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Andy Prest: Cut West Coast drivers some slack on winter traffic chaos

If you're confident in yourself and your vehicle, you can face the slippery hills. If not, stay home!
A bus struggles to climb Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver during a winter storm in January of 2020. | Andy Prest / North Shore News

The first big snowfall of the winter hit last week, and West Coast drivers did their thing, handling it with all the skill and grace of a donkey on skates. Yes, the Vancouver vehicular ice capades were back in town.

Here on the North Shore, a bus spun out heading up the Cut, blocking the whole highway heading west. I drove by on a nearby overpass right after it happened and could see a snowy parking lot forming behind the bus. The red hot rage of the drivers almost seemed enough to melt the snow on its own.

Elsewhere around the Lower Mainland cars were slipping and sliding all over the place. Vancouver Fire Rescue Services reported that approximately 30 vehicles crashed in the big city last Thursday, and social media channels were littered with videos of vehicles slowly sliding out of control and bonking into each other like a bunch of frozen turkeys spilled on a grocery store floor.  

There’s even a video circulating on Reddit that purportedly shows a panicked Vancouver driver getting out of her vehicle as it starts sliding down a hill, earning herself a nice view of her own minivan going on a self-guided tour.

It all looked pretty bad. In particular, you just know folks watching us from the Rest of Canada were looking down on us and our inability to handle a little snow without descending into chaos.

Growing up in Alberta, I was one of those people who looked over the mountains and shook my head at the ineptitude of Vancouver drivers during rare bouts of winter driving. We handle this for five months a year, and you can’t make it for five minutes?

But now that I live here? I get it.

I understand a little bit more about why it looks so bad, and I think we should all cut ourselves a little slack and not beat ourselves up over how wild it gets in the snow here. It’s not all our fault!

Sure there are lots of drivers who have no idea what they are doing (which makes sense if they have never driven in snow before). And sure there are lots of drivers who don’t put on winter tires but still expect to be able to drive through winter conditions like they’re filming a Jeep commercial. Those things are true.

But there are many, many drivers who do things right, and they still sometimes get put on ice. Why? Because it’s tough driving in the snow around here! Particularly here on the North Shore, where we are, quite literally, perched on a mountainside. The streetscape is full of ridiculous hills that are treacherous in the snow. Ask a cyclist who travels the North Shore frequently how many leg-shredding hills there are here. Now cover those hills in a thin layer of snow and send big hunks of metal up and down them. Something bad might happen!

Yes, the authorities should prep the roads for snow before it hits, and snow plows should plow them as soon as they can. But plows can’t be everywhere, and all it takes is a few minutes of heavy snow that sticks on the asphalt and you’ve got potentially treacherous conditions that can turn all our cars into expensive curling rocks that are spinning their way down a slanted sheet of ice.

And I’ve got a heart-warming secret for all of you west coasters. The drivers in the Rest of Canada aren’t all snow pros either. Prairie friends of mine driving like dummies in the snow ended up flipped over on the roof on a snowy country road. I used to drive a little pickup truck with no weight on the back axle and it would regularly get stuck on the slightest of icy inclines. Even with sandbags in the back, it wasn’t all that rare for me to be relying on a push from kind strangers to get me on my way. The push from strangers happened all the time, in fact, a proud part of our heritage of asking vehicles to do things they can’t really do.

So don’t feel bad, Vancouver. If you do need to drive in the slippery stuff, be confident in your abilities (and make sure you have the right tires on!).

And if you’re not confident in your car or yourself, take transit. Walk if you have to! Or better yet, stay home. It’s true no matter where you live – the best vehicle in this weather is the one that’s parked.

So step away from the car, unless, of course, it’s moving at the time.

Andy Prest is the editor of the North Shore News. His humour/lifestyle column runs biweekly.