Saturday, June 7, 2014

Vancouver Courier Column June 4, 2014 French Lessons

B.C. could benefit from some French lessons
Michael Geller / Columnist
June 4, 2014 11:04 AM
In France, each candidate is allocated an equal amount of space to affix political campaign posters. Photo Michael Geller
In France, where it is common to enjoy a few glasses of wine each day, it is mandatory to carry a single-use breathalyser in every car. Photo Michael Geller
The French parking disc is a clever way to manage time restricted free parking. Photo Michael Geller

After spending nine months going around the world in 2007, I concluded there are two types of travel. You can go to unusual places and seek out the familiar. Or you can go to familiar places and seek out the unusual.

On a recent trip to France, a country which in many respects is similar to Canada, I was impressed by some of the unusual things I found.

One example is political campaign signage. In Vancouver and across British Columbia, most politicians raise as much money as possible to purchase and install as many campaign signs as possible.

In some municipalities, signs can be installed on both public and private property. Thankfully, in Vancouver, they are restricted to private property.

However, despite our claim to be a sustainable city, a small fortune is spent on manufacturing and installing plastic signs with little if any reuse potential. Not so in France.

Throughout France, campaign posters are restricted to designated areas identified by local authorities. For the three-month period leading up to an election, each candidate is allocated a similar amount of space and prohibited to affix signs or posters anywhere else.

I might add that paid radio and television commercials and other forms of media advertising are also prohibited during the same period.

The result is less visual blight, less pressure on candidates to raise money from donors and a more equitable approach to evaluating candidates.

I was disappointed campaign finance reform was not approved in B.C. for this fall’s municipal elections. Hopefully new regulations will be in place prior to the next elections, and we should learn from the French practises.

The French can also teach us when it comes to driving and parking. A Vancouverite now living in Aix-en-Provence told me driving is serious business in her adopted country. For one thing, you do not eat and drive.

While the French are often aggressive drivers, they generally demonstrate a greater respect for the rules of the road.

They do not pass on the inside and they signal when they turn. They understand the concept of giving way at intersections and roundabouts, which are common throughout the country.

When in congested traffic, drivers know not to try and pass through a controlled intersection if they are not certain of being able to clear the intersection before the light switches to red.

Compare that to how things are in downtown Vancouver.

To encourage motorists to respect the law, speed radar and red-light cameras are common. They are often accompanied by illuminated signs letting offending motorists know how many demerit points they were just penalized.

The French, like other Europeans, manage time-restricted free parking by requiring a parking disc or clock disc to be displayed on a car dashboard showing the time when the vehicle was parked. Parking officers can inspect the disc to determine if a car has been parked too long.

As Vancouver’s supply of free parking becomes increasingly limited, I foresee potential for a similar approach here. It would certainly be better than the alternative — paid parking.

I would also like British Columbia to consider another French law that requires motorists to carry a single-use, self-test breathalyzer in their cars.

While these units are not perfect, they can help detect when a motorist should not be driving. I purchased a portable breathalyzer many years ago in the United States and it has helped me on numerous occasions.

France, like other European countries, has developed a comprehensive system of toll roads. I often used them and the cost generally seemed fair. While the payment infrastructure is no doubt expensive, monies collected help fund road and transit improvements.

While we can learn much from the French, they can certainly learn from us, too. One of their most urgent challenges is how to manage graffiti, especially in urban centres. It is heartbreaking to see the amount of graffiti in French cities (and most other cities around the world). By comparison, Vancouver has done an excellent job.

As Courier readers travel outside of Vancouver this summer, I would encourage you to look out for ideas to make Vancouver an even better place to live. I will happily include the best ideas in future columns.

© Vancouver Courier

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