The accidental death of a cyclist riding a Bixi through an underpass on Saint-Denis St. got to me. Because I’ve ridden a Bixi through that underpass (under Des Carrières St. and a railway line) many times going to and from work, and I’m aware of how dangerous it is.
We don’t know the details of the accident yet. Did she fall off and then get hit? Was there a collision? Did she veer into the truck or did it hit her from behind? It’s important to figure this out not so much to assign blame, but to determine what safety measures are at issue.
The death was controversial because right next to the accident scene was a sidewalk with bollards preventing cyclists from using the sidewalk. In this case, at least, had the cyclist used the sidewalk, she probably would have lived.
So in response, elected officials acted quickly, removing the bollards and announcing plans to allow cyclists to use the sidewalk through these underpasses. The mayor of the Rosemont borough announced that new signs were installed Friday morning allowing cyclists to share the sidewalk with pedestrians.
Viaduc St-Denis-Des Carrières vélos maintenant permis sur trottoir #rosepatrie #velomtl polmtl pic.twitter.com/cNpZAsc19f
— François Croteau (@francoiscroteau) May 1, 2014
This applies not only at St-Denis, but at similar underpasses below that rail line where there is no bicycle path, underpasses that have been described as “tunnels de la mort”.
But is that really a better solution? To find out, I grabbed a tape measure and headed down to the underpass to measure the width of the sidewalks. (I ended up running into a guy doing the exact same thing while I was there.)
The underpass in question has two lanes of traffic in each direction, and a sidewalk on each side. Supporting pillars separate the sidewalks from the traffic lanes, and the two sides of the street. This makes adjusting the size of any part of this impossible without major structural modifications.
What’s particular about Saint-Denis here is that in each direction, the road narrows from three lanes to two. It’s not a huge problem for traffic — going northbound, the right lane has parked cars before the underpass, and going southbound, there’s a bus stop and a turnoff just before the road narrows.
But it presents a safety issue for cyclists. As you can see from the photo above, right at the top of the hill, the road has two lanes, but the right lane is significantly wider than normal. This leaves plenty of room for a cyclist and a vehicle side by side.
But as the road descends, it narrows by about three and a half feet, by my calculations. That comfortable space allowing the two vehicles to travel side-by-side disappears. And it does so as the vehicles are accelerating. Through the underpass, there are simply two lanes of traffic, neither of which is very wide. A standard-size car and a cyclist can fit in the right lane, if the car keeps to the left of the lane and the cyclist stays to the far right, but it’s not wide enough for the two to be very comfortable there.
So what about the sidewalk?
There, we have a different problem. The side wall remains parallel to the roadway, so as the street gets narrower, the sidewalk gets wider. It goes from six feet wide at the top to nine feet wide at its widest point, just before the railing appears.
In the southbound direction, the one in which the cyclist was killed, there’s a wide pillar between the road and the sidewalk, which causes the sidewalk to narrow even further. There are also some outcroppings on the right side as well.
At its narrowest point, the sidewalk on the wast (southbound) side is only 73 inches, or 1.85 metres, wide. And because there are pillars on either side, there’s no room for the handlebars to hang over the edge of that space.
For cyclists (even if we limit them to one direction) and pedestrians to share this sidewalk, there would need to be room for the cyclist to pass the pedestrian.
A Bixi bicycle’s handlebars span 26 inches, or 0.65 metres, from tip to tip. That’s pretty similar to the handlebar span of most bikes. But since the right handlebar won’t be scraping the edge of the pillar, we need to add margins. Bike lane design specifications, such as this one for Hamilton, suggest at least 0.2 metres on either side, and preferably 0.4 metres. At 0.2 metres, the total width of the bicycle lane would be 1.05 metres, or 57% of the total width of the sidewalk. At the preferred 0.4 metres, it would be 1.45 metres, or 78% of the sidewalk. And that’s assuming nobody’s on a bike wider than a Bixi.
Considering the area in question is where cyclists are travelling at high speed, and may need to manoeuvre around things like potholes or manhole covers, the wider option would seem to make sense.
Just about anywhere I could find in city plans list bicycle path widths as 1.5 metres, or 1.8 metres, with the former being more common. Sticking to even the smaller of the two widths would take up 81% of the sidewalk, leaving about 14 inches of space for pedestrians. My shoulders are wider than that, so I’d need to walk sideways. At 1.8 metres, I’d have 5 cm of space left over, or two inches. Not enough space for a business card.
There is no perfect solution to this problem, so let’s say we compromise, and give the cyclist the absolute minimum of 0.2 metres on either side. Assuming a maximum handlebar width of 0.8 metres, that means a total width of 1.2 metres, leaving 0.65 metres, or 26 inches, left over.
That might work. If cyclists only travel in the direction of traffic on each side, and if there are no potholes or other obstructions and if all pedestrians travel in single file and if nobody has a wide stroller and …
I find it hard to believe that this can be considered safe, especially when the cyclists will be travelling through this area at high speed.
Lessons from Christophe-Colomb
This photo, taken in the summer of 2009, shows why I dislike this idea so much. It’s a few blocks east, at the underpass of Christophe-Colomb Ave. At the time, cyclists along the Route Verte were told to take the sidewalk through the underpass, which links a bike path at Parc des Carrières and one that goes through Laurier Park. I took that underpass many times, and in fear each time.
There, the sidewalk is only six feet wide at its narrowest point, about the same as St-Denis. Except here, the cyclists were travelling at high speed in both directions, navigating through potholes and pedestrians. It astounded me how any city could think this was even remotely safe.
Fortunately, in 2010, common sense prevailed and the city constructed a separated two-way bicycle path on the roadway. It had to sacrifice a lane of southbound traffic to make it work, but it was a lot safer for everyone.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a practical solution for Saint-Denis. Unlike Christophe-Colomb, which ends just south of this underpass, Saint-Denis is an important artery, which already narrows from three to two lanes to go through this underpass. Narrowing either direction to one lane isn’t realistic. And because of the position of the pillars, widening the sidewalk or making the vehicle lanes narrower isn’t possible either.
The solution won’t come soon
Everyone seems to agree that the real solution is to get more bicycle crossings of the railway. And they blame Canadian Pacific Railway for dragging its feet to create more level crossings so cyclists can avoid this entirely. As it stands, the only truly safe options for cyclists are to travel a kilometre west to the Clark/St-Urbain underpass bike path, go 500 metres east to the Christophe-Colomb underpass bike path, or take the Rosemont/Van Horne overpass. This rail line has no level crossings east of Wilderton Ave., four kilometres away.
So far, there’s no indication that any level crossings for pedestrians and cyclists are in the near-term plans for CP.
So until we have a better option, cyclists will have to choose between putting themselves in danger of getting rear-ended by an impatient driver or putting pedestrians in danger of more likely but less serious collisions.
The next time I go through that underpass, I’ll take my chances with the cars. At least that way I’m not the one responsible for someone getting hurt.
- Plateau mayor Luc Ferrandez on 98.5, suggesting trucks shouldn’t be on city arteries at rush hour.
- La Presse map of cycling accidents reported to the SAAQ from 2006 to 2011.
UPDATE (May 6): The Côte-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough has announced it will also allow cyclists on sidewalks through a handful of underpasses (most under train tracks). That gives all these underpasses that allow this action:
Or 3rd option, be “inconvenienced” and walk with their bike 50 metres and lose all of a maximum of 5 minutes. As a cyclist, though this presents a hassle, until a better way presents itself it seems like the safer option for all concerned. Many local elected officials are presently looking into this. Cyclists just need to keep up the pressure on them.
Five minutes is a long time. If that was the solution to every traffic problem nobody would ever get anywhere.
5 minutes if you walk slowly and it’s not like this is the ideal option, but to say that there are “no safe options” at least on a short term basis is stretching it a bit.
Well, avoiding the underpass entirely is also a safe option. I’m referring to options involving people actually riding bicycles.
Using public transit is also an option. I can’t believe that you’d make a 15 minute detour, if that were a possibility, over getting off your bike and walking a couple of minutes. When I had to cross to Laval before they put the bike path on the railroad bridge, 8 times out of 10 during the day, you had to walk your bike for a fair bit because there was barely enough room for pedestrians and cyclists to meet. The other option was to detour at least 20 minutes. In a perfect world you’d never get off your bike but then again this isn’t a perfect world.
Here’s a thought experiment. If a 5 minute walk is acceptable, how about a 5 minute red light for cars? Or even a 2 minute red light?
There are plenty of areas in Montreal where cyclists are mandated to get off their bikes and walk. Also, every mean of travelling has restrictions, pedestrians for example can’t just just cross the street anywhere they want legally no matter how long the block is. In Verdun streets are mostly one direction so reaching your destination by motor vehicle usually involves detours. Bus schedules and metro frequencies are not always ideal and having to adapt to them sometimes means a longer travel time. So again, the idea of having to walk 5 mins while pushing your bike is not beyond the pale as far as restrictions to one’s ease of travelling.
Setting aside the fact that cyclists won’t do this, why is it cyclists have to be the ones inconvenienced here? Why not make drivers walk their cars through the underpass? Why not make the pedestrians go somewhere else?
Some 20-25 years ago, in Outremont, suddenly the côte* Ste-Catherine found itself minus two traffic lanes.
When it repainted the lane lines, the city painted the customary yellow line in the middle, a dotted line separating each half of the road in two lanes, then a white lane something like 8 feet from the curbs.
It was not to make bike lanes, although the wider shoulder was really great (nowadays, it has been replaced by one of those moronic double-way lateral bike path).
It was not to make parking space either (seldom anyone parked there anyways).
No, it was after some old lady, miffed by the amount of traffic who decided, one day, to brazenly take her tape measure, and measured the width of the côte Ste-Catherine in front of her home, and found out that the three lanes on each direction were something like a foot or two below the minimum engineering standard (I’m too lazy to look it up) for a shimmering traffic lane.
The city had no choice but remove two lanes from the côte Ste-Catherine if it wanted to stay street-legal…
All (well, most) those underpasses below the railroad tracks were built in the 1930’s; that is, nearly 85 years ago.
Back then, cars were smaller, slower, so traffic lanes were definitely narrower.
It is entirely possible that the two traffic lanes at the bottom of St-Denis underpass are narrower than the legal standard; so this is where the extra space needed for a proper bike lane could be coming from.
* * *
But do we really need underpasses, for bikes?
Back in the 1930’s, despite the recession, there were a lot of trains running there. Viger station was not closed yet, so at least a third of CPR’s passenger trains passed there, as well as (like today) more than a third of traffic from/to the harbour, plus more traffic from the dozens and dozens of industries who setup along that rail line. Yes, there was a lot of traffic; underpasses made a lot of sense.
But today? There are at most 6 trains per day on the Outremont spur (again, I’m too lazy to pick up the phone and call some friends at the railroad to ask him/them how many trains run there). Most (all?) of those trains are container drags coming to/from Hochelaga and/or the harbour.
Going through those underpasses suck big time, whether you do it on foot or on bike. When I bike for fun (which is half the time), I will happily detour through the Wilderton, the Jarry park or the Crémazie grade crossings. And for a while, you could cross along Papineau by walking on the tracks, thanks to a huge hole in the fence. But since then, the CPR has closed the holes in the fence and constables are on the watch and hand-out tickets† to tresspassers.
Given that there are (about) 6 trains per day, it’s a no-brainer that establishing grade crossings would neatly solve the problem. Of course, CPR has no obligation to do so, and so the cost should be borne by the city. But it’s a very small cost that will both increase safety, and make bicycling much more attractive, witness the De Courcelles street crossing in St-Henri right after a train went by. And there are at least 50 trains per day who go through St-Henri (as fast as 90 km/h), yet in 25 years living there, I have yet to hear of a casualty‡.
* I say “the côte”, because “côte” is a type of road, a term that is equivalent to “boulevard”, “street”, “avenue”, “road”, “crescent” or “drive”…
† I may bear some responsibility for it. Some 5 years ago, I called the CP police after witnessing those assholes who were shooting a movie on the track with a makeshift cart. For this, the CPR police chief himself personally called me to thank me for reporting them. I won’t apologize the slightest bit, because I’ve been taking train pictures for 35 years, and the last thing we want is a bunch of irresponsible nincompoops that ruin it for everyone. Likewise, 4 years ago, some morons were busily graffiting Spaghetti Junction when they got sliced by a VIA Rail train. I have lived in St-Henri for 25 years, and in the 4 years since, I have seen the CN police patrol the tracks as much as I have seen it for the 20 previous years…
‡ The only one I know of was in Pointe-St-Charles (so it’s not St-Henri), about 20 years ago, when a toddler was ran over a VIA rail train, right by parc d’Argenson, along which there is no fence between the park and the CNR mainline. 20 years after the toddler’s death, there is still no fence, thus proving that poor people are not valuable like rich people (in the Waste-Island, both railroad mainlines are extensively fenced. Heaven forbid a rich kid be ran over by a train)…
I checked today; on the average, there are 8 trains per day that go on the Outremont spur.
So there are not “too many” trains to put railroad crossings.
If I was King Pefder I would:
1) Install a giant LED sign over the right-hand traffic lane that says:
Vitesse Maximum = 20 km/h
50 km/h = $300
2) Install Photo-radar machines in both directions.
-clearly-identified photo radar slows cars right down. See the one on cote-des-neiges southbound below “The Boulevard” (on top of Mont Royal) for the quite amazing effect of slowing car speeds dramatically (and it is a downhill road where cars go speed up to dangerous speeds, similar in this way to underpasses) .
-Since I am not King Pefder and cannot pay this myself, I suggest that CP Rail pays for the installation of the signs and photo radar machines.
A 20 km/h speed limit on a major thoroughfare isn’t practical either. It would just make an already difficult traffic situation even worse, and push more traffic onto neighbouring roads.
Actually, 30 km/hr is a quite reasonable speed limit on any street where humans and traffic are expected to co-habitate. And this is in fact becoming the norm in much of Europe. The difference for a car travelling one block at 50 km/hr or 30 km/hr is just a few seconds, but for a pedestrian this reduction in speed can be the difference between life and death: collisions at 50 km/hr (and faster) are usually fatal, whereas there is a far better chance of survival (and simply avoiding the collision) at lower speeds.
Concerning pushing traffic onto alternative streets, in the case of the viaducts there are no alternative options for vehicular traffic either! As for the 30 km/hr speed limit, that may even be too high for residential areas. The concept of Home Zones is quite popular now in many European cities. Some Dutch cities are experimenting with road pricing policies where the price is actually higher on the quiet residential streets. The idea is to keep the traffic on the arterials, where it is supposed to be, congestion or not.
Through the 200 metres of the underpass, it would be a difference of 12 seconds. Through the 400 metres between Rosemont Blvd. and Carmel St., it would be 24 seconds. That’s aside from all the energy wasted by the increased braking and acceleration this speed restriction would cause.
Sure slowing everyone down would be safer, but would it be practical? I don’t think a 30 km/h speed limit would be practical here.
Practical? Is getting to your destination a few seconds or minutes faster more important than saving lives? The death and destruction caused in cities by our obsession with speed is disgraceful. Sweden is aiming for a *national* policy of zero traffic fatalities, and New York City has recently embraced similar policies. ZERO. Why are we different?
No. But by that logic, we should ban all cars on the island so that no one ever dies in even a slow-speed traffic accident.
The crossing at St-Hubert is by far the most comfortable of all the current options. Even taking the ‘dedicated’ cycle paths is a significant detour and not a particularly agreeable option. Plus crossing de carrières is a serious risk – it is scandalous that there is no stop sign where the bike path crosses the street: lots of pedestrians and cyclists there and not a single car yielding to let them cross safely.
Clearly there is not enough room for a cyclist to pass going fast in the sidewalk space. But it does not take much effort to pull over and let a pedestrian pass comfortably or wait for there to be space to pass if travelling in the same direction. Ceding the right of way to a pedestrian should be common courtesy (both for cyclists and for car drivers), but sadly this seems to be lacking all too frequently.
No, but pulling over (I assume by that you mean stopping, since there’s no shoulder to pull over onto) kills any momentum the bicycle has built with its descent. Most cyclists going through an underpass will maximize speed (as much as is safe) when going downhill to make it easier to get back uphill on the other side.
Even if it’s made illegal through a speed limit or other measure, it remains human nature.
Its about what is human nature or not – its about what is pragmatic. We have speed limits on our streets despite “human nature” because as a collective we mostly recognize that this ensures the overall safety of our community. Laws only work when we collectively agree to them (even if we decide to punish behaviour that violates our laws which is why some laws are ineffective).
If it is more pragmatic and safe for cyclists to use the underpass but to do so slowly at the expense of their momentum they will do so. If the majority of cyclists agree (as they might) that this is an appropriate solution and would agree to live by the parameters of such a policy (including accepting the fine that might come along with going too fast under the underpass they share with pedestrians) we’d probably see a reduction in collisions both on the road and on the side walk.
We will not see a reduction of collisions if we do not give cyclists some appropriate choices and banning them from the side walk while not creating a safer road way will lead to overall frustration between all road users. If motorists are not willing to share the road, then perhaps pedestrians are willing to share the side walk but if neither wish share the space then we have a serious conflict, don’t we.
What’s so hard? Even the SAAQ promotes all road users to share the road…
Such a useless tragedy. Again because everyone thinks that he has the priority and it`s the other one that needs to be aware that i am here.
There is only one safe way to go through this and other tunnels.
Road should be motor vehicules only.
Sidewalk should be mandatory for the rest with priority to pedestrians.
No comments about the stupid rule that was in place forbiding cyclists to use the sidewalk. Too stupid and now…tragic. If there is one responsible factor in that useless death it`s the city`s employee that judged that rule to be safe.
Unfortunately that just offloads the safety risk onto pedestrians. Cyclists and pedestrians don’t travel at anything close to the same speed, which is the main issue here. Cyclists and motor vehicles don’t travel at the same speed either, but the difference isn’t as big.
The rule preventing cyclists from using the sidewalk is in Quebec’s road safety law. That’s voted on by provincial legislators, not city employees.
The self-entitlement is strong with this one, as well as the inability to think of others!!! You clearly do not belong to the city but should move to the desert where your asocial way will not negatively impact too many people.
But who do you think you are??? Just because you blow beaucoup bux on a box with wheels does not make you more deserving of the road than bicycles; it actually makes you much less deserving of it because you waste far much more space with your box, just to move your sorry ass around, than you would use if you used a bicycle!!!
We, cyclists have much more virtue than you do, because we do not waste street space and do not pollute.
Having money to buy a Bixi pass is doesn’t mean that you know and follow all traffic rules.
Zvi my friend you forgot to add that many European highways have a maximum speed of 140km/h if there is one. Or that nobody cares about helmet. Helmet for any kind of activity is a north American fetish. I have a helmet nothing can happened to me. I’ve seen way to many bicyclists ignoring ARRET signs, red lights even the bicycle path. Is cool to ride against traffic on the other side of bicycle path.
The main problem is only one: people ignorance.
Much emphasis is being put on the tunnel as the cause of the accident. Not even a month earlier, a truck killed a woman on the corner of Mackay and Ste-Catherine when they both had a green light.
Woman, 30, dies after being struck by dump truck
Trucks with greater mass and reduced visibility are very dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians. Yet with our current laws, these deaths are called accidents even if they are predictable. No one is responsible and therefore no one does anything to prevent it. These trucks should could install cameras for their blind spots but somehow it isn’t considered negligent to drive without them.
I don’t see how this accident relates to the one you mention. The latter clearly involves a truck’s blind spot when turning at an intersection with a pedestrian crossing. The former doesn’t involve a turn, or an intersection, or a pedestrian.
The truck driver said he didn’t see a thing. Not surprising when he is ten feet above the ground, heading into a low underpass while on a downwards slope.
Trucks are dangerous and require more vigilance that these drivers are not demonstrating. Each time someone dies, we call the location dangerous, put up more signs and bemoaning the lack of budget. How about making it a traffic violation to kill someone?
For bicycles, while legal road vehicles, the call is usually for them to get off the road. The police saying they should have walked their bicycle. People suggesting more bike paths. Isn’t that a bit like blaming the victim? Maybe instead, the trucks shouldn’t be running people over?
Here is another “unrelated” truck pedestrian death from yesterday.
Yes. Then all the truck drivers who wake up in the morning saying “I sure hope I get a chance to kill someone today” will think again.
While we’re at it, we should also make it a traffic violation for a cyclist to get killed.
The police made no such statement in this case. The cyclist had every right to use the roadway according to the law.
I don’t think so. I think it’s more like getting the city to realize that cycling is a thing that can’t be ignored. As a cyclist, I’m not crazy about going through such underpasses, but I do it because there’s no other reasonable choice. Having a more cyclist-friendly city, through more bike paths and safer streets, is hardly an anti-cyclist philosophy.
You should tell the police and politicians about this brilliant idea. I’m sure they hadn’t thought of that.
Then all the truck drivers who wake up in the morning saying “I sure hope I get a chance to kill someone today” will think again.
Very clever. However, people do wake up in the morning unable to properly judge the risk of something negative happening. It is human nature to down play negative outcomes and boost positive ones. It is why people smoke and hope to win the lottery. They do wake up saying I’ll drive a little faster this morning because I’m late.
Maybe. But we still haven’t established that speed had anything to do with this death.
The police made no such statement in this case.
The CBC suggests otherwise. They quote Insp. André Durocher.
“A cyclist going on the underpass can walk beside their bicycle for a minute or two, and taking a minute or two more to get to your destination safely I think is quite a good investment.”
Notice he doesn’t say that the truck should have slowed down before entering an underpass that they can’t see into properly. Borough Mayor Luc Ferrandez goes on to talk about painting a white line down the sidewalk so that bicycles can use it.
Bicycles, pedestrians and trucks will always interact at some point and the city will never have enough bike paths and/or signs if only due to budget. More focus needs to be placed on making the trucks and their drivers less dangerous.
Well that’s kind of silly. Hopefully that statement doesn’t represent the mentality of the police as a whole.
Indeed. And that’s true regardless of the cause of this accident.
As a cyclist I’ve always used the sidewalks under the underpasses and have always slowed down if people were walking… What is so hard about being a decent person on the road? I’ve never hurt anyone by driving cautiously under those underpasses… It’s not unreasonable to ask cyclists to slow down when sharing the sidewalk.