Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hey look! It's a Streetcar!

Last weekend, Dad and I went to check out the free Olympic Line streetcar that's here for a month, on loan from Brussels, and runs from the Athlete's Village to Granville Island (2km or 7 minutes travel time sayeth the Map of Google).
Vancouver stopped using streetcars in 1957, although most of the tracks are still in place and the City has been teasing fans of streetcars for about ten years that they may or may not reintroduce them and the Mayor said that the Olympic Line is a test to see how people like them (and if there's enough money left in March to buy any, which there wont be).
This is what the streetcars here used to look like. Starting in 1998, volunteers have run two restored streetcars along the interurban tracks from Science World (when you see pictures of Vancouver, it's that big silvery ball near BC Place Stadium) to Granville Island from May to the middle of October. And the price for the enjoyment of a pleasant afternoon ride, suspend just for a moment in a piece of living history: $2 for an all-day pass!
This is what they are using though. Yes, it's very, very narrow. And it doesn't have the ring-a-ding bell or the clacking across the tracks. I knew that this was what we were getting and I was fine with that, after all people like things that are new and shiny. But I was disappointed with the experience. Why? Because it went at about the same speed as the heritage streetcars go and wasn't any fun at all to ride, as I felt like I was commuting and not going for a novelty pleasure trip. I also thought that a better tourist attraction would have been to use the heritage streetcars, because there's no other remnant of old Vancouver being utilized for the Olympics.

This is what the interior of a restored streetcar looks like. This isn't the actual streetcar that's used every summer, but one in a museum in Burnaby. But you get the general idea.
This is the inside of the new one. It's narrower in person then it is in the photo. Yes, that's real leather on the seats. Yes, there's also no feeling of personal craftsmanship once inside.

About halfway through the trip, I looked out the window and saw one of the streetcars that is being restored. It looked so sad, sitting out there all alone and forgotten by the shed.
In preparation for the Olympic Line, the City stopped the Historic Railway from running last summer and spent $8 million restoring part of the interurban tracks. I know nothing about train tracks, but aside from some new wood, I can't tell the difference.
Since we were already there, we had a little toddle around Granville Island. All those glass buildings there are in the False Creek and Yaletown neighbourhoods. If you have a lot of money and like living in see-through boxes then this is the place for you! Actually, it's one of the most sustainable neighbourhoods in North America,
just look at the water:
See that building with the green roof. That is a fishing lodge from up North. Some businessman had it barged down for his friends to stay in during the Olympics.
We also had a look at the outside of the Swiss Hospitality House, which is located inside a restaurant. My tights matching the potted plant was unintentional.
It's free to get in, so I'll be going back as soon as my classes end. But I did fake a trip to the Alps.
The Athletes were just starting to arrive, but no one is allowed into the Village. See, it has two volunteers in vests, orange cones and a cop guarding it. Of the three, Canadians obey the cones the most.
But I did find a neon sign that I hadn't seen before.
We then took the Canada Line part of the way home. The Canada Line is a rapid transit line from Downtown to the Airport that opened at the end of August. And look, it coast $2 billion (not including lawsuits from small businesses) and it's already leaking. Isn't that special.
I also saw by the Cambie Street Bridge, next to the Village, a sewage treatment plant, largely uninteresting, but the green-friendly smoke stacks had put some lights on top, which looked quite pretty with dusk approaching.

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