MONTREAL, Que. — It was pure coincidence that on April 30, just two days after a cyclist died in an accident with a truck, police put on a demonstration of how difficult it is for bus and truck drivers to see pedestrians and cyclists.
The cyclist died on April 28 while negotiating a St-Denis street underpass. There is a sidewalk, but no dedicated bike path. Two days later, the Service de police de la Ville de Montreal (SPVM) and Control Routier Quebec (CRQ) held a “chauffeurs d’un jour” (driver for a day) event in Montreal’s Parc Emilie-Gamelin.
“The April 30 event had been planned since last October or November,” says Andre Durocher, inspector with the Highway Safety Division, SPVM. “We had such an event three or four years ago, but there was no media coverage. There was a lot of interest for this.”
Chauffeurs d’un jour is part of a program called 100% vigilant, a campaign that speaks to the need for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers on the Island of Montreal to be vigilant, avoid distractions when crossing the street, keep a safe distance from vehicles, share the road, respect the highway code and more. It is funded by the Societe de l’assurance automobile du Quebec (SAAQ).
One of the admonitions the 100% vigilant campaign delivers to pedestrians and cyclists is “be sure that I see and that I am seen.” Truckers know they have blind spots, but pedestrians and cyclists seem only dimly aware of them. The goal at the chauffeur d’un jour event was to bridge this knowledge gap. “The idea was to show how vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians can be,” Durocher says.
People who came by the event were invited to climb aboard a bus and dump truck to see how invisible they are to drivers. “If I can sum up the whole thing, everyone who sat in the truck said, ‘I had no idea how vulnerable we were’,” Durocher comments.
This effort is reminiscent of a 2000 campaign, called Angles Mort that Transports Quebec and the SAAQ launched to sensitize car drivers to truck blind spots. (The French term, which translates literally as “dead angels,” is a more apt description of the problem). Around that time, a study conducted by Professor Michel Gou, of the Ecole polytechnique at the University of Montreal, determined that about 30 deaths and 530 serious and slight injuries a year involving collisions between light and heavy vehicles can be attributed to driving in blind spots.
In 2013, according to the SPVM Web site, there were 12 fatal collisions between cyclists and vehicles, six fewer than in 2012. But the number of non-fatal collisions reveals the extent of the mayhem, since a cyclist who is injured and not killed in a tussle with a vehicle has only a roll of the cosmic dice to thank for his life. In 2013 1,189 cyclists were injured, down a few smacks from 1,244 in 2012.
In 2013 98 pedestrians were seriously injured and 1,079 received minor injuries in altercations with vehicles. So far this year, five pedestrians, plus the poor cyclist who died on April 28, have clocked out. Six cyclists died in 2012.
There are certainly structural issues in Montreal that must be dealt with in looking for a solution to this deadly problem. Blame is also swirling around because the city put bars in front of the sidewalk in that St-Denis underpass. Cyclists report that the bars give the impression they are forbidden from taking it. The supposed intention was merely to get cyclists to hop off and walk along the sidewalk, for the safety of pedestrians.
On the other hand, says Patrick Vandal, carrier enforcement officer, CRQ, “We know that pedestrians and cyclists are more at risk.”
Many cyclists careen around Montreal with a breathtaking sense of immortality and pedaling in traffic seems vaguely suicidal.
“That overpass is indeed a death trap,” says Montreal resident and cyclist Jasmine Lacoste-McCormick. “I don’t even like walking through it, as there is not a railing the whole way along the sidewalk. I always get off my bike and walk through dangerous areas. I never try to just cycle through when I see a risk. Some people are blaming cars, others the city, but cyclists really need to learn that it’s okay to get off their bikes and walk for five minutes.”
Durocher says, “We’re saying that sharing the road is everyone’s responsibility. We can’t be throwing blame.”
Police and CRQ officers are working to spread this gospel, with more educational events and visits to schools. “My partners and myself are meeting people at the driving schools. We say, ‘Understand that you are driving big vehicles and that there are a lot of small people around you’,” Vandal says.
Durocher adds, “Some of our police officers are going to schools. You change behaviour through education.”
If a single campaign were 100% effective, the Angles Mort campaign would have ended the problem. The fact that it didn’t suggests that trucking companies might want to become more active in educating the rest of us.
Since the chauffeur d’un jour event, Durocher and Marc Cadieux, the director general of the Quebec Trucking Association, have begun discussing the possibility of staging an event later this year similar to the chauffeur d’un jour.
One caller to a talk show said his company used to bring in the Scouts every year to check out the view from their trucks. When asked about the trucking community helping, Vandal said, “We encourage trucking companies to do their part, as we do on our side. It is such a good idea, having trucks invite citizens up into the cab. If there are trucking companies that want to do something like a prevention program, why not?”