I am an immigrant. I came to Montreal for university and decided to stay after falling in love with the city and its thriving culture.
My move to Canada is starting to feel very official. This morning I applied for a RAMQ card. Je pratique mon français assidûment pour que je puisse faire une demande de résidence permanente. And I have found myself sighing defeatedly at the sight of endless Montreal construction.
The livability of the city makes it an ideal destination for a prospective Canadian. But there's just one thing I just can't get past: Montreal is a terrible city for pedestrians.
In fact, antagonism toward pedestrians pervades municipal policy, enforcement, and road culture.
Let's start with the guide for pedestrians from the SPVM, which, above all, emphasizes the supremacy of traffic signals. Often, however, such signals either do not conform to the way pedestrians actually experience road crossings or make no sense whatsoever.
Pedestrians who cross against a signal on a street devoid of moving cars can nevertheless receive a ticket for "obstructing traffic." Officials in Montreal frequently levy this charge against seemingly wayward walkers. Students are warned at university orientations of the wide power of the phrase.
But just how does law enforcement in Montreal define "traffic" if not by the circulation of motor vehicles? According to the application of this infraction, "traffic" refers not to an active flow of cars, but to an invisible force that moves according to street signals.
This definition does not account for a human experience of moving about the city.
The enforcement of this bizarre rule makes one thing clear to Montreal pedestrians: cars first, people second. City police and crossing guards often apply walking regulations austerly, unfairly, and even brutally.
During construction on Sherbrooke, police made headlines for aggressive tactics to control pedestrians. Officers were assigned the important and difficult job of protecting everyone's saftey during a hectic few months of road work. But the ferocity with which some individuals applied traffic rules left some in tears.
Enforcement tricks also occur. Anecdottally, I know that police cars have intercepted crossing pedestrians before the end of pedestrian timers to prevent people from reaching the other side of the street in time. Beginning a road crossing between the beginning of a red light and a delayed arrival of the walk signal can also land you a ticket.
Crumbling infrastructure and inadequate ice removal also harm pedestrians.
While much media attention has been devoted to deteriorating Montreal roads and the ambitious plan and massive investment to fix all of them, few discuss the state of sidewalks and crosswalks.
Just last month, I had to run to the aid of an elderly man whose wheelchair toppled on an almost nonexistant sidewalk ramp. Twice since I moved to the city, I've come across a teary-eyed elderly person petrified on the sidewalk from fear of slipping on uncleared ice. Fading road paint can also endanger all pedestrians.
Finally, there is Montreal's pedestrian unfriendly road culture.
The other day I was visiting the neighbourhood of St Henri, where, to my pleasant surprise, warning signs lined the main commercial street warning drivers of one hundred dollar fines for failure to stop for pedestrian crossings at crosswalks. The recently renovated streetscape on Rue Notre-Dame is an encouraging sign. Wider sidewalks and more regular crosswalks demarcated with masonry make the street not only look better but also feel safer.
Motorists, however consistently ignored such signs. Each time I attempted to cross the street I had to wait for a passing car who sped up when I signalled my intenstion to walk.
Such occurances are widespread. Rolling stops at stop signs, speeding, and frequent incidents of drivers running red lights create an unsafe environment for pedestrians. I, myself, have been lightly hit by angry drivers twice: once in a normally pedestrian-only zone and once while legally crossing the street at stop signs where pedestrians have right-of-way.
There are easy solutions to all of these problems, including harsher penalties for drivers that disobey signals and speed limits, more flexible smart traffic signals that can allow pedestrian passage in the absense of approaching cars, the allowance of diagonal crossings, and more built-in crosswalks.
But above all, it's time for Montreal officials and planners to include sidewalks and pedestrian experiences in infrastructure plans.