Thursday, August 30, 2012

Some Day The Cars Will Stop

I have been doing a great deal of highway driving in the last few days, much more than I really like, and ironically, it was because of a friend from Scotland who is an avid cyclist.  He came to see me in Nanaimo, and, blissfully unaware of the distances between places on the island, planned to bicycle from the Mill Bay ferry to Pacific Gardens.

Alas, he realized that it would be too much to cycle 70 kilometres, especially when there were no continuous dedicated bicycle lanes like those he was used to in the UK, and he had to compete with massive trailer trucks for space on the highway.

So I drove down to Duncan to pick him up, where we had agreed to meet at a Starbucks café in the central mall (unbeknownst to us, there were three Starbucks, which made finding each other a rather interesting exercise). As I hurtled towards the Cowichan Valley in my subcompact, it made me realize how much of our transportation is overwhelmed and dominated by cars and trucks.

I was in about the smallest car on the road, surrounded by great big honking SUVs, vans, trucks, and trailers, all careening down the highway at speeds more than 20 kilometres over the limit, weaving in and out of lanes, often without signalling.

No wonder he found it a bit daunting. Back home, he would have had a bicycle lane separating him from the worst of traffic.  There would have been far fewer trailer trucks, because there is a fast and efficient railway system that covers the country. If he wanted to stop cycling for a while, it would have been easy to hop on a bus or a train with his bike. But not here.

Our fondness for cars puzzles me.  They're expensive, stressful, noisy, polluting, life-threatening, and a major hassle (compare finding a parking space for a car versus a bicycle). But still we plan our communities around cars, despite the social and environmental damage that they cause.

At Pacific Gardens, we have at least three people who use their bicycles as their main mode of transportation, and they all are lean and fit, and look at least 10 years younger than their age, whether they're in their 40s or their 60s. 

Before I moved here, I used to live in a place that was near a major arterial road, and the roar of traffic could be heard all day and night, making it difficult to sleep.  When it was especially bad, I used to say to myself, "Some day the cars will stop."

I hope some day that will be true, and all that we will hear are bicycle horns, and the occasional purr of an electric car.


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