by John Symon – Montreal Times
A 33-year-old female cyclist was killed about 6:40 a.m. Monday morning while riding through a tunnel on Montreal’s St. Denis Street. Mathilde Blais, a speech therapist, was run over by a crane truck that was also moving south in the tunnel; she was pronounced dead at the scene. Her death has led to calls—now supported by Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre–for changes to Quebec’s Highway Code that prohibits cyclists from ever riding on sidewalks, even when it is dangerous for them not to.
Police questioned the 23-year-old truck driver—who apparently did not immediately realize what had happened—and indications are that he will not be charged. This incident took place in a tunnel underneath the des Carrieres CP train overpass, a spot that cyclists have nicknamed “the tunnel of death.”
The tunnel is one of many spots in Montreal where the road narrows and dips; lighting is also very poor here. Consequently, many cyclists ride—illegally—on the sidewalk under the train overpasses. A row of bollards (poles) was erected on the sidewalk of St Denis Street in this tunnel to discourage cyclists from doing just that. It is unclear what role the bollards played in this tragedy and police are still investigating. There are also reports that police were recently ticketing cyclists found on the sidewalk here.
The tunnel is on the border of two Montreal boroughs: Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie and le Plateau. The two borough mayors, François Croteau (Rosemont) and Luc Ferrandez (Plateau), gave a joint press conference where Croteau expressed his condolences and called for police to be tolerant of cyclists on sidewalks. Croteau also joined his voice to those calling on the Quebec government to change its Highway Code to allow cyclists on sidewalks.
Ferrandez wondered why authorities are so slow and timid to enact measures to protect cyclists compared to the rapid and drastic measures often employed to protect car drivers and pedestrians. The Times understands that is the City of Montreal, not the local borough, which is responsible for managing major roadways such as St. Denis Street.
“We dedicated the minute of silence at the beginning of City Council to this morning’s tragic victim of Montreal’s lack of dedicated cycling paths under train viaducts, and offer our condolences to her family,” posted NDG city councillor Peter McQueen on Facebook in reference to the tragedy. Mayor Coderre later agreed with demands from McQueen, Croteau, and Ferrandez to make an inventory of dangerous underpasses and to ask Quebec to change the Highway Code.
Vélo-Québec’s Jean-François Pronovost termed the tunnels “unsafe places” to cycle. Vélo-Québec proposes that either the sidewalks in such tunnels be arranged to accommodate both cyclists and pedestrians, or that proper cycling shoulders be installed on the road. “The city has undertaken some work to this effect” notes Pronovost, “but obviously not quickly enough. Viaducts where thousands of cyclists travel daily should be a priority for mitigating work this springtime. Notably, the bollards on sidewalks—as found in the St Denis tunnel–should be removed immediately; they encourage cyclists to ride in dangerous zones.”
Blais, who was apparently wearing a bike helmet, worked at the Ludger-Duvernay School in St-Henri. She was riding a Bixi rental bike at the time of the incident.