Dear Vancouver: A Love Letter to Walkability, Transit, and Cycling
by Zoe Welch
I’m in Miami again, where all my family on my father’s side lives. Every time I’m here I love it, the pull of memory and family ties strong and calling. Now I’m thinking about moving, with my dual citizenship making it a real possibility. But I’m deeply Canadian, in some indescribable way, and this is a very American city. What does it all mean? Is there room for me? Room for how I live? For how I live in Vancouver? For those parts of how I live that I can’t give up? And just what is it that I can’t give up?
But here’s what it looks like curbside, a mere spin of the peddles away. This is what bike-riding involves here—notice the sharrows symbol painted on the pavement in the traffic lane meant for sharing? Not so reassuring, let alone inviting, with move accident vehicles from travel lanes signage right beside it. And that bike you see on the sidewalk? The person riding it arrived there by sidewalk, not via the sharrow. Unlike Vancouver, there aren’t any bike paths running alongside traffic lanes anywhere, and there are no designated bike routes nearby as alternates to busy thoroughfares either.
Metro Miami, 6,000 square miles of land hugging the Atlantic coast with about 250 days of sunshine per year, an average temperature of 25ºC, and whose mean elevation is 6 ft above sea level—a bike-rider’s paradise, right? (Climate crisis/rising sea level issues, not glibly, set aside here.) A paradise for bike-riding someday perhaps, but the city and its car culture has a long way to go before being safe for riding in. So, hauling on raingear for Vancouver’s 168 days of rain per year isn’t looking quite as bad, with biking so central to the city’s commuting culture, and made so thanks to great bike routes and a growing consciousness among automobilists to share the road properly.
I love riding buses and taking in the scenery, especially in a new place where all is to discover; they’re also great for people-watching and a bit of a cultural soak, as well as, obviously, great for getting somewhere.
So, a great place to ride the bus, right?
But then there’s this ….
This is a commuter route! This 15 km line (about the distance of YVR to downtown) runs north/south through many neighbourhoods on its way to downtown, intersecting with a dozen connecting routes running perpendicular. (Not the only line with really restricted hours.)
This bus route is beside my aunt’s house and I use it when I’m visiting and have the leisure to plan things out around this strange schedule, but what if I lived here and needed to rely on this bus as part of my daily life?
250 days of tropical sunshine, in a flat land. Walking just make sense, and beckons. What’s there not to like?
But then there’s this: no sidewalks.
There are plenty of neighbourhoods without sidewalks, and there must be plenty with them too (not where I walked, but there must be.)
Driving, Driving, Driving
Last year, I rode my cousin’s bike (only on little neighbourhood jaunts on side streets) and took the bus everywhere. This year the bike’s broken, and I have my aunt’s car. (I don’t own a car in Vancouver so driving is always novel for me.) With public transit servicing only around 8% of the population, here’s what getting around in a car looks like. You get my drift.
The combination of no sidewalks, bad transit, and terrifying biking, forces people into cars—the antithesis of community. So, when out on foot navigating scrappy boulevards under heavenly canopies of sun and palm and birdsong, I’m the only one out walking. And because I’m the only one out on foot, when another walker once appeared, here’s what happened to me: a sense of wariness crept in. Instead of feeling any connection to this fellow pedestrian, instead of readying to nod and say hello, I froze, noticing how alone I was on a street that suddenly felt deserted and secluded—the antithesis of community.
So, Vancouver, despite your average of 197 days of rain per year, you make getting around easy. Whether I want to walk, take transit or ride my bike, I can get to where I’m going, feeling invited and considered, and connected.
Community-making requires not just the desire to be a part of something, it requires the supports that bring people together. The best place to start is where we live, right outside our front doors, in our neighbourhoods (neighborhoods), with the roads and transportation systems available and ready for us to jump on so we can all jump in.
Miami—try it, you’ll like it. And I will too. Till then, I think I’m staying where it’s easier to live the way I do—in motion in community, in Vancouver.