As they prepared on Friday to commemorate the life of Meryem Anoun, the 41-year-old cyclist and mother of three who died seven days earlier after being crushed by a dump truck at the corner of Bélanger St. and 6th Ave., some of the dozens who came to attend the ghost bike ceremony couldn’t help but occasionally glance northward along 6th Ave.
A few dozen yards away, they could see two squad cars, an ambulance and a man being put on a stretcher, hear talk in the crowd that the injured party was a cyclist who had collided with the door of a parked car that had suddenly opened as he drove by.
Urgences Santé confirmed that at 7:29 a.m. — half an hour before the commemoration — a 33-year-old cyclist had suffered minor injuries after colliding with a car door on 6th Ave.
And as far as Gabrielle Anctil is concerned, that collision and the ceremony aren’t so much grim coincidence as yet another reminder of the daily dangers of cycling in a city that touts itself as bicycle friendly.
“It says we need to act,” said Anctil, a co-ordinator with Ghost Bike Montreal and one of the organizers of Friday’s memorial.”I don’t know what the city, any elected official or government needs to hear. When people get doored at a ceremony to remember a cyclist who was killed — what else do they need?”
Like other cycling groups in Montreal, Anctil would like to see every intersection in the city modified to included a “bike box” — a painted square on the road between the intersection stop and motorized traffic — that would allow cyclists to leave an intersection first, getting a head start on the rest of the traffic flow. Until that happens, she knows that ghost bike ceremonies that see white painted bicycles chained to the spot where a cyclist was killed won’t be stopping any time soon.
“This will be the sixth (ghost bike ceremony) we’ve done in four years,” she said. “Our plan is to remove a bike once the issue that caused the death has been resolved.
“We haven’t removed any of them yet.”
As Anctil spoke, it was clear that little had changed at the intersection in the week since Anoun died. There were no hastily painted bike boxes. The intersection’s streetlights, circular green, red and yellow lights with no signals for bikes or pedestrians, remained the same. And heavy trucks — flatbeds, cement mixers and garbage collection vehicles — continued to roll along Bélanger St., more or less sharing the road with a constant stream of cyclists.
The day Anoun died, some local cycling organizations repeated their calls that Montreal adapt its road network to the reality that cyclists are now a part of the traffic mainstream.
But as he joined those who addressed the crowd during the commemoration, Jacques Desjardins, co-founder with “Bicycle Bob” Silverman of Le Monde à bicyclette more than 40 years ago, didn’t hide his frustration with the failure of authorities to realize that cycling was no longer an afterthought when it came to traffic planning.
“We’re not talking about some Sunday morning sport. We’re talking about a mode of transportation people use daily. … We are no longer in 1950, where the automobile reigned. That era is over,” he said. “We’ve been asking for the same thing for 40 years — that heavy trucks and bicycles not have to share the road.
“Every time we see a ghost bike, we’re seeing someone who didn’t have to die.”
Desjardins’ frustration was shared by many in the crowd. But for 21-year-old Badr Jaidi, the eldest of Anoun’s three children, that frustration was tempered by grief and memories of a mother who was the centre of gravity for his family.
“She always had time for her family, for her children, for her work, for her studies,” he said. “This has been a nightmare for us. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
Jaidi said the bicycle his mother was riding when she was killed was one she shared with him.
“(Cycling) was her passion,” he said softly. “It’s my passion as well. … I’ll ride again. But we just have to get through this first.”