In my previous post, I discussed how certain bike paths in Montréal could be made much safer by simply improving a few problematic sections. I explored the case of the Brébeuf bike path running between Parc Lafontaine (at Rachel) and Parc Laurier (on Laurier). This well-used bike path has some excellent qualities: intersections are well spaced out, occurring only every 180 meters on average (that’s almost two football fields in length) and Brébeuf is a calm street with very little car traffic.
The problem with the path arises at two intersections: where Brébeuf meets Marie-Anne and where it meets Gilford. At both of these intersections, cyclists traveling along Brébeuf encounter a stop sign whereas drivers traveling along either Marie-Anne or Gilford do not. This intersection design is confusing for cyclists as well as for drivers. Through daily observations that spanned several weeks I noticed that some cyclists seemed to assume that drivers and cyclists traveling along Marie-Anne had a stop sign too. These cyclists either came to a partial stop or did not stop at all. Most cyclists, however, came to a complete stop and waited for an opening in traffic. Drivers also behaved in different ways. Most drove right through the intersection, usually at a pretty high speed, while others interpreted the intersection as a “cross-walk” for cyclists and stopped halfway through the intersection yielding to cyclists.
At best these two intersections slow down traffic flow since cyclists and drivers frequently both stop, waiting for the other to go first. At worst, these two intersections are dangerous. Avoidable collisions are likely to occur when Brébeuf cyclists fly through the intersection at the same time as Marie-Anne or Gilford drivers.
I argued that both intersections need a four-way stop. Two-way stop signs are only appropriate at intersections where traffic volume along one axis is extremely low. In the case of Brébeuf and Marie-Anne, the axis with low traffic volume is actually Marie-Anne, not Brébeuf. Cyclists traveling along Brébeuf vastly outnumber drivers traveling along Marie-Anne. On three occasions I counted cyclists crossing the intersection: I found that, on average, during weekday rush hour traffic, 755 cyclists crossed the intersection along Brébeuf and only 180 drivers crossed the intersection along Marie-Anne, between 5:00pm and 6:00pm. There are more than four cyclists traveling north-south along Brébeuf for every driver traveling west along Marie-Anne.
It is clear that the Brébeuf and Marie-Anne intersection was designed without taking cyclists into consideration. The city needs to conduct an inventory of all intersections along bike paths and heavily biked streets. Studies need to be conducted to estimate car volumes as well as cyclist and pedestrian volumes. This would help planners and traffic engineers update problematic intersections to increase safety for all road users and improve car and bike flow.