Even though I’m not a gambler, I was tempted to ditch my vehicle and walk to the casino 500 metres away to play blackjack or roulette all evening since the odds were better than my getting home safely during snowmageddon earlier this week in Metro Vancouver.
Instead I pulled out my laptop and wrote most of this message as I sat in my truck, barely inching forward every 20 minutes or so during what was easily the worst traffic jam I have ever experienced over the course of 44 years of driving.
It took me 10 hours (normally 20 minutes) to drive all of 18 kilometres on the last leg of my journey home from work after travelling the first 25 kilometres by Skytrain and Seabus in just under an hour.
As the minutes and hours ticked by, I became increasingly agitated over my predicament. However, in the spirit of empathy and perspective, I finally snapped out of feeling sorry for myself and focussed instead on those that likely had it much worse than me.
I was only trying to get home, but what about people who never made it to work, missed their flight, or couldn’t attend to a sick family member. I’m sure there were many parents with kids to put to bed, people that hadn’t eaten all day or desperately required medical attention. Thankfully, many good samaritans stepped in to help folks that were hopelessly stranded and in need.
Other than being hungry and tired, I was fine and eventually arrived home, but the same can’t be said for countless others including those that were forced to abandon their cars, walk to their final destination, or conversely find temporary accommodation for the night.
Notwithstanding the power of Mother Nature and the ignorant motorists without snow tires that contributed to the mayhem, I can’t help but lay some of the blame for this traffic nightmare on those responsible for snow clearing, traffic control, and highway maintenance who should have been much better prepared to deal with this situation. It’s not like we haven’t gone through similar or worse snowfalls before or that we weren’t warned for days about the impending storm.
It appears that someone was asleep at the wheel because by the time snowplows were dispatched to the hardest hit areas like bridges, several centimetres of the white stuff had already piled up and froze, causing dozens of vehicles to crash, consequently creating an endless traffic jam that prevented snowplows from reaching those very problem spots. From my perspective and that of local politicians and other motorists, there was little planning, preparation, or even a coordinated response to this much anticipated weather event.
Ironically, I got stuck returning from the Vancouver Coast & Mountains Industry Forum in North Vancouver where I presented to colleagues on tourism’s critical role in BC’s emergency management system. Granted, this storm wasn’t a provincial crisis but being in the middle of this traffic mess reminded me of a point I made during the forum where I emphasized the need for each individual to be prepared for emergencies that affect us personally, in addition to impacts on our businesses, communities, or organizations.
Admittedly, I was only partially prepared for what I encountered on Tuesday. I ate snow to stay hydrated. However, other than some chocolate I received as a speaker’s gift earlier in the day, I had no food of any kind with me. My gas tank was half empty so I couldn’t keep the engine running for long periods to stay warm but thankfully I had a blanket on hand. Suffice it to say, I learned another valuable lesson, especially the notion of walking the talk when it comes to personal emergency preparedness.
It’s obvious to me that highways maintenance contractors and local/provincial authorities also need to walk the talk and commit to actioning some, if not all the four pillars of emergency management (mitigation, preparation, response, recovery) to avoid the chaos thousands of us experienced a couple of days ago. At the very least, we could all learn a thing or two by reviewing best practices that smaller, rural, and Indigenous communities throughout BC have mastered to deal with ongoing severe weather events or other natural disasters they encounter each year.
For the record, I use public transit regularly to avoid traffic congestion and to do my part for the environment. And as mentioned, although I’m not a gambler, I’m willing to lay down a bet that more motorists will park their vehicles during the next snowfall in favour of using Skytrain to get across the river instead of taking a chance that this week’s traffic fiasco could happen again forcing them to settle in for another long winter’s night.
PS: On a related note, this week a report by the Centre for Policy Alternatives noted that natural disasters in BC last year caused an estimated $17 billion in damage. Isn’t it obvious that emergency management must continue to be a top priority for the tourism sector, as well as all levels of government?