Hello everybody, we are back from our vacation. It was a lovely drive through some pretty spectacular scenery. Other than the mosquitos our holiday was relaxing and enjoyable, but it was the drive there and back that gave me the most to think about.
Yesterday was Canada Day (our equivalent of July 4th) and so most people booked Monday off and made it a four day weekend. Many others would be expected to book off the Friday before-hand, extending their weekend to five days (as we did). Typically, the highways during holiday weekends are a busy affair – here in the Lower Mainland of BC there are only two major highways out of the city. Thus it was a bit of a shock to find that there were very few people on the roads.
Now, we did end up leaving on Thursday (Husband cut his work day short) but given we were heading into an extra-long weekend we didn’t expect the roads to be so bare. Last year it took us about 8 hours to get to our destination, but this time we made it in about 6.5. My SIL and her family travelled on Friday and reported that traffic was light that day, too. On the way back it was a similar experience, even though we’d all been debating who could wait a day to travel on Wednesday and avoid the rush. Turns out there was no rush. We encountered virtually no traffic until we entered the eastern-most border of the Lower Mainland and even then we were meeting the speed limit. In fact, we would have made it home in 6.5 hours – surprisingly fast given we were traveling on the last day of a long holiday weekend. I say “would have” because there was another telling traffic situation we encountered.
Vancouver is a city of peninsulas and we depend heavily on bridges. My family lives on the North Shore, a stretch of waterfront mountainsides divided into three suburbs. There are only three ways you can reach the North Shore (without taking a detour of several hundred kms): two bridges and one passenger-only ferry. We live very close to the biggest of the two bridges and as we approached the city side we came to a complete standstill. Thankfully, Husband has a great sense of traffic and immediately suspected something was amiss. He turned on the traffic news just in time: the bridge had been closed for three hours already. We were able to exit the highway, recognizing that the next and last exit before the bridge would be where the police re-routed all that traffic. Knowing the city as we did it took us relatively little time to get to the other bridge using lesser-known routes. Meanwhile, the road off that last exit (which extends all the way across town to the other bridge) was at a near-total standstill.
We made it to the North Shore in short time only to recognize that everybody on that side trying to get to the city was having to use one bridge – a three lane relic whose centre lane was open to suburb-bound traffic in an attempt to relieve congestion in the city. All major routes leading to the bridge were backed up for several kilometres and we watched in stunned silence as we made our way home. As we neared our side of the closed bridge we encountered the same lineups. Again our detailed knowledge of the area allowed us to bypass the worst of it. But we soon began to appreciate the enormity of the situation: while waiting in a long lineup for a red light the folks next to us called out with a friendly comment about traffic. Turns out they were American tourists heading for the bridge and downtown, unaware that it was closed. They asked if this had to do with the fact that it was a holiday – no, it was because there was a jumper on the bridge. These poor folks had very little knowledge of the streets and roadways and the route they’d have to take to get them back into town was going to cost them literally hours of wait time. Some impression we must have left on these visitors!
These tales bring me to a few important points. First, it is now patently obvious to us that the cost of fuel has affected peoples’ travels. I’ve never encountered such clear roads on a holiday weekend in all my memory. Second, the bridge closure and the chaos that resulted brought the cost of our car-dependent lifestyles right out into the open for all to see, hear, and breathe. Looking at the endless lineups of cars it was sickening to think of the smog being created (in fact, on that hot day it was visible as a yellowish smear across the horizon). It was also an in-your-face tribute to the dependence of our culture on cars.
Finally, I have to say that coming home from wide, empty spaces of incredible wilderness to the congestion and pollution of a traffic-snared city definitely strengthened my resolve to leave. I do love this city, the place of my birth and my childhood. But I am so done with crowds and congestion. I’ll be posting next with an update on how we’re doing with The Plan.