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Cambie Story: A Bus Stop, a Hole, and 2 Traffic Controllers

Daryl waits for the bus, his muddy boots and dirty jeans revealing that mere minutes ago he was “in the hole”, as he put it. He works for InTransit BC and has spent the last year working on the tunnel that will eventually house the rapid transit line that will run along Cambie Street, from downtown to the airport.

He’s on his way home, to New Westminster, and when asked, concedes that his route is an efficient one, taking the B-Line to the skytrain station, and then onto the train. He thinks the new Canada Line will be a good addition to the transit system. With a gruff laugh, and a nod towards the car traffic navigating the ever changing maze of construction at Broadway and Cambie, he states, “but don’t try telling that to those guys.”

Wearing their neon, waterproof gear, Debbie and Edie agree. They are traffic controllers, and stand at the corner of the intersection with their Stop/Slow signs. They regularly face flak from pedestrians and have been yelled at by bus drivers. “I’m not sure why,” Debbie questions, “we’re doing this for the transit system.”

There is currently no pedestrian crossing allowed on the south side of Broadway, where Debbie and Edie stand, but in the time that I am speaking with them, three people have ignored the signs and walked straight through, into oncoming traffic.

“People don’t pay attention,” Debbie tells me, her freckles and petite frame a striking contrast to the bulky uniform she dons. “We can’t stop them, we can only warn them. They either yell at us or ignore us. We’re only doing it for their own safety.”

Debbie and Edie chat easily with me. Despite being the “front lines” and the “defacto complaint department,” they are affable, they like their job. “Even more so when the weather is good,” Edie quips, which emphasizes the cold, grey wetness of this Saturday afternoon in January.

Throughout our conversation they keep a sharp eye on what is going on around them. Debbie interrupts my questioning at one point to ask Edie if she’s noticed that this one guy has crossed the street in front of them three times in the last ten minutes. Edie nods. I had been standing with them throughout that time and hadn’t been that perceptive.

Almost without any warning, Debbie and Edie switch modes. A cement truck needs to back up and so our conversation is over. I thank them for their time but they are already in gear, Debbie walking into oncoming traffic with her Stop sign raised high above her head, Edie taking care of the eastbound traffic.

I cross the street. The cement truck drives into the site and I can see the two women return to their posts.

An elderly man leans over the fence on the other side of the divide, watching the construction. The pit is deep and the tunnel where the train will run is visible. I can count at least 15 workers, pouring cement and engaging in various activities.

“How many wheelbarrows of dirt do you think they had to haul out of here?” he asks me. I smile, shake my head and ask him his name. He doesn’t want to tell me and infuses his refusal with a ribbing humour that reminds me of my grandfather.

I learn that he worked in construction for years. I join him in watching the work unfold, and he repeatedly expresses fascination and intent interest.

“They are so well-organized,” he says, almost with pride. “Just tremendous.”

I decide that I will call him George.

George has lived in the neighbourhood for 50 years, just off of Cambie and 18th. When I ask him his thoughts about how the construction has impacted the area he says he was sorry to see Don Don Noodle House close – sorry enough that he could cite the June 13th closure date – but thought it was understandable.

“We call it progress,” he says with resignation. “But some of them, they’re suffering, for sure.”

There is a sign on the fence that we are leaning on which states, “This is the site of the future Canada Line Broadway-City Hall.” We are looking down upon the excavation of the station box, the sign says.

George tells me that the two deeper holes dug into the excavation are not there at either the Oakridge site or the Granville site. He thinks that they must be for the future Broadway line, but couldn’t get an answer out of the Canada Line Community Office when he asked.

They also couldn’t tell him why the liners for the tunnel are being made in Nanaimo. I learn that the pre-cast guide rails are being made here, on Kent Street, off of Fraser. George thinks the liners could be too, but muses that they must want to spread the work around because otherwise it would make no sense.

We look down at the excavation site, where, during the time of our conversation, the workers have filled an entire area with cement.

“Man, these guys are quick,” George says with admiration.

As much as George enjoys his afternoons watching the construction, he’s not sure the line is of great benefit. He definitely thinks the cost is unjustified, and his personal preference would be to ride above ground.

I ask him if he’ll use the Canada Line once it’s completed.

“I’ll ride it once for kicks,” he says with a grin.
The photo above is by Lynn Whenham
Article copyright 2008 by Maria Dobrinskaya

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