Recently, my family and I took a family vacation to Europe. We visited Paris, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Antwerp. We had a blast.
All of these cities are dramatically different than what we see in Ontario cities. As a personal injury lawyer, it got me thinking about those practical and legal differences for what happens when accidents happen in those European cities compared to what happens in Ontario. Here are a few of my observations from our trip.
Each of the four cities which we visited all had dedicated bike lanes, dedicated pedestrian sidewalks, and dedicated roads. Taking things even further, Rotterdam and Amsterdam also had a dedicated tram lane.
Cars, bikes, pedestrians and the tram were NOT expected to share their lane of traffic with each other. They all had their own lanes to operate, in unison. That’s not to say that traffic moved quickly. It was in essence an acknowledgement that having all of these means of transportation share the same roadway is quite difficult. So, instead, the city planners gave everyone their own dedicated lane (with dedicated road signals) to help things move along.
It was quite difficult at times for any one mean of travel (walk, drive, ride a bike or tram) to ride smoothly without getting in the way of another method of travel. Bikes had to look out for cars, pedestrians and the tram and vice versa. There was a lot going on and if you weren’t paying close attention, an accident was inevitable given the volume of different traffic.
The was a strong police presence on the roads of Paris. The officers were either on foot, on horseback, or riding motorcycles. There were certainly some police cars, but far more police were on foot, horseback or on motorcycles. What I found interesting about the police on the motorcycles is that they not only used their police sirens, but they also had whistles in their mouths and would whistle to get someone’s attention rather than put on their sirens. It was an effective technique. The police presence in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Antwerp was far less than it was in Paris.
The police in Paris travelled in packs of four officers. You rarely see that in Ontario. The police normally travel in pairs. The police and guards in Paris also had machine guns which were in plain sight, letting the public know that they meant business. You rarely, if ever see an Ontario police officer handle a machine gun in a non-emergency situation. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But, if I were a bad guy, I would certainly think twice before messing around given that the police officers were packing some serious heat, and certainly wanted to let the world know.
Travel by train in Europe is very easy, and European rail operators are very trusting. I rode from Amsterdam to Rotterdam by train, and not a single person checked my ticket. The same applied on my ride from Rotterdam to the airport outside of Amsterdam; and from Amsterdam to Antwerp. That’s not to say that I didn’t scan my ticket to get onto the train platform, which I did. But once on the train platform, I could have hopped on to any train I wanted. While I’m sure there are penalties for riding without a ticket, or boarding the wrong train, I didn’t understand why there wasn’t greater monitoring for compliance, or safety for that matter. If you think about the safety measures riding a plane vs. the safety measures riding a European train; they are night and day. And I am not referring to local trains either. I rode international trains which crossed international boundaries. There were no safety checks whatsoever. It was nice to be such a trusting environment, but it got me thinking as to why international (and local) rail travel was so trusting; yet plane travelling (whether international or local) is not trusting at all. Both are similar in that they transport a large number or passengers from one destination to another. Both can cross national borders as well. The difference I suppose is that a train is fixed to the ground and to the tracks; while a plane is high in the sky and is not limited by the train tracks in terms of where it can go.
The trains in Europe as we know they, in particular the intercity trains, are akin to the subway in Toronto or Montreal. The main difference is that the European intercity trains are mostly above ground. While they do occasional go underground or into tunnels, they operate akin to the subways we have in North America. They stop at all of the suburbs outside of the cities, taking commuters to and from work or school. It’s the same idea as the “subway” connecting York University to the main TTC subway line. Those European rail carriers can afford to have most of their tracks above ground because they don’t have to deal with the same cold weather that we have in Ontario. That’s not to say it doesn’t get cold in these countries. But they don’t have nearly the same swings in temperature, cold spells, or snow or ice accumulation as we have in Ontario. All of that in climate weather takes a huge toll on the infrastructure.
My final observation was clearing the route for the ambulance. This was particularly odd in Paris. In Ontario, when an ambulance or any emergency vehicle has its lights and sirens on, everyone gets out of the way and gives the ambulance a clear path. In Paris, it was different. It depended on the ambulance! Some ambulances got a clear path, while others did not. Some ambulances had police escorts to clear the path as well. I was told by a local that some ambulances are private and drivers won’t clear the path as quickly (or at all) for these private ambulances. Other ambulances are public and are seen as priority ambulances which get the clear path. It was rather confusing and hard to tell which ambulances were private vs. which ambulances were public.