was a natural choice, therefore, to lead Montreal's Vision Zero campaign.
"I'm a grassroots politician from Hochelaga who was elected because my fellow citizens agreed with me on these issues. I'm very honoured to be in this position and I give my whole self to guarantee Vision Zero will be a success," says Caldwell.
While there are many mitigating factors to pedestrian accidents, the city is committed to its action plan.
Because of Vision Zero, Montreal could potentially be a safer city for the most vulnerable road users: pedestrians.
What are some of the biggest changes pedestrians can expect this year?
"The main change they will notice is more crossing lights at pedestrian crossings at all intersections. The city will have now have a 'hand' and 'silhouette' crossing light on every single pedestrian street crossing. As a pedestrian, you will always have your light.
"There are 2,300 crossings that will be reprogrammed in Montreal. Traffic engineers will physically go to each street crossing, observe the situations and the patterns. We will consult, in every case, specialists to reprogram the network with a clear orientation: protecting the most vulnerable users. It's pedestrian protection over vehicle traffic.
"A big majority of pedestrians are also drivers. In fact, a large proportion of pedestrians that have died over the years are drivers too. We're all pedestrians at one point of the day and that's where we're most vulnerable.
"As a car driver, if you give me the choice to wait a few more seconds or save one pedestrian life, there's no dilemma here. Whatever the adversity, we will engage the Vision Zero initiative and get it done.
"When we reprogram all the lights, we will put more time on the crossings, especially at schools, old age homes, and hospitals.
"There will be 4 to 6 seconds added everywhere and like I said, even more time at vulnerable corners. Depending on the situation, we will go with the best pattern for that specific street crossing.
"As a city, we're sending a clear message that you'll be safe walking around. Really, that's the best way to discover Montreal and to get the feel of the city. It's part of the joy of living in Montreal.
"Our administration is obsessed with protecting pedestrians. Over the years, the number of pedestrian casualties just gets higher and higher and it's a trend we see in other major cities. As pedestrians, we need to be safer.
"Everyone has to be better, at all levels — drivers, pedestrians, the police, city planners — all of us need to work together on every front."
Montrealers are notorious jaywalkers and sometimes, the pedestrians are to blame for collisions. How does the city plan to crack down on jaywalking and prevent avoidable accidents?
"There's a lot of factors in play. The size of the vehicle, the hazard, the weather conditions, the reflexes of an individual — all of it. An accident never happens from only one cause. Each factor elevates the risk. Also, the attitude of every road user factors into this equation.
"What we're also notorious for as Montrealers, is our love of all kinds of transportations. There's not really a clear distinction between drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users. You can talk about jaywalking, but we need to see a big picture. We have to be better as road users.
"It's not me versus them, it's about sharing the streets. Sharing a public space is an act of responsibility as much as it is solidarity. For one moment in the day, we all share the street and we have to accept the risk that pedestrians are the most vulnerable ones on the street.
"Historically, when you look back, cycling was this 'avant-garde' thing and now, you see all kinds of people on the bike paths in Montreal. We have a unique gift in Montreal where we're all able to understand each other, sharing the risks, and understanding the responsibility.
"Look at the REV [Réseau express vélo] for example. We're putting that in place with a clear goal to attract more cyclists and public transit users. We're doing it for people that don't do that yet - offering them the conditions where they can feel safe. That's the same objectives we have for Vision Zero."
Translation: The REV isn't only for cyclists, it's for everyone. It's a simple, safe, and efficient network that will facilitate the cohabitation between all users on the route, in the logic of the Vision Zero approach.
Pedestrians feel that construction sites can endanger them. What will the city do to ensure pedestrian safety in these circumstances?
"Of course, that's part of our life. A lot of boroughs have set regulations where contractors need to factor in mitigation for pedestrians and drivers. Clearly, we weren't good at that. That's why we created the Squad Mobilité. What they do is that they'll inspect intersections where there's construction and will see if it's safe and fluid. If not, they may redeploy some construction sites.
"It's a place where we have to get better, but there's a lot of big steps forward that have been done to better protect drivers and pedestrians over the past few years, especially the most vulnerable ones."
How will Montreal work with other communities who have implemented similar campaigns?
"There was research done before we implemented Vision Zero. It was brought forward by the Coderre administration, who implemented the plan. The city didn't invent a new approach, we took the best existing one.
"All the success of Vision Zero is data collecting, data gathering, and data sharing. There's a professional network that shares information with all the cities that participate in Vision Zero.
"To better document the situation on the roads, we had to make sure that the data was compatible with all sources: the police, the Health Ministry, the SAAQ, and the Transport Ministry.
"We can always learn from other cities. If Longueuil comes up with a good plan, for example, we would be happy to collaborate and bring that plan to Montreal."
Who makes up the governing committee and who has the final say on what will be implemented?
"There are three committees that make up Vision Zero that works together year-round. One is for heavy vehicles, one is for speed, and the other is for street crossings. These committees bring forward priorities. There are so far, 60 actions that the city will take.
"After a year, we reevaluate, reprioritize, and take action. We find out what works best and move forward with our action plan, which, as mentioned, is a data-based plan. What's important is our collaboration with all committees and sharing all the information publically with the citizens."
How much will Vision Zero cost the city?
"$60 million over three years for pedestrian lights, as was announced in the budget. If it goes well though, we'll see if we can crank it up a notch.
"For us, the beat of the city is discovered by walking. This is why Vision Zero is so important for us."