The City of Montreal put forward a controversial request to the Quebec government to amend the Quebec Highway Code to allow cyclists to perform a rolling stop – popularly known as the “Idaho stop”, named for the state that legalized it in 1982 – which would eliminate the need for cyclists to come to a full stop at stop signs, under certain circumstances.

This request has drawn the ire of many motorists, who already see cyclists’ generally unpredictable habits and disregard for the law as a threat to their comfort and safety. Common sense dictates that formalizing what is perceived as reckless behaviour would only succeed in putting lives at risk.

It must be said that what is considered common sense is not necessarily true or accurate, especially when it comes to risk assessment. Policies and practices that can improve safety are often counterintuitive, such as the example of mandatory helmet policies, which have been demonstrated to not improve overall safety.

Studies have shown that drivers are less likely to give cyclists a wide enough berth when passing, if the cyclist is wearing a helmet. Let me be clear that I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t wear helmets when cycling, but the kind of head trauma that helmets protect us from is comparatively rare to the other dangers faced on the road, and legislation should encourage rather than discourage cycling.

Which brings us to the Idaho stop.

Formally, the change will allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, meaning that we could slow down, gauge if there is oncoming traffic, and carry on if the coast is clear. Functionally, we already do. As an avid cyclist in the city of Montreal for the better part of thirty years (and more recently a driver), my habits are unlikely to change and the risk of being fined for running a stop sign on my bike has never been a deterrent, which is true of most cyclists in the city.

The reason is twofold.

First of all, cycling is a very physical activity, and maintaining efficiency is what makes it worthwhile. The amount of energy expended coming to a full stop, and then starting again from zero is significantly greater than maintaining some forward motion and balancing upright while scanning for traffic. Having to do this at every intersection would be a deterrent from riding at all.

City councillor and member of the Mayor’s executive committee Craig Sauvé knows this distinction.

“Pushing a pedal in a car to accelerate is not the same as moving one’s entire body to accelerate as a cyclist does,” he told me when I asked for his input.

This difference in acceleration contributes to the second factor: safety. As is often the case at an intersection on our crowded roads, I find myself next to a car, or stopped in their blind spot. And Montreal drivers aren’t exactly known for their consistent use of turn signals.

If I’m at a full stop, and a car – or worse, a truck – suddenly veers in my direction, I very likely will not have enough time to accelerate fast enough to get out of the way. However, if I maintain motion , I can accelerate or stop as needed very quickly, and will also place myself sooner in the driver’s field of vision, so they don’t accidentally clip or crush me.

Zvi Leve, a member of the Montreal Bike Coalition, views this kind of policy as a way to shift the focus of our enforcement efforts away from ineffective traffic calming methods and towards actions which are truly dangerous to others.

“We need infrastructure which is designed for the safety needs of vulnerable road users. We have designed our cities for vehicle circulation, and then we wonder why pedestrians and cyclists keep getting injured.”

Leve doesn’t suggest that this should be a free for all for cyclists, and is quick to point out that pedestrians are the most vulnerable, and need the most protections.

“Cyclists also need to understand the ‘rules of the road’ and to cede the right of way when necessary. In fact, that is what it comes down to: The ‘right of way’ can be ceded but it should never be taken.”

Hopefully, this mindfulness of courtesy regarding right of way will catch on with drivers as well. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to further infrastructural changes that will improve safety, and in a tangible way, save lives, and so is Sauvé:

“The reality is that the current highway safety code was made a half a century ago with only cars in mind. Society has evolved and there are more and more cyclists on the road every year. We have to change our highway code in Montreal to reflect that reality.”

* Featured image by Richard Mason/Cyclelicious via flickr Creative Commons

That didn’t take long. Less than a month after taking office, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante’s Projet Montréal administration announced they will fulfill an important campaign promise: getting rid of former Mayor Denis Coderre’s controversial breed-specific legislation (BSL), often referred to as the pit bull ban.

In a press release, Craig Sauvé, Sud Ouest City Councillor and the Executive Committee (EC) member responsible for the city’s animal management, announced that the EC will officially vote to suspend the articles of Bylaw 16-060 which deal with a specific breed, cross-breed or traits of a breed of dog that Coderre’s administration had passed in late 2016.

Montreal headfirst jump into breed-specific legislation drew the ire of dog owners, the SPCA and international animal rights activists last year. Projet Montréal, then in opposition, had characterized it as legislation written “on the back of a napkin” and Plante’s promise to eliminate it and replace it with something based on evidence could very well be one of the main reasons she was elected.

In the press release, Sauvé claimed that this was just a “first step” as the party plans to work on new legislation dealing with dog attacks but focused on the upbringing and bad owners, not the breed. This will, of course, be done in consultation with groups like the SPCA.

For now, dog lovers can breathe a sigh of relief that Montreal’s costly, confusing and wildly unpopular experiment with breed-specific legislation will soon be a thing of the past.

 

* Featured image via WikiMedia Commons

A few days after being sworn in as Mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante has unveiled our city’s new Executive Committee.  This is the group that generates documents like budgets and by-laws and presents them to City Council.

As promised, it’s gender-balanced and draws from various parts of town. It also includes a member not from Plante’s Projet Montréal party, Verdun Borough Mayor Jean-François Parenteau who ran with Coderre’s team but now sits as an independent.

Montreal’s largest borough, Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, is represented by Councillor Magda Popeanu, one of the committee’s vice presidents now in charge of the rather large portfolio dealing with housing. The Sud Ouest is well represented by the Committee President and Borough Mayor Benoit Dorais and Craig Sauvé, a City Councillor who will be an Associate Councillor on the committee helping with mobility (he was Projet’s former transport critic).

Boroughs that recently went Projet like Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension will be represented, as will Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie and Le Plateau Mont-Royal, two Projet strongholds. Plateau Borough Mayor and quite the divisive figure Luc Ferrandez got the major parks portfolio, something that even his harshest critics would agree is right up his alley.

Unfortunately, as various media outlets, the opposition and even Plante herself noted, this committee fails when it comes to diversity. While 40% of Projet’s electoral slate were visible minority candidates, none of them were elected.

The only four elected non-white City Councillors ran with Coderre. While Plante’s team did approach most of them about joining the Executive Committee, there was one condition that Parenteau met but they apparently refused to: leave the Équipe Coderre caucus. They don’t have to be Projet members, they just can’t still be members of the former mayor’s party.

These are all the newly announced members of Montreal’s Executive Committee:

Valérie Plante: The Mayor of Montreal and Ville-Marie Borough Mayor will also be in charge of Downtown, Mount-Royal and international relations

Benoit Dorais: The Sud-Ouest Borough Mayor will serve as President of the Executive Committee and also handle finance, human resources and legal affairs

Magda Popeanu: The City Councillor for Côte-des-Neiges will serve as Vice-President responsible for housing, real estate planning and management and diversity

Sylvain Ouellet: The City Councillor for François-Perrault (in Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension) will serve as Vice-President responsible for water and water infrastructure management, infrastructure and electrical services

Éric Alan Caldwell: The City Councillor for Hochelaga will be responsible for urban planning, transit and the Office de consultation publique de Montréal

Christine Gosselin: The City Councillor for Vieux-Rosemont will be responsible for heritage, culture and design

Luc Ferrandez: The Plateau Borough Mayor will be responsible for the environment, major parks, sustainable development and green space

Nathalie Goulet: The City Councillor for Ahuntsic will be responsible for public security

Robert Beaudry: The City Councillor for Saint-Jacques (Ville-Marie Borough) is responsible for ecomomy, business and intergovernmental affairs

Rosannie Filato: The City Councillor for Villeray will be responsible for social and community development, the homeless, youth, sports and recreation

François William Croteau: The Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie Borough Mayor will be responsible for smart city, information technology and innovation

Laurence Lavigne Lalonde: The City Councillor for Maisonneuve–Longue-Pointe (Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve Borough) will be responsible for transparency, democracy, governance, citizen life and Espace pour la vie

Jean-François Parenteau: The Verdun Borough Mayor will be responsible for citizen services and purchasing

Sophie Mauzerolle: The City Councillor for Sainte-Marie (Ville-Marie Borough) will serve as an Associate Councillor assisting Plante directly

Alex Norris: The City Councillor for Jeanne-Mance (Plateau Borough) will serve as and Associate Councillor assisting with public security

Marianne Giguère: The City Councillor for de Lorimier (Plateau Borough) will serve as an Associate Councillor assisting with active transit

Craig Sauvé: The City Councillor for Saint-Henri—Little-Burgundy—Point-Saint-Charles will serve as an Associate Councillor assisting with mobility and citizen services

Suzie Miron: The City Councillor for Tétreaultville (Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve Borough) will serve as an Associate Councillor assisting with infrastructure

Panelist Ron Roxtar and host Jason C. McLean discuss Montreal turning sidewalks into bike paths, caleche horses and more. Plus interviews with Projet Montréal City Counselor for St-Henri, Little Burgundy, Pointe-St-Charles and Griffintown Craig Sauvé and music legend Shawn Phillips, Community Calendar and Predictions!

News Roundup Topics: Caleche horses in Montreal, shooting guns at a hurricane, clowns protesting, POP Montreal and Lady Gaga

Panelist:

Ron Roxtar – Entertainment Journalist

Host: Jason C. McLean

Produced by Hannah Besseau (audio) and Xavier Richer Vis (video)

Craig Sauvé and Shawn Phillips interviews by Jason C. McLean, edited by Xavier Richer Vis

Recorded Sunday, September 10, 2017

LISTEN:

WATCH:

* Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

In 2014, a truck ran into and killed cyclist Mathilde Blais as she rode through an underpass on St-Denis. City Hall opposition party Projet Montreal and other groups immediately called for something to be done. Now, it seems like the solution Mayor Denis Coderre’s administration came up with is to turn a potentially dangerous situation for cyclists into a different potentially dangerous situation for both pedestrians and cyclists.

The sidewalk on Atwater Avenue between Rene Levesque and St-Antoine heading towards the underpass near Lionel Groulx Metro is now also a bike path. At least that’s what the paint city workers put there indicates.

“They’re basically setting up future collisions between pedestrians and cyclists,” said Craig Sauvé, City Councillor with Projet Montréal in a phone interview, “or worse, if a cyclist has to veer into traffic at the last second to avoid hitting a pedestrian.”

Sauvé, who represents St-Henri, Little Burgundy and Pointe St-Charles and is a cyclist himself, knew that changes were coming, changes he and his party had pushed for, but seeing what the Coderre administration had actually done left him feeling bewildered and a little bit panicked.

“They’re not securing,” he commented, “they’re putting paint and saying it’s secure. In order to secure places, you have to give cyclists their space as well and if you don’t they’re going to take it and it will be the same zero sum game as there was before.”

Montreal’s bike paths are controlled by City Hall, regardless of the borough or boroughs (or even de-merged cities) they run through. Atwater isn’t the only recent painted change to come to light. On Montée de Liesse, paint directs cyclists to somehow drive onto a part of sidewalk that doesn’t even dip. If they dismount, they would be doing so in traffic:

Photo credit: u/butidigest on reddit

For Sauvé, a good solution to this mess would be delineating and protecting part of the roads going through underpasses with an actual barrier like one made of cement or even plastic poles. Something which, he observes, quite doable on Atwater as there are currently three lanes of traffic in either direction, one of which could easily be turned into a space for cyclists.

And that’s exactly what Sauvé, fellow politicans, activists and concerned citizens were asking the Coderre administration to do. It’s really not that hard. Instead of paint, just bring some plastic poles.

It seems like Coderre is all for bike safety as long as it doesn’t inconvenience motorists in the slightest. The health and safety of pedestrians is not even an afterthought, it’s inconsequential.

As a proud member of the BMW Set (bus, metro, walk), that just doesn’t fly. I’ve walked through that particular underpass countless times on the sidewalk and know that, especially when walking up the rather steep hill, the last thing you want to contend with is bikes whipping down it.

I wonder if anyone involved in planning these new “bike paths” had ever rode a bike or walked through any of the underpasses in question. It honestly looks like a mistake, one that they are repeating all across the city.

Could it be that they just don’t know? More likely they don’t really care and see bike safety as something they grudgingly pay lip service to and pedestrian safety as something that only matters when a bad story makes the news.

If the city really wants to make things safer for cyclists, they should ask cyclists what to do and really should consult pedestrians before dual-zoning a sidewalk on a rather steep incline. Otherwise they’ll wind up replacing one dangerous situation with one potentially more treacherous.

* Listen to the full interview with Craig Sauvé on the next FTB Podcast

Montreal will invest $3.6 million over two years in a brand new institute dedicated to developing electric and smart transportation. This investment is part of the city’s efforts as a member of the C40, the Cities Climate Leadership Group.

The Institute of Electrification and Smart Transportation will have three main mandates: favouring cooperation between regional partners for research and development of sustainable transportation, establishing international partnerships and stimulating the commercialization of new technologies. It will be situated in the Quartier de l’innovation. The École des technologies supérieures (ÉTS) , McGill University, Concordia and UQÀM are all expected to partner in the project.

“The Institute will make use of Montreal’s assets as a city of innovation to galvanize efforts and knowledge, and shine on the international scene,” Mayor Denis Coderre claimed in a press release. The announcement was made on Wednesday, during the 52nd Congress of the Association québécoise des transports.

The Mayor’s office claims this is an “important step in the realization of [their] ambitious strategy for the electrification of transport.” Indeed, the creation of the institute is one of the 10 points of the 2016-2020 Strategy for electrification and smart transportation outlined last summer.

Other measures put forward in the plan include exchanging city vehicles for electrical cars, electrification of public transit and developing a second, purely economic plan to encourage the local development of the electric transportation sector.

However, the opposition at City Hall is not too impressed with the new institute. Projet Montréal’s transport critic Craig Sauvé says that they have seen no serious plan or content backing up the announcement.

“That’s pretty much the Coderre style,” he observed, “announce a project that will most likely garner positive headlines but without doing any substantive groundwork before the announcement.”

Although Sauvé admits that the city’s efforts for electrification are a good thing overall, he believes it is a short-sighted strategy.

“The Coderre administration is very car-focused,” he claimed, “they still have this vision that is out of the 1950’s!”

According to Sauvé, the city should put more money into better bike lanes, urban planning and public transit in order to reduce the number of cars on the road.

“You can electrify everything you want, but it won’t solve the traffic, it won’t solve the pollution still created by the production of new cars and road networks,” he argued.

FTB contacted the city’s executive committee for further comments, but was still waiting for a reply at publication time.

Mayor Coderre announced earlier this week that the city is investing at least $24 million in Formula E, a major international car race featuring only electric cars. The event will be held downtown on July 29th and 30th. The Coderre administration hopes that it will serve as publicity for electric and smart transportation in Montreal and boost the city’s status as a leader in climate action.

Back in November 2013, the government of Quebec had promised $35 million for the creation of a province-wide institute with the same purpose. Many cities were interested in hosting it. The promise did not survive the change of government.

 

* Featured image: electric cars in Berlin, Germany, all credits to Avda, Berlin – Potsdamer Platz – E-Mobility-Charging, CC BY-SA 3.0

Early Sunday morning, a train went off the tracks in St-Henri. Two locomotives and two wagons derailed near the intersection of St-Jacques and de Courcelle. Fortunately, they were only carrying grain and no one was hurt, though some diesel did spill. They were not carrying oil, but thinking about that prospect is more than a little unsettling for residents.

“It’s terrifying,” says Craig Sauvé, city councillor for St-Henri, Pointe St-Charles and Little Burgundy who also lives 500 meters from where the derailment happened, “one would hope that the CN would be a better corporate citizen in light of Lac Mégantic.”

So how do we ensure that something on the scale of Lac Mégantic doesn’t happen in such a densely populated area like Montreal, besides, of course, no-brainer though far-reaching solutions like not transporting so much oil? For starters, Sauvé suggests that residents put pressure on the federal government, which governs rail transport, to measure what’s being transported through our neighbourhoods.

He also pointed out that there is a more direct solution already at the disposal of the provincial government:

“For one thing,” he said, “the Gouvernment of Quebec can start applying article 8 of the Law concerning civil security.”

This law says, in a nutshell, that any person whose activities or property are generating major disaster risk is required to report this risk to the local municipality where the source of risk is. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start and one that doesn’t require any additional regulation being passed.

“The Québec government,”  Sauvé commented, “can certainly do its part to ensure that its own proper laws are applied.”

With a train derailment so close to home for many of us and thoughts of Lac Mégantic still in our minds, it’s becoming clear that something needs to change before it’s too late, even if that something is incremental at best. To do nothing is to invite more of the same or much worse.