'Could have been any one of us': St-Henri families say borough has refused to calm traffic on block where boy was fatally struck
In Saint-Henri, as the family of 8-year-old Liam Aglat-Clayman prepares for the boy’s funeral today, neighbours who never met Liam have remembered him in their own way.
Or rather, they renewed an effort they’ve been making for years, this time with deep sadness and frustration.
Liam’s death last week after being hit by a car in a St. Ambroise St. crosswalk was predictable, they say, the result of growing traffic safety problems they’ve been asking the borough to address for years.
“I’m particularly angered because I’ve opened up two requests with the arrondissement specifically to slow down traffic on St. Ambroise, specifically within a few metres of where this accident happened,” said Nahil Dajani, a mother of two who lives down the block from where Liam was struck.
“The whole community is affected severely,” she said. “This could have been any one of us. This could have been our children.”
Liam was leaving his day camp on Wednesday, crossing the street to meet his father at the corner of St. Ambroise and Sir-Georges-Etienne-Cartier streets, when he was hit by a car. He died shortly afterwards in hospital.
His funeral is scheduled for today. According to the funeral notice, in addition to his parents, Liam leaves behind a brother and two sisters, a grandmother, uncles, an aunt and many relatives and friends.
A CHANGING NEIGHBOURHOOD
Police said that the car that hit Liam, driven by a 34-year-old woman, came to a complete stop but then took off again right as the boy stepped into the driver’s lane. A spokesman for Montreal police said Sunday morning there is no update yet on the investigation.
At the time, the borough mayor said that once the police investigation has ended, he would “consider” creating new measures for pedestrian safety.
That response didn’t sit well with Dajani, her husband, and several other couples on the street.
By Friday, a group of 13 residents had sent a new letter to the borough mayor, Benoit Dorais, listing previous attempts to get his attention.
“We are residents of St. Ambroise St. and we were traumatized yesterday by the tragedy which occurred a few metres from our doors,” they wrote.
While Dajani and her husband have lived on the street for three years, others in the group have been there for as long as 16 years.
“The activity on rue Saint-Ambroise has increased enormously in recent years,” they wrote.
“Large condo buildings were built on the street, and work on the Turcot interchange led to detours that made our street known to many drivers. Truck traffic has also increased a lot,” they said, naming some spots that tend to attract trucks, such as the Aubut grocer distribution hub.
However, Saint-Henri has also attracted many young families in recent years. The group listed a multitude of recreation facilities bunched along the same area that draw children and families to St. Ambroise.
Dajani, whose oldest child is 6, told CTV that it’s been clear to her that it’s a dangerous combination.
The speed limit of 30 is not often respected, she says. And people either fail to stop at the stop sign, or when they do, they tend to accelerate again quickly, since it’s three full blocks before the next stop sign.
“People just slow down and roll by. I’d say maybe half of the cars don't actually stop,” she said. “People know there’s a long stretch there so they really take off with speed.”
‘A LITTLE TOO LATE’
CTV cameras trained on the intersection caught about half the drivers rolling through.
Another local father, Michael Bresciani, says he finds the stretch “really worrisome.”
“There's a lot of people that blow through stop signs here,” he said, “so it’s nice to know people care, but it's a little too late.”
In September 2017, Dajani first submitted a petition to Mayor Dorais requesting an extra stop sign along that stretch.
The following June, she got a notice that it had been refused. The reasons given were that there was already a stop sign within 150 metres and that “the vehicular flow did not justify the request.”
That November, she submitted another petition, this time asking for a speed bump along the stretch. This request was refused last year on the grounds that “it does not meet the criteria for implementing a stop,” according to the official response—though the group hadn’t been asking for a stop.
“Today, we deeply regret these decisions,” wrote the group of neighbours, led this time by a different woman, in the letter to Dorais.
They haven’t been able to see any of the city’s analysis or reports on the matter, despite requests for access to information, they wrote.
Mayor Dorais’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment from CTV News.
A BIG-PICTURE PROBLEM
City councillor Craig Sauvé, who sits on the borough council, told CTV earlier this week that he wasn’t sure why the requests were denied for that particular stretch, but that there are bigger problems across the city's southwest that will take years to address.
“I honestly get complaints for every street in the Sud-Ouest,” Sauvé said.
“It’s a structural and institutional change that we’re going to bring across the city and it will take years… when we're talking about 30,000 kilometres of streets and sidewalks, it does take time.”
There was one change made this weekend. On Saturday evening, city workers began to paint crosswalks at all four corners of the intersection where Liam was struck.
But this doesn’t change the existing traffic measures, since there are already stop signs at that corner. Dajani said no one from the borough has acknowledged receipt of their letter, but that she’s not satisfied with the painted crosswalk, saying they need new measures to actively slow traffic.
Kevin Thomas, another father who witnessed the collision on Wednesday, said the driver didn’t seem to be driving irresponsibly, but that traffic calming is never a bad idea.
“I saw the boy running in the street exactly at the point where your foot is on the gas peddle beginning to accelerate to continue down the street,” he said.
“In no way can I blame the driver. She cleared the intersection safely.”
However, he said he used to live in Mexico, which makes liberal use of speed bumps, and he became a big fan of how effective they are.
“I really believe they save thousands of lives there,” he said. “It is a good solution that should be adopted more here.”
*Aaron Derfel, Health reporter Montreal Gazette
Jean Souliere, Co-founder and CEO BusPatrol