In 'paradigm change,' Montreal prioritizes pedestrians over cars at traffic lights

Montreal plans to install pedestrian lights and countdown timers at every set of lights in the city, even if it's at the expense of traffic flow. "For me, as mayor, the choice is obvious. It will always be security," said Mayor Valérie Plante.

Plante administration plans new signals, countdown timers and longer crossing times

Time's up: a pedestrian waits to cross at one of the 315 existing Montreal intersections with countdown timers. The city plans to add timers at all 1,985 remaining intersections. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante plans to install pedestrian lights and countdown timers at every set of traffic lights in the city as part of a "paradigm change" that will put pedestrian safety ahead of traffic flow.

"What is more important: the lives of people or [for traffic] to be more fluid, in a way that it goes faster?" Plante asked Monday.

"For me, as mayor, the choice is obvious. It will always be security."

The plan, which Plante said will take five to eight years to complete, will see pedestrian signals installed at all intersections, countdown timers added to all pedestrian signals, and the time available to cross increased to accommodate "the most vulnerable road users," such as children and elderly people.

The plan aims to address the two main causes of collisions that cause pedestrian deaths or serious injury: speed and the number of cars on the road.

In 2018, 18 pedestrians were killed and 87 seriously injured in Montreal. There have been 19 deaths already this year, including an 89-year-old man killed last week in NDG.

There are 2,300 intersections with traffic lights that are managed by the city, 315 of which already have countdown timers and require no further work. 

The lights at every remaining intersection — 1,985 of them — will be reprogrammed to add between four to six seconds of time for pedestrians to cross, said Eric Alan Caldwell, the city's executive committee member in charge of urban planning and transit. Of those, 1,300 currently lack pedestrian signals and will be upgraded with signals and timers.

'We're adding time,' mayor says

To fund the changes, the budget envelope for 2020 to 2022 for pedestrian lights is being increased by 43 per cent, from $42 million to $58.5 million, Plante said. 

Past city administrations have always made decisions about roads with traffic flow as the highest priority, Plante said. 

"Now we've switched it," she said. "Now it's security, and then it's fluidity, and I believe we can do both."

There are 2,300 intersections with traffic lights that are managed by the City of Montreal. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The changes would not have a major impact on traffic, she said.

"We're adding time for people to cross the street."

Caldwell said the city hopes to upgrade 250 intersections per year, with the most dangerous intersections prioritized.

The countdown timers are based on walking speeds, Caldwell said. Road safety codes allow for walking speeds of up to 1.4 metres per second, or a reasonably brisk 5.04 kilometres per hour. 

The city uses a benchmark walking speed of 1.1 metres per second, Caldwell said, or just under four kilometres per hour.

In areas where more vulnerable pedestrians crossing the street, for example, around hospitals, schools and seniors' residences, the walking speed for the countdown signals will be set at 0.9 metres per second, or 3.24 kilometres per hour.

Distracted driving part of problem: police

Montreal police Insp. André Durocher said the change will help make the roads safer for pedestrians. But it's not the only solution.

Durocher said the city also wants to crack down on distracted driving.

"We need to be aware of our environment," he told Radio-Canada. He said police are planning more education campaigns to try to address the problem.


John MacFarlane


John MacFarlane is a journalist at CBC Montreal. He also works as a filmmaker and producer.


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