Driving Adventures in Montreal

Slightly made-up fact: in the summer, the St. Lawrence River floods and it becomes necessary for Montrealers to paddle their cars around the city.

Montréal, Québec is unique for a number of reasons, and although I’m biased, I do think it’s one of the best cities to live in.  But it does have its challenges, particularly when it comes to driving, or being within the vicinity of someone who is driving.  So I’d thought I’d put together some of my thoughts about driving in Montreal for anyone who’s planning to visit our fair city.  I won’t be covering much of the basics, e.g. the fact that you can’t turn right on a red light on the island (and yes, Montreal is an island). Rather this is a collection of observations I’ve made having studied the strange mindset of the Montreal driver.

Choose your own adventure lanes.  You’re driving on a road with no painted lines.  Either the line is not there or it’s covered with snow/slush/ice.  How many lanes are there supposed to be?  If it looks like two cars could safely drive side-by-side, the answer is four.  Or one car that’s “choosing its own adventure”.  Try not to think of lanes as being structured in Montreal; it’s more of an organic experience.

The mafia owns public works, so the potholes really are out to get you.   You might not have heard, but Montreal is falling apart, which adds an extra layer of difficulty to the driving experience. Yvon Roy has made some “Montreal road signs”, which really should be posted on all the Montreal highways.  You think they’re an exaggeration?  May I suggest you look again at that pothole picture again.  Or better yet, the art that Montreal’s potholes have inspired.  I’m not going to link to the articles about how our overpasses and bridges are falling down… don’t want to scare you too much.

Orange pylons don’t leave an impact like they used to.  Montreal pylons are a special breed; they are the size of a grown adult, and almost barrel shaped.  When I first moved to Montreal, they were so obnoxious that whenever I saw one, I’d clench the steering wheel thinking, “Oh my god, Montreal is going to kill me!!”  Now, after a few years of acclimation, they now blend in with the snow.  I’ve often wondered if the city of Montreal doesn’t have a place to actually store them?  Or maybe they’re just too large and heavy to be moved, and that’s why I so often see them lining the edge of the road.

Signaling.  If someone has their blinker on, there is a higher chance that they will not turn in the direction they are signaling.  Be highly suspicious of anyone who is signaling, since in general people don’t signal when they turn.  To figure out if a car is turning, you’re better off just guessing based on how the car is angled.

However, if you have your four-ways on, your car has been given permission to do ANYTHING in Montreal.  It’s like getting star-power in Mario Brothers.  You are a god-car-being of the roads, and people will expect you to drive as such.  Furthermore, you should treat taxis as regular cars that continuously have their four-ways on – they will behave as such.

Merging (keep in mind, you’re doing this without signaling).  Be prepared to get a few scratches on your car in order to have the required “street cred” so that you can actually merge into lanes.  And when someone lets you in, do not wave.  No true Montrealer ever acknowledges that someone is letting them go in front of them.  It’s a sign of weakness.

The elusive advanced green.  In Montreal, advanced greens can happen at the beginning or at the end of the light.  There is no way you can figure out which one you are going to get.  Advances can be arrows or flashing green lights.  Yes, flashing green is an advance, not a crosswalk, for those of you from places in Canada like BC.  Again, an arrow-light means that they suggest you go a certain direction, but don’t outlaw the other directions outright.  Unless they catch you doing it.  This goes well with our next point about signage.

Signs that will go out of their way to not outright say you can’t do something.  A green circle with an arrow pointing straight or to the right means “Don’t turn left!  It’s a one-way street!”  Maybe it’s because you can drive the wrong way down a one-way street if you put on your four-ways and drive in reverse.

Being an emergency vehicle means nothing on the wild roads of Montreal.  Be prepared that cars won’t move out of the way for an ambulance… and that the ambulance will compensate by driving where you never thought an ambulance could fit.

Pedestrians have been well trained that Montreal drivers are actively trying to kill them.  When walking in Montreal, cross the street whenever you want (we love J-walking like nobody’s business), but be prepared for cars to actively speed up rather than slow down when they see you in their path.

But, even knowing all these things, why are the drivers still honking at me?  Because you’re not from Montreal.  They can smell it, you know.

In conclusion, yes, I love this city.  However, I do know that by living here, I have become a worse driver.

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4 Responses to Driving Adventures in Montreal

  1. Anita Mac says:

    Awesome!!! And I thought the drivers just saw points on the pedestrians – kinda like a video game – certain pedestrians are worth more!!!!!

  2. Love the “choose your own adventure lanes.” So fun.

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