City says improving road safety in Montreal remains vital after pedestrian dragged by school bus

WATCH: A 29-year-old woman remains in critical condition after being hit by a school bus while crossing the street. Tuesday's incident has led to renewed calls to make intersections safer for pedestrians. As Olivia O'Malley reports, critics argue the city of Montreal isn't acting quickly enough to improve road safety for the most vulnerable users.

The City of Montreal says it is doing what it can to improve road safety, following the latest incident involving a school bus and a pedestrian.

A 29-year-old woman suffered multiple injuries on Tuesday morning when she was struck by a bus and dragged over several metres in Montreal’s Saint-Laurent borough. As of Wednesday afternoon, she remained in hospital in critical condition.

Montreal police said they believe both the pedestrian and the school bus were proceeding through the intersection on a green light.

Sophie Mauzerolle is the executive committee member responsible for transport and mobility in Montreal.

She said the city has a adopted a Vision Zero plan — a road safety strategy first developed in Sweden — to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries.

Marie-Soleil Cloutier, a professor of urban studies at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique who specializes in pedestrian safety, said there has been an important shift in messaging in terms of prevention over the years with the arrival of Vision Zero.

“When I started 15 years ago, definitely where we were just looking at like, ‘Oh, it’s an accident, it’s unavoidable,”” she said.

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Now, however, the mindset is that collisions are avoidable and every one has a role to play in preventing them.

The city adhered to the Vision Zero approach in 2016 but started implementing concrete measures, such as reducing speed limits and improving cross walks, in 2019.

Mauzerolle said the city is also making a push to change the roughly 2,300 traffic lights at Montreal intersections to ensure pedestrians and other road users can cross safely.

That includes giving pedestrians not only more time to cross the road but more time before vehicles come into play.

Giving pedestrians a head start, according to Cloutier, is a good idea.

She explained that being further along in the intersection makes them more visible to drivers who are attempting to turn.

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Left-hand turns are especially problematic, she said, because drivers are focused on oncoming traffic, looking for a gap in which to squeeze through, rather than watching out for pedestrians.

There’s also the option of adopting pedestrian-only lights, a system where pedestrians cross in all directions at the same time while cars have a red light, but both Mauzerolle and Cloutier said that comes with its own set of problems.

A study comparing Quebec City to Montreal found that pedestrian-only lights such as the system used in Quebec City did lead to fewer interactions between motorists and pedestrians.

The rate of collisions, however, didn’t differ much between the two cities, according to Cloutier.

She said that because pedestrians have to wait for a full cycle of lights before being allowed to cross, it can take double the amount of time. It can also lead to non-compliance of the rules.

What we see is that we have way more pedestrians not crossing the lights on the pedestrian signal, but on the on the green for cars, for instance, when the pedestrian signal is on the red hand,” she said.

“So if that pedestrian gets hit, it’s going to be his fault. He was not following the traffic signals.”

Mauzerolle said taking into account how people behave and the level of possible delinquency is part of the evaluation process.

Making intersections safer, though, is a process that takes time.

According to Mauzerolle, traffic lights at about 250 intersections are being reconfigured per year to allot more dedicated time to pedestrians.

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The city is also working on another 250 intersections identified as problematic or in need of intervention due to past collisions.

“We’re hoping, we’re trying to go as fast as we can, but we cannot do every corner at the same time, either, because then, you know, we wouldn’t be able to circulate,” Mauzerolle said.

For pedestrian safety advocates, though, change can’t come soon enough.

According to Piétons Québec, a record 24 pedestrians died in 2019 in Montreal.

“I think we can go a bit faster and improve. Working on the intersection of artery is very important,” said Sandrine Cabana-Degani, the organization’s director.

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Measures like curb extensions, she said, can go a long way in terms of increasing visibility and slowing traffic.

She added the city should broaden its focus.

“Three-quarter of collisions which have serious injuries or deaths don’t happen at an intersection where there was already a history of collision,” Cabana-Degani said. “That’s why we need to actually accelerate the proactive actions and intervene on most of the intersections.”

The City of Montreal claims it’s going as fast as it can, but to make real change, officials say help from other levels of government is needed.

“We want to help with the way trucks are allowed to drive in the city,” Mauzerolle said.  “So we’re working with the MTQ (transport ministry) on that.

She said the city is also hoping the federal government will step in with regulations to force truckers to have certain safety features on their vehicles.

— With files from Global News’ Olivia O’Malley

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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