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Snow falls, Vancouver slips and rush hour bus service falls flat

December 5, 2016
West Broadway Ave. at Alder st. at 7:58 a.m.—a snow plow not plowing side streets, a wobbling cyclist and a dead, jackknifed bus.

West Broadway Ave. at Alder st. at 7:58 a.m.—a snow plow not plowing side streets, a wobbling cyclist and a dead jackknifed bus.

It snowed overnight Sunday in Vancouver and into the morning of Monday, November 5. The resulting blanket of four, maybe five, centimetres of “the white stuff”—despite at least four days warning—still appeared to catch the City of Vancouver, TransLink and (to be fair) everyone else, off guard, with the result that the morning rush hour commute was probably one of several kinds of nightmare for thousands of people across the city, if not the Metro Vancouver region.

For my part, I saw dead transit buses, snow plows, slow-moving bumper-to-bumper traffic, skidding cyclists, crashed cars and hordes of would-be transit riders waiting and waiting for westbound buses that mostly never came—and that was just in the space of one hour of time and four blocks of distance, from Alder Street to South Granville, along West Broadway Avenue!

The quiet during the storm but before the struggle

After hauling my bike and trailer through the largely untrammeled snow of a sidestreet, the first alley was a relief.

After hauling my bike and trailer through the largely untrammeled snow of a side street, the first alley was a relief.

When I awoke Monday morning in the parkade where I spend my nights, it was nearly 7 a.m. and way past time to get up. The world beyond was, if anything, too quiet, which helped explain why I overslept.

There was absolutely no traffic on the adjacent side street at an hour when there should’ve been quite a bit. I squinting at the visible world out the open northern end of the parkade and sure enough, it was snowing.

Most Vancouver building managers wait until 9 or 10 a.m. before getting out and shoveling (if they di so at all), in hopes, I think, that the snow will stop or, better yet, turn to rain and slush and wash itself away.

So at 7:15 a.m., when I exited my parkade, I wasn’t surprised to have a block and a half of about 5 cm of virtually untrammeled snow to get up.

And by “up” I mean I had to pull, drag and yank my bike and loaded trailer centimetre-by-centimetre, like dead weight through the snow, up a decent incline, as if the whole rig wasn’t on rolling wheels.

The view north down Alder St. at 7:50; at least the cars are tamping down the snow.

North down Alder St. at 7:50—at least the cars are tamping down the snow.

I was quite happy when I made it up the hill and into to the level crossing alley on the north side of West Broadway Avenue.

Because it wasn’t cold—certainly it was above freezing—the action of Dumpster-emptying waste-hauling trucks, which had preceded me in the alley, had left generous melted tracks of bare asphalt.

Looking south up Alder, toward the relative normality of West Broadway Ave.

Looking south up Alder St., toward the relative normality of West Broadway Ave.

Just one block through that alley and I turned south. That meant another half block of slight, snowy incline at Alder Street to negotiate and then I would be on the relative normality of a main street—West Broadway Avenue.

Looking up toward the intersection with West Broadway, I could see a City of Vancouver snow plow waiting at the red light. I wanted to get a photograph but I had my hands full of bike and trailer and I knew that I couldn’t make it in time before the light changed.

Half a minute later and the cyclist, with their skinny, treadless tires, opts for the relative safely of the unshoveled sidewalk.

By 7:57 a.m. and a few seconds, a cyclist, with their skinny tires, opts for the relative safely of the unshoveled sidewalk.

Actually, I needn’t have worried. Eastbound traffic on West Broadway was down to a crawl. I had lots of time to catch up to the snow plow on foot and take three or four photographs of it as I walked past. Traffic was moving so slowly that, walking my bike and Trailer on the sidewalk, I managed to go an entire block, to the next intersection with Birch Street, before the bladed dump truck, labelled “City of Vancouver Equipment Services” finally passed me.

At 8:02 a.m. a mildly T-boned car on the hook of a tow truck.

A mildly T-boned car going up on the hook of a tow truck at 8:02 a.m.

In the next block, on the south side of West Broadway, I saw a red car just about to be towed away. The vehicle was clearly the object of a minor T-bone impact—its driver-side door was bashed in, the window was shattered out and the driver-side airbag was deployed.

Hopefully no one was injured in this accident or in any of the other countless fender-benders and worse that surely must have happened all over the snowy city.

The morning transit commute in the snow looked ugly

A live B-line bus passes a dead B-line eastbound at 8 a.m. Westbound almost mo buses were moving.

A live B-line bus passes a dead one eastbound at 8 a.m. Almost no buses were moving westbound.

In the snowy conditions Monday morning, I saw hundreds of rush hour transit users in the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue alone who may not have risked getting into accidents but they certainly risked being late for work, school, or wherever else they were going, because it looked like they couldn’t get into a bus for trying.

B-line commuters waiting in the 1400 bock of West Broadway at 8:26 a.m.

Westbound B-line commuters waiting in the 1400 block of West Broadway at 8:26 a.m.

When I arrived at the McDonald’s on the west side of the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue, both of the westbound bus stops—for the Number 9 and the 99 B-Line express—were crammed with four times the normal number of would-be bus riders. And the restaurant was host to many sullen-looking new patrons, some with coffee but all with the tense attitude of people waiting for something that they fear is never coming.

So sorry. Better luck next time. Playing the transit lottery.

So sorry. Better luck next time. Playing the Monday rush hour transit lottery.

And when the rare westbound buses did reach the 1400 block of West Broadway—from out of some rumoured tie-up farther west at Alma Street—the buses often didn’t stop—instead, flying by in the curb lane, flashing “Sorry. Not In Service” and splashing everyone with a huge ice-cold wave of slush!

This sad sight at 9:20 a.m. was repeated over and over again.

This sad sight at 9:20 a.m. was repeated over and over again.

The snow finally appeared to stop towards 10 a.m. From my cozy window seat in McDonald’s, I saw a city salt and plow truck, with its blade up and not dropping salt, speeding westward in the curb lane. Then at 10:36 a.m. I watched a city worker, trailed by a dump truck full of salt, ladling shovel-fulls of salt onto the west sidewalk of the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue.

city-worker-salting-shoveling-2016-dec-05-10-26

A City of Vancouver worker salting a West Broadway Ave. sidewalk at 10:26 a.m.

And at lunchtime, when it seemed certain that the morning’s nastiness was behind us, the temperature dropped and the snow resumed; this time falling even thicker and fluffier than it had in the morning!

The snowfall, part 2, at 12:26 p.m.

The snowfall, part 2, at 12:26 p.m.

So perhaps the overlords of the transportation infrastructure in Vancouver will get at least one more chance to try and manage (rather than mismanage) a rush hour in the snow. This morning was just beginner’s nerves, right people?

Surely the City of Vancouver and TransLink must be capable of doing a better job than what I watched them do this morning. I know that I speak for all Vancouver commuters when I say that I sincerely hope so. Click the images to enlarge them.

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3 Comments
  1. Still coped better than the UK 😂
    Keep warm 😊

  2. Those displays are funny. What a mess we don’t have this in our busses 😂

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