Vision Zero in Montreal

Looking Beyond the City’s Purview


The City is implementing a safety program dedicated to seniors, who are overrepresented among pedestrians killed and seriously injured in crashes.

By Bartek Komorowski and Stéphanie Benoit

In 2022, 20 pedestrians lost their lives and 71 were severely injured in Montreal, a city of two million people. This is a 20% increase in deaths and serious injuries from the previous five years’ average, moving Montreal away from its Vision Zero target. While significant progress has been made in the last decades, new trends like the increasing size of vehicles and an aging population of vulnerable road users remind us that Vision Zero principles are more relevant than ever, but are in need of constant reevaluation and adaptation.

Montreal joined the Vision Zero movement in 2016, a symbolic gesture that consolidated the road safety foundations established by the city’s 2008 Transportation Plan. In this plan, the city asserted that pedestrians’ and cyclists’ safety is non-negotiable and proposed to target a 40% reduction in car crashes by 2018. The Plan took a systemic approach to road safety, aiming first and foremost to reduce car dependency and increase the modal share of walking, cycling, and public transportation. Programs and strategies to improve safety around parks and schools, identify and improve higher-risk intersections, modify traffic lights, modernize street lighting, and direct police resources to road safety were implemented. These were the first steps towards a Vision Zero approach, without being officially identified as such. Fatalities and serious injuries have dropped significantly since the adoption of the 2008 Transportation Plan.

The 2008 plan also recommended establishing a road safety bureau in charge of developing expertise, collecting and analyzing crash data, and prioritizing interventions through triennial action plans. The same bureau evolved into the team that now coordinates the City’s Vision Zero effort, and that is behind the first two triennial action plans.

Collisions in Montreal leading to deaths or serious injuries, 2005–2021

The City’s first three-year Vision Zero Action Plan was adopted in 2019. Based on the premise that systematic changes are required to make further progress, and that those changes imply a significant paradigm shift, this first plan’s main goal was to rally key stakeholders and to foster opportunities to share expertise, data, and resources. A series of partner summits were held in 2018, bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders, ranging from the federal, provincial, and regional governments, provincial car insurance and licensing agency, police and fire departments, regional public health agency, and public transit agencies, as well as a variety of non-profit organizations, representatives of the trucking industry, and academics.

The Plan succeeded in putting in place a broad and inclusive governance structure, including creating a Vision Zero Steering Committee, composed of decision makers from key partner agencies; three Thematic Workgroups, composed of experts on speed management, pedestrian crossings, and heavy vehicles; a Data Management Committee, composed of experts in data collection and analysis; and a Vulnerable Users Advisory Committee, composed of representatives of groups representing the interests of pedestrians, cyclists, youth and senior citizens, and people with various disabilities.

Since municipalities have to deal with trends over which they have limited control, such as the growing share of supersized vehicles navigating our streets, the capacity to influence and coordinate efforts amongst a multi-level network of stakeholders is essential. This broad governance structure has allowed for some interesting multi-partner initiatives to be undertaken. For example, the City’s communication department hosts bi-annual meetings with the communication teams of the police department, the provincial ministry of transportation, the City’s transit operator, and the provincial car licensing and insurance agency. Together, they coordinate their awareness campaigns to ensure consistent messaging and to identify opportunities to amplify key messages. This communications committee is an important point of exchange of ideas between stakeholders who have historically not had the same approach towards road safety, encouraging them to integrate Vision Zero principles into their practices.

Another example is the development of a new heavy vehicle safety standard, funded jointly by the City and the Ministry of Transportation of Quebec. The Bureau de normalisation du Québec (provincial standards agency) was tasked to work with heavy vehicle manufacturers, users (trucking industry, logistics industry, public transit providers, etc.), and public interest groups (cycling and pedestrian advocates) to develop a safety standard that takes into account driver direct vision, vehicle dimensions and maneuvering characteristics.

By the time the City adopted its second three-year Vision Zero Action Plan (covering 2022–2024), the Vision Zero team had built out its data collection and analysis capabilities in order to understand collision trends and identify priorities. The second plan prioritizes pedestrian safety, given that people on foot represented over half of fatalities and more than a third of serious injuries over previous years.

Number of victims seriously injured in Montreal by user type (2016–2021)
Number of victims killed in Montreal by user type (2016–2021)

Through collision data analysis and field visits to collision sites, five recurring themes were identified as priorities to protect pedestrians:

  1. Unexpected behaviors such as drivers not complying with traffic signals or pedestrians crossing on a red light
  2. Vehicle characteristics such as blind spots, A-pillars, weight, and height
  3. Deficient traffic signals, including the lack of pedestrian signals
  4. Visual obstructions at intersections
  5. Impaired cognitive state of road users.

The plan also underlined the importance of moving from countermeasures and reactive interventions after a crash occurs to a more proactive approach. 88% of KSI collisions in the past five years occurred at sites with no prior history of similar collisions. That is why one of the plan’s four focus areas is dedicated to the development of tools to build a typology of high-risk locations for KSI collisions and address the known risk factors at those locations.

The four focus areas of the 2022–2024 Vision Zero Action Plan are:

  1. Acting on the most frequently recurring risk factors for collisions involving pedestrian fatalities
  2. Reducing the overall level of risk by reducing automobile dependency and use through better land use and transportation planning
  3. Improving data collection and analytical capacity to better target our actions and measure their effects
  4. Fostering stakeholder engagement and getting partners to play a greater role in implementing Vision Zero, particularly in areas over which the City has limited jurisdiction (e.g., vehicle characteristics)

With the pandemic behind us, road safety is once again top-of-mind for residents and elected officials. Collisions involving vulnerable road users, including the death of a Ukrainian refugee girl walking to school late last year, have garnered a lot of attention in the local media. Residents are demanding that the City take quick and decisive action to improve road safety, and elected officials are keen to respond. This context creates challenges and opportunities for road safety professionals working for the City.

Montreal’s Vision Zero Action Plan includes measures to reduce automobile use to reduce the overall exposure to risk.

There is an opportunity to allocate more resources to road safety in general and the implementation of the Vision Zero Action Plan in particular. The challenge is to use these resources to move ahead with the systemic and proactive approach that is required by Vision Zero. The problem is that this approach will only begin to yield measurable results in the medium to long term. In the meantime, the City’s administration will have to resist pressure from residents and politicians to allocate resources to act quickly and very visibly whenever and wherever a fatal collision occurs rather than focusing on systemic issues on a larger scale.

Given current trends such as increasing vehicle size, distracted driving, and an aging population of both drivers and vulnerable road users, some of the systemic issues the City faces today are likely to intensify and increase the risk of KSI crashes. It is therefore all the more important for the City to work with its partners to proactively implement measures within and beyond its purview if it is to counter these trends and move closer towards the goal of Vision Zero within the next two decades. One major partner, the Government of Quebec, recently unveiled its own Road Safety Action Plan, with many actions in line with Montreal’s plan. This bodes well for deeper inter-governmental and inter-agency collaboration as Montreal works towards safer, more accessible, and more sustainable mobility.

This article was originally published in Transportation Alternatives Vision Zero Cities Journal as part of the 2023 Vision Zero Cities conference.

Bartek Komorowski is an urban planner by training with 15 years of experience in the field of active mobility. Until recently, he led the team responsible for the development and implementation of the City of Montreal’s Vision Zero action plans. He now leads a team that provides integrated design guidance on mobility, road safety, universal accessibility and green infrastructure within public rights-of-way. Previously, Bartek worked as a project leader at Vélo Québec, an NGO that promotes cycling for transportation, tourism, and recreation. He is coauthor of Vélo Québec’s 2020 pedestrian and cycling infrastructure planning and design manual, Aménager pour les piétons et les cyclistes.

Stéphanie Benoit is an urban planner with 10 years of experience in transportation planning at the metropolitan and municipal scale. She joined the Vision Zero team in March 2023 to coordinate the implementation of the City’s 2022–2024 Vision Zero Action Plan. Previously, Stephanie coordinated the production of the Sud-Ouest borough’s local mobility plan and led the public engagement activities. Being in touch with the citizens’ preoccupations and desires for better active mobility options made her realize how improving pedestrians’ and cyclists’ safety was a powerful tool to contribute to other overarching goals like fighting climate change and improving social justice.



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