Never have I crossed the Lions Gate bridge so quickly. It was 6:30 a.m. yesterday morning, and I was on my way to drop off a parcel to cousins in upper Kitsilano. As I approached the north end of the bridge, traffic was going so fast that the cars did not even stop as they merged into the single lane with the green signal to cross the bridge. Merging four lanes into one at top speed was a unique experience which made me nervous. But once I was on the bridge, I marvelled at the wisdom of commuters going into the city so early. I turned off the Stanley Park causeway at Prospect Point, took the excursion around the park, past English Bay and over the Burrard Street bridge to my destination near Broadway and Vine. It took only twenty minutes, a record in my experience.
That was the trip there. The trip back was another story. As I left my cousins’ home at 8:30, I called my husband to tell him where I was and my plans for the morning. I assumed that I would be back at Park Royal by 9:00, would do several errands and be home shortly. It was a lovely drive east on Broadway, back over the Burrard Street Bridge and around English Bay, then north on Denman. Three blocks south of Robson, I came to halt behind a line of cars. I thought that it was the normal backup for the left turn lane from Denman onto West Georgia to go back over the Lions Gate Bridge. But the lights kept turning green and not a single car moved.
Finally, I decided to pull into the empty lane on Denman which required a right hand turn onto Robson. My idea was to get onto West Georgia at the next major light to the east, at Cardero. There, heading down the hill, I was the fifth car in line to turn left and I congratulated myself on my brilliant advance closer to Georgia. Alas, I soon realized that even a green light only allowed a single car to get through the intersection. Not only that, the one car was required to position itself in one of the two lanes of traffic apparently backed up on Georgia going west. Finally, it was my turn. I pulled into the far lane and joined the queue of vehicles. I was so preoccupied with the news on the car radio about the American indictments against the twelve Russian military officers that I scarcely paid any attention to the passing of time as I crawled west on Georgia.
By this time, I learned on CKNW that there was a “police incident” on the Lions Gate Bridge. Commuters to and from the North Shore were warned to use the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows bridge over the harbour. All very well and good to know when I was stopped on Georgia heading west.
It was an hour by the time I reached the head of my lane on Georgia and Denman. There, I found a police car straddled across the road behind the traffic ahead, orange pylons blocking my own lane, and a police officer directing traffic to go south on Denman or north the short distance towards the water. As I hesitated turning right, the officer yelled at me to “move along, you can’t stop there.” I yelled back, “How are we supposed to get back on the bridge eventually?” He replied, this time somewhat more politely, that “it would be faster to go over the Ironworkers Second Narrows Bridge.” OK, I could do that, so I continued my turn.
I had never been on this street before but knew that there was a road going east along the downtown waterfront and hoped that I could find it. Sure enough, I followed a couple of other cars as we turned right, and then left, and then right, and then left again through the maze of condos, hotels and office towers near Coal Harbour leading back to Cardero and onto the Convention Centre. This was not the street I was looking for, but I soon found myself on Hastings Street heading east. It was clear sailing across the city. Past Granville Street and Seymour, skirting Gastown, past Victory Square at Cambie and into Vancouver’s famous East Side, across Main Street, and into the port lands. As there were few cars on the street, I could notice the landmarks as I passed, and the colourful characters on the sidewalks.
Until I hit Powell Street. There my flight of fantasy came to an abrupt end and I found myself joining a single lane of traffic heading east bumper to bumper.
By this time, CKNW reported that traffic was backed up on the freeway leading to the Second Narrows Bridge, all the way to Capilano on the north shore, Sprotte Street in Burnaby, and Powell Street in Vancouver. Tell me about it. I was on Powell Street, a long way from the freeway. Apparently, the four North Shore bus routes that normally go over the Lions Gate Bridge were diverted to the foot of Lonsdale in North Vancouver where there was a four-ferry wait for pedestrians to cross the harbour on the seabus. As I sat, hardly moving at all, I saw huge transport trucks moving back and forth on an elevated roadway beside the port installations beyond the railroad tracks. Too bad that road was closed to the public.
Inching my way east on Powell, I saw two cars pull off on a quiet street that angled to the left. There was a sign saying, “No left turn 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday,” and another saying, “Local traffic area.” I also noticed a group of four or five adult cyclists emerging from the same street heading west. It occurred to me that they may have come on a bicycle path over the bridge from the North Shore, and that this might well be a short-cut to the freeway. What the heck? I had nothing to lose and made the turn.
I found myself on a pleasant street lined with nice houses built to enjoy a spectacular view of the port facilities, the harbour and the North Shore. As I travelled east on the street, I revelled at how quiet it was, how few cars there were, and how I could slow down to take in the view. Eventually, I found a park where I could stop and take photos of the Second Narrows bridge and the mountains across the water. What a glorious spot which I never before knew existed. I spoke to a couple of locals and asked if the road did lead to the freeway further on. “Yes, it does,” they replied, but, “it dipsy-doodles around corners and you have to pay attention.” Great, I got back into my car and headed east. Just think of all the cars I was passing.
A few blocks further east, the road turned right and appeared to climb the hill. But a sign for the Portside Bicycle Path pointed to a road going east and I decided to follow it instead. Alas, it soon ended in a cul de sac with a “private road” leading off down the hill on the left, an empty roadway curving past below, and what I assumed was McGill Street with the cars lined up bumper to bumper above. What to do? Surprisingly, I never thought to turn around and take the road mounting the hill.
Instead, I descended down the private road and found myself outside the front gate of a huge Self Service Storage facility with a big sign warning about the perimeter security system and cameras in use in the area. I pulled up and again considered my options. Coming down the “private road” may have been a mistake.
I looked at the empty roadway curving right beside me but had no idea if the road went both directions. One car came along the curved road heading west. Eventually, another came up behind me, went over the curb and headed east. So I followed him, drove east, past the storage yards and into the parking lot of yet another park. I saw the Portside Bicycle Path leading off to the east and other trails as well. A woman in the park told me how to get onto McGill. If I wanted to go east, she said that I had to take a left at the first light, turn around and then come back onto McGill.
I did as she instructed and soon found myself heading south on North Renfrew street beside the Pacific Coliseum Racecourse and Slots. This was a Vancouver landmark which I had heard about all my life but never before seen. I realized that had I taken this road up the hill, I could have made a direct left-turn onto McGill going east. Where I was now, I saw only a long line of cars stretching south as far as the eye could see. All were going north, waiting to make to make the right hand turn onto McGill. I turned around in the Pacific Coliseum parking lot, and waited to see if some kind soul would let me in. Someone did. Grateful for the generosity of this driver, I joined yet another queue heading for the Second Narrows Bridge. This time, the line was moving at least, and within what seemed like a relatively short time, I was over the freeway, onto the bridge, and back onto the North Shore heading home at full speed.
It took me two hours and fifty minutes to make the trip which had taken twenty minutes only a few hours before. But what I had discovered about the city in that time was worth every minute.
When I got home, Lions Gate Bridge was still closed in both directions as the “police incident” continued. Apparently, the bridge was closed both ways for over four hours and hundreds of thousands of morning commuters were affected. In the Vancouver Sun this morning, there was no mention of the incident. The local policy is not to encourage copycats.