Anybody who’s ever driven off the island of Montreal knows the rush of freedom that comes from being able to make a right turn on a red light for the first time. It tends to leave the average Montrealer wondering, “why not us?” What have we done to deserve this cruel deprivation of the freedom to turn right on red? Here’s a quick look into the past, present and future of right turns on red lights in Montreal.
Most don’t realize that the ability to turn right on red was never the default law in Quebec or anywhere else in North America for that matter. Up until the 70’s, turning right on a red light was illegal pretty much everywhere on the continent. America’s Energy Department notes that gas shortages and oil crises in the mid-late 70’s caused many American states to adopt the right on red policy as a method of saving fuel.
By the late 1980’s, turning right on red had been legalized in every province of our country except Quebec, which, as with many other historical developments (see: giving women the vote), was late to the party. In 2003, the province of Quebec finally decided to allow right on red. Sadly, the only area of Quebec not given the privilege was Montreal, due to public outcry over the potential compromise of pedestrian safety.
Nevertheless, the rest of Quebec has actually adapted quite well to their newfound freedom to turn right on red. According to the Huffington Post, Only 6 pedestrians or cyclists have been killed in the 11 years since legalization while only 30 have been seriously injured. Nonetheless, Montreal continues to languish in its state of automotive dictatorship. It probably doesn’t help that, even without being able to turn right on red, 22 pedestrians and cyclists were killed here by cars in 2011 alone.
It doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to turn right on red anytime soon in our fair city. A year and a half ago, president of the Quebec Transport Commission and mayor of Anjou Luis Miranda celebrated the 10th anniversary of the legalization of right on red in Quebec by trying to start a grassroots campaign to bring right on red to Montreal. The initiative was quickly dismissed by then-mayor Michael Applebaum who (surprise, surprise) cited public safety as a reason for not initiating any serious changes to Montreal’s traffic laws. The current consensus amongst local media is that the topic of right on red legalization is incredibly divisive and, for this reason, politicians are unlikely to touch the issue in the near future.
Thus, Montreal remains at a proverbial crossroads (get it?). Right turns on red lights elsewhere in Quebec seem to not be causing too many accidents, while the number of pedestrian deaths in Montreal remains high despite right turns on red being illegal. Do you think right on red should be legalized in Montreal?
Art by Leah Concepcion-Vanderbyl.