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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The diciest part of my commute

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Over the past few months I’ve come to know the Boul. St. Laurent underpass between the Mile End and Little Italy quite well, adjacent to the parc sans nom. Jacob recently asked readers for their dangerous intersection beefs, and here’s my own contribution.


Today I spent 15 minutes watching numerous cyclists, pedestrians, and cars navigate the dangerous corner on the northern side. The lack of an efficient bicycle route across this divide (see map below) causes cyclists to take to the sidewalk when headed south (against car traffic). Pedestrians around the corner cannot see the cyclists, and vice-versa. Worse, cars moving at high rates of speed up St. Laurent cannot see around the corner, even to see those on the crosswalk until the last moment.

I’ve had a few close calls as cars quickly take the turn onto Bellechasse. Today’s evidence, shown below, of a missed turn indicates the speed at which people take the turn without a doubt, if not an evasive maneuver from a pedestrian or cyclist in the crosswalk.


In my experience, both cyclists and pedestrians are courteous to each other as they pass, slowly going and conscious of the blind spot. It’s as if there’s a common understanding that it’s an infrastructural flaw, an area not intended for heavy bicycle and pedestrian use.

However, if it hasn’t happened yet, there’s definitely high potential for some sort of collision.

View Bike route under railway in a larger map
This map shows the two bike routes. The red route is how most make the train track crossing, on the sidewalk, and is about 1 km shorter. The blue route shows how to cross if one stuck to the bike paths. Both have as starting points the common north–>south commuting route across the tracks, and end on the Clark bike path. Many people just cross the tracks on foot to avoid the underpasses.

The city should address this issue: create a southbound bike lane that allows for a seamless commute across the train tracks. They tried with the nearby St. Urbain route, but accessing that path seems only for Home Depot shoppers (the blue route in the map). If not, a stop sign or stoplight that slows traffic would be highly appreciated. They’re rushing only to sit in the Little Italy traffic anyways.



  1. Well, obviously since I live in Petite Italie (after living in Villeray just north of the Market) I face that damned thing all year round, on bicycle from the first thaw to the first heavy snow, and as a pedestrian crossing the damned viaduct – which is NOT kept free of snow and ice – in the depths of winter. It is very dangerous then as a pedestrian as well.

    I always slow or dismount if I see an apprehensive pedestrian, or a group with children, heavy objects (from Canadian Tire, Home Dépôt and Villanova Building Supply) etc – yes, I know sidewalks are for pedestrians but I am NOT going to cycle under the narrow, poorly-lit tunnel of death where there is nowhere to get off the road should I have any kind of minor mechanical problem.

    Strangely, the Clark route (from the Véloroute along the CP railway line, past a hairpin turn and under the tunnel ) wanders around a park for what seems like a long time before accessing Clark and on to the Clark/St-Urbain route to the city centre. I doubt the persons who designed it commute by bicycle. That is a route heavily used by people commuting to work, university etc.

    People in the neighbourhood managed to get traffic lights put in at the corners of Beaubien and St-Dominique, and rue de Gaspé. Something has to be done about the traffic from St-Laurent north from the tunnel, as well as on Bellechasse, a dragrace track from the tunnel to St-Denis. There isn’t a single traffic light or stop sign west of St-Denis.

    The Rosemont/Petite-Patrie arrondissement plans to create a bicycle path from the Véloroute along the CP line up St-Dominique to the Jean-Talon Market. Logically, this would have to involve some kind of traffic light or other traffic-calming device which could improve not only for cyclists, but also for pedestrians … and even for drivers.

    Odd anyone would have thought that particular intersection wouldn’t get a lot of pedestrian and bicycle travel. It is very heavily used by all manner of people in both directions. I cross it at least twice a day, more likely four or five.

    And indeed, traffic is always snarled in Petite Italie.

  2. When I come from the bike path from the train track, I never go to Bellechasse, but I always descend to St Laurent on the other side of the overpass. There is a track through the small park, you descent a hill and then make a very sharp turn right. Then you can go on the sidewalk under the underpass, cross one street (watch out for cars that make high speed turns without indicating) and then turn right and left again to join the Clark bike path.

    Actually this was the *official* bike path before they made the much safer, but very long St. Urbain version that is in place now. You still see some markings on the concrete, here and there.

  3. yes, this is one dangerous corner, and the crazy cyclists (me, stop? rode cautiously? Never!) are the problem here.

  4. Very dangerous corner indeed. But the cyclists who use it often know it and do slow down or get off their bike. If they don’t they are probably first time users. True, there are some crazy cyclists, just as there are also crazy drivers and crazy pedestrians.

    S.v.p. il ne faut pas accuser tous les cyclistes, c’est simpliste, méchant et faux.

    Je passe souvent par là à vélo aussi pour aller travailler et je me demande s’il y a eu beaucoup de collision par le passé (cycliste/piéton, cycliste/voiture, piéton/voiture). J’ai personnellement failli me faire rentrer dedans par une voiture qui tournait sur Bellechasse de façon très rapide et en passant à 2 pouces du trottoir.

    Il faudrait en effet faire quelque chose pour sécuriser le coin. Peut-être qu’un feu de circulation au coin Bellechasse/St-Laurent aiderait?

  5. That underpass scares the pants off me. I usually take the bike path, cross the tracks, and go through the sculpture park. It’s annoying to have to carry my bike over the tracks but way safer than navigating bvld. St-Laurent, for sure.

  6. Yes this certainly is a difficult spot. You neglected to mention the “unofficial” passage over the rail-road tracks which also gets a significant amount of traffic.

    There must be a better way of connecting these areas, and I hope that this is being discussed within the context of the redevelopment of the Industrial in Eastern Mile End.

  7. (When I pass there, I either go on the west sidewalk on St-Laurent, or cross the tracks on the surface immediately west of the Clarke/St-Urbain underpass).
    When the first underpasses were built (Iberville, De Lorimier, Papineau, St-Denis, St-Laurent, Park Avenue), there were more than 100 trains per day. When the last under/overpasses were built (Rosemont/Van-Horne, Clarke, Rockland), there was less than 50 trains per day.
    Nowadays, there must be no more than 5-6 trains per day going down to Hochelaga. Is there a need for all those overpasses for cars? Do we need to gut the city grid because of a rail line? If you look closely, the Wilderton avenue still has it’s railroad crossing, and that part of the line has more trains than the rest of the line, thanks to the Blainville commuter train lines.
    It is possible to live with trains; I’ve been living in St-Henri for the last 20 years, and over there, there are several railroad crossings (St-Ambroise & De-Courcelles) even though we’re on the CN mainline where easily more than 50 trains per day go by on a good day, and that includes passenger trains running at around 50 miles per hour! People in St-Henri have been living with trains for the last 160 years, and there are no mishaps. Not enough to warrant putting fences all over the place in any case; there are two parks (Émile Berliner in St-Henri and D’Argenson in Pte-St-Charles) that are right next to the tracks, and there is no fences at all; in fact, in the D’Argenson park, the park grass goes right to the track ballast itself (which is less than 8 feet from passing trains)!!!
    It certainly can be possible to put a pedestrian/bike crossing at each cross street instead of forcing people to do long detours to cross the tracks, or poking holes in the fence and cross them anyways. But, again, when you see what some stupid people do on the tracks there, maybe the Plateau people are not mature enough (compared to St-Henri) to have good access accross the tracks…

  8. That map is a bit silly. You just take a right on Bernard from the Main, take a left behind that furniture store, cross the railroad tracks and you’re at a place where you can go N, E, or W, unimpeded.

  9. I remember hearing of plans for a dedicated pedestrian bridge across the rail lines from Bernard Est to link Rosemont Métro station to Mile End, if it could have bike access too it would be a help although St-Laurent is sure to be so heavily trafficked it might still be just a partial remedy.

  10. I live and work near this dangerous intersection and have used it regularly over the last 15 yrs or so, mostly on foot, sometimes by car, and sometimes by bike.

    Some way to slow traffic in the underpass is required – that is the first thing that must absolutely happen. For some reason, the mentality of the underpass is to put the pedal to the metal, and that just doesn’t work for anyone outside the vehicle.

    How to slow traffic here is the question. Lots of flashing yellow lights? A stop light at Bellechasse might help – the existing concrete barrier already dividing traffic could serve to direct through traffic on the left to avoid the light, and dedicate the right lane for the bus (there’s a stop for the 55 on the corner) and RIGHT TURN ONLY lane, with a light and crosswalk. (Another light on Bellechasse, at Henri-Julien would be a no-brainer).

    I think the bike path should have continued on the west side of St-Laurent, though I believe it was the dangerous nature of the southern intersection at the parc sans nom that caused its move. That is no fun on foot, either. Reducing speed limits, and enforcing them, might help there. If the left-hand lane were dedicated to through traffic, it would be constantly jammed, and so slow speeds through this intersection. This might make a reestablishment of the bike path on this side feasible.

    However, as a pedestrian, I am incredibly annoyed by the large number of highly inconsiderate people who speed through this intersection in cars AND on bikes.

    Those cyclists who use the sidewalks in general and this underpass in particular (and who completely ignore the traffic code – you don’t have to stop? you give ME a dirty look when you nearly hit me in intersections?!) give cyclists a bad name. The sidewalks are NOT for cyclists, and any cyclist trying to make their way through the heavy traffic in this area should also be walking. Nothing makes me see red like someone dinging their bell at me or anyone else to get out of their oh-so-important way, especially if there’s a mom and her kids also on the sidewalk, or anyone carrying anything heavy.

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