Tag Archives: cars

BC Hydro Screws You and Trees

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My car is the far right one, just before the mulcher mangles it but that doesn’t mean anything happened except passing the buck.

I’m sure this will be of interest only to a select few, but it’s a tale with a lesson in futility, passing the buck, negligence and damage. In BC our electricity is handled by a company called BC Hydro, which once was provincially owned but now it’s not clear how much of it is privatized. They maintain the power grid, which includes checking power lines that lines ever street in their own unsightly web.

One day last August, I came out of my place to find these guys mulching tree branches that they cut down from the trees encroaching on the lines. BC Hydro has all sorts of information, including this blurb:

Tree control pruning

BC Hydro regularly prunes trees that might grow into power lines. These trees are generally pruned on an established cycle. The specifications call for pruning practices that will not only provide for safety clearances, but are also the best for the trees.

Studies in arboriculture (the care of trees) have shown that certain forms of pruning are much less damaging to the health of the tree than others. BC Hydro has adopted a standard that calls for “natural target” pruning, which may initially remove more of the tree canopy than some other methods and may appear excessive, but contributes to the health of the tree in the long run and prevents severe cutting.

Well, I had to squeeze past the mulching machine, that was along side my car, to actually drive to work. When I parked and got out of my car I noticed (because I’d spent 5 hours washing my car the week before) that my bumper had been scraped and banged into, which cracked the paint. I was mad but knew it would be hard to prove. I also have other nicks and scratches on other parts of my bumper because if you try to claim it you get to pay something like a $200 deductible and your insurance could go up for all those dings.

So when I get home and I’m talking to my two neighbors we look up at the trees and notice the butchering. In some cases they didn’t cut the limbs away from the wires and in others, they chopped the tree so badly that as it continues to grow it will be more weighted on one side causing the branch to break or the tree to topple. Wow. The above statement (which takes some hunting on their site) seems to be an ideal they do not strive for.

I called up to complain about the tree mangling, unsightly at best, and also mentioned them banging into my car. BC Hydro tells me to file a complaint and an insurance claim with my car insurance. I was skeptical at best and already noticed the buck passing but I decided to do this as an experiment. I  have two car insurances; one half is private with Family Insurance. The other is mandatory through the provincially run ICBC.

Date of Accident: July, 2011 (it’s been so long I can’t rightly remember). Complaint filed with BC Hydro: Aug. 17, 2011. Letter from BC Hydro that they send to my landlady instead of to me: Sept. 27, 2011. In that letter BC Hydro says: oh no, it wasn’t us. It was our contractor Asplundh Tree Experts Co. Experts? I could do better with no knowledge of arboriculture. So BC Hydro can now weasel out of any responsibility. I call Asplundh. ICBC tells me it’s the Family Insurance side so I enter a long convoluted dialogue with a cynical man who queries, as devils advocate he says, as to how I could prove that they did the damage. I say, I know I can’t but I know it was them and that I was told to do this by BC Hydro.

We go back and forth, forth and back. Then Asplundh contacts him, after I tried calling them three times but to no reply. Asplundh wants photos of my car, which I take, as well as having a picture of the day that the mulcher mashed my car.  I send the cynical insurance guy the information. I email to see that he has received them. I email again and again and again. I get busy and forget about it, then email again.

car, car insurance, damaged car, Asplundh, BC Hydro, responsibility, mulching

Well, it could be worse, right? At least they didn’t drop a tree on my car. Creative Commons:Jason Edward Scott Bain, flickr

My prediction at the beginning was that no one will admit to anything and in the end my bumper will look the same because I can’t afford to pay the deductible every time. Eventually, I get an email from a different insurance adjuster with the blather that nothing can be done or proven. It seems maybe the previous adjuster quit. I’d bet money that my insurance company didn’t really even try to support me. I’ll bet anything that Asplundh just ignored them.

So what have I learned?

  • BC Hydro gets out of responsibility by subcontracting and not checking their contractors’ work.
  • Asplundh doesn’t give a rat’s fart how well they do anything nor hold their workers to any culpability.
  • Family Insurance isn’t there to support the insured, even in giving information. This also means they’ll be losing my business come time to renew my car insurance.
  • The next time I see any city workers in any form on my street I’m going to stop and take pictures of my car, of them and of their vehicles.

Thankfully, I looked at this as an experiment and didn’t expect a resolution. Too bad we’re running on such a lack of honor.

There, I feel better now.

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I Don’t Hate Bicyclists!

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Creative Commons

Okay, I have to revisit this topic, as my bicycling friends think I’m out to get them. Let me reiterate. Bikes are a good thing. Bicyclists are a good thing. Bike lanes are a good thing. But… there are major transportation issues in Vancouver and I firmly believe the way they’re being handled is not the best answer and is causing antagonism.

Listening to my biking, driving and walking friends, there are several factors at play. Vancouver wants to cut down on people driving to the downtown core. Not a bad thing but as the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, said, he believes in the dangling-the-carrot approach. Right now, it feels as if Vancouver is punishing anyone who drives. First, we have the highest gas prices in the country. This is partly because of the province’s supposedly green policy, which again punishes drivers, doesn’t tax gas companies and doesn’t offer a cheap and efficient alternative.

Coupled with a downtown core that you can only reach from North and West Vancouver by two bridges (Lions Gate and Iron Workers Memorial), or from the south side of Vancouver by three bridges (Burrard, Cambie, Granville), this adds to a crush for people commuting to work.  From the east  there are several roads and only one pseudo bridge, the Georgia Viaduct. It looks like a bridge and acts like a bridge but other major streets going into Vancouver are Powell, E. Cordova, Hastings and Expo Blvd. via Prior St. (which is also the street that leads to the viaduct).

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Wiki Commons

Now I believe bicyclists have a lane over the Lions Gate Bridge and there is one over the Burrard St. Bridge. These are fine, and Burrard used to have a shared pedestrian/bicyclist sidewalk. I used to walk it and learned that this was the safest thing because bicyclists on the road were very much in danger of being smunched and on the sidewalk they smunched pedestrians. It wasn’t the best solution so making a lane was the better choice and when you have bridges you have to choose one of them. Lions Gate Bridge is closer to downtown and Cambie and Granville have too many feeder routes. There is no “from the west side” to get to downtown Vancouver unless you take a boat. But from the east, the most popular car routes are the viaduct and probably Hastings. Hastings is two way but the viaduct feeds onto a one-way street downtown or a one-way street out of downtown. Unfortunately in this case, the city chose the worst possible street that conflicts greatly with drivers coming in and limiting ways to turn. One or two of the other streets would have worked better.

You can no longer turn right for blocks and blocks. As well, no one knows for sure who has the right of way. There are some signs. Cars yield to bikes coming up on their right side. Big barricades limit delivery vehicles from offloading supplies. If a bicyclist wants to turn left from the right side bike lane, how do they do that, especially with concrete barricades limiting them? I should also say, that the city says 1800 people a day use the bike lanes but the one that goes along the Georgia Viaduct onto Dunsmuir St. doesn’t look that busy. My walking friend who works downtown says he’s never seen more than four people on it at once, nor have I until the other night, out of rush hour, when I saw five. But either way, they could have put this bike lane on a different street where it wouldn’t have inconvenienced drivers and still given bicyclists a free lane.

Now, how do you keep bike lanes and not punish drivers because, yes, there are many drivers as well and many reasons why a person can’t just bike into the city. Let’s not even mention winter weather. Try this. Don’t punish people for living farther out and having to commute into work. Charge the same price, make the bus/train really cheap and more people will take it. Don’t stop the SkyTrain at 12:30 am when clubs are open till 3 am. Don’t blame drivers for all the faults. Do encourage people with better education for cyclists and motorists. Don’t do things like critical mass, which only raises the antagonism level. Do think about the structure of a city ringed by estuaries, rivers and the ocean. Make taking the bus in the downtown core completely free, as Calgary does. Think about dangling the carrot.

I’ll end with that we do need a better solution and if I could afford an electric/hybrid car I would have changed long ago. I also stay as far away from downtown as I possibly can, except when I go to my doctor. I don’t go for drinks, dinner or movies downtown because parking is expensive, roads are blocked and I feel like I’m bad just because I have a car. I’m an environmental advocate but I also can’t afford to buy an $800 bike and I can’t sell my car. So before we blame another group the best solution is to work together, which means listening reasonably to all sides, not believing one way is the only and right way.

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Vancouver’s Misquided Transportation Woes

Vancouver seems to have its head up the exhaust pipe when it comes to transportation. World class city, right? World class transportation? Not yet. Okay, they tried with the new Canada line from downtown to the airport and that’s great for the long distance traveler and it does service a couple of campuses so that’s a plus. Of course they’ve been putting off the line going east that would run to Maple Ridge, Burnaby and Coquitlam where a majority of commuters come from.

When we look at the cost of riding public transportation the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) works under the belief of punishing people for distance. The farther out you live the more you pay. Of course the farther out you live the more beneficial it would be for you to take public transit. On a cost to the consumer basis Greater Vancouver runs on three zones. I don’t take public transit if I can help it for the following reasons: it’s more expensive than putting gas in my car, which of course makes driving my car more convenient as I don’t have to get up as early, struggle to find space or wait, should I miss the bus/ or it be too full. I also don’t have to worry about sitting beside drunks, perverts or thugs (and I have had experiences with two of those on public transit in the past), and I don’t have to worry about getting mugged at a station.

Places like Mexico City, with a population over 20 million, make their transit fairly cheap because they don’t want even 10 million cars driving into the center (the pollution alone is enough to take people down). But not all cities are that big. Still, places like Calgary and other large cities have either free transit in the downtown core or one price for all areas. The cheaper you make it, the more people will use it. The more expensive it is guarantees that people will stick to their cars. But Vancouver doesn’t seem to see that. Sure there is a cost to running these services but I think lower rates and increased users would work better and still cover the same budget if not increase the revenues.

The other major stupidity in transportation planning as far as SkyTrain goes is that they cut service to it at 12:30 on all evenings. If I wanted to go downtown and not  drive, I would be left with the very sporadic bus service or expensive taxis. People coming from farther out of town are less likely to take transit to go drinking. It would be the safest thing if Translink ran the SkyTrain through the night, maybe on the hour and the half hour. Then, no matter what time you leave a club you know you can get home quickly. Somehow the great minds of Translink have never figured this out.

Now Vancouver has also gone on a green kick, which is not a bad thing. However being green or “eco” has become a catch phrase for popularity and sometimes the thinking behind it is lacking. Vancouver decided to put in bike lanes, not a small lane,  with a painted line that runs beside the car lanes, but a full car lane, girded with concrete blocks for the masses of bicyclists to ride through in relative safety. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. After all, it’s a pretty scary prospect to bike through commuter traffic every day.

The problem stems partly from the fact that downtown Vancouver is accessible mostly by bridges: Burrard St., Cambie St., and the Georgia viaduct ramps. There are a couple of other ways into downtown but those three are the major routes. Two of the bike lanes use two of these routes, though one is more after the ramp.  The Burrard St. bike lane doesn’t seem to have affected much but the one that runs along Hornby St. closed off accessibility to certain business, such as the Railway Club, making it difficult for deliveries, or musicians setting up. And now you cannot turn right to go to the BCIT campus but must do a loop de loop around. Why they didn’t pick one of the other streets that are less traffic laden, I don’t know. They want to encourage people to use bikes but there are numerous people who must use cars whether for health or the vagaries of their jobs and making driving more inconvenient isn’t the way to go.

The other odd thing about all these proactive bike lanes is that there are very few cyclists using them. I’ve been downtown in the morning and afternoon rush hours and times in between and I’ve never seen more than three cyclists in the lane. Now I don’t work downtown regularly so maybe every time I’ve been down it’s been an exception. However, a friend who does work downtown says they are empty most of the time. These lanes are the size of a car lane and they seem to be very spacious for a so few cyclists. So why is Vancouver, burdened with a $20 million dollar debt, thinking of building yet another one? Do we really need it? It’s eco-friendly, it’s cyclist friendly but is it really going to make a difference or just making commuting more difficult?

I’ve already outlined the issues with people coming in from the eastern cities and the reluctance with the cost of public transit. Those same people have to deal with empty bike lanes on major arteries helping to clog the city’s heart. It’s not the way to make it work. Put up large transit lots in a few areas outside the downtown core where people can park and take free transit or nominally priced transit into the city core, or even rent a bike. Make transit cheaper for those farther out. That would help, but going backwards and charging people more and more the farther they must commute will never get people on the side of commuting with public transit. Vancouver has to learn how to dangle a carrot and make public transit and commuting a pleasant experience.

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Pedestrians and Cars: A Two-Way Street

I cannot imagine what our ancestors of long ago would have thought of our casual disregard for motor vehicles. Tons of metal hurtle towards us and we will blithely walk in front of them with presumptions of our safety. And we, as drivers, hold these leviathans at our fingertips, feeling invincible as we do so.

But the truth is that hundreds of people are injured and killed everyday, the world over, because of cars, trucks, buses. Here in Vancouver, and most of Canada, pedestrians have the right of way. That’s most to protect the flesh and bone as they’re more vulnerable that people in cars. However, should a person run into traffic or jaywalk I believe they still have the right of way, even if they are breaking the law. But it’s great way to get yourself made into road pizza.

In Vancouver, the areas that have a lot of shops tend to be the ones that will bring out the jaywalking. I will never ever jaywalk if a car is coming because I don’t believe in inconveniencing people who truly have the right of way, just because I want to skip an extra minute by walking to the corner. I have watched people and been in my car having people step out into the middle of traffic or saunter across, or end up stopping the flow because in laziness they can’t wait.

This gets back to my pet peeve of the me-me-me world where everyone only thinks of themselves. The selfish pedestrians inconvenience the drivers and other folks because they pretend they own the world. Conversely, the selfishness of drivers can be even more deadly than the accidents that law-disregarding pedestrians cause.

Too many people pay no attention but to the road in front of them. A good driver and a law-abiding one is supposed to be reading signs and watching what goes on around. Without reading you won’t know if you’re in a construction zone, if the speed limit changes, or if there is a merge lane. And without observing what’s going on around you (in a non-rubbernecking way) you won’t know that traffic flow will change, that a person is crossing a street or someone has signalled and is backing up to parallel park.

It is every driver’s responsibility to pay attention and observe. That doesn’t mean pulling out into oncoming traffic just because your signal is on (if it’s on) but do so when it’s safe. The same goes for changing lanes. And should you see someone standing at a crosswalk, you are supposed to stop and let them cross, not zoom through because they can cross after. I have almost been smeared because I was more than halfway through the crosswalk when someone decided to just keep going. People get clipped when cars turn corners.

Of course car manufacturers can be blamed for some of this. My Saturn has a huge blind spot and when I’m turning a corner I have to look behind and in front of this blind spot. However, I almost hit someone when turning one night, not because I wasn’t looking but because it was dark and raining and this guy decided to run across the street. I only saw legs flashing by as I hit the brake. It behooves every person to keep a healthy ounce of self-preservation and realize that it is sometimes hard for drivers to see in rain, fog, snow and dark.

And yesterday I almost hit a bicyclist. I signalled, stopped and looked both ways, then pulled out to turn from an alley. But this guy sailed in front of me at a fast speed and there had been a parked van to my left. Every person on the street, whether driver, bicyclist, pedestrian (and god forbid, skateboarders) needs to consider what their actions will cause, and think about if a driver/pedestrian can see them. Crossing the street that has no lighting and wearing all black at night makes you hard to see. Consider that and make sure the driver has seen you before you step in front of them.

Pedestrians, use the corners and crosswalks and don’t dash in front of cars. Drivers, consider the road, the signs and the people along the walks. Follow the rules and laws of the road and consider that you’re not the only one on it. If more people just did this; pay more attention, be aware and conduct themselves safely, we could probably cut down on accidents by 30%.

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Skateboarders are Buttheads

This should get me a bit of hate mail but it’s true. Okay, not ALL skateboarders are buttheads but the vast majority that I run into on the streets are. The ones that go to the skateboard parks and other safe areas to do their acrobatic feats of derring-do are no problem at all.

The ones that careen through traffic trying to race Death out of Darwin’s gene pool: now those are the giant buttheads. They care for little, not themselves, nor anyone else and have the arrogance that equates to a short life.

We have many forms of locomotion; cars, buses, bicycles, feet, motorcycles, roller blades and skateboards. Skateboards are the least suited to sidewalk and road. Bicyclists and motorcyclists ride small wheeled vehicles with their flesh exposed to the elements and the hard metal of other machines. They wear reflective and protective clothing, and helmets. Of course there would probably be a few death-wish hopefuls who would try to ride without helmets if it weren’t law, like it’s cool to have your brains splat on pavement or something. Cool to be stupid: that’s attractive.

Bicyclists, if they want to remain alive, pedal along beside cars as they can’t go as fast. Drivers and bicyclists should always respect each other’s space and cut out any ego issues. Unfortunately there are attitudes on both sides, but we can always dream of better tolerance. But back to skateboarders; they don’t wear protective or reflective clothing, they don’t wear helmets. Two fails right there.

Pedestrians have the right of way of sidewalks. They walk on them, not on the road where they would soon be road pizza. Of course there are butthead pedestrians who jaywalk in front of cars as if they own the road. But most stick to the sidewalks where they belong. Skateboarders get another fail for having a wheeled object on the sidewalk. Bikes aren’t allowed there; neither are skateboards.

Skateboarders don’t fit the rules of the road because they can’t go fast enough, not even as fast as a bike unless it’s downhill. They don’t wear the proper gear and on top of that they’re kicking a leg out and veering, long undulations in and out of traffic. Skateboarders don’t fit the rules of the sidewalk, because they’re on wheels. They’re hazardous to the pedestrians and often swerve all over the place.

On top of all this, they, who are least protected on the road, take the biggest risks, rolling down the middle of the street, nonchalantly getting out of the way–eventually, when a driver has had to break or slow down for them. It always amazes me that the less protection a person has from vehicles, it’s almost as if the arrogance goes up exponentially.

There is nothing more irritating or dangerous then guys flying down the road, or chugging along weaving in and out of cars and people, flipping up on curbs, doing near nose-dives onto pavement. Skateboards should be like ATVs, banned completely from roads and sidewalks and only given to certain terrain. The skateboard parks and abandoned underpasses are the ideal terrain for the skateboarder but not as a way through the streets.

A view of an extreme skateboarder’s world is revealed in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash where pizza drivers wield swords and couriers skateboard along freeways tossing their magnetized discs onto speeding vehicles to hitch a ride. (A review of this book is in a previous blog entry.) So I will stick with my thoughts that skateboarders on the streets today are buttheads, pursuing a delicate dance with death while endangering others.

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Sustainability and A Planet Out of Whack

We are talking more and more about sustainability, as an end to our oil resources is something almost calculable by now. As our living space will decrease with population growth and demands on usable water will increase. As our landfills overflow and seep toxic gunk into the groundwater.  As our land turns to dustbowls or swamps and arable land becomes scarce, as millions of cars belch fumes into the sky.

Right now fires are sweeping across BC, again, threatening people living in cities. In Westbank/Kelowna 11,000 people have been evacuated with another 6,000 on alert. This echoes the terrible, devastatingly traumatic fires that swept through parts of Australia earlier this year. Fires so intense and vicious that they caught people as they tried to get into their cars, that burned land to a cinder killing all living things, whether plant or animal, that stood upon the land. Australia faces the collapse of its wine industry, vines grown for years either burned to a crisp or without water to keep the crops going. Their cattle industry is also in danger. A whole country and continent without enough water.

This is not a new thing. Disasters and climatic devastation have happened throughout history but the ferocity and frequency are increasing as the planet warms and suffers under the onslaught of chemicals and fumes not meant to play with nature. The change in the planet probably began with the industrial revolution, once machines were chugging blue smoke into the sky and sluicing runoff into the streams. It began with the first car. And if we think about it, that was only about a hundred years ago. A tenth of a millennium and civilization has existed for at least twenty thousand years.

Think about it. We are exponentially increasing the danger to the planet and to ourselves, and sticking our heads in the sand won’t make it go away. So just what is sustainability? Let’s look at defining it first, from Merriam Webster: 1: capable of being sustained 2 a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture> b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society> 

So that a resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. Wow. Perhaps it’s easier to look at what is not sustainable than what is. What’s left over is what we have to work with. Let’s start with the biggest resource. Our planet. It is of a finite circumference with finite water and land. The world population is at 6.7 billion. It is expected to increase to 9 billion in 2040. That’s within a lot of our lifetimes. There will be less land to live on and the more building that happens takes away from land to grow upon. Water is already an issue in many places. What will it be like in thirty years?

This means no matter how much you love children, think they’re cute, want to be surrounded by bundles of joy or your religion has said, go forth and multiply, it is just not sustainable. Everyone can take personal responsibility and for every couple have one child. That will bring our population down. It will make the planet breathe a sigh of relief and continue a bit longer. Plagues, diseases and flus won’t spread like wildfire. And yes, businesses will have to restructure from the grow grow grow buy more mentality. But we’ll survive.

What is not sustainable is manufacturing more and cheaper cars, SUVs, Hummers and every gas guzzling monster. For sustainability they should be outlawed. And we see right now the glacial progress of moving to electric cars. Governments need to move faster on this and provide incentives to get people to change. More cars plug city thoroughfares and raise costs in maintenance, accident prevention and care. Fewer cars and bigger carpool systems will lessen the strain and road rage. Electric cars, bicycles, viable and cheap public transit will help alleviate both pollution and the sucking of the world’s limited oil and metal resources. Another unsustainable depleting resource.

Manufacturing that uses water needs to be looked at, if our water is becoming limited. Healthy, interactive systems of filtration need to be used to keep our water pure and reusable. We could end up like the people in the novel Dune, having to wear suits that recycle and sweat and urine into drinkable fluids over and over because the planet is desert. Water saving devices for taps, toilets and showers must be used. Education will help stem the tide there.

Building homes and offices, making paper all work on depleting trees. The forestry industry has been made responsible for replanting for quite a few years. But you can chop down more trees in a day than will grow in  a year. it takes years to get a big tree, centuries. Ripping out too many tress not only affects flora and fauna of an ecosystem but also affects the topsoil, the nutrients and the infrastructure of the land for both stability and water.

I could go on but every person as well as every company and government must take responsibility and look at what they use and how it’s reused or discarded. Everything from food to clothing. If we don’t start now, we should have started fifty years ago. And if you truly love children, start now and look at what you can do for sustainability because there could be no tomorrow.

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Driving Me Crazy: Driver Etiquette

I really think that there are way too many people on the road these days who shouldn’t be there, who don’t know how to drive or who have forgotten or who have become just plain dangerous. What’s the solution? Have them do a driver’s test every year? Well, that would raise the cost of our licenses and everyone would study up (which would help) but it doesn’t mean they would drive better the rest of the time. So, I’m not sure what the solution is. Spy drivers? Increase fines for when you’re caught? But fines, like death, are something that people think will never happen to them.

Our cities are too congested, our roadways inadequate for the commuting, our public transit inefficient or too expensive for many commuters, our homes too expensive and so people buy further and further out. This all leads to people going long distances, speeding, feeling pressured, working too much and getting angry. Governments need to take a far ranging approach but also every person has to take responsibility for their own actions.

Here are some of the purely insane or stupid things I’ve seen drivers do. If you’re reading this, I hope you won’t/don’t do these or will consider not continuing to do them.

  • Changing lanes into a turning lane and then signal. Duh, it’s obvious once you’re in the turning lane that you’re going to turn. Let’s look at the word “signal.” What does it mean? If you signal someone or something you are attracting attention and letting someone know you’re going to do something. A turning signal lets people know you’re going to turn or change lanes. You use it before you move into another lane, not after. And as the bumper stickers say, it is not an option. It’s the law. If you signal that you’re changing lanes it lets the drivers around you know that you may be changing speed and merging. The signal should blink at least three times (not a half-blip) before you do any lane change or turn, giving everyone enough time to react properly. It’s done for safety and to avoid accidents. 
  • Speeding up to not let people in. I watched a guy in rush-hour traffic yesterday as all of us crept along. He would leave a big space in front of his car, but when a car signalled properly that it was going to change lanes and then merged into the empty spot, the guy sped up and honked his horn at the car, then of course veered into the HOV lane without signalling (and a single driver). Remember this, folks. No one is ever first on the road. It’s a long asphalt snake with no beginning and no ending (more or less) and there is always someone ahead of you and behind you. Try some courtesy and it might be returned. It’s give and take; if someone signals and gives enough time, let them in, and if you are the one signalling don’t cut off a car coming up quickly. Oh, and if someone does let you in, do signal them with a wave of thanks. It’s the polite thing to do.
  • Sideswiping and crowding. I’ve been nearly pushed into the retaining wall on the highway when I was already on the exit ramp and a truck came over from the next lane into me. I honked and he just kept coming, pushing me onto the shoulder. I’ve had some insane woman nearly crush me because I was coming from a merging lane, signalling, and she wouldn’t let me in, willing to risk damage. Another guy one night, when the highway was empty, came into my lane and pushed me toward the retaining wall. Why? I don’t get this at all. Where do you think people should go? We can’t disapparate.
  • Insane road rage. But perhaps the above is just another sign of road rage. Like the time I was in the curb lane with cars parked beside me. A car stopped in front of me, a taxi I think, to let someone out. The car behind me blared his horn. Then after the car in front of me turned off, that car followed me with his lights on high. I’m still not sure how I was supposed to do anything else.
  • Street racing: we can blame car companies partly for the increase in this. Ads always declare the cars fast and sexy. And yeah, young guys have to prove they’re cool by racing but it’s absolutely unsafe and enough people have already been killed in Vancouver because of it. Drag racing was the old style problem and again could be an issue for safety of other drivers and pedesterians. But the amount of souped up and super fast cars makes this even more of an issue. Speeds of 150 km in the city are not acceptable and you certainly can’t react fast enough at that speed.

Sideswiping, speeding, tailgating, rudeness, all are extremely dangerous and do lead to accidents and death. It is the worst type of bullying, and criminal. I still think of those poor guys, on the way to the airport, who were first pushed off the road and then the guy came back, insane with anger, and ran over one young man, killing him.  Why? Did they do something first? Who knows but this sort of escalation is completely crazy. Driving isn’t a game or a competition. Not on our city streets. It’s thousands of people, each one unique and important in their way, and they all have a myriad things going on. They’re busy, sick, preoccupied, worried, happy, rushed, relaxing, whatever. It’s about people getting safely from one destination to the next. You, the driver cannot possibly know why someone does something. People sometimes make stupid mistakes. But if we try to be kinder, calmer, not presume the worst and be more aware, perhaps we can save just a few more lives, or a lot more, on the roads.

And I have to watch it when these drivers drive me crazy. Therein lies the path to road rage. Right now I shoot them with my finger gun and leave at that, grateful that we do have gun laws. Maybe counselling should be added to every driver’s licence exam. Counselling before you get the license and every couple of years.

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Travel: Ennis, Ireland

Ireland 2007–Ennis

Ennis is in the southwest of Ireland and we stayed the night after our long drive through the Burren. Its Gaelic name is Inis. We found a little B&B a little farther out of the town center. All the Irish towns have the oldest buildings at the center and the newer more moderns ones the farther out you go. The streets were once built for carriages and are narrow. If there is any parking, people usually just drive up over the low curbs and you have to drive around the cars. This was true of Donegal town too. Ennis was set up as a one way, with the sidewalks widened and penant shaped streamers through the streets. There was some sort of game, the local team or something that was winning but I can’t remember what.

Rose Cottage, our B&B, wasn’t a cottage but had a small dining area as well as a wee pub downstairs with quite lovely and clean rooms upstairs. The food seemed kind of Americanized so we went into town and found one of few restaurants open. The food there was extremely good, one of those higher end restaurants. I believe it was called the Town Hall, denoting what it once used to be.

After dinner my sister and I wandered up the street to a cute little pub. There were people playing inside but as opposed to an organized band they were more just jamming. A fiddler or two, I think one on bodhran but it was very low key and background. I don’t even remember much about that pub.

The next day we wandered about the town, which still has many medieval buildings, and did some shopping. I think it was my favourite town for the looks and being just a pretty place. The streets all gently curved and the shops and pubs have an old feel. This town had the most medieval feel of the towns we had been in. There were many interesting shops and I wouldn’t have minded more time there. We found our way to the Ennis Friary by asking the Garda (the police) since we somehow couldn’t find a street that went through and it turns out there is the old friary, the ruins, and the new one, which is still in use. Of course we wanted the ruins.

Ennis Friary was built in 1240 making the town a religious center. It was a Franciscan center until the expulsion of the monks in the 1800s. It’s a fine example of gothic architecture, with remains of the cloister walk and many walls with the skeleton of the windows left. Some windows, side by side, would have a different design from one to the next. The floors were festooned with old tombs, leaving no space to walk that wasn’t over someone’s grave. I found that tombs older than about the 1700s were unreadable. Many were set in the walls and the O’Brians and MacMahons were families of note in the eiarly days of the friary.

The friary has some great sculptural images, with a monk, a skeletally thin Christ, and a virgin Mary as some of the plaques and such embedded in the walls. The Creagh tomb was large and ornate, in better condition but then it was put in, in 1840 and incorporated some elements from the 1500s. Overall, the friary was in good condition, for a ruin. I really wished these old churches still had the stained glass. It’s a bit hard to imagine what they would have looked like in their full glory, with the bright hues of glass, candles, wooden ceilings and floors, rushes perhaps, and walls not yet pitted by age and weather in rebellion.

When I get back to Ireland I want to spend more time in Ennis and exploring around the town.

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Media Creates Paranoia

I was talking with a few people at work today and it came up that one woman has a 12-year-old daughter who is just ready to start walking to school, as opposed to being driven. She said they let you know when they’re ready to walk. I sometimes pass a school in the mornings where there are numerous cars with parents dropping off their children.

When I was a child, at the tender age of six, my mother took me to school the first few times. My next older sibling was six years older and in a different school so she couldn’t take me. After about a week I was on my own, wending my way through blocks and blocks to school. That school was well over ten blocks away.

In the winter, outfitted in multiple layers and big, clunky boots, I would trudge through Calgary snows to get to class and get out of the snow suit, or tights and pants and toque for the classroom. I was late every day for over a week because I just couldn’t make it through the snow faster. My teacher said to tell my mother I was late.

But I still walked to school. My mother didn’t drive. My father often worked out of town and people just did not drive their children to school. It could be argued that people have to go greater distances but we were far enough away that it took a child over a half hour (maybe it took an hour) to get to school. It was at least a mile.

Junior high and high school were all about the same distance as the elementary school and yet we continued to walk it, winter or summer. No one was abducted. I don’t think anyone was even hit by a car. People didn’t drive as fast, roads weren’t as crowded. Perverts didn’t lurk around every corner. I don’t know of anyone who was killed by any means while I was in school.

And speaking of perverts, I bet most parents would quote safety from murderers and abductors as their number one reason for driving their child to school. Probably safety from traffic and then distance would rate as second and third reasons.

Interestingly, we were mature or responsible enough and given the freedom (told to) go to school on our own as children. Parents didn’t watch our every move. We weren’t given cell phones, we weren’t given cars (only a very few kids in high school had cars). The maturity hasn’t dropped in thirty years yet the responsibility level has risen, so what has caused the overprotective nature of parents and the dependence their children now have on them to do everything for them?

Fear. Fear of murder, of sexual abuse, of abduction, of traffic injury, of succumbing to the elements. Overall, the incidence of murder and child abduction hasn’t increased in thirty years. However, driving children to school has. Interestingly, in the US, even the rate of pedestrian-traffic accidents hadn’t increased, but 50% of children injured by cars were hit by parents or other students driving. And school zone speed limits are often exceeded. I see this every time I’m driving through a school or playground zone at 30 km and I’m passed by 90% of the cars.

The increased driving can be partly attributed to the fact that more parents work and fewer stay at home with the kids, there are more cars so that each parent may have one, and media. We now have radio, newspaper, internet and TV. There are more channels and you can get news 24/7 and the same news repeated. And repeated. And repeated. In fact, not only do the news channels repeat and update us several times a day on the same dire crime, they now go into long talk shows and reports and interviews and research on a particular phenomenon.

With the inundation of events, these murders and abductions move to the forefront of our thoughts. Parents hear the details of a horrific child abduction and murder, where the body was found, how the child was murdered, the search and rescue attempts, the hunt for the murderer, the sorrow of the loved ones, and the trial with all the horrific details again. It becomes one never-ending circle, a parent’s worst nightmare and it feels so close.

The media needs to take half the blame here for being too focused on the dark, dire and depressing. When various statistics for most Western countries indicate drops in all sorts of crime including those against children, consider if you’re coddling your child too much. Will the next generation hide in the cocoons of their homes and condos, only interacting through virtual media, too afraid to talk to anyone? I’m worried that it’s already happening, perpetuated not by crime but by the fears of it.

US report on kids walking to school and crime incidences since 1969: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/kidswalk/then_and_now.htm

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Belfast to Ballycastle

 

Ireland 2007–Belfast to Ballycastle

In honor of St. Patty’s day tomorrow, here is another excerpt from my trip to Ireland in the fall of 2007.

Here we are still on Sunday Sept. 30, going from the Newgrange area to Belfast. We gassed up before Northern Ireland (as opposed to the republic) as they use pounds and that’s even more expensive (at least $2 CDN to the pound). It was the first time gassing up and we couldn’t get the gas flap open on the VW Polo or whatever that piece of crap was. No levers, no buttons and the gas jockey was stymied too. Finally he asked one of the other guys and it turns out you just give it a good push and it pops open. Duh.

The only difference crossing the border, which was indiscernible, was that the speed limits changed from kilometers to miles, much like driving from Canada to the US. However, the speedometer did not show miles, not that it mattered. If it said 60, people went 120, no matter whether km/h. I just flowed with the flow.

There are fairly major highways between Dublin and Belfast so it was smooth sailing and little getting lost though my sister would laugh her head off every time we saw a sign that said Heavy Plant Crossing. This usually wasn’t on the main highways but we later found out it meant lumber trucks crossing, so in a sense, heavy plants. Our three maps of Ireland were deficient in different ways. The one from CAA only showed major routes and everything is a minor route in Ireland. The best map had roads going where they didn’t, roads missing, and sites not exactly where they really were. You cannot have too detailed of a map for Ireland, even if it is a small country.

So, we drove into Belfast with no city map, a scary prospect after the maze of Dublin. But we found downtown (reminded me of Edmonton with the type of streets and construction going on), drove in circles for a bit and then parked, by sheer luck, across from the tourist information center (a large “i”) so we did some internet posting, then got a map and yes, you guessed it, it was not accurate for Belfast. The woman drew lines to the Crown Liquor Saloon, the only place we were going to see as we were now shy of hanging around in the big cities. But of course she said go this way on a street that turned out to be a one way the other way. And you know what one ways are like when you’re lost. You’re always going the wrong direction. And we drove around and around and around and couldn’t find this world famous Victorian saloon.

Finally I stopped by a taxi and told my sister to ask him. He was so nice that he actually just led us there and then pointed. And still we drove back and forth, because the saloon was under renovations and we couldn’t see it for the scaffolding. Arrrghh! But we found it and it was truly beautiful, with warm wood booths and pillars. The pillars had little carved lions and griffins holding shields and in all, there were only about six booths with lovely wooden doors and stained glass. Each booth had a metal plate that said Matches. We were talking to this man and woman and he said that at the turn of the century that was where people struck their matches when smoking. Ireland (both republic and north) are smoke free environments inside establishments, just like BC.

This guy also regaled us with politics and told us the only reason Dublin was considered dirty was because the tourists litter, not the locals. I kept my mouth shut but later saw what the Irish college crowd is like in Kilkenny and the streets were littered. Belfast itself was very modern in the downtown core. We got lost (of course) getting out and the area we were in was a little rougher, but no sign at all of all the chaos of recent years gone by.

We then drove through to Ballycastle. Bally means “bay,” so we passed many a place name Bally this and Bally that. It is a resort town and we did the usual, park and go into a pub for a drink. This was very much a sports bar and rugby is on every screen (or is it soccer–I mix them up). There was a man at the bar could have been my friend Terri Fleming’s brother; similar hair and skin color, and looks. The Flemings (once Flemish of course) ended up in Ireland by way of many routes and the Scots.

On the outskirts of the town, right beside a golf course are the ruins of Bonamargy Friary. Built around the early 1500s it houses many graves of the MacDonnells, the past chieftains of Ulster and Antrim and is still in the same family to this day. The most famous was Sorley Boy (an Anglicization) and his brothers who ruled and repelled the English. The MacDonnells married the MacQuillans to quell the past Lords of the Route. Turns out the one headstone I took a picture of is rumoured to be the Black Nun of Bonamargy’s resting place, Julie MacQuillan who was said to have made seven prophesies.

From the pictures you can tell it was dusk and we weren’t having any luck with finding the B&B the pub recommended. We went back and tried to call three places but duh, you dial first, then stick the money in and if you’re not fast enough, it cuts you off. And then you have to keep adding coins to keep talking. We goofed so bad the pub owner helped us, and one B&B just called back because we got cut off. Eventually in full darkness we found Clare house, after having to knock on someone’s door and scare them in the dark. We unpacked and went back to town for dinner. Some pubs have restaurants upstairs and I don’t know the name of the place we ate at but it was very modern in design and high end. It was a Sunday so there weren’t a lot of places open. A bit pricey but very good.

It was late and we were tired so we drove back after eating and hit the sack.

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