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Montrealers have no problem walking the walk

In Canada's second-largest city, jaywalking pedestrians feel that they always have the right of way.

Concordia University student Mohammed Al Muhaidib admits he isn’t above a jaywalk or two. “When I’m driving, a lot of people do it and it pisses me off because they think they own the road. So when I’m walking, I say ‘fine, I own the road.’”

For Chen, the relatively small size of Montreal streets is a reason why pedestrians here are more brazen than in New York or Toronto. “Places like that, I don’t dare to jaywalk,” she said.

Al Muhaidib agrees. “Here, to cross a road, it’s just two-three steps,” he said, whereas the larger roads in other cities, along with the presence of more cars, can be a significant deterrent.

“I guess people in Montreal have a more relaxed and laid-back attitude,” Chen added.

Cyprien Lavoie, a retired Montreal resident, said disregard for traffic laws isn't limited to pedestrians. He notices that cyclists and drivers similarly extend themselves the privilege. “What is it with the Montreal mentality? Who knows?” he asked.

Bergeron said it remains a mystery why Montrealers appear to have a predilection for jaywalking. Though, he added that his study showed there weren't necessarily any more pedestrian deaths in Montreal than in Toronto, with population differences taken into account.

For 2008, official Toronto Police Service statistics pin down pedestrian deaths at 27, a number that is indeed negligibly higher than in Montreal, given the Ontario city and surrounding area’s larger population of more than 5.1 million. (The greater metropolitan Montreal area accounts for 3.6 million people.)

For Bergeron, pedestrians and drivers in Montreal seem to have developed a unique relationship. “I wouldn’t say it happens nowhere else in the world. There are some places that are worse,” he admitted.

“[But in Montreal], there seems to be a modus vivendi, or a sort of co-existence, where everyone learns to live with each other’s behavior.”

That tacit understanding was decidedly absent in a place like Toronto, at least according to Marrisa Smart, a lifelong Montrealer who moved there over two years ago, but wasn’t able to leave her jaywalking habit behind.

“I won’t cut cars off,” she qualified, claiming not to jaywalk on large boulevards. However, waiting at small street corners, with no vehicular traffic in sight, is more than she can stomach.

Smart has never gotten into trouble for crossing illegally, and cannot even recall being given a hairy eyebrow by others in Toronto, but it is a lonely city for jaywalkers.

“I tend to be the only person that will walk on the red hand,” she said. “Sometimes, I think: why are they waiting? There are no cars.”

“Can I get arrested for this?” she asked with a laugh.