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'This is not normal': Advocate calling for safer Montreal roads after girl, 7, killed in hit-and-run

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Among the questions swirling around the tragic hit-and-run death of a seven-year-old girl on Tuesday, the biggest and most difficult one being asked is how.

Loved ones and community members are trying to make sense of the crash that killed the young girl, identified as Mariia Legenkovska, a Ukrainian refugee who came to Montreal with her family two months ago.

Road safety advocates says drivers need to check themselves and that the city should invest more in traffic calming measures.

Severine Lepage, a spokesperson for Ahuncycle, a group that promotes active transportation in Ahuntsic-Cartierville, said the city needs to enhance traffic calming measures that force vehicles to slow down in certain areas.

"What we need is forgiving infrastructure. This is what the city is working on; however, there are so many kilometres of roads for cars, so there's a lot to do and you can't expect everything to be done all at once," she said.

As a mother of five, she said she was heartbroken to learn about a fatal collision involving a child.

"The first reaction is horror that another child is a victim of yet another incident of road violence. As a parent, you're completely heart-broken and then your heart reaches out to the family," she told CTV News.

"We need to change our car culture as soon as we can because how many more kids are we ready to sacrifice for this? This is not normal."

Lepage said changes like narrower streets and extended sidewalks can make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

'THEY DON'T STOP ... WE SEE THAT EVERY DAY'

Police officers were called to the intersection of Parthenais and Rouen streets Tuesday morning where they found the young girl seriously injured.

Intersections, according to one expert, are where almost half of all pedestrian-vehicle collisions happen. Pierro Hirsch, who has a PhD graduate in public health from the Université de Montréal, said drivers need to pay more attention on the road but added that safety, in the end, comes down to the individual level.

"There are two systems that are functioning, influencing us as were driving .. there are the legal rules, which some people are more aware of than others, and then there are the social norms … now those two things are in conflict a lot of the time, and there are victims of those conflicts," he said. 

Hirsch's research focused on risk factors associated with crashes involving new drivers at a young age. He now runs a driving simulation school where people can learn how to drive without being on the road.

Drivers have to take pedestrian safety into consideration when driving through pedestrian-heavy areas because "not getting there on time … that's not what's important. What's important is get there without hurting anybody," he said.

"I'm not perfect. I will forget to do the simple checks and I get away with it, but then I remind myself: 'you got away with it … don't let that happen again.'"

The day after the tragedy, drivers were seen running the stop sign at the same intersection in the Ville-Marie borough where the driver struck the young girl.

"They don't stop. They do that all the time. We see that every day," one resident told CTV News on Wednesday.

CITY SAYS IT'S WORKING ON SOLUTIONS

It's a problem City Hall says it's aware of and is trying to address.

Just before sitting down for a virtual interview with CTV Wednesday afternoon, Sophie Mauzerolle, the city councillor for Ville-Marie, said she witnessed drivers running red lights and making illegal turns.

She said the city has been making mitigation efforts to make roads safer, including the addition of curb extensions, speed bumps, lowering speed limits, and reconfiguring traffic lights in certain areas to allow pedestrians more time to cross the streets.

"It's a challenge that's harder for us to do but we're really working toward finding solutions. Putting some short-term measures in place, but of course, every time we're redoing a street we make sure we change the design of the street to protect the most vulnerable people of the road, which are pedestrians," Mauzerolle said.

Some residents have complained about more traffic building up on smaller streets due to the detours related to the Lafontaine tunnel closure. The spillover is seeing more traffic on streets that some road users aren't used to.

Mauzerolle said the city has introduced measures to deal with the increased traffic volumes, including adding more public transit options, adding 17 speed bumps in the affected areas, and forcing cars to turn in a certain direction.

She urged drivers and pedestrians to be more "vigilant" on the road.

"Of course, nobody likes to be stuck in traffic but it's still better to arrive a little late to some place than to see what we've been seeing yesterday."

When asked if photo radar would be more effective at increasing road safety, she said the province has experienced "issues" with processing the infractions when drivers are caught.

"It's something we definitely want to add more of and we're hoping to have the answers we want regarding this issue," she said.

With files from CTV's Luca Caruso-Moro

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