Posted by: bkivey | 23 September 2015

About Vancouver BC

I’d decided to visit Vancouver because I’d never been there (‘But why are you really here?’ – Canadian Customs) and people I’d talked to commented on how nice it was. I got to see a fair amount of downtown, and some of the outer districts. Some observations:

I’d mentioned that there was money in Vancouver but didn’t realize how much until I saw a large banner in front of a downtown housing development touting “Houses under $2 million!” I have never in my life; not in San Francisco, not in Honolulu, seen housing under $2 million as a selling point. That’s insane.

Driving in Vancouver is a special kind of nerve-wracking. The city-wide speed limit is 30 km/hr (about 20 mph). There were a few places marked for 40 km, and a couple of bridges were marked for 50 km. I did see one stretch of 60 km (a little over 35 mph). By comparison, most American cities have a base speed limit of 30 – 35 mph, and arterials are commonly marked for 45 mph.

What the low speed limits do, and I’m sure this is intentional, is put motorized and non-motorized vehicles in the same speed range, especially downtown. There is a lot of bicycle and pedestrian traffic, even in residential areas where you maybe wouldn’t expect it. The result is that you’re constantly looking around, and very cautious at intersections. While this may be great for the non-motorized folks, for drivers the number of hazards is multiplied, and the environment may give cyclists and pedestrians a false sense of security. Getting hit by 250 pounds of bike and rider is one thing, an impact from a 3,000 pound car, even at low speeds, is quite another.  In fairness, pedestrians in Vancouver seem to be more aware than most Americans. I never saw someone crossing a street engrossed in their phone; something that’s common in the US.

Vancouver doesn’t do left-turn lanes, and center turn lanes are a fantasy. Someone making a left turn is going to block a lane of traffic, and likewise if you have to make a left turn, you dread the experience. This situation leads to some aggressive driving by the populace to get around the offending vehicle; more aggressive than many Americans may be comfortable with.

Another unintended consequence of setting speed limits so low is that they are widely ignored. I tried driving reasonably close to the posted limit, and was in danger of getting run over. People drive as fast as they feel they can get away with, which is significantly faster than the posted limit. I noticed that speed limit signs are marked ‘Maximum’ over the limit, rather than the American practice of “Speed Limit’ and a number.

I was impressed by the relative paucity of homeless in the city. I saw an article in the paper that put the number at around 2500; a smaller percentage relative to the population than many American cities. The homeless I did see weren’t aggressively panhandling,  and except for a few sleeping on the streets downtown, relatively invisible. I suspect that the high percentage of Asians and Indians has something to do with this. Both groups are known for their industry and lack of tolerance for those unwilling to work. The fact that alcohol is expensive may also be a contributing factor.

Id’ say that Vancouver is Canada’s version of San Francisco: world-class shops and restaurants, a very good transit system, a high standard (and cost) of living, all in a stunning setting. Having what’s been called ‘the world’s best park’ certainly adds to the allure. For myself; a nice place to visit, but not really interested in living there.


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