Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

Doored by a driver because of construction

There is a lot of construction in Montreal. We routinely hear about the traffic congestion and the inconvenience construction causes for drivers. We don’t hear as often about the risks for pedestrians, particularly those who have reduced mobility, like myself.

Construction everywhere

Curb cut on a badly lit corner at night, dug up with construction.
Poor light, no safe way to get on the sidewalk.

Earlier this summer, going from one meeting to catch a bus, I was forced to cross a poorly lit and busy street in the dark because a curb cut was in a state of (de)construction and no provisions had been made for wheelchair users to be able to safely cross or use the sidewalk.

Doored

This morning, I narrowly avoided injury when I was, once again, forced to travel on the street because 3 corners of the intersection had construction and the 4th corner doesn’t have a curb cut. I was “doored”.

That is, I was travelling in the cycle path, with traffic on my left. I’m extremely happy (and you’ll read why in a moment) that I had my service dog in the “heel” position on my left. I could not, as the police suggest to cyclists, “stay 1 m away from the parked cars”, there was simply not enough space with parked cars on the right and moving traffic on the left.

Suddenly, a guy opened his car door right in front of me. I was not going fast, so the door didn’t do a lot of damage to my wheelchair, or to me. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a bruise on the knee. I’m lucky in many ways, because the door could have hit my hand, which was broken last year. I’m even more lucky because we could have been travelling the other way with the dog between me and the cars.

To add insult to injury, the driver started yelling at me (it seems common place for drivers that door cyclists to yell at them). I had no business on the street, he said. I pointed out I had no choice, because construction blocked access to the sidewalks…

The intersection

The first corner of the intersection doesn’t have a curb cut altogether. It’s old and broken down and I’m able to jump down it when I’m feeling adventurous. But there’s no way I can get back on the sidewalk on that corner, even with my dog’s help, because the sidewalk is too damaged.

Corner without curb cut
No curb cut, badly damaged corner.

The second corner has been out of commission for nearly 5 months now, undergoing massive construction.

The entire street corner dug up by construction
It’s not just the sidewalk that got dug up, but the entire corner.

The third corner sprouted construction a few days ago.

Deep trench instead of sidewalk
They’ve dug deep on this corner.

The fourth corner had a Hydro-Québec van parked across the sidewalk, with one of the utility hatches opened.

Hydro-Québec van parked on the sidewalk.
Couldn’t they have parked the van on the street rather than blocking the sidewalk?

I’d love to know how they expect wheelchair users to get on the sidewalks in such situations.

Dooring incidence

There were 164 reported dooring incidents in Montreal in 2014 (link in French). That’s more than thrice a week. No statistic exists for the number of unreported incidents. Vélo Québec, one of the major cyclist association says the numbers could easily be double or even triple that. There are certainly many anecdotes on this topic.

Education and legislation

There is a $200 to $300 fine for drivers who door cyclists (link in French). But it appears that even when there is severe damage to property, the police hesitates to issue a contravention.

There have been education campaigns to drivers, some even suggesting to use the right hand to open the door, to force them to look in their dead spot before opening the door. I even remember when I had driving lessons, many years ago now, our instructor drilled into us the need to look before opening a door.

The future

I’m waiting to see what they do when they rebuild the street corners. Are the curb cuts going to be decent and usable? Are they going to take the opportunity to put a curb cut in place on that corner that doesn’t have one? Who knows? I’ll certainly keep a close eye on the situation.

So what?

What’s the bottom line here, for me? Quite simple, really: I want to be able to safely move around the city.

That involves drivers taking more care when they open their car doors. That also involves construction to be coordinated so there is always at least one safe path of travel for people with mobility impairments (or parents pushing strollers, etc).

What will municipal authorities say about this? Will they even take the time to respond to this post? Don’t hold your breath too long!