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September 13, 2009

Tips for Getting Around Downtown

I've lived in downtown Vancouver for almost 5 years now, and getting around down here can be a bit hard sometimes. Teeming masses of people crowd the sidewalks during the day, and also on weekend nights when the local clubs have their myriad young people on the make. When the Canucks or the Lions are playing in town, congestion can also get pretty bad (and don't even think about driving when one of these games is going on, or during the summer Festival of Light fireworks nights!).

Whether you walk or drive, there are some things you can do as a driver or pedestrian that will make things a lot easier for everybody around. If everybody would just do these things, getting around downtown would be a lot easier. And Vancouver is not the largest city in the world, so I'm sure these would also apply to any other major metropolitan downtown.

I'd appreciate the thoughts of any other city dweller, either in agreement or in correction.

Rules for Pedestrians

1)"Don't walk" means DON'T WALK!

One of the major causes of vehicular traffic jams in the downtown core is vehicles trying to make a turn from one street to another. That's because there are so many pedestrians crossing the street that it's hard for a vehicle to turn. It's fine when the pedestrians have the "walk" light for them. But when the "don't walk" sign flashes, don't try to run across the street to beat the light! That "don't walk" sign has the effect of letting turning traffic go through before their light changes (obviously it's intended for pedestrian safety, which is another reason not to cross, but it has the nice side effect too). When you run across the street in front of a turning vehicle, at best you are inhibiting the free flow of traffic on the street. At worst, you'll get yourself killed.

Obviously, there are times where you can do this with no problem, but show some intelligence! If there is nobody waiting to turn, then that is fine. If the street you are crossing is a one-way and nobody can turn onto it in your direction, then that is fine too (though you should look out for people on your street wanting to take advantage of the opportunity to turn right on red).

It has gotten so bad that Vancouver (and I assume most other downtown cores) has implemented right turn arrows to allow traffic the first opportunity to turn right before pedestrians can cross. This does help a lot, though you get the occasional doofus who doesn't realize that there's an arrow and starts crossing in anticipation of the "walk" sign. Most of the time they catch themselves and stop immediately, but I've seen a few times where the person crosses without even noticing. These are probably tourists or those who aren't familiar with how downtown works.

2)Move your ass!

I'm not saying you have to run across the street, or even walk fast. I also realize that sometimes it's just not possible to move quickly, either due to medical condition or what have you. But if at all possible, don't dawdle! The purpose of walking (and driving) is to get some place. When you're crossing the street, realize that you are in the middle of the street and keep moving. Do your sightseeing on the sidewalk. I've seen some really healthy-looking people move across the street as slowly as possible, and it really gets aggravating when you're trying to turn right (or turn left when you have a chance but somebody's sauntering in the crosswalk, only getting out of your way when traffic is coming again).

Of course, if you are old or infirm, then this doesn't apply to you, though you should try and move as fast as you can. Which brings us to...

3)Be aware of your surroundings and use some intelligence.

If you are old or infirm and you are walking up to a street corner that has a "walk" sign still going, realize that by the time you step off the curb, it's going to have changed to "don't walk." Don't start crossing the street just as it changes. You're never going to get across before the light changes, and then everybody's going to have to wait for you to get across. This also applies to those of you who decide you just want to saunter across the street. In other words, if you are going to still be in the street when the light changes, don't try and cross.

4)Don't try to cross in the middle of the street and, if you do, be patient.

Most people who do this are young, so there's nothing that prevents you from walking down to the street corner and using the light. Don't expect me to stop for you and let you cross. If you do plan to cross in the middle of the street, then just wait for traffic to clear. Don't look annoyed that nobody's stopping for you. And most importantly, do it quickly! I had one woman saunter across the street in front of me. She had already started, so I couldn't just keep going without hitting her. So I stopped. She just kept sauntering, so when she reached the midpoint of my front bumper, I honked at her. She jumped and got moving. I don't even know if she was aware of me before that.

These four tips would make getting around downtown much more efficient, and might even lessen some of the traffic jams that are the bane of the downtown driving existence. It would also be much safer, though thankfully people seem to be so used to it now that there don't appear to be many pedestrians hit down here (I can't speak for any other cities, however).

Drivers, don't think you've been forgotten, as there are some rules for you too.

Rules for Drivers
1)Don't stop in the middle of the bloody intersection!

I've complained about this before, but if you can't get through the intersection before the light turns red because of the traffic in front of you, then don't go through the intersection. It's really annoying to not be able to go through the intersection in my direction because some idiot didn't realize they couldn't go through, so they're stuck in middle, blocking traffic going my way. Meanwhile, pedestrians have to walk around them too (thus, endangering them), which also means that once traffic clears so they can move forward, they still have to wait for the pedestrians to clear.

Now I'm not perfect, and I've occasionally done this myself. And I feel embarrassed and annoyed with myself when I do it, because I know I'm getting in other people's way.

2)If some pedestrian wants to cross in the middle of the street, don't stop for them.

The streets aren't that long that they can't either go to the lights and cross legally or just wait until traffic clears. You stopping for them just stops all traffic while we're waiting for them to cross. Inevitably, you stopping for one pedestrian gives other pedestrians the idea and they take advantage of you already being stopped, just making us have to wait longer. This is especially prevalent before and after sporting events, when large crowds of pedestrians are walking. Let them go to the lights! Traffic's already bad enough as it is.

3)Know where you're going, or be prepared to circle around.

I can't count how many times people don't seem to know where they're going when they're driving. They suddenly realize that they're in the left lane and they need to turn right at the next street. So they stop and want to change lanes, holding up traffic in their lane while they're waiting for somebody to let them in. Of course, nobody does, at least not for a while. I know I wouldn't. Be prepared to turn left, making a circle and getting into the correct lane this time around. Or vice versa.

If you do this and somebody actually does let you in, don't make them regret it by being stupid in front of them. Take the opening they gave you quickly and then make the turn you need to make as soon as possible. I know pedestrians crossing may keep you from doing that, of course. But be quick about it.

4)Make the turn!!

I know cars shouldn't go peeling around corners at top speed. But you also don't need to crawl around the corner either. People behind you are trying to get where they're going as well. Sometimes, I could push cars around the corner faster than they're actually going. It's even worse when there are multiple cars turning the same corner, and they all turn like this.

5)Be aware of your surroundings and use some intelligence

Yes, this also applies to drivers. Big tour buses trying to turn on a downtown street can be a major traffic impediment. Be aware when one is in front of you and be ready to change lanes if possible if you want to keep going straight. If you don't get out of that lane, don't try and cut somebody off later when you do try and change lanes. Wait until traffic is clear or just wait for the bus to make the turn. Don't make the rest of us pay for your inattention. The same goes for any other similar situation that comes up.

Look ahead and take notice if construction is coming up, blocking a lane. Try to move over as soon as you notice. This also applies to stopped delivery trucks and stuff like that. Just be aware!

As can be seen from the fact that it appears in both lists, being aware as you're traveling downtown is the most important thing you can do. Use the brain that's in your head and realize that drivers and pedestrians make up an environment that's very sensitive to the slightest tweak. When one thing goes wrong, it can tie up things for miles.

We all live here or work here, and we all have to get along. So why not do your part to make that easier on everyone?

Update #1 (9/22/09): Here's a rule I forgot to include the first time around, for drivers.  If you're wanting to turn and there's space near the curb while you're waiting for the pedestrians to finish crossing, get over to the curb!  Too many times, somebody wants to turn and they have room by the curb, but instead they stay out in the middle of the lane, which means that the traffic behind them that wants to go straight can't get through.  They have to wait with you while the pedestrians cross.  If you got over to the curb, then those people could pass you while you're waiting.

This isn't always possible, of course.  And if it's not, then nobody will begrudge you blocking their lane.  But if it's possible to get over, then GET OVER!


  1. I'm sure glad you drive when we are up there. I wouldn't want to do it. You really let them have it. Let's hope people will listen.


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