An expat in Vancouver first impressions: Driving

On a daily basis, I am surprised how difficult it is to drive here.

Buses have the right of way at almost any time. That extends to when the driver feels like merging into your lane with no warning. Just move over and watch out for the oncoming traffic. The first month or so here I just thought all bus drivers were rude and pushy, but it turns out I was in their way.

It is impressive that the city of Vancouver long ago went to considerable expense and trouble to put in bike lanes and bike-only corridors, as part of its goal to be a super-green city. Something had to give though, and it was convenience for drivers. Sometimes the inconvenience is huge, like when you are forced to drive a mile or more past a bike corridor where a legal turn used to be. A commitment to sustainability is one reason Vancouver appealed to me, but using extra gas and spewing more emissions from having to drive around a bike lane strikes me as counterproductive.

(Now, regarding the cyclists. Just this morning on my walk with the dog I remarked to myself what a beautiful thing it was to behold all the cyclists making their commute, in all modes of garb and gear. But can I also tell you that on many occasions these cyclists have come within an inch of running me over? They don’t beep, they don’t warn, they just zoom ahead as if they are entitled to mow down anything in their path. I agree there should be more of them than cars on the road, in an ideal world. They are indeed the more virtuous if you count Middle East oil dependency and pollution as vices. But give a pedestrian a break.)

There are a lot of risk-takers on the road. Usually these have noisy luxury cars and irritatingly seem to be able to behave with impunity, darting in and out of lanes, trying for that elusive head of the line, or to show they are different from the rest of us drivers in not putting up with the ordinary pace of life. They honk, yell out of windows and gesture profanely. Where did all those nice Canadians go?

At most busy intersections where left-hand turns are legal, there are no left-hand turn green lights. Picture this: you are in the far left lane of a five lane street at a major intersection, say Broadway and Cambie. You edge out as far as you can into traffic so that at the first window of opportunity you can speed across. That window never, ever arrives while the green light shines. What you quickly learn is that you have to speed across the intersection the instant the light turns red, in face of two lanes of rushing traffic, and complete the turn without hitting any of the pedestrians who are invariably making their way across the street. Vancouver pedestrians, by the way, are chill. They never hustle along, even when cars are bearing down on them. So usually when undertaking this maneuver you can expect to stop mid-intersection and be subjected to nerve-wracking honking or worse.

Parking places are also scarce. We’ve actually given up on a number of occasions and gone back home grumpy from an attempt to go out on the town in an area without parking garages. And parking is expensive, up to one dollar every quarter hour. The message from the city is: use public transportation. Well, that’s expensive too, $2.50-$3.50 a ride. So in fact there are lots of cars on the road and competition for parking is stiff.

I’ve mentioned the car honking a few times. Yes, Vancouverites use the horn. There’s the “New York Minute” which you might have heard of? Vancouver has one too.

For some reason, the predominant color of clothing is black. Black from head to toe. So what, right? Well, it rains a lot here. That means on those many winter nights when it is overcast or raining, there is no star or moon light. There is poor depth of field. Shadows are deep, and visibility is poor. And suddently, there’s a person standing in the road you are in the middle of crossing.

Just as your stomach settles down from the adrenaline rush brought on by slamming on the brakes, out of nowhere a silent cyclist stealthily enters your peripheral vision and a moment of sheer panic hits and you slam on the brakes and CURSE.

About kmazz

I spend as much time as possible pursuing my interests in global culture, photography, arts and politics.
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