Thanks to a prod from my daughter, Allison, I was back cycling through Burnaby and Vancouver again. It felt good. Cars are too slow, too expensive, and the traffic too exasperating for urban travel. Walking is too slow. But biking, because its pace enables the rider to appreciate the surroundings yet is fast enough to keep things exciting, is the right tempo.
Adanac Street is a designated bike route. It wasn’t when I rode it to work half a century ago and its hills, I soon discovered, were a lot less steep. Other than the cement roundabouts at every second intersection, little had changed since I rode it so many years ago. Actually, they aren’t roundabouts like those found on highways in the prairies and in England, which allow motorists, if all goes well, to stay on the same road or access another. Aroundabouts might be a more apt designation for them, since most of the traffic slows down to go around them.
These obstacles are a simple and brilliant idea that control traffic flow without favouring traffic in one direction over that coming from another as a stop or yield sign does. They are also dandy places for gardens or green space that enhances the beauty of the neighbourhoods where they are placed.
I’d only passed a few cars in the two kilometres it took me to reach Slocan Avenue. I turned onto it and rode south for old times sake, since it runs through the neighbourhood I grew up in and went to school in until third grade.
These were the roads I rode with my first bike, a plain blue bike with one gear and a rock hard rubber seat. Our hard-won riding skills were purchased at the expense of many crashes. The hardy and heavy frame of that rugged bike endured and survived as many as mine, with not so much as a broken spoke or fractured bone, though there were some bent handle bars and lost chains and lots of road rash and angry tears until the required devil-may-care level of confidence was reached.
I had that bike until it was too cool to ride it, which must have been until age 16 or thereabouts. I’m still amazed at how fit we scrawny kids were. We prowled the area bounded by Hastings in the north, Broadway in the south, Commercial Drive in the west and Renfrew in the east, with a few trips to exotic places like Stanley Park. When I was older, my friends and I rode from the Capitol Hill area to places as distant as Port Moody, West and North Vancouver, New Westminster, and Vancouver. All of these trips were made on our primitive bikes that we simply left on the ground or leaned against a tree or fence, unlocked, for we knew nobody would steal them, and nobody ever did.
When I reached Clinton Park, it was as if nothing had changed in 60 years. Two elderly olive skinned Italian gentlemen, both with a mane of slicked back grey hair were sitting on one of the park’s benches earnestly discussing a topic of mutual importance.
Behind them, a couple of moms were pushing their toddlers down slides and on swings in the playground as a dozen Chinese executed the balletic choreography of Tai Chi in the shadow of an ancient maple tree standing on a knoll overlooking the kids at play.
When we lived there as kids, the Chinese owned every corner store. Italians worked on the long shore and ran businesses located on the main arteries, Sikhs delivered hog fuel destined for our furnaces. There were Dutch, and Germans, and WASPs, and nobody talked of ethic tensions or ethic diversity. We took diversity as part and parcel of what neighbourhoods were. I suspect it’s still like that.
The trees on the boulevards lining the streets are taller now and really impressive. Unlike our town, there are paved lanes with the result that there are very few cars on the street. Nobody faces the back of somebody else’s house. Homes in our town often have four or five vehicles and a boat in their front yards, making their otherwise nicely appointed property look like a car lot.
In East Vancouver, laneways with garages in the back go a long way to alleviate this unsightliness. All the services, with the exception of mail delivery, are done out back.
On garbage day there are no cans out front cluttering the street. The citizens in my old hood clearly take a lot of pride in their back yards and lane ways with the result that they look considerably better than the front of many Terrace streets.
I remembered my former neighbourhood being quiet. Despite the increase in traffic it still is, except for those who live on major arteries. Now with the addition of urban trails, the closing down of traffic lanes, and future initiatives to control traffic, possibly with taxation, as has been successfully implemented in Stockholm, Vancouver is greening up and becoming an even more appealing place to live.