Category: transport

Look no hands

I remember six years ago being quite shocked to see someone talking on their cellphone while driving. Actually it was scary. Her phone rang just as we came to a sharp bend. And the ringing was coming from inside her purse. She had a good root around before she found it. Perhaps it wasn’t that long but I had most of my life flash before my eyes!

Now that BC has outlawed using mobile devices while driving this just would not happen.

OK, who am I kidding. Judging by my experience little has really changed. Granted the sales of bluetooth devices have been robust, but there is still no shortage of people driving with a phone to their ear. Whilst drinking coffee and cradling a small designer dog.

Realtors, like us, tend to be on the phone a lot. And in the car too. Sue and I both have bluetooth in our cars. I still don’t like talking on the phone while driving but at least I can do so safely. You may not be surprised to hear that a lot of realtors are still waking up to the new reality. From what I hear there are a lot who simply don’t want to go hands-free.

Before the law was introduced there were even people writing into the papers arguing in favour of talking while driving. Oh and texting too.

The size of the vehicles on the roads here are generally far bigger than in Europe. Here a volvo, BMW X5 or the like is a small car. And there are loads of trucks and minivans too. Driving something that big will tend to make you feel invulnerable. So what’s the problem with a chat on the phone! You do it at home and your car is as big as a house anyway.

Take care out there.


How hard is the driving test?

Stop sign
Stop sign

One of the things that most people need to do when they move to British Columbia is to take their driving test – again. You might be lucky enough to be coming from one of the countries that are allowed to exchange their licences (currently U.S., Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Japan or South Korea) – but otherwise you need to take a test within 90 days of being resident in B.C.

The clock starts ticking when you are living here, which may not be the same as when you “land”. But it is important to get your licence in the 90 days. I don’t know what would happen if you were found not to have a valid licence, but I doubt it would be good.

No one wants to go through the whole licensing process when they have already been driving for years. Let’s face it, if you are like me, you have probably picked up a few bad habits. More importantly driving here is probably different in a number of ways.

Your first part of the process is passing the knowledge test. This is a good thing as you can find out about the traffic signs. A stop sign is pretty obvious. But what about a 4-way stop? Not something I had seen before. And one that catches a lot of people out at first. (I like them now).

There are other things that you will notice, like being able to go through a red light when turning right. But there are other things which are not obvious from reading the manual or perhaps from your past experience. For instance how do you position yourself when waiting to turn left at a junction? (Don’t turn your wheels before you are ready to make the turn).

For all these subtle things I recommend getting a lesson or two. It will pay off in terms of finding out all these little details and especially in getting to know the driving test route. Your instructor will take you around the driving test route and you will learn where the school zones are. One friend failed his test because he sped through all of the school zones – there was a kind of magnificence in that!

Lessons, staying calm, driving slowly (but not too slowly) and showing your attention to safety will see you passing your test. You may then return to your old way of driving. In my case I have lost my “London driver” mode and have got used to the slower pace of traffic, and life. I probably would never cope in London now!

2010 Olympic countdown

This week we are exactly a year away from the start of the 2010 winter Olympics. This is not something you can ignore if you are in Vancouver, or even British Columbia.

I expect that you, as someone interested in coming to BC, know about this. I wonder how much the rest of the world knows? It certainly is used as an excuse for a great deal that goes on here.

For example, the Olympics have meant spending our tax dollars (Federal and Provincial) on big infrastructure projects such as upgrading the sea to sky highway that links Vancouver and Whistler. This will allow the hordes of visitors to travel safely between venues in Whistler and Vancouver.

Or the Canada Line, which will whisk visitors from the airport to downtown Vancouver.

I am not complaining about these developments. Far from it. Both bring lasting benefits to Vancouver in terms of improved transit links. The Canada Line will be used by commuters on a daily basis and not just from YVR. And of course those who want to visit Whistler can now expect a safer and quicker journey.

The Richmond speed skating rink is already open and will be well used too. Cypress Mountain on the north shore is another olympic venue where the facilities have been upgraded. Whenever we ski or ride up there we can thank the Olympics for their contribution to our mountain.

Another Olympic highlight is one that is not available to us all, but there seems to be a potential goldmine out there in terms of renting your home during the Olympics. We know of several cases where people have rented their homes for the golden 2 week period for several thousand dollars. One family has rented their home to the Swedish ski team (or some of it at least) for $30,000.

Anywhere with space available may well be up for grabs. I have heard that one of the local yacht clubs, and at least one restaurant will be rented out as meeting places for Olympic teams. Staff will be on paid leave and the venues will be compensated handsomely for their loss of revenue.

Seems like money will be pouring into the area doesn’t it? Perhaps not so. Pretty much everyone who is doing this kind of thing will be heading off to Mexico or Hawaii and spending their money there!

Bridge of sighs

This week the Pattullo Bridge has been out of action. This bridge crosses the Fraser River and links Surrey to the south with New Westminster to the north. It is a major commuter route.

The reason for the bridge being closed was the surprise. At least to me since I had never imagined that one of our major river crossings would be a wooden bridge. There was a fire under the wooden trestles that support the southern end of the bridge.

The bridge was built in 1937 and perhaps wood was the obvious material to use as we do have so much of it here. There has been a lot of criticism of the Pattullo’s safety record since the lack of a central median, and its curve have resulted in many head on crashes. Surely it is time to replace this relic.

Translink is scrambling to fix the bridge and has just announced that they hope to patch the burnt out gap with some steel leftover from the Canada Line construction. This has reduced the time to 2 weeks from the original four that they estimated.

In the meantime Vancouver commuters from the southern communities are struggling to cross the Fraser via other bridges.

Driving tips

Kits traffic circle
Kits traffic circle
Getting your driving license in BC is a major worry for some people so I thought I would go over a few tips on driving that might help.

We drive on the right hand side of the road. You will find it fairly easy to remember. Your steering wheel is on the left side of the car, which is a good clue. Another clue is the oncoming traffic when you are on the wrong side of the road.

For drivers used to driving on the left hand side of the road, you can still drive in the left lane on the highway, even if you are actually going slower than the traffic in the right lane. I think a lot of Canadians secretly want to drive on the left – why else would so many of them hog the left lane, oblivious to the traffic passing them on the right. Being Canadians no one honks or flashes their lights, so you can enjoy driving on the left for as long as you like.

Canadians are generally pretty law abiding. But as a way of giving us an experience of breaking the rules we are allowed to turn right on a red light. This is a thrill.

Of course the thrill can also be risky. Firstly because of the risk of hitting or being hit by someone coming from the other direction (where they have a green, amber or even red light). Secondly because of the pedestrians who are likely to be claiming their absolute right to cross in front of you. And finally the reason the driving examiners are so hot on shoulder checks – there could be a cyclist on your right.

Canadians are a literate nation and enjoy reading. Our traffic signs give us the chance to read while we are driving. These are usually signs with a symbol and then a list of conditions. This can make understanding them difficult and might also explain why some people drive so slowly – they are reading the signs, perhaps mentally translating them into their own language.

An example of this is the no left turn sign that applies only at certain times of the day. There are a lot of these in Vancouver. I recommend that you time your journey so as to hit the left turn just as it becomes permitted. This will annoy the cars behind you but gives you an immense sense of satisfaction. Almost like breaking the rules.

Finally roundabouts. These are a thrill because there are so few of them and most Canadian drivers are completed foxed by them. If you come across a roundabout or traffic circle (a small roundabout) then be prepared for anything. Other drivers may stop half way round and wave you on, or they may not stop at the roundabout at all.

I hope these tips prove useful in preparing for your own driving experience here in BC.

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