Monday, January 19, 2009

Vancouver drivers - honk if you want to build community!

Vancouver’s drivers are an agreeable and, on the whole, competent lot. After years dodging cars on Toronto’s streets, jay walking in Vancouver is a treat, free from peril and ill will. Where else can you gingerly venture out onto a big downtown street like Robson or Denman and discover that not just cars, but even cabs immeditately slow to a halt and wave you merrily across? If I tried a stunt like that in Munich, Paris let alone Montreal or Ottawa, I’d have been road kill long ago. Experiences such as these are unique to a big city like Vancouver and to me they are a positive indicator that a convivial, community oriented spirit is alive and well in this fair city.

Nonetheless, just like any metropolis, our motorists are plagued by high levels of incompetence, recklessness and needlessly uncouth behaviour. Most of this is rooted in road rage. However sorely tempted, I will avoid raging about the incompetent, erratic and downright scary drivers at the wheels of luxury vehicles all over Vancouver and the threat they pose to the safety of our urban community. As Gumboot contributor, John Horn, aptly points out, when these nifty cars become stranded in two inches of snow, an opportunity for creating community emerges and fellow citizens can throw their weight behind fancy bumpers, building community in the process. But, I digress –

After travelling in Peru for the past three weeks, I have come upon a simple solution, to chipping away at road rage and resurrecting community on the road. Let’s use the car horn differently.

Aside from weddings, North Americans only resort to the horn in moments of emotionally-driven need – honking to express anger, impatience or fear. Peruvian drivers use their horns liberally and cheerfully and so they become the harmonious language of the street. Traffic rules, traffic lights and traffic headaches are strangely absent while honking creates a healthy atmosphere of give and take to each intersection.

Vancouver’s eight lane intersections are replete with complicated traffic light systems where motorists “get the rage”. A similar intersection in Lima has a simple turning circle and that’s it. Peruvian drivers enter at will, give a merry honk, receive a merry honk in response from those in the circle and potential fender benders are avoided. Cab drivers even individualize their horns so that some taxis emit a jolly, three-note hooting while others give a little whistle. Annoying? Not really. The sound just becomes part of the music of the street and the aural evidence of a community of drivers which knows how to get along.

Should Vancouver scrap its traffic lights and institute a honking free for all in the name of reducing road rage and building community? No. This would backfire. But still, can’t we at least take a leaf out of Peru’s book? In doing so, I believe we could build better on-road communties. How about giving a little “beep, beep” when someone is a slow poke, or a cyclist doesn’t see you, rather than resorting to a sketchy, right lane passing manoeuvre, or to a full-on horn lean? I for one am in the market for a car horn that gets my message across via the tune of a merry jig – that Lima taxi man has one, why shouldn’t I?


John Horn said...

Mr. "von B",

Through its eloquence and insight your post has made me think long, hard and deep about the way I conceptualize and think about traffic.

Since I don't really drive a car that often (and, when I do, it's more like driving a jellybean), I have decided to strap a horn to my bike and make noise - lots of noise - as I approach and meander through intersections here in The Couve.

As an expert on matters of global traffic, how do you recommend I build my "best practices" on this idea? Thanks in advance for your advice.

Kindest regards,


Godfrey von Nostitz-Tait said...

Herr John,

I'm delighted you found my post thought provoking. You are too kind. I also appreciate that you adapted my insights for cycle traffic as well - a master stroke. A few things to keep in mind when equipping your bike with a horn - Perhaps make sure that the horn has a comical or novel shape. This can work to your advantage, impressing your friends and fellow cyclists as well as providing a visual salve to those subject to your honking approach. How about a Pirate Skull and Cross bones horn or a parrot (ie. a la Long John Silver)? You decide. An equally amusing sound from the horn is also preferable - How about "Pieces of Eight!" or "Yaaaaar!"? Lastly, use your horn sparingly (this is Vancouver after all, not Lima) but when you do sound it, do so with Gusto and with a grin. And remember, "have fun with it".

Yours truly,

Godfrey "von B" Tait