My passing comment last time about the road surface has clearly intrigued some of you; I shall expand.
Here in northern BC we have, as I may have mentioned, proper winters. Winters where the temperature gets down low enough for the school to have a rule about not sending pupils outside when it gets below -20. And, therefore, winters with snow, ice, frost and snowploughs (or is that plows? I’m still not sure about Canadian spellings).
As I type this, the sun is beating down, I have all the doors and windows open (albeit with mosquito screens in place), the fans are on, and it’s difficult to imagine that the temperature ever drops low enough for frost, but it does. I know that it does because I have to drive on the roads.
What seems to happen is that a designated point in late autumn (or fall), everyone changes over to winter tyres (or tires, if you prefer. I promise that is my last spelling lesson for now). Now, if you live in Britain and are as old as me, you may remember winter tyres; we used to have them back when we had winters. Winter tyres are essential in this climate, however, but they are not particularly kind to road surfaces. Add to that the fact that the temperature will tend to cause cracking in the road, and that there are snowploughs regularly scraping the top couple of millimetres of hardtop off along with the white stuff, and you can see why Prince George has a certain reputation for the quality of its roads - indeed, I’m sure I heard it being referred to on the radio as ‘the pothole capital of the world’, which may be a slight exaggeration, but only slight.
So when we arrived, we quickly noticed that certain roads were basically a series of potholes loosely connected by random patches of tarmac, and that there appeared to be no road markings at all. And then I understood something I had read when we were here last year; that Canada has two seasons, Winter (with a capital W) and Construction.
Before any Construction can take place, however, first the roads have to be rediscovered. In some places, this is quite easy, because the roads are those wide, sand-covered areas between the buildings. In more rural areas (or in neighbourhoods like ours, where there are no sidewalks), it can be quite difficult to understand where the roadway ends and the rest of the world begins. So, around the end of April, a concerted campaign begins to wash down and sweep the roads. At the same time, conscientious homeowners are using all manner of power tools to remove a winter’s road grit from their front lawns; I’m afraid I was too busy moving in to participate this year, but I’ve got to get me a power broom for next spring!
Once the roads have been revealed, it will probably snow again, but only a little bit, and it soon melts. Then the full extent of the damage can be seen – in most places, the road surface will still look like a normal road, but will give a particularly brutal massage to the unwary; in others, there will appear to be a very real danger of losing your car down one of the holes; it’s one reason to be glad of the size of North American cars.
So please do not underestimate our achievements in passing our driving tests; we may not have done them in the depths of winter, when it is possible not to be able to see the road signs because of the depth of the snow, but we learned and passed in spite of the holes.
And we learned in spite of the lack of road markings. Now in some places, the lack of markings appears to be deliberate – I’m not sure what the criteria are for an intersection to be unmarked, but it’s relatively common, and everyone just gets on with it – there’s not exactly a lot of traffic here at the best of times, and there are places where you genuinely feel you may be the only car to pass that way today, or even this week, so road markings which are going to be scraped away and worn off would just be a waste of time anyway.
But there were many places in town, at busy intersections or tricky-looking crossings where there had been markings, and there was just enough vestigial paint remaining to make you unsure what you were supposed to do; was that faint line white or yellow? You can cross one of them but not the other, so it’s kind of important to know.
Also, pedestrians have an unnerving tendency to step out on front of you. This is generally true in Canada in any case, but here it is exacerbated by the fact that they know there is a crossing here; it’s just invisible at the moment. You, on the other hand, have no idea where the crossings were before the weather did its worst, so you end up driving around town at a crawl with the haunted look of the man who cannot take any more pedestrian abuse.
All of which sounds much more curmudgeonly than is intended; it’s not really anyone’s fault that the road crumbles (although I wonder what high-tech surfaces may be available these days, and what the long term cost-benefit analysis would be on using them; but only when I have trouble sleeping) – it’s just a fact of life in this part of the world. The road keeps on crumbling, the authorities keep replacing and repainting it, and we the driving population keep swerving to avoid the worst of the damage, even after it has been repaired, so that we appear to be a city of cross-eyed drivers. It probably makes everyone who has to pay for their own suspension repairs a little bit more cautious, and in the end that may not be a bad thing.
I promise to talk about something non-road related next time!