Jul 29 2008

Warning to Cyclists on Rachel Bike Path

While it is incumbent upon all parties to work together to ensure equal, fair, and safe access to our roadways, people who use Montreal’s Rachel Street bike path should be aware that the intersection of Rachel and St. Laurent is particularly dangerous for them.

I say this as someone who has both driven and cycled through that intersection many times. What I’ve noticed when driving is that if I’m heading west on Rachel and I want to turn right (North) on St. Laurent – which involves crossing the bike path while the cyclists also have a green light – it is really hard to keep track of, and to see, everything that’s happening.

Picture it from the driver’s perspective: the light is green and you’re allowed to make that right turn. When you look ahead, you see cyclists coming towards you, so you wait for a break. You get the break and you look behind you too see if anyone’s coming from the other direction. But the line of parked cars between you and the bike path make it really hard to see if anyone’s coming, so you move slowly. In the meantime, the gap from the first direction is closing. Add to this the jaywalkers who see that you’re not gunning it so they just walk in front of your car. There you are with four different things to watch out for, and your window of opportunity is closing quickly because the green light (for turning) lasts less than a minute.

Yes, it’s tricky. Unfortunately, in this town of impatient drivers and easily frayed nerves, that also means it is dangerous, as a lot of drivers will just gun it around the corner as soon as it looks like they might have a break. Crunch! In that argument, it’s the cyclist who always loses.

Just to be clear; I’m not defending drivers who act like that. I’m just pointing out the reality that it is a difficult intersection for drivers to get through safely without an inordinate amount of patience. And we all know that Montreal drivers are inordinately impatient.

So be warned, and be extra vigilant if you’re cycling through that intersection. It doesn’t matter who is at fault if you get hit; all that matters is that you will be the one going to the hospital (or the morgue).

Add to the mix a row of parked cars over the driver’s right shoulder blocking the view of west-bound cyclists (no cars were parked there when this satellite image was taken).

Categorized under Montreal,PSA

14 comments so far

14 Comments on “Warning to Cyclists on Rachel Bike Path”

  1. C'est Raoulon 29 Jul 2008 at 9:19 am

    I think you missed something: this is ruled: when the light goes green, it’s a straight arrow, so car can’t turn, only go straight. Bikes get a green light and go. Same for pedestrians. When the arrow become a full green light, bikes get the red, so you have to stop if on a bike/same for pedestrians. Car have the priority then. I think there is a short moment of uncertainty when the pedestrians get the flashing hand/orange bike.
    Most big intersections are run the same way, but as usual, people act as dumb fuckers (car, bike and pedestrian), applying the only rule they know: me, myself and I.

  2. blorkon 29 Jul 2008 at 9:57 am

    That’s true, but I have never seen ANY cyclists stop because the small light for the bike path is red. They see the main traffic light is green, so they go. Again, it’s not a matter of who is right or wrong, or what the rules are. It’s the REALITY of the situation as it actually works that makes it dangerous.

  3. Frankon 29 Jul 2008 at 10:54 am

    Yes, I used to make that turn everyday. Between cyclists who run their red and pedestrians who cross on the hand, there is little if no opportunity for cars to complete that turn. Plus the cyclists coming from the west (downhill) are usually flying at 30km/hr. I was lucky not to hit anyone, but the bicyclists were partial to giving me the finger.

    BTW, there are also numerous bicyclists who like to come down St Laurent the wrong way (or on the sidewalk) which adds some more fun to the party.

  4. C\'est Raoulon 29 Jul 2008 at 10:54 am

    I am all for learning, and in whatever situation I am (car, bike, walk), I make sure to teach the wrong doers. Even it scares the shit out of them.

    If you are dumb enough to cross the road on a red with your baby troller… your baby should not be the only one to need a diaper change…

    Darwin rules!

  5. mareon 29 Jul 2008 at 12:36 pm

    I learned driving in the Netherlands, where there is almost always a bike path on the side of the road (although parking is forbidden the last 5 metres from the corner; the same rule applies in Quebec BTW but it isn’t enforced) so looking over my right shoulder and in the right mirror before I turn is second nature. If I look at other drivers here(as a pedestrian) I rarely see anybody do that, so I guess it is not a part of the driver’s test. I’ll ask Alison, she’s doing her learner permit test right as I write this.

    As a cyclist I’m extremely cautious at every intersection, especially when there is turning traffic.

    I also actually do stop at red lights, even when there is no traffic. When there really is no traffic I might continue jaybiking, but only after a full stop.

  6. DAVE IDon 29 Jul 2008 at 12:52 pm

    Mmmmm Deja Vu. I’m reading “Out of Control” by Kevin Kelly and on the Chapter on Hive Minds he speaks about road systems in comparing to netowrks and pathways. There’s something called Braess’s Paradox.

    Read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braess%27s_Paradox

    It just made me think of that and I felt like sharing.

    Now what people in Montreal often seem to forget is the priority of way.

    Pedestrian
    Cyclist
    Motorist

    in that order. As a pedestrian myself getting home in Montreal is a daily survival act.

  7. Michael Blackon 29 Jul 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Of course, in early June of 1990, I’m pretty
    certain it was the 7th, Cicely Yalden was killed
    at the corner of Rachel and Clarke. News reports
    varied, but either someone was parked on the bike
    path and forced her off, or someone was parked
    too close to the intersection blocking either her
    view or the oncoming driver, and she was hit and
    killed.

    The date’s important because exactly six weeks
    before, I found a delivery truck parked at that
    corner, blocking the bike path and sticking out
    into the intersection.

    She was killed, and more effort was put into marking
    the no parking spots on that bike path. You’re not
    supposed to park within a certain length of an
    intersection, sign or no sign, yet that is too often
    ignored, setting the stage for accidents. That fancy
    traffic light at St. Lawrence Blvd was also put in,
    I think the first time there was a special light for
    bicycles.

    I took issue when I saw the truck parked there, he
    had nothing but a lame justification for parking
    there illegally.

    I did complain to the company about that delivery
    truck, they eventually told me the driver had been
    fired, though I did continue to see the same dangerous
    parking every so often for a few years. The chain
    business is still there, I’ve never bought anything
    from them and never will.

    It was a terrible shock to read about Cicely Yalden’s
    death six weeks later, someone I didn’t know at all
    yet knowing she did die, I know I didn’t try hard
    enough.

    Michael

  8. blorkon 29 Jul 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Dave, the problem with “priority of way” is that it’s an idea that comes out of legislation, not out of the natural order of things. According to the natural order, the biggest and most dangerous thing gets the right of way (as in, the smaller give way to the larger, like in a pack of wolves, or silverback gorillas).

    In a society that is very oriented towards orderliness and rules-following (I’m not pointing any fingers, *cough* (Netherlands) *cough*), the legislated rules work fine. But in a society that is very oriented towards the “natural order of things,” (it would be a cliché to point to Mediterranean countries here, so I will refrain), those rules don’t work so well. Montreal has, I think, a mix of both mentalities (with stronger leanings towards the “natural order” types), and the result is total unpredictability.

    Several years ago I spent an hour or so in Rome watching traffic patterns. At first it looked chaotic, with cars and scooters buzzing around like a swarm of bees. There seemed to be no order to it at all. Yet I witnessed no crashes.

    I also witnessed no jaywalkers, and no vehicles moving at a speed that was not “with the pack.” What was happening was that everyone on the road seemed to clearly understand the patterns, that the rules were simple; “don’t hit anyone.” More specifically, “do what it takes to not hit anyone.” They get mad at other drivers when those drivers are not mindful enough of their position in the pack (i.e., if they drift across a lane without looking, regardless of if they’re indicated, or if they slow down for no particular reason).

    I’ve also watched traffic patterns in other cities. In middle-America, for example, people very much obey the traffic rules. They drive on through green lights without a care about what might or might not be crossing the intersection (even if they’re not supposed to be). Their rule is simple: “green light means go, regardless of anything else going on.” Such people get mad at other drivers when they break the rules, even when doing so presents no danger whatsoever (e.g., changing lanes without indicating, even if they have looked and there’s no car within 50 meters).

    In each of these scenarios, driving is pretty safe as long as everyone is using the same rules and references. However, all it takes is one American driver in Rome to cause real chaos. The American will be paying attention to road signs, anticipating that other people will use turn indicators, obeying the speed limit, etc., instead of riding with the flow of the pack, and that throws off the equilibrium.

    Similarly, the Roman driver will cause chaos in middle America by ignoring the road rules and using his usual tactic of fitting in with the movement of vehicles. He won’t bother with turn indicators, etc. because he assumes the other drivers are aware of the fact that he could turn at any time.

    In North American cities (Montreal in particular, it seems), we have a constant and never-ending battle between the two mentalities. That’s why we have so much chaos. As a pedestrian, you can approach an intersection and the driver will happily give you the right of away. On the next block, the driver will cut right in front of you and blare his horn because he thinks you’re an idiot for stepping in front of a car. It’s completely unpredictable, which means the safest thing for the SOFT vehicles (pedestrians and bicycles) is to go by the “natural order” rules.

    BTW, there’s a famous video on YouTube that shows an intersection somewhere in India, or maybe Bangladesh. There are no traffic lights or signs, and tons of traffic. But there are no accidents, and very little horn blowing, because everyone is mindful of the basic rules of not trying to fit where you cannot fit. As in, it’s all natural order, and not legislation. When people do toot their horns it’s to make sure other people see them (unlike here, where it’s a warning or a chastisement). You see lots of close calls, but nobody actually gets clipped. I suspect that those close calls don’t even ruffle anyone, as it’s a normal part of the experience.

  9. blorkon 29 Jul 2008 at 1:28 pm

    OK, that was the longest blog comment EVER.

  10. DAVE IDon 29 Jul 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Why do we set rules? It’s simple really. Because you can’t trust individuals to do the right thing and not be selfish. If pedestrians had to let cars go by first… pedestrians would never cross the streets and that’s just a fact.

    Maybe they should have Traffic guards like here in Chicago. Funny but it works to keep pedestrians and motorists in check and I live downtown Chicago in the thick of it and the traffic flows. And I haven’t seen much jaywalking either.

  11. blorkon 29 Jul 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Michael, I remember hearing about her death, and that was on mind mind when I first thought about writing this blog post. I couldn’t remember her name, so thanks for bringing it up.

  12. bethon 31 Jul 2008 at 10:28 am

    Thanks, Ed, I agree with you. I ride the Rachel path almost every day and see other cyclists constantly ignoring the red bike signal and going anyway; I learned about how dangerous the right turns are by having a close call. That path is convenient but it’s the scariest one I ride. You have to be very careful not only of the traffic but of unconscious pedestrians stepping into the path; I yell or use my bell a lot. It may not be polite but it’s better than being flat, or colliding with some spaced-out shopper on the corner of St. Denis.

  13. C'est Raoulon 31 Jul 2008 at 3:36 pm

    I think St-Denis is worth. Don’t ask me why.
    Maybe I know, I always cut using St-Dominique instead…

  14. Jack Ruttanon 03 Aug 2008 at 6:09 pm

    I thought it was interesting how the path narrowed when the street got busier. As a cyclist, I think the Rachel bike path is a plot by car drivers to prove how unworkable the concept is.