Quebec towns call for more funding, road safety near schools
Some 20 municipalities, including several of the largest cities in Quebec, intend to adopt a resolution asking the Legault government to significantly and rapidly increase the budget for security measures around schools.
In many areas in Quebec, despite efforts to get people to use active modes of transport, the infrastructure around schools makes walking or cycling dangerous. In some cases, it is even prohibited.
No walking or cycling to school
In Saint-Colomban, in the Laurentians, students from École de la Volière can only get there by car or school bus. The road that borders the school is so narrow and dangerous that the school administration has forbidden students to walk or cycle there.
Several schools have been built in the past 20 years in the municipality, as the population more than doubled. But the urban planning of the town just outside Montreal has been based on very low population density, and did not provide for sidewalks or bike paths.
"We must repair the mistakes of the past," Mayor Xavier-Antoine Lalande.
There is a large park right in front of the school, but it's too difficult to access on foot or by bike. The municipality hopes to acquire land along the road to install a sidewalk or a multifunctional path that schoolchildren and park users could use.
But those projects are expensive, which is why Saint-Colomban adopted the resolution asking the province to increase its funding for road safety specifically.
The Lalande administration has invested millions of dollars in recent years to increase security around newer schools.
The mayor said a $1.5-million multipurpose trail had to be built at one school in 2018 to correct "poor planning."
For another project, a sidewalk and a crosswalk were built near a school. But the municipality quickly reached the road safety fund limit: $350,000.
That project alone cost $3.2 million, Lalande said. "It should allow for about 10 feet of sidewalk," he said laughing.
Transport Ministry wants to restore 70 km/h speed limit near school
Prévost is another municipality that has decided to adopt a resolution to challenge Quebec on safety around schools. For years, the city has asked the Transport Ministry to do something to make the Highway 117 crossing safer, since many children at Val-des-Monts use it daily.
Two years ago, the ministry agreed to reduce the speed limit from 70 to 50 km/h as part of a pilot project, and the city invested in building a sidewalk. But those initiatives are coming to an end.
Studies by Transports Québec found that the 50 km/h speed limit isn't followed, and the speed limit on the 117 will eventually have to be restored to 70 km/h, at least at certain times of the day.
A spokesperson for the ministry said in an email that Highway 117 is a particularly busy provincial highway used by many, including vacationers "who don't expect to travel in a 50 km/h zone."
"It's not easy for a crossing guard to cross with children when the traffic is at 70," said Prévost Mayor Paul Germain. "And if it's 70, we know that people will drive at 80, 90."
Germain said the end of the pilot project will force children to detour to cross at the traffic light located 100 metres away.
Lucie Laforte, who usually walks her child to school and back, fears that it will affect pedestrian safety along Highway 117.
"I would have preferred that the department keep the pedestrian crossing," she said.
"It's possible that reckless children may decide to cross the 117 at the unauthorized place," Germain said. "The MTQ is talking about putting a fence in the middle of the road, so it's on its way to becoming a completely insane metropolitan boulevard scenario for a country town."
More powers to local authorities
The municipality of Prévost wants to have a section of Highway 117 reconfigured so that motorists are forced to slow down.
The MTQ has offered to create a working group to look into the development of part of Highway 117 and break what the department calls "a highway effect" and urge drivers to reduce their speed.
According to Germain, MTQ standards should be adjusted when provincial highways pass through towns and villages, especially near schools. But the Prévost mayor says he's under the impression that discussions on sustainable mobility don't reach MTQ civil servants.
The Fédération québécoise des municipalités (FQM) is also asking Quebec to give more powers to local authorities to secure school surroundings.
"When the municipality proposes something, it means that we have worked on social acceptability. It's because we think that there is a real need there," said Jacques Demers, president of the FQM and mayor of Sainte-Catherine-de-Hatley.
For example, he said using road signs, flashing lights and street furniture could help slow down traffic.
Changing driver behaviour
Saint-Colomban has already installed 26 speed displays and more than 50 speed bumps on its territory to force motorists to slow down. But in some areas in the municipality, speed limits remain high.
Changing the behaviour of motorists remains the biggest challenge, according to Mayor Lalande.
"People don't have the reflex to look for a pedestrian crossing," he said.