Dear Everyone Else in Canada,
They were right. Vancouver is beautiful. A city of glass nestled on a majestic verdant coastline. I can see why everyone moves out here and predict that Vancity will soon eclipse Toronto as the centre of the universe, in the same way that, back in the 1980s, Toronto schooled Montreal, leaving it Canada's version of Philadelphia.
Everyone here seems to be rich (most can afford lush green shrubs in their yards) and it's not hard to see where the money comes from: the city's primary industries are mining, movies, gaming and chakra alignment. The dress code fluctuates between business casual and 1930s hobo. It's no wonder that for decades the city's tourism slogan was: "Vancouver: Come for the Rain. Stay for the Marijuana."
But what, you ask, about the driving? Is it a groovy experience?
Congestion is a problem, and there are sights to be seen, such as four lanes carved down to one on the Knight Bridge or the unholy mess formed when Highway 99 merges with the Lougheed Highway and TransCanada, and these can send a shiver down the steering wheel.
Yet it's possible to traverse the city off peak without going insane from frustration. It took me just two hours to drive from West Point Grey to Richmond to Kitsilano to East Hastings to the downtown and back again. Of course, I wasn't driving to work.
I mentioned the scenery and, sadly, Vancouver's natural beauty is also its most lethal trap. There are no statistics available but many accidents must be caused by people looking up from their dashboards and thinking "Holy Kokanee, that's beautiful." A friend who moved here from out east says that every late November and early December, he makes a concerted effort not to get distracted by the spectacular view of the mountains.
Another frequent Vancouver sight is that of a Mercedes cruising through a red light without slowing down. The look on the driver's face is so serenely oblivious that it leaves everyone who is obeying the law wondering if they missed the memo.
Similarly, pedestrians seem utterly unafraid of traffic, like deer that have been raised in captivity and fear no predators. Though a mellow bunch, Vancouverites are very uptight about speed limits and some are dangerously cautious.
A life-long resident warns that if you drive 5 km/h over the limit don't be surprised if someone pulls up at the stop light and gives you the "Vancouver stare" - a double-shame-espresso glare that is a bolt of "Who do you think you are?" self-actualized passive-aggressive energy.
There are no freeways in Vancouver. The city has made a deliberate attempt to avoid them. There are just roads, like 2nd and 6th Avenue, which people speed along as if they were freeways, and stop signs and flashing green lights. These are not the same as the "advance greens" found in virtually every other part of North America - which allow drivers to turn left with impunity. A flashing Vancity green is a conveyance for pedestrians. When a button is pressed, the flashing green turns to red and the pedestrian can cross safely. That's the official line, but a source told me the real reason they have weird flashing greens is to "kill people from Ontario."
Vansterdam sits on an island and bridges span the many waterways that cut through the city. Getting stuck on a bridge is a common commuter phobia and this worry is exacerbated by the occasional cyclist protest that block streets.
Speaking of bicycles, Vancouver is one of Canada's more progressive cycling cultures, though far behind European cities such as Copenhagen. Of course, that's kind of like saying Mussolini was one of fascism's more progressive dictators. The bicycle boom is championed by the city's mayor, Gregor Robertson (I always thought Vancouver was ruled by a prince), an avid cyclist who is pushing to make alternative forms of transit available for those rich enough to live close enough to the city centre to ride their bikes to work.
In 2009, Robertson had a separate bicycle lane constructed on the Burrard Street Bridge (where cyclists and pedestrians were sometimes killed). It was meant to be a temporary, but now seems to be permanent. A similar bike lane was just opened along Dunsmuir Street, a thoroughfare leading in and out of downtown. These differ from typical bike lanes because cyclists are physically separated from cars by concrete barricades.
Some drivers are enraged, claiming the bike lanes are a waste of money and that they are used by few cyclists. I like them, however, and suggest Vancouverites think of these lanes as "bicycle zoos" where you can go can see all the different species of cyclist - everything from the common Cyclisticus Psyhoticus to the more rare Bikosoraus Normalis. Drivers claimed the lanes would slow traffic but that does not seem to be the case.
Well, I'm off now. Some friendly Vancouverites suggested that I get into the west coast vibe by taking off my clothes and going down to the city's world famous nude beach - Kitsilano.
Such friendly people. Such a lovely city.