We are in Vancouver B.C., enjoying fabulous weather and a visit with Debbie’s daughter and family. A friend just mentioned she liked this post from three years ago (20090914). We do too and on our current visit we remind ourselves, “drive nice like a Canadian.” We thought we should repost this one, it is so true still in Vancouver.
Vancouverites might be the most polite drivers in North America. We think they are and we have a lot of basis. We’ve driven this year in or through most big cities between Orlando, Florida and St Paul, Minnesota, and all four cities between Winnipeg, MB, and Vancouver, BC. The past two years, addiitonally, have found us touring cities and towns of all sizes in most of the midwest and western and southern states. We’ve met, or been passed by, a lot of drivers in hundreds of communities in two years.
And none have been as courteous as the drivers in Vancouver, B.C. The courtesy extends to pedestrians and buses. This mayn’t seem much a courtesy since it is required by law to yield the crosswalk to pedestrians and the lane to buses. But it is likewise a law in almost all states to yield to pedestrians entering a crosswalk — and it just doesn’t work out so well in the states, for pedestrians.
We each day drive from West Vancouver over the Lions Gate Bridge. Traffic in Vancouver being so full, we figured to wait it out each day and leave after ten or eleven o’clock in the morning for Kelsey’s house. You know, we can wait out rush hour and cruise right through town. It’s not so easy in this large a city. Remember, there are over two million people in greater Vancouver. The Lions Gate Bridge is only one or two lanes into town (all three lanes are convertible for either direction). Three double-lane roads lead to the north entrance to the bridge, heading toward town. How can all these lanes successfully merge without wrecks occurring all day long?
This is the amazing part. Kelsey and Stephen call it zippering because the cars come together at the merge like teeth of a zipper. Almost without exception, at each of the three merges at the north end, the cars smoothly and almost mechanically fall into place into the single lane. It’s fascinating to watch, largely because it seems so unlikely. You don’t see competition for pole position, you don’t hear horns blaring or tires squealing and exhausts roaring.
The cars approach the merge slowly and, in lockstep, fall in place one from first lane, one from second lane, one from first lane, one from second lane, over and over. You can look ahead, if you feel a need, and count the cars ahead in each lane. You know with some certainty which car you will fall in behind. No collisions, no cars stranded out on the right side wishing they could merge. Amazing!
This is almost as good. We are stunned at the immediate allowance other drivers provide us when we display our turn signal to change lanes. The cars unhesitatingly let us into the next lane, slowing for us. The reaction we half expect, by conditioning, is the cars behind us to speed up and take the space we are requesting (or even hinting at) but not in Vancouver. Drivers in Vancouver unfailingly let us into their lane.
An observation, from driving home last night, is the size of the other vehicles. We’re not suggesting this relates to their yielding to us, but all the cars about us as we cross downtown Vancouver are sub-compacts, less than 1/3 our truck’s gross weight. We were fairly surrounded last night, as we drove home, by Yaris, Echo, Fit, Mini, and other very small cars. Any of these would fit in our truck bed if the bed was empty. We see a few pickup trucks, but very few. The vast majority of cars around Vancouver are small or smaller.
We were startled and completely unknowing, two or three years ago, why some traffic lights flash green and others stay solid green. Kelsey explained it to us in short order. This is very important to driving in Vancouver. Flashing green traffic lights are pedestrian-controlled. A car approaching the main street will encounter a stop sign and will not have a traffic light. The cars on the main street will see the flashing green light, or a yellow or red solid light. The pedestrian, wanting to cross the main street, pushes the walk button and the light relatively soon turns red for the main street to allow pedestrians to cross.
Pedestrians get a nice break from cars even without the traffic lights or crosswalks. We were in Chinatown a few days ago and heard a horn blaring as a car careened through an intersection. The car had turned right from the main road and almost intercepted a couple of people stepping into the crosswalk. People looking on acted horrified, the walking couple was very startled, and the driver was almost certainly not “from around here”. We don’t think any Vancouverite would have plowed through a crosswalk ignoring pedestrians.
Finally, here’s a plug for the bike routes. Vancouver has invested a lot of planning and money in creating bike-friendly and bike-only streets throughout the city. I rode Kelsey’s bicycle twenty blocks from the Community Centre on 16th at Ontario St to East 24th at Windsor St. The bike route has roundabouts at many intersections and pedestrian/biker-controlled signals at the few major intersections. The result was a quieter and safer ride home in a bustling city full of automobile traffic.
There are exceptions to every rule, and no absolutes. Our experience with Vancouver traffic, though, has been wonderful. And we appreciate it greatly.