Monday, December 13, 2010

when in fancy dress

This past Saturday evening was my company's annual holiday party, hosted downtown at the Pan Pacific Hotel above the Convention Centre. Coincidentally, that evening was also a special birthday celebration for two of my best friends, located on the south side of False Creek.

The Hornby bike lane, opened days before, was a perfect link between the two ends of my dual-party evening.


Alas, my plans to cycle in the shortest cocktail dress and highest heels I own was thwarted by a cold December downpour. The former runner-up, public transit, took the win instead.

Home to the hotel was a piece of cake, a 1-bus route only dampened by my impatience to get to the party through the stop-go-stop-go traffic of the city centre. After a delightful dinner and dessert with my coworkers (and not-so-delightful round of silly games that I probably should have skipped) I walked a few blocks to the skytrain and rode the Canada Line south a few stops, where I walked another few blocks to the restaurant. Although the heavy rain persisted, the distances were short enough that the walking wasn't a problem.


(Neither were the shoes. My philosophy: life is too short to wear uncomfortable shoes, most especially when they involve propping yourself unnaturally up on a post narrower than your natural heel. At one time I used to hate heels; now I love them but insist on only wearing quality brands that consider comfort as well as style. These can go all night.)

When the second party wrapped up around 12:30, I hit the skytrain again to head home. My apartment is one more bus away from the skytrain (20 minute walk, 10 minute bus), so this two-part leg was the longest of the evening. Here's where things got wrinkly. I'd forgotten my cell phone at home, so had no idea when the bus would arrive. My strategy for warmth is usually to keep moving -- something that walking and cycling suitably support -- so waiting for buses has always been the worst part. If it wasn't raining so hard, I would have walked. (Yes, even in those heels. I told you they awesome.)

Crowds clustered under the awnings of this well-populated, central stop. Partygoers in their finery, some unfamiliar with the bus system, bonded over the challenge of getting cabs on a mid-December Saturday evening such as this.

As I waited, feeling somewhat cross about the rain and my quickly declining temperature, I mused about the role of public transit in moving "entertainment traffic" -- i.e. weekend evenings, especially during the holiday season -- in contrast to commuter traffic. Always looking for a fun brainstorm topic to stretch my mind on thinking up radical ways to innovate seemingly boring and taken-for-granted services (some people do crosswords) I let my fancy fly.

What are the goals? Help citizens enjoy their personal time and keep them safe. Avoid drinking and driving, minimize car traffic (for congestion, pollution, accident prevention considering the higher proportion of pedestrians who are "enjoying" their evening), encourage the entertainment sector to thrive. Make a night out easy and fun.

What kind of movement is involved? Pedestrians, taxis, personal vehicles, limos, buses, bicycles, kabuki cabs (!), skateboards, skytrain.

What's not so fun? Figuring out which bus to catch when you aren't familiar with the system (or when they unexpectedly change route after 9pm), waiting in the cold and/or rain, the long time between buses in the evening, personal safety when waiting in urban areas after dark, the temptation of taking a cab (if you can get one) despite the significantly higher cost (and other side-effects that may concern some people but not others).

What could be fun? Late-night coffee shops near high-volume stops that display screens showing the next arrival times of each bus. At the most minimal they could even be temporary: a truck and a portable heater like the kind on restaurant pations. A "Plan Your Night Out" utility to make it fun and easy to take transit when you aren't so confident with the routes and/or your skills: you punch in where you're going and the general time frame (no need to be exact) and you get a handy pocket plan to print. Packages of tickets and info for companies that want to encourage transit, too (especially for those without the resources to provide taxi vouchers, but potentially also in addition to them). Smaller but more frequent buses to minimize wait times in less than optimal circumstances.

It's a game, but one I play less so when riding a bicycle and paying attention to the road. Public transit has that one in its favour: more time for daydreaming!

The bus dropped me mere steps from my door and the night was over. There's something so satisying about arriving home in the wee hours after merrymaking and celebrating with jolly good friends and no cars needed. Happy Holidays!

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