Monday, January 10, 2011

Nabbed at the illegal pedestrian railway crossing on Van Horne

For those of you who aren't aware, there has been a longstanding issue between the CPR, the municipality and the citizens of the Plateau around the railroad track that separates the Plateau borough from the Petite-Patrie and Rosemont. This railroad track blocks all pedestrian traffic from the west to the east. Until about a year ago, it was no problem, because there were many holes in the fence at convenient crossing points and no enforcement of any kind. Really, the way it should be. I even remarked on how surprisingly mellow it was in a past blog post.

Well that has all changed. The CPR all of a sudden started cracking down. First they started repairing the holes in the fence and then reinforcing the repairs with heavier-duty metal. This became a bit of an arms race where a fence would be repaired and reinforced and soon after another hole cut a bit further down. The next escalation was the CPR installing their security guards at the crossing points and handing out infractions.

Well I got nabbed yesterday afternoon. I had to pick up some keys on St. Zotique, a street on the far side of the tracks from me. At my wife's sensible suggestion (and she is starting to learn how to motivate me), I took the neighbour's dog for a long walk as well. I just assumed the holes in the fence are blocked off, so I took the underpass along St. Laurent on the way up.

Let me tell you, this thing is a motherfucker for pedestrians. It's hairy enough on a bike, but at least you have the flowing road to follow if you dare. On foot, it is nerve-wracking. You have to cross at least two points if you are coming from the west where there is nothing to aid the pedestrian. There are no painted lines, no stop signs, let alone and actual crossing light. Hell, there isn't even a sidewalk on a big part of it. This thing was designed for cars with no thought to pedestrians at all. Bikers are encouraged to walk their bikes, but even then it is so narrow that it makes for very awkward passing. I would seriously think twice before making this trip with a child in a stroller.

On the way back, I figured I'd see if any of the points were open. If they weren't, I could just walk along the pathway for a while with the dog. I approached from behind the Home Depot, to come out where Van Horne meets St-Urbain (and there is a cool statue garden):

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And it was here that just as I reached the opening on the south side, that I saw the CPR truck parked in the driveway next to the park. I could have probably just turned around and walked back, but something compelled me forward: the force of the law, my Canadian side, fear, curiousity, momentum, who can say.

I'll keep the interaction short, because I actually hung out next to the agent's truck for a good 15 minutes and there was a lot of back and forth. In the end, he turned out to be an interesting guy and relatively cool, given his position. They are well-equipped, these CPR security agents. He had a sweet 4WD compact, all kitted out, a nice new uniform. I was wary and defensive at first, but when he made it clear that he had the option to not actually give the infraction and that he was willing to talk and listen, I relaxed. I was forced to give him my ID, which does not make me comfortable at all, but I do believe that legally he was telling me the truth that when observed in an infraction by an officer of the law, a citizen has to share his or her ID. It's clear the guy has heard all the arguments, because he had well thought out explanations for all of my positions, though ultimately we agreed that the situation overall was messed up. So here's the deal according to him:

There is a new boss at the CPR who has installed the mandate of protecting the CPR's territory. Trespassing is to be cut to zero and all resources now go towards that. The security teams used to patrol the yards, but now they don't do that anymore, but rather are on constant patrols of places where the public can access the railroads.

The CPR does not have the jurisdiction to put pedestrian overpasses because their entrances fall on municipal land.

So we are stuck at this impasse. The one answer I really didn't get was what is in it for the CPR to protect their property against trespassing. The guard's answer to that was "New boss; those are the rules". It isn't a money grab, as all the infractions actually go to Quebec. The CPR can give out infractions to enforce the law, but it's the government who gets that money, not the CPR. My guess is that it is because of insurance, that they did some new big insurance deal. But it could also be some kind of political fight between the CPR and the city.

Either way, it's fucked. The CPR needs to back off this policy of enforcement or explain why they have suddenly decided to implement it after years of doing nothing. If there is a valid reason, then the CPR and the city must get together and build pedestrian overpasses at all the sections where people would naturally cross.

Because the reality is that people are not breaking the law to be vandals or cause difficulty. They are doing it because it is the most obvious route to take and the few existing alternatives are inconvenient and downright dangerous.


Red Devil said...

Nice post - I almost got killed in that very underpass on St. Laurent about 15 years ago. It was one of those freezing rain situations and me and my wife of the time were walking back from Petite Patrie to Waverley street where we lived. It was so icy we could barley stand and as we made our way inch by inch to the South west corner of the underpass sidewalk a car went out of control coming north towards us on St. Laurent. We couldn't run because of the glare ice and we just stood there as this car came up over the sidewalk and smashed into the wall a few feet in front of us. If we had been five feet further on we would have been crushed. Then we watched as the stunned - and concussed - driver tried to back up. I finally got him to roll down his window but he claimed he was fine (he wasn't) - thankfully by this time his car - radiator punctured and steaming, front end totaled, has quit running. We were pretty weak in the knees from the whole thing so we left him sitting there and went on our way.

Every time I go through there I keep an eye on those cars blasting up St. Laurent.

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