Le Canada Sans Voiture

So this week it’ll be five months since I moved to Victoria.

Five months! It’s hard to believe. Most days it feels like I’ve only been here a few weeks.

I attribute that — mostly — to the fact that I’m still exploring. I’ve my routines, sure. Groceries every Sunday from the nearest Save-On Foods, weekend pizza from Panago, tacos from Café Mexico when I need that taste of home.

But I’m still learning about all the holidays, and the politics, and even the weather, out here. And deliberately pushing myself to go out of my normal loops, discovering parts of the island I wouldn’t normally see. Like this past weekend, when I went hiking around Elk Lake (absolutely gorgeous, go if you get a chance, the photo at the top of this post is from Beaver Lake, just south of Elk).

Thankfully, to do all this exploring, I’ve not (yet) needed something that would have been critical back in the States: A car.

True, I’ve got my BC Drivers License. And my apartment allots one parking space (for an extra fee). But I came up without a car, partly as an experiment (nothing pushes you to learn public transport like being vehicleless) and partly out of expedience: The Bolt EV I drove back in San Diego is currently under recall, and you can’t import a recalled car to Canada.

Hence the need for an apartment in downtown Victoria, where I knew I could at least get the essentials on foot. What I didn’t know was how long I could go without getting a car, especially if I wanted to take advantage of being close to so much natural beauty (which I definitely do). Or do normal things like, say, head to the mall, or get to the airport, etc.

Back home in San Diego, for example, there’s only one bus that goes to the airport, and it’s on a very short route with an infrequent schedule. So unless you happen to live basically on Harbor Drive (the road to the airport), it’s useless. And the city has a trolley, but it’s designed mainly for bringing tourists from their hotels north of downtown to the downtown district, and nothing else. My wife and I tried living in San Diego without a car when we first moved there, but it was miserable, and we gave up after a few months.

In contrast, here in Victoria — a city about one-third the size of San Diego — I’ve been getting along just fine. It helps that the city itself is rather compact, so I can reach most parts of it by foot.

Now, “by foot” has expanded in scope a bit since my move. Back in San Diego the twenty-minute walk I take to my local Indigo bookstore would be a non-starter. Getting to any mall like Mayfair in San Diego would involve trying to cross a freeway or two, which is not something you really want to do on foot (and that’s assuming there’s even sidewalks to take you there). But here, the walk’s a twenty-minute stroll along a tree-lined street past smaller shopping centres, apartment buildings, and parks. It’s not a chore. It’s pleasant.

But what about reaching the airport? I’ve had to do this twice since moving here, and there’s multiple options. One is to fly out of Vancouver, which means taking a bus (there’s two routes that go from Victoria to the ferry terminal, running every fifteen minutes or so most days) to the ferry (which is awesome) and then connecting to YVR.

The second is to fly out of Victoria’s own airport, which means taking a bus (again, pick one of several routes) and then walking past some fields to the airport. No car required. (and if you don’t want to bother with changing buses, etc, there’s a reasonably-priced BC Ferries Connector that can take you all the way from downtown Victoria to Vancouver airport).

Getting to Elk Lake, which is a good 13km north of me, was again a matter of just hopping on a bus (there are five routes, at last count, that can get me up there) for a short ride north. I’m looking to hike Mount Doug next, and that’ll again be a direct bus ride out to the park.

Granted, I don’t have children; needing to ferry them around to school and activities might push me to get a car. And I live in the city itself, not one of the suburbs, like Langford.

But still. In the States, no city this small would have even a fraction of this kind of public transportation. No city this small would be this walkable, either. They wouldn’t bother building the sidewalks, to start with, and they wouldn’t be as safe (cities in the States actually get more dangerous, statistically, as they shrink in size).

So I’m happy to be car-free. We’ll see if I can make it the full year, though (because winter is coming).