Driving tips for the city

#1: Don’t do it.
Cities are completely counterproductive to car driving. Masses of people, buildings, other cars, one way streets, if you want a mode of transportation that’s intuitive, responsive and won’t get you in trouble, your feet are your best friends.

#2: Don’t think about how long you have to get there.
This is the most important step in safe city driving. Do everything possible to keep yourself from thinking about travel time. Give yourself lots of time, and more importantly get some good music for your trip. Vancouver’s FM radio selection provides much variety and good quality sound. Failing that, attach an MP3 player to an FM transmitter available at many electronics stores, and it will provide you with many thousands of hours of varied music. If you are bored or stressed out, you may take unnecessary risks that could lead to accidents or traffic jams.

#3: Watch out for buses.
When the bus’ left blinker is on while it is at its stop, yield to let it pass. If the blinker is off, move your ass!

#4: Don’t turn left, use the Grid System.
Turning left on bi-directional streets downtown is next to impossible on a green light. There will be no sufficient break in the traffic for you to pass. Instead, keep in mind that city streets are designed in a grid formation. That means instead of turning left, theoretically you could drive on to the next block, turn right, and then make another right, and you will be traveling down that street you would have otherwise needed to turn left to go to.

#5: If you must turn left, wait until a red light to turn.
It’ll get you failed on a driver’s test, but it’ll keep you safe. Trust me. Otherwise, turn left on one way streets. No cars coming in the other direction makes for easy and painless left hand turning.

The thing that fascinated me most about living in the city was the option to take the transit system. Ah, to be able to sail across the cityscape without licenses, insurance, or even a full attention span! But alas, those dreams were crushed when I found out I have to keep odd working hours to keep fed in just about any full time job I would take. Even if I didn’t work the afternoon shift, which I do now, if I wanted to take dinner at work and go overtime until 9:00, I’d be faced with a 2-hour bus trip to cross the distance of a half-hour car ride. It’s not bad though if I take my car, really. Vancouver’s traffic problems could be much worse, believe me. But still, it would be nice if I could get the same travel time out of the transit system 24 hours a day. I also want to know if there’s a petition to sign to get the West Coast express running more often. Running one way twice a day does not a commuter rail system make.

I did a little research on the subject, as I’m wont to do, since there’s a google toolbar on my browser. I came up with
www.carfree.com, a site dedicated to the design of automobile free cities. A car-free city would be a marvelous thing, in my opinion. A wonderful, smog-free place to live and work, while at the same time maintaining the speed and independence of an automobile. (Peak travel time to anywhere in such a city, they say, should be no more than 35 minutes.) Vancouver itself is quietly going on the path to being car free city, with that stretch of Granville already automobile restricted, and proposals to city hall going on all the time. I find mixed-use zoning to be especially attractive. Imagine, being able to work, shop, and play without ever having to step into a car. There’s nothing like being hungry for a midnight snack in Kitsilano and having the local Shopper’s Drug Mart no more than a stagger away. It’d be nice to export that kind of convenience somehow.

Here’s the big However. Looking at the carfree.com website and reading about the urban revolution they propose, I’m finding out about a few things about utopian visions of eco-harmony. The first thing is the drastic nature of the plan, which may involve bull-dozing huge swaths of city to get to the optimal car-free design. Not much of a criticism, since the writer points out that fact by himself. But what I think is missing from this over-all vision is the concept of economic growth. There seems to be a slavish devotion to the nebulous concept of “quality of life”. It’s a great concept to be sure, I doubt anyone would attempt such an endeavour as the car-free city without it. My question is why aren’t the economic benefits being discussed more? In order to make these grand visions of urban planning work, there must be some way to make a profit from it. Certainly there’s the extra disposable income provided by a non-driving populace. Freight prices would be lower because the regional cost of fuel would be lower. Not to mention that property values would be very high in a city designed with “location, location, location” in mind.

I think that the real problem with environmental and other so-called “quality of life” advocacy groups is that they think that it’s a given that their ideas have merit. Utopian visions are just drawn up without any regard to what the people who implement those policies want. Those of us who want a car-free city honestly believe that passion alone will carry us upward and away from any toes we may step on or people we may displace. Even a simple cost-benefit analysis would help make these concepts reality. The numbers wouldn’t even have to be real, they just have to be 95% impressive. People can tell themselves until they are blue in the face that the climate isn’t changing, that oil prices aren’t going up, but until they know that those kinds of problems are going to bite them in the ass when they have to pay $5 a pound for a bunch of shriveled grapes at the local Safeway, there’s going to be nothing done. It sounds heartless, but every single one of us has to deal with a world that cares less about our problems than we do and we are all hurting from it. We can’t be bothered with the fuzzy island marmot unless that concern is somehow going to buy groceries later. Even Vancouver’s new RAV line is getting flak from the NIMBY merchants who are going to see reduced business from the construction. It’s like we’re all a bunch of ants who freak when a small leaf drops in their path. So please, if you have some kind grand vision that will end world hunger, give free heroin to addicts, or something else true, just and must happen now, find that sugar cube, put it near your cause so our greedy insect overlords can find it and make it happen. Hail Ants.