We are all pedestrians

We are all pedestrians

By Bill Russell

Thank you for the positive response to my article about driving in Quebec – Rules of the road in Quebec. Just after I finished writing it, I read in the Saturday, 19 October 2013, edition of Le Soleil a fine commentary by Martial Van Neste, a Quebec City resident: “Nous sommes tous piétons!” (more about his article below). Yes. We are all pedestrians.

The hierarchy, described in my previous article

“… if you are bigger, you have priority – or more to the point – if you are smaller, you had better give way. So pedestrians must yield to bicycles, then both to cars, then all three to buses, then all the above to trucks and everybody to trains …”

needs to be inverted. We must adopt the principle of giving priority to people on foot. And we must learn from other parts of the world.

Almost everywhere in North America, pedestrians cross with the green light. Many cities do not even bother with the added walk light. All turning cars yield to those on foot. There is often a little added time between green lights to let turning cars clear the intersection.

When pedestrian crossing lights are needed at certain intersections, the exposed walkers should have priority. Allow cars on green to finish their time, but don’t make people wait for a complete cycle of all directions. And if there are no people on foot, there is no reason to keep drivers from going.

Zebra crossings are respected throughout North America and Europe. Sometimes, warning lights or a stoplight is added. Regardless, drivers know to stop when someone is crossing; fines are severe and enforced.

 “Slow down, you move too fast” should be the rule. Cars have become mobile entertainment centres, what with the GPS giving helpful suggestions, one’s favourite music or radio program on the speakers, the temperature set for comfort. Enjoy the cocoon. Sillery has 30 km/h on all residential streets. The rest of Quebec City should adopt the rule. Studies have shown that the difference between 30 and 50 km/h for a pedestrian hit by a car is life and death. This is especially important on streets without sidewalks.

In Barcelona, pedestrians do not cross at large intersections. Their crossing point is a couple of car lengths from the corner. This allows drivers to negotiate the intersection before dealing with walkers.

Montpellier, France, has adopted a target for decreasing the number of automobiles in the city. To achieve this, they are making public transit attractive and affordable, while making driving a less attractive option. Buses and trams have screens that indicate the next stop. We could really use that here, particularly in winter when you cannot see out the windows of a crowded bus. Bus and tramway stops have screens that tell you how long the wait will be. At the same time, streets are being narrowed. A space that could hold four automobile lanes plus parallel parking instead holds two car lanes, a tramway and a two-way bike and pedestrian path, but no parking spaces. Many streets are being converted into a network of pedestrian malls. People leave the car at home or in one of the park and ride lots.

Europe has recently adopted the “Zone 30”. An area so designated, usually a residential area or a busy shopping area, has a number of automatic rules:

– yield to the right (no stop signs at every corner, just the “Zone 30” as you enter the area)

– the speed limit is 30 km/h (often enforced with speed bumps)

– bicycles can go in either direction, even if the street is one-way for automobiles

– bikes and cars yield to pedestrians, who can walk in the street if they want to

– cars yield to everyone. If there is an accident involving a car and a cyclist or pedestrian, the driver is always at fault.

If this system were adopted across North America, it could save lives.

In his commentary, Mr Van Neste began his comments by reflecting on his impression of how civilized the cities of Helsinki and Stockholm are. Sure, the cities have quality public transportation and bike lanes, but he was most impressed by the respect that drivers showed for pedestrians. Drivers appeared to have no objection to giving priority to those on foot.

One does not have to go to Scandinavia to find respect for pedestrians. Throughout Canada and the United States, drivers respect pedestrian crossings at corners and crosswalks. Even Quebec snowbirds in Florida observe and obey traffic laws. Why not here?

Mr Van Neste asked, with respect to the recent municipal elections, whether any politicians would stand up for the protection of pedestrians. With all the talk about “valeurs québécoises”, respect for pedestrians is a value that Quebec society needs to import. Our urban design should prioritize the protection of the most vulnerable. However, a better society is built not only through laws and infrastructure, but also by shared values that favour our collective well-being. Changing mentalities takes time and energy, but it can be done.

I fully support Mr Van Neste’s ideas.

Yes. We are all pedestrians.

Categories: News, Opinion

About Author

Bill Russell

Bill Russell resided in Quebec City from 1997 to 2014, but has returned to Toronto, Ontario. A professional folksinger since 1970, he mostly performs in Ontario schools with Mariposa In The Schools. He also calls square dances and teaches figures done with a loop of string. Bill plans on keeping touch with his friends in Quebec City. His primary Quebec City interests are in the Quebec Art Company, the Centre de valorisation du patrimoine vivant, and the Auberge du Mont’s Road Scholars programs.

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