Riding on a dinnertime sailing of the BC Ferries’ Queen of Surrey is inevitably relaxing after a long drive down the Sunshine Coast. You can have a salmon burger and gaze out at the moving vistas of Keats, Gambier, Anvil, Boyer and Bowen Islands passing in the twilight.
The net effect as night falls is somnolent. Regular commuters like me recognize the code number “16” which the captain oddly announces on the public address system: It signals the playing of the imminent arrival announcement: “We are now approaching Horseshoe Bay. It is time to gather your belongings and prepare to return to your vehicle on the car deck . . .”
Soon the massive bulk of the ferry sidles into the dock slip. This is where you have to sharpen your wits. Quickly. The ferry traffic slowly exits the terminal via a two-lane feeder route that rises to merge rather brutally with the two-lane flow of Vancouver-bound traffic returning from a day’s skiing at Whistler.
The skiers are still in downhill mode; the ferry folk are just coming back up to speed. The point where the two lanes of ferry traffic converge with the two lanes of Whistler traffic, to form two single lanes of commuter flow, then becomes further confused. The reason? Work crews have been doing remediation work on the bridge deck spanning Nelson Creek, about a kilometre from Horseshoe Bay.
The merging of these two disparate traffic flows creates chaos. Fast meets slow; traffic integration must occur immediately; brakes are slammed on; cars move herky-jerky; close calls are happening before your eyes.
My weekly experience of this mess has been lucky. I’ve seen two very near-misses, but my luck ran out Wednesday, April 13th.
That night, I exited the ferry terminal and merged into the skier traffic. I focused on staying in the right hand lane, and completing my trek to Taylor Way exit, the hill down from the Upper Levels to the Lions Gate Bridge. A few kilometres down the highway, I saw the distant rapid flashing emergency lights of two police cruisers, parked side-by-side, effectively blocking the pull-over lane and the right-hand traffic lane.
I slowed down, checked my rear-view mirror, looked over my shoulder, and quickly pulled into the left lane. I looked up again into the mirror and saw a pair of headlights behind me. I thought nothing of them.
About three seconds later, the car behind me hit my rear bumper dead centre with a crashing impact. My Mini Cooper S shot forward in a straight line, escaping the force of the bumper behind me.
My mind locked on to one thought: getting the hell out of the passing lane and pulling over to the side of the road. I moved immediately over to the right-hand lane and then onto the road’s edge. I slowly braked and came to a stop just behind the two police cars. A young constable jumped out of the one to my left and offered to call an ambulance.
I unbuckled my seat belt, stepped out of the Mini and stretched my legs. Everything felt all right. It was a pitch-dark night, only lit by the brightly flashing lights of the two police cruisers. Another constable got out of the car immediately in front of me and walked up with a look of concern.
“What’s up here?” I asked. “A routine check stop,” she said.
In the left lane, the traffic continued to merge and pass us in the night. “Did you see who hit you?” she asked. I replied, “No – I was too focused on getting my car to the side of the road.”
Whoever hit me disappeared into the night, never to be found.
My beloved Mini was a write-off; luckily, I am not. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the 2016 Mini top marks in its class. Mine was older but obviously built just as well. I just might owe that Mini my life.
Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004, he became a Member of the Order of Canada.