A TravelSmart Community

During the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver reduced vehicle traffic by 36%. Translink’s TravelSmart program aims to re-achieve such success by showing the Metro Vancouver Region that “we have options when it comes to the way we travel.”

True story. And you might need options because gas is about to get really, really expensive. Freedom – of the market or Libya, whatever narrative you like – has a price, after all. Now. Travel Smart cites the environment as a key reason for choosing public transit, but the program really goes far beyond just riding a bus or train or boat to help Mother Earth.

More than a just a program, TravelSmart is a lifestyle. Consider this a tool to help you understand that your travel choices impact everything from your wallet to your health to the air quality. Choices as simple as ride-sharing with a car full of friends on your way to school, cycling to work or carsharing to run weekend errands – all of these choices have immediate and long-term benefits.

There are quizzes, health promotion tips, environmental facts, maps, testimonials, games, and awesomeness wrapped up in this meaningful campaign.

I’m an avid Public Transitter (©Copyright John Horn 2011) and truly enjoy the community-building – or forcing, if you take the 99 B-Line like I do – of riding the bus. Here are three stories of community-oriented travel that, I hope, will get you thinking about transporting yourself with people, as surrounding yourself human beings just make getting from place to place way more interesting.

Story 1: A Vancouver Transportation Story. I wrote about this last year, and it got some good play from other public transitters. Basically, heroes and villains emerged during a morning commute from Commercial Drive to UBC on the 99 B-Line. Unfortunately, one of the villains was the bus driver, who came dangerously close to running a cyclist off the road. And it was interesting to see all the passengers react to the driver’s behaviour as well as the cyclist’s. It shows that we have a ways to go as a community.

Story #2: The Bigot on the Bus. Speaking of humanity having a long way to go, this story from up-and-coming online magazine, the The Vancouver Observer, appealed to my very inclusive soul. I pride myself in being able to find common ground with anybody and the positive in pretty much anything, but I don’t know if I could’ve sympathized with the gentleman chronicled in Lori Kidwell’s story. As it turns out, you’ve gotta be open minded to ride the bus!

Story #3: Bus Driver Love. I haven’t written about this one yet. Well, I guess I am now. Anyway, I was taking the 99 B-Line home from UBC on a Friday night and there was just this awesome vibe on the bus. Now one was plugged into their iPods and people were just talking, laughing and, yes, there might’ve been some sipping. I struck up a conversation with some engineers and a German Lufthansa pilot from Frankfurt, who claimed vehemently that “Vancouver bus drivers are the nicest in the world.” Almost on cue, as we arrived at Commercial Drive station the driver got on the intercom and said, “ladies and gentlemen, this might be your Friday, but I want you to know that it’s my Monday. Thank you for getting my week started on such a great note!” We obviously left the bus smiling, clapping and pretty darn happy with our choice to travel publicly.

So there it is. Whatever you do to travel, make it smart and think about the environment, your health and finances, and building community as you get from place to place. Most importantly, have fun with it!

Olympic Neighbourhoods: the Punjabi Market

As a key media outlet for the 2010 Olympics, the Daily Gumboot is excited to bring you our “Olympics Neighbourhoods” series. Here’s how it works: each week, Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, and Editor-in-Chief, John will profile a different Vancouver neighbourhood with a specific focus on things that might interest out-of-town visitors who arrive in The Couve for the Olympics. We will do this between now and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and the story will be told be the Gumboot’s editors asking and answering the five questions below. These are the straight goods that you can’t get from VANOC, the Ministry of Tourism or the City of Vancouver. Let’s get to it!

Your Olympic Neighbourhood this week is…the Punjabi Market!

punjabi market

1. Where is this neighbourhood exactly and how do I get there?

JOHN: The Punjabi Market is easily found at the corner – the nexus, if you will – of Main and 50th Streets, although this Googlemap will tell you that it exists here, at Main and 49th – the neighbourhood lives between 51st and 48th streets and is a must see stop on your Olympic visit. Rumour had it that this was the proposed location for The India Gate, a superawesome design meant to be an homage to the pioneers of Vancouver’s Indo-Canadian community. Problem is, the gate wasn’t there – or it was really, really, really small. According to our friends at Translink, you can get to the Punjabi Market in 24 minutes from the Robson Square Olympic Celebration Headquarters. Hop on the Canada Line or Expo Line and then look for the 003, 025 or 049 buses.

2. Why should a tourist/traveler be interested in it?

JOHN: This neighbourhood yields the highest number of jewelry stores in the entire country. So, if you like things that sparkle, that’s reason enough! Speaking of things that sparkle, the authentic Indian clothing stores sprinkled throughout this neighbourhood cannot be missed. Whether you’re going to an Indian wedding or not – maybe you just really, really hope you get invited one day – this is the place in the Lower Mainland to get your saris, suits, kurta pajamas, salwar kameez, shermanis, dhoti kurtas, turbans, dupattas and more!

3. What good and/or unique things are there to eat?

JOHN: Look, friends. When it comes to a good curry, don’t mess around in the “Indian” or “Asian” section of your local conglomerate of a grocery store. Book off an afternoon and travel to the Punjabi Market to collect all the best spices this side of Delhi. While collecting these culinary staples, stop for lunch, a snack or dinner at one of the Punjabi Market’s fantastic restaurants. The All India Sweets & Restaurant is a popular community-destination for locals and tourists alike. Kurt and I also got four amazing samosas for two dollars from a very nice man in a parking lot. Delicious.

KURT: To get a little more specific I’d like to recommend the samosas. When John and I were last down there we bought four for only … wait for it… $2. That’s right – its South Asian prices right here in Vancouver. Can’t be beat.

The India Gate is just a block away...trust us...
The India Gate is just a block away…trust us…

4. What can I do for fun in this neighbourhood?

JOHN: Check out the Sunset Community Centre during the Olympics (and after, if your flight gets canceled) for all sorts of supercool cultural events. Kurt and I were lucky to do our walk-though of this hotbed of community-minded-activity during a rehearsal for the Vancouver Parks Board’s Community Happenings, a celebration of Vancouver’s cultural landscape that will be happening in a neighbourhood near you throughout the entire Olympic experience. Get out there and enjoy yourselves!

KURT: If you happen to be around the neighbourhood in April, make sure not to miss Vaisakhi. It’s a massive festival that tens of thousands of South Asians (from across the Pacific Northwest) take part in. During Vaisakhi, dozens of floats, marching groups, Khalsa school attendees, politicians, and gawkers mingle in the middle of the street. On either side are dozens of small kiosks (some manned by grandmas) all giving away thousands of dollars of free food. It’s an amazing smorgasboard of delights from curry to prakoras. All homemade. Well worth the traffic jam you need to navigate to visit it.

5. What are your three favourite things about the Punjabi Market?

1. The Food. Best. Samosas. Ever. And they were two bucks. The difference between curry and real curry are the spices. Do the right thing. Visit the Punjabi Market.

2. Celebrating Bollywood Hindi Cinema. A nice chat with some folks in one of the many, many, many Bollywood-specialized video stores in the Punjabi Market taught me a valuable lesson about the pitfalls of accepting Bollywood as the only expression of Indian film – it’s just the most popular and internationally renowned one. After all, in a country of over one billion people that recognizes over 15 languages as “official” ones (Editor’s note: seriously, Canada, stop pretending it’s hard to manage two) can there really be just one kind of Indian film?

3. Bright Colours. I live on the Drive, man. People wear black a lot. It was a pleasure to see some brightness for a change, especially against the eternally gray backdrop of the wintery West Coast.