Tag Archives: translink

End of Blacktop Politics – Peak Car Use in Vancouver


For the past 40 years, the car has been king and BC politicians have been promising shiny, new (and expensive) highways, bridges, and expressways to get elected. It’s been known as ‘blacktop politics‘, and although it never delivered on its promise of congestion-free commuting, it has never been a losing strategy for politicians.

But that’s beginning to change. There are two transportation visions being floated for the Lower Mainland. Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberal government think expanded highways are the future. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and city council think expanded public transit, encouraging people to walk and cycle, and discouraging car use is a better plan.

It’s a big shift, but there are reasons to think the era of the car is coming to an end. Car use has peaked in many western countries, driven by high gas prices and young people who would rather spend their commute on a bus with their cellphone then behind the wheel of a car in traffic. In Downtown Vancouver, current traffic volumes are the same as they were in 1965!

The Sightline Institute has been documenting peak car use in the Pacific Northwest with a series of posts entitled Dude, Where Are My Cars? The most recent post shows that traffic on the Port Mann Bridge peaked in 2005, and yet the Liberals spent $3.3 billion building the widest bridge in the world (10 lanes, 65 meters) to replace it. Now, Premier Christy Clark is promising to expand the Massey Tunnel, which saw volumes peak in 2004. (Data from Ministry of Transportation – missing two years from 2000-2001).

Vancouver (and the region) has a growing population, and people are still commuting and traveling, they’re just using public transit and cycling instead of a car. Transit use is at an all-time high, and there’s a huge latent demand for new rapid transit projects. The Canada Line is years ahead of its ridership projections, averaging 110,000 passengers a day. Cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation in Vancouver, and 4.1% of all trips are now done on a bike (1.9% in Greater Vancouver).

Politicians need to realize that our transportation future is not in wider bridges or bigger tunnels, but in more trains and bike lanes. There is a world-wide shift occurring away from the car. In Italy, last year more bikes were sold than cars for the first time since World War 2. In Australia, vehicle use is at the same level as 1992 and people are questioning the governments spending on highways. It’s time we start building for the future.

Car-Free Weekend – Saturna Island

Dinner on the Docks
Car-free travelling is care-free travelling, especially on the long-weekend when ferry reservations are in short supply and border line-ups are hours long. Our latest car-free adventure was to Saturna Island, one of BC’s Gulf Islands.

Saturna Island is one of the more difficult islands to reach by ferry, requiring at least one transfer at Mayne or Swartz Bay. Saturna seems more relaxed, friendlier, and quieter then the other gulf islands I’ve visited (maybe because it is more inaccessible). This is island life at its best. The locals are friendly, we were able to book last minute accommodation, the roads don’t have a lot of traffic, and we had no problems hitch-hiking around the island.

We stayed at the Breezy Bay Bed and Breakfast, located in a charming old farmhouse with an interesting history. It was originally built in 1892, then it was turned into a commune, was a free school for several years, and now it’s a bed and breakfast. I highly recommend the Breezy Bay Bed and Breakfast – it’s a great old building with some interesting spaces, the farm has frisky cows, and unlike some b&b’s I didn’t feel like I was intruding on someone. Matt and Meg, who are currently running the joint, made us feel welcome and cooked up some wicked breakfast, including gluten-free and veggie options.

On Sunday, we biked down to the other side of the island and hiked around Narvaez Bay. We ran into deer, wild turkeys, feral goats, and lots of sea creatures in the tidal pools. Emily got a flat tire, which we were able to pump up enough to get her home, but it wouldn’t hold enough air on Monday. So we ended up hitch-hiking around the island. Two of the friends we were travelling with didn’t bring their bikes and had no trouble getting rides, so we decided to hitch hike to and from Winter Cove. Saturna doesn’t have an informal car taxi system, like Mayne Island, but most locals will stop to pick up passengers. The General Store has couches in front where people wait to get rides. On our way back from Winter Cove, we were picked up by one of the owners of Breezy Bay, and he told us some interesting stories on the ride. I still prefer cycling, but hitch-hiking is a great way to meet the locals.

Saturna Island is home to a winery (which we didn’t visit, but we did try the pinot gris in the pub and bought a bottle at the General Store to bring home) and Go Nuts Burgers, which we were disappointed the pub sold out of, but you can buy them in Vancouver. There isn’t a lot of restaurant options, other then the pub and a cafe in the General Store. The one attraction we missed visiting (due to bike problems) was East Point, where whales can often we seen of of the coast. We’ll have to save that for the next trip.

The only downside to a car-free, bike trip to the gulf islands is getting to/from the ferry terminal with your bike. It’s a long ride from Vancouver to Tsawwassen and you have to shuttle through the Massey Tunnel, so I don’t recommend biking there. You can take your bikes on the bus, which is what we always do, but it’s a stressful journey because each bus only takes 2 bikes and there are lots of cyclists vying for those spaces. On the way home we had 8 bikes rush off our ferry to jockey for bus spots. Luckily, we were all able to get on the next 4 buses that left within 30 minutes, but I wish Translink would offer a more reliable option for cyclists trying to get to/from the ferry terminals.

Travelling By BikeSaturna Island Gas StationSaturna Island By BikeBreezy Bay FarmBreezy Bay Bed and BreakfastTwin Beds
MegBreezy Bay Living RoomBreezy Bay LibraryBreezy Bay Dining RoomBreezy Bay BreakfastPoke the Cow
Practice PokeWild TurkeysCarry a Big StickField BathtubGulf Islands National ParkDown By the Bay
Wild GoatsSea AnemoneKayakersSpottedSaturna WaterfallMe and the Waterfall Emily and the Waterfall Fern Gully Saturna Pub Dinner on the Docks Breezy Bay Glide Relaxing in Winter Cove Travelling By Bike Bikes on the Ferry Bike Lineup

Saturna Island 2011, a set on Flickr.

Car-Free Weekend – Mayne Island

Vancouver is a great city to live car-free in. You can bike all year round on a great network of bike routes, most of Metro Vancouver is well served by public transit, and there are two car sharing options (my favourite being the Cooperative Auto Network). However, getting out of the city for weekend trips is sometimes a challenge without a vehicle.

One good option is exploring the Gulf Islands, which is easy (and cheap) to do with a combination of bus, ferry, and bike. 2 years ago Emily explored Gabriola Island by bike, and this year we explored Mayne Island.

Getting to Mayne Island is relatively easy. The Canada Line allows bikes on board at all times and will take you to Bridgeport Station, where you transfer onto the 620 Tsawwassen bus. The bus takes you to the ferry terminal where you’ll find a few sailings to Mayne Island. The trickiest part is getting your bike on the bus. Each Translink bus has 2 spots in front for bikes, and they go quickly. On the way to the ferry terminal there were 5 bikes that wanted to get on our bus. On the way back there were 8, plus several people biked into town from the ferry terminal hoping to catch a different bus. Luckily, in both directions we had bus drivers who were accommodating and squeezed extra bikes into the space where wheelchairs normally go. Although both bus drivers said it was a one-time-deal and not to count on extra bike space, we heard other cyclists had similar experiences last weekend. I would be great if Translink found a better long term suggestion – like a bike trailer for the ferry routes on weekends, or extra bike racks on the back of buses.

Now assuming you can get your bike to the ferry terminal, it only costs $2 extra to take your bike on the ferry, and judging by the dozens of bikes we had on our return trip from the gulf islands, it is an increasingly popular travel option. Mayne Island is relatively bike friendly – it is quick to get around the small island, the roads are well paved, and the traffic is light, but there are tons of hills that make exploring a real workout. In addition, you don’t want to be caught biking after the sun goes down. Our ferry was late arriving on Friday night, and at 10:30 the roads are pitch black and the bike lights we had did little to illuminate them.

We stayed at the Springwater Lodge in Miner’s Bay – a short ride from the ferry terminal that felt very long in the darkness. The Springwater offers very basic lodging, in 5 rooms above the pub with a shared washroom. There was noise from the restaurant until midnight on Saturday night, but otherwise it was a quiet – possibly because we were the only guests. If it wasn’t for the shredded curtains, crappy mattress, missing smoke detector, and broken hot water tap this would have been a great place to stay. A little basic repair work would go along way here.

Our exploration of Mayne Island led us all around the island. We hiked the trails in Mount Parke and climbed up to the top of Vulture Ridge.
Mayne Island Hiking Map
There are a few hiking loops in Mount Parke, all along well traversed trails. Halliday Ridge and Old Gulch Trail were the best hikes – 2.8 km of medium difficulty trails that take you up to a viewpoint and back. The viewpoint provides vistas of Pender Island and, unfortunately, the gravel pit below. There is also the Plumper Pass Community Park Trail (2 km loop), which was a boring hike. The Mary Jeffery Park trail was an easy flat trail with a giant arbutus tree on the southern portion. We spent just over 2 hours doing all the hikes in the park.

We started our Vulture Ridge hike at Punch’s Alley and hiked half of the Doreen McLeod Beach Access Trail and then ascended Vulture Ridge to the viewpoint. Both trails were slightly overgrown and we had plants whipping at our exposed legs. This was definitely a hike you should do with pants on. The viewpoint from the top of Vulture Ridge was nicer then the one on Halliday Ridge and there was even a bench to sit on. The return trip to the viewpoint from Punch’s Alley took us 90 minutes.

We also explored the area around the light house at Georgina Point and the park at Campbell Point. Both areas had nice sandstone formations, and Campbell Point had a sandy beach for lounging and swimming (although it was too cold for that when we were there).

We ate really well on the island. We had dinner one night at Wild Fennel, a restaurant serving meals highlighting local ingredients. They had a good vegetarian selection but the portions were simply too big. The restaurant is cozy with a nice patio and the walls are lined with great art created by one of the owners.

We also ate the Springwater Lodge one night. I was expecting sub-standard pub food, especially considering how budget the rooms are. But I was surprised by the quality of the food we got. They also have a big patio with great views of Active Pass.

Springwater Lodge Mayne Island Farmer's Market Captain Colander Tinkers Sharpening Service Eating Local, Island Style Pumper Pass Lockup Wild Fennel Climbing the Arbutus Textured Sandstone Perched Arbutus Sandstone Sandals Beach Lounging Mount Parke Indian Pipe Giant Arbutus Mayne Island Car Stop Tinkerers Bed & Breakfast Busy Bee Little Ferry, Big Ferry Gulf Island Leap Purple Starfish Clam Conversations Long Island Walk Spirit of Vancouver Island Vulture Ridge Springwater Lodge Food Island Emily Deer on Road Blackberry Picking Ferry Foot Fetish Cow Horn