My first experience of drivers in Montreal was when we caught a taxi from the airport to our temporary accommodation in Downtown. We hadn't even buckled up before the driver took off with all the windows wound down and his horn blaring. Austin didn't have a booster seat so he was in a normal seat belt in the middle of the back seat with Michael and I holding him nervously from either side. And boy did we have to grab on tightly! The mad taxi driver sped down the highway in the fast lane, weaving in and out of the other lanes, and practically knocking bumper bars to get people moving out of the way. At some stage during the journey my body must have chosen flight over fight because all I can remember is looking at my lap for most of the ride - what I didn't see couldn't hurt me!
We eventually arrived in one piece and thankfully saw the back of the taxi drive away. As a first impression it was a doozy but it turned out to be a false one. A month on and we haven't been in a taxi again but we've driven around town and we've been in buses and we haven't seen any of this mad taxi driver's habits. The opposite in fact.
In Montreal, there are hardly any roundabouts. There are stop signs at intersections instead. Some of you who were born prior to the 1980s might remember stop signs in Australia (I do but only as a rule I had to learn from the driving test booklet. I remember you had to stop for three seconds or you failed the driving test!). Four roads meet, everyone has to stop and only gets to go when it's their turn. And it actually works! Drivers approach the intersection slowly and almost stop or actually stop, before moving on. If someone else arrives at the same time, one will wave the other through patiently. Don't get me wrong, drivers are still always in a hurry and you do see crazy SUV drivers (sorry if you're one) speeding around the streets like they're late to grab their morning croissant or something. But mostly people are careful on the roads. The way Australians drive these days it's a good thing there aren't many intersections with stop signs left!
One reason for this caution might be because the road is there to share as they say in Australia. But here it is actually taken seriously and pedestrians and cyclists have as much right of way as cars. For example, if a pedestrian walks up to an intersection, cars will wait for them to cross regardless of whether they arrived first or not. Ditto cyclists. At traffic lights if the light is green for the cars, it's a green light for the pedestrians too and turning vehicles give way to them. I've become so blazé about crossing roads that I hardly look anymore and don't feel unsafe doing that. Of course, when I'm with Austin it's a different story; we stop, look left, look right, and then look left again. Then when the road is clear of traffic we walk straight across the road, we don't run, we walk straight across the road. Well, something like that anyway. After all, we are coming back to Australia so we have to keep learning about road safety, although I do realise we'll have to turn the song upside down and look to the right first when we get home.
What do you think of roundabouts and stop sign intersections? Do you miss stop signs? Would you even know what to do at one? Have you seen any still around in Oz? What about being a cyclist or pedestrian - what are your experiences? Let me know in the comments below!
PLUS: Here's a video with a cool bit of news about how a cyclist in Montreal got fined for trying to help other cyclists. Ridiculous!