March 05 2013

Traffic Signals on the Scale of Cyclists in Montreal, Canada

As a part of its plans to invest in sustainable transportation, Montreal has built several bicycle lanes over the years. However, traffic signals for bicycles have yet to follow in many neighbourhoods. Although there are traffic lights directed towards drivers and pedestrians, traffic signals on many streets do not “speak” to cyclists.

While traditionally cyclists are expected to follow the same road rules as drivers, it is not always safe for cyclists to proceed through an intersection on a green light. At times drivers are turning and stand the chance of cutting off or hitting cyclists. Further, these lights are designed at the “scale” of cars, looming high overhead. Traffic lights designed for cyclists assure cyclists that it is safe to cross and can make cycling faster by giving cyclists priority.

Among other intersections in Montreal, the corner of Esplanade and Mt-Royal needs traffic signals for bicycles. A bicycle path ends abruptly at this intersection which has heavy traffic during rush hour.  The only provision helping cyclists cross safely is a sign with the image of a bicycle and an arrow pointing down at a faded series of bicycles painted across the intersection. The sign and bicycles are intended to show priority for cyclists. Nonetheless, cars usually proceed without slowing down through the intersection. When cyclists do try to cross, they risk being hit by oncoming traffic from both directions.

Corner of Esplanade and Mt-Royal: Lack of traffic signals for cyclists' safety

There are places where traffic signals have already been installed. Just several blocks south of this problematic intersection there are a series of bicycle traffic lights where cyclists may proceed with assurance that it is “their turn.”

Example of a bicycle traffic signal in Montreal

Vancouver has taken traffic signals that favour bicycles one step further, prioritizing cyclists on certain residential axes, called bikeways. Cyclists may proceed through intersections even if the light is red as long as there are no cars. Further, there are buttons that cyclists can press, easily reached by cyclists on the bikeway without requiring them to dismount, that change the light to green for cyclists.

What do you think urban planners can do to increase cycling safety in your city?

Credits: Images by Devon Willis. Data linked to sources.

Devon Paige Willis

Devon Paige Willis is a native Montrealer and recent graduate of McGill University where she did her B.A. in Environment and Political Science. She discovered a passion for urban and transportation planning in her final year, during which time she attended UC Berkeley’s [IN]City introductory urban planning program and completed her honours thesis about cycling in Montreal, specifically measuring bikeability and understanding what affects cyclist satisfaction. She will pursue a Master of Urban Studies called 4Cities starting in September 2013. The Masters takes place in Brussels, Vienna, Copenhagen and Madrid and focus on European Urban Planning. She will be focusing on sustainable transportation and is especially interested in urban planning and transportation in suburban environments. She has her own urban planning blog at

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 at 9:47 am and is filed under Engineering, Environment, Government/Politics, Infrastructure, Transportation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


5 Responses to “Traffic Signals on the Scale of Cyclists in Montreal, Canada”

  1. Fairness and objectivity go out the window in NELA newspaper’s fight against North Figueroa bike lanes | BikingInLA Says:

    [...] traffic signals go up in Montreal. British politicians lack the will to get anything done to promote bicycling, but London’s [...]

  2. Peter Koonce Says:

    A few more details on this sort of thing can be found at:

    And a little more about smaller signals here:

    Let me know what you think.

  3. Devon Says:

    Thank you for sharing and for the useful links!

  4. This blogger (and her bike) went to Quebec City | I live in the suburbs Says:

    [...] an incredible amount of time before they can cross. The second thing I noticed is that Québec has Vancouver-style crossing buttons that cyclists can use to request that the traffic signal change. Unlike pedestrian [...]

  5. Cyclists’ Attitude: A critical view from a cyclist | La Citadine nomade Says:

    […] same time, many cities still do not create transportation infrastructure for cyclists. I wrote in a blog post last that cities should also design the roads for cyclists, with traffic signals and bicycle […]

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