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.
Today when we renewed our ICBC government-owned car insurance on the two old cars we keep out west, I was reminded of the only claim I have ever made on my car insurance. The time I hit the Bentley.
It was a baby blue Bentley convertible which I had seen one bright sunny day being driven along Marine Drive in Ambleside. Probably one of the most distinctive and expensive cars I have ever seen in my whole life. I noticed it at the time and promptly forgot about it.
Many months later, I returned to Vancouver and was driving my 2000 teal blue four-door Toyota Corolla, with the stick shift which always takes me a while to get used to, over the Lions Gate Bridge. It was mid-afternoon. My companion and I waited patiently in one of the five or six lanes of vehicles inching forward, bumper to bumper, where the traffic notoriously converges down to the one lane where the signal would be green and we could cross southbound over the bridge.
It was a dark and dreary day but the rain wasn’t so heavy that I really noticed it. I’m not even sure that I had my windshield wipers on. I was talking with my companion in my usual style, and driving my usual moderate speed, when I reached the apex of the span. As I passed over the height of the bridge and started down the decline to the Stanley Park causeway, I was shocked to see a long line of cars stopped ahead of me, backed way up the bridge. They were stopped dead, with their tail-lights red, and no one moving. I hit my brakes and pumped them as hard as I could, but the surface of the bridge must have been damp and I slid forward into the back of the car ahead of me. It was the baby blue Bentley convertible.
There was nothing to do but to bring my car to a stop, turn off the ignition and talk with the tall, silver-haired driver of the Bentley who approached my window. I got out of my car and went with him to inspect the damage. There were no marks on the paint job but he said that the tail pipe seemed to be bent. I looked and had no idea what I was supposed to be seeing.
There was no time, however, to discuss it. Never having been in any kind of accident before, I had no idea what to do. He was not happy. More precisely, he was visibly embarrassed. Being involved in an accident on the Lions Gate Bridge at any time close to rush hour is a civic disaster which can tie up traffic for hours. We have a friend who happened to be in a taxi on Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver at precisely that hour. He later told me that there was a news bulletin over the radio in his taxi reporting a car accident on the Lions Gate Bridge. That would have been Mr. Silver Hair and me. Mr. Silver Hair thrust his card at me, told me to call him later, and hastened back to his car.
By now, the traffic was moving smoothly, and we followed the Bentley through the park, around Lost Lagoon, and up Denman Street going towards English Bay. My companion took a couple of photos of the rear of the Bentley on his smart phone, so at least we had a record of what we regarded as the minimal damage I caused.
That night, a friend recommended that whatever discussions I might have with Mr. Silver Hair, the best practice was to report the accident to ICBC. At least, I would be covered if he should make a claim. I called the number on the card he’d given me and a man identifying himself as his son told me that his father had left for a vacation and had asked him to “deal with it.” He also told me that their company had many cars and that “one of their mechanics” would look over the blue Bentley and he would get back to me with an estimate of the cost of repairing the tail pipe. I looked up on my computer the name on the card and discovered that Mr. Silver Hair was a well-known “motivation speaker.” There were several sample podcasts of his lectures on his webpage and, just to check him out, I watched one for a while, but soon fell asleep. Two weeks later, I finally heard from his son. He told me that the mechanic had confirmed that the tail pipe was indeed bent and that it would cost $2400 to fix it. If I paid him the $2400, that would be the end of it. I said I would call him back.
$2400! Forget it! That was much more than my car was worth. I phoned up ICBC and learned that if Mr. Silver Hair actually made a claim, I might have to pay an extra couple hundred dollars of insurance for a couple of years, but that would be it. If he didn’t make a claim, there would be no cost to me. I never called him back. I’m not sure that he ever made a claim.
I now always drive over the Lions Gate Bridge on the greatest possible alert. I am also mindful that Bentleys and other expensive cars are to be avoided at all costs. Better to follow a truck than a Bentley.