They are supposed to make it safer and easier to bike downtown, but cycling activists say new traffic lights on the de Maisonneuve bike path do neither.
At the beginning of October, the city spent $300,000 to install traffic lights with bicycle icons at key intersections along de Maisonneuve Blvd. between Atwater and McGill College Aves. in hopes of cutting down on the number of accidents between drivers turning left and cyclists continuing straight.
Inaugurated in 2008, the de Maisonneuve path is one of the most used in the city and is a key commuting link. There are about 1,000 cyclists and 2,000 pedestrians per hour, and there have been 166 accidents recorded involving motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians between 2012 and 2016.
The new traffic signals show a green light for cyclists while motorists turning left have a red light. The light then turns red for cyclists, while cars turning left have a priority green arrow. Since the new traffic lights were installed, however, cyclists complain they now have less time to cross the street, and they have to wait at more red lights than they did before.
“It’s very annoying,” said longtime cyclist Pierre Luc Junet, adding that instead of synchronizing the lights for cyclists, the city has synchronized the traffic lights to improve the flow of cars. “There’s a problem with bike paths in general in Montreal. The city isn’t adapted to the reality of cyclists, and this is a good example.”
Daniel Lambert, a spokesperson for the Montreal Bike Coalition, said he welcomes the new traffic signals because an overwhelming number of cyclists have complained about the dangers of cars making left-hand turns on de Maisonneuve, according to surveys done by his group.
Now, however, Lambert is concerned that the situation could become more dangerous because cyclists might cross against red lights out of frustration, or they’ll shun the path altogether and opt to ride on streets that are not as safe.
“From a safety standpoint, this is an absolute win,” Lambert said. “But the problem is that it takes people longer. If you want people to bike, you have to make it more attractive, and stopping frequently doesn’t accomplish that.”
Lambert said it’s not difficult to synchronize lights, and they should be configured to stay green for cyclists travelling at 20 kilometres per hour going toward the downtown area in the morning and away from the core in the afternoon.
“It’s got to be synchronized,” Lambert said. “It’s not rocket science; they should have done it. The city plans to put a lot of bike lights around, and if they want it to work, they have to synchronize them.”
Suzanne Lareau, the president of bike lobby group Vélo Québec, said she welcomed the new traffic lights, saying it makes the situation safer, but she’s disappointed that the lights appear to be synchronized to prevent cars from bunching up at intersections to the disadvantage of cyclists.
“The phases of the lights are extremely important,” Lareau said. “The success of this measure depends on the phase of the lights. There’s definitely a problem if cyclists are stopping too often. When we put in traffic lights for cyclists, it should reduce the time for cyclists to get where they’re going. It’s the only east-west bike path downtown.”
Lareau called on the city to improve the light synchronization situation.
Speaking for the city, Karla Duval said Montreal actually made corrections to the light synchronization last Friday. However, a reporter took the path on several occasions last week, following the pace of cyclists on the path, to test out the new synchronization. On Wednesday morning, there were red lights at six out of 14 intersections and on Thursday morning seven out of 14 of the traffic lights were red.