Save lives, money and reduce pollution: Why roundabouts are a solution for every city

Published: Globe and Mail
May 7, 2022
920 words

Round-aboutCOVID-19 restrictions are disappearing and France is expecting another one million Canadians to visit the country this year. Many will arrive after a lengthy flight, collect their luggage and clear customs at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, then climb into a rental car. Minutes later, they’ll suddenly find themselves immersed in a stream of French drivers circling around a traffic circle or rond-point. And once they’ve escaped that first traffic circle, they’ll immediately find themselves in a second, and a third, and in all likelihood, yet another.

Welcome to France, and the first of more than 30,000 traffic circles, the multilane roundabouts that challenge visiting drivers to learn new rules, new signs, a new language. They also provide no chance whatsoever to just stop and figure out where you’re going.

It is an item of faith in France that the roundabout was invented in Paris in 1907. The goal of its creator, the architect and urban planner Eugène Hénard, was to better manage the horse-and-carriage traffic throughout Paris. His first roundabout was at Place de l’Étoile in Paris, (since renamed Place Charles-de-Gaulle) where multiple lanes of circulating cars, motorbikes, vans and buses still circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

More specifically, these drivers battle for supremacy over 12 unmarked traffic lanes where cars entering the circle from the right have priority over everyone else. The result is legendary chaos and massive traffic jams.

Regardless of where traffic circles were invented, it was in Britain, not France, where they first became popular, with an explosion of construction in the 1950s and 60s, and a rethinking of how they functioned. It was the British who decided that incoming traffic should yield to those already on the circle. It was the success of this improvement that led to the adoption of the new British design in France.

The first French version of the “English roundabout” was opened in 1976 in Quimper, near Brittany’s Atlantic coastline. The rond-point’s official entry into the French Highway Code happened in 1983, the same year that decentralization moved much of town planning to local governments.

These town and village governments embraced the roundabout with enthusiasm. Since gaining popularity in the 1980s and 90s in France, roundabouts have been adopted in every corner of the country. And civic pride has led to another French tradition: the sculptures placed in the middle of the traffic circles. From the beautiful to the bizarre, these emblems of local pride have not only become important landmarks for lost tourists, but have led to websites, documentaries and Pinterest groups celebrating – or mocking – these roadside artworks.

The modern rules for French roundabouts are simple: Entering traffic must yield to the vehicles already circling. Once you’ve entered, keep to the inside, left-hand lane, with your left-hand-turn signal activated. Once you approach your exit, switch your signal to the right and move to the outside, right-hand lane, then exit. For drivers used to traffic lights and street corners, it can be nerve-racking to figure out which of the three, four, or even five exits you want, before you can change lanes and escape.

All of this happens while you’re watching both rear view mirrors and trying to spot a directional sign that almost never matches what your GPS is telling you. Having a spouse to act as navigator is a big help. (My wife Susan says that depends on which spouse is providing the navigation.)

Roundabouts aren’t just another French oddity – they’re actually a solution to a few problems that are faced by every town and city.

They completely eliminate stop-and-go traffic. Instead of dozens of cars sitting with their engines pumping out exhaust fumes at every red light, traffic moves constantly into and out of intersections. And because they do away with the need for stop lights or advanced left-turn signals, infrastructure maintenance costs are dramatically reduced. For small towns and villages, this saving is a valuable advantage.

Most importantly, though, roundabouts turn out to offer significant advantages in traffic safety. Every car entering a traffic circle has to slow down, so cars, trucks and buses move more slowly than usual. There are no red lights, so there are no drivers who accelerate through the intersection on a yellow. Deadly 90-degree collisions are a rarity in France. And because everyone moves in a counter-clockwise direction, and exits to the right, there’s little chance of cars appearing out of nowhere from your blind spot.

The result, according to a 2018 report by the European Commission, which examined 44 studies where junctions where converted to roundabouts, is a 41-per-cent reduction in traffic accident injuries and a 65 per cent reduction in fatal accidents.

In addition, a World Economic Forum report from December found the United States is saving lives and energy costs by replacing lights with roundabouts. It also notes that France has by far the most roundabouts per capita, about double the number per capita of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“Here’s a controversial idea that turns conventional thinking about road safety on its head: traffic lights cause accidents, increase pollution and we’d be better of without them,” starts the report.

Still, when your jet-lagged self is suddenly dealing with multiple roundabouts, you’ll appreciate the two big secrets to manoeuvring around them. First, it’s okay to circle two or even three times until you know where you’re going. Second, in the event you take the wrong exit, in all likelihood there’s another roundabout just ahead, so it’s easy to double back to where you got it wrong.

Get to know your banker and do your homework when moving your money out of Canada

Published: Globe and Mail
February 26, 2022
1185 words

Last year, when we moved from Vancouver to France, my wife Susan and I joined the several thousand Canadians who leave the country each year to settle elsewhere in the world. It was a permanent move, and we believed that we had planned carefully for every eventuality.

We were mostly correct, except for one thing: Our bank worked incredibly hard to keep us from moving the money from our house sale to our new country. Our first month in France was spent on international phone calls, talking to bank employees at several levels, sorting out conflicting advice, and having our account frozen a half-dozen times. To those following in our footsteps, we say: Take nothing for granted.

Like many Canadians our relationships with our banks began and ended with websites and bank machines. The only time when we actually sat down with a bank employee would have been every few years for mortgage renewals.

That’s not enough. If you’re planning an international move you’ll need to work on establishing a much closer relationship with your banker. As described by Joe Reid, Vancity credit union’s vice-president for wealth management and impact investing, you should begin early in the planning process by talking to “your trusted advisers … your lawyer, your accountant, any of your professional advisers.” That necessarily includes someone at your bank with experience in handling international money transactions.

Begin this process immediately upon deciding to move internationally, and when you meet with a representative at your local bank, be prepared to question them. Not all bankers have experience in this area, and they may need to pass you on to someone else who knows the ins and outs of large funds transfers, exchange rates and money laundering rules.

Beyond your bank, take time to thoroughly review things such as pensions, registered retirement savings plans and other investments, and especially your will. Inheritance rules in other countries can be very different. You may need two different wills, and an understanding of how your children can avoid inheritance taxes in your new country. You’ll also need to make sure that your family members understand the steps that they’ll need to take when you die.

John Lyng was a customer of Toronto-Dominion Bank for more than two decades when he and his wife left Canada for France. “I thought I had a good relationship with them,” he says, but when he needed to borrow money to secure a lease on an apartment in Paris he found himself turned down even though they were about to sell a home in downtown Toronto. Because Mr. Lyng was new to France, the landlord demanded that he place three years of rent payments in an escrow account or with a guarantor that would guarantee his ability to make rent payments.

His TD banker apparently had no experience in France and refused the loan.  “It’s a very unusual way of doing it,” the banker told Mr. Lyng of the landlord’s request. Mr. Lyng eventually found a loan through a mortgage broker.

We relate Mr. Lyng’s experience with TD only as an example. He’s a member of the popular Canadians in France group on Facebook; other group members, using various Canadian banks, tell similar stories.

“Please be aware that TD customers have several options for transferring funds out of country,” a spokesperson for the bank said in response to an e-mailed query from The Globe and Mail.

Vancity’s Mr. Reid is more specific in advising people leaving Canada: Understand that the rules will be different in other places, both in government and at individual banks. Although technically there’s no limit on the size of a transfer that you can make, individual banks have their own internal rules, and almost all international transfers above $10,000 will be reported to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FinTRAC). As well, you need to understand that even if your local banker is prepared to move funds to you in France (or wherever), the receiving bank may have its own barriers, or may require that you meet local anti-money-laundering rules.

In many cases, it isn’t possible to open a bank account in a foreign country until you arrive. In France, for instance, you invariably will be asked to provide a copy of a current electric bill to prove your residence, and it may take weeks for the new account to be active. In the meantime, don’t cancel your Canadian cellphone number. You can be sure that at least one financial institution will insist that you can’t log in without them sending you a secret code to a Canadian phone number.

Once you’re finally in your new home, and have your new bank account set up, you should still expect surprises from Canada. Mr. Lyng was settled in the suburbs of Paris, and every month arranged to transfer a few thousand dollars from Canada to France for living expenses. Until one day he couldn’t.

“For about one year I was able to do wire transfers, I was able to call the branch manager at the TD branch and they would do it. Until about three years ago when they said ‘we have new security precautions … if you want to do a wire transfer you need to come into the branch in person.’”

When Mr. Lyng explained that spending thousands of dollars to fly to Canada and stay in a hotel made no sense, the bank suggested that he write himself a cheque on his TD account and deposit that in France. According to Mr. Lyng, the cheque bounced when TD claimed there were no funds in his account to honour it.

Since then, Mr. Lyng has done what many other Canadians in Europe do. He relies on a money-transfer company to move funds out of his bank account and into his French one. Companies such as Wise and TorFX can make this easier, and often also offer better exchange rates and lower service charges than the Canadian banks.

Sharon Anne Kean, is senior director of global expansion at Wise, one of the leaders in global money transfer services, and one of the companies frequently recommended on the Canadians in France Facebook group. Ms. Kean’s advice echoes that of Vancity’s Mr. Reid: Start planning early, especially if you need to move large amounts for a home purchase. Like the banks, she says Wise takes security seriously. That means making sure the sender is who they say they are, “but then also doing a check on where you’re sending money to, such as a sales agreement for your new home, or something that verifies that the money is going to a good place.”

Ms. Kean also encourages customers to do their homework. In particular, understand that the “best exchange rate” quoted by your bank may include hidden fees that make it less attractive than what Wise might charge. “That’s a massive revenue stream for most banks. That’s why our rates appear to be more competitive.” Ms. Kean says that both their consumer and corporate customers also appreciate that Wise moves money much faster than the big banks.

 

A move to France helped us discover not just where we felt at home, but how we wanted to live

Published: Globe and Mail 
January 14, 2020
947 words

Our decision to move to France from Canada was an easy one. The food, the culture and even the politics were a better fit for the life that we wanted to live. Along with our cat, Beatrice, we arrived in Bordeaux in mid-October and settled into a nice cottage in the Dordogne, a rural department in southwestern France.

For the first two weeks, we marvelled at the green rolling countryside around us, at the friendly people, and at the array of delicious meats and vegetables that we found at the weekly farmers’ markets and even in large supermarkets. We knew immediately that France was our heaven, but we also knew that the Dordogne was not where we wanted to live, work and build a life.

In the months before our move, we had identified the places that we thought would make a good home, but searching online and actually visiting them are two very different things, so we loaded up our new car and set out on a road trip that would take us more than 3,000 kilometres over two weeks.

Our starting point was Normandy, beginning in the Perche region. Perche is close to both Paris and London, and is imbued with the kind of energy and drive that we we’re used to. We are in France to launch a new music festival, not to retire, so that energy is appealing. Like the Dordogne, Normandy is remarkably beautiful, and has no shortage of the lovely old stone farmhouses that we felt were destined to be our dream home. The area has always been a favourite for British expats, but has also been popular with Parisiens trying to escape crowded city life since COVID began. That proximity is one of the big attractions to living in Normandy. Paris is only a 90-minute trip on the trains. London is further, but whether taking the train, or taking our car via the Channel Tunnel, it’s still an easy weekend trip for a show or to see friends.

We spent a week as guests at La Bellême Bleue Maison d’Hôtes, a restored 17th-century residence, then left to travel east and south to Burgundy. An otherwise dull day on the expensive French tollways was redeemed by a trip to the legendary Chartres cathedral. I expected this would just be a tourist stop, but in many ways it changed how I saw our future lives.

The beauty and majesty of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres are well known, but what affected me most was the age of the building. Canada is a country little more than 150 years old. When I was a schoolchild, our history barely extended past Confederation in 1867.

This cathedral, on the other hand, has been standing for more than a thousand years. I looked up at walls that are 900 years old; at the Sancta Camisia, the tunic said to have been worn by Mary at the birth of Jesus; and at marble sculptures that had been damaged by mobs 200 years ago during the French Revolution.

At Chartres, I was looking at history in ways that had simply never been possible at home, and was beginning to see how this long embrace of the historical past influences everything about France.

After a day and night in Burgundy and Chablis, we made our way down to Provence. We were saddened to see that the fabled southern paradise where my wife Susan spent much of her young adulthood has been overrun with tourists, motorhomes and advertising. We spent a day retracing Susan’s path through hilltop towns like Gordes, finally ending at the fabled ochre mining town of Roussillon.

The surrounding red cliffs are breathtaking, but we chose to turn uphill and follow the winding streets to the very top of the town and L’Église Saint Michel De Roussillon.

Even though religion has never been part of my life, I was swept away by the antiquity of the church, and by the centuries of liturgical artworks displayed, but most profoundly by the stunning statue of the Archangel Saint Michael defeating Satan. Something about this image wrapped itself around my thoughts, and kept me questioning what, if anything, I was doing in my life that could possibly compete with that act – or even with the power of the many artworks depicting it.

It was becoming obvious that in moving to France, my goal was not just to make a living, but to explore the ways that I could build a true legacy.

We spent the evening wandering the winding narrow streets of old Montpellier. Surrounded by crowds of partying students (a quarter of Montpellier’s 277,000 population), I was struck by the feeling that these ancient, cobbled avenues were as alive and vibrant as at any time in the last thousand years. I suddenly understood that ancient and historic don’t need to be dull or quiet.

The next morning, baguettes and charcuterie in hand, we set out on the last leg of our voyage, to the heart of the Occitanie, and the place where we’ll make our new home. The hilltop village of Lauzerte also dates back to the medieval, and like much of France preserves the architecture and heritage of that era while accommodating delivery vans and the new fibre-optic internet that runs to the ancient homes.

As much as we love our modern conveniences – I can’t imagine travelling the winding roads in France without GPS – we’re equally in love with the sense of permanence, and the understanding that you can preserve that history while still living in the current age. As we begin the process of choosing and purchasing our new home in France, we’re consciously seeking that balance.

 

How to Move Abroad and Keep Earning Money

Published: Real Simple Magazine
May 17, 2021
1176 words

For many of us, the pandemic years of 2020-2021 have wildly changed how we approach work and earning. Maybe you’ve gone fully remote and want to stay that way; maybe you’re planning a semi-retirement that involves downsizing just how much work you do. Maybe, like me, you’re making a long-held dream of moving to another country a reality. But if you’re emigrating and planning to earn money in a new country, things can get complicated fast, especially where taxes and work visas are concerned.

My wife and I are preparing to move to France this year; the selling price of our Vancouver home will buy us a lovely rural property in the Dordogne, with money left over. Although yes, we could just live off the proceeds of this sale, we both really want to keep working—me as a writer, my wife as a pianist and teacher.

Here’s how we’re planning to make the move across the globe, downsize our working lives somewhat, and yet still earn money in a foreign country in our semi-retirement.

(full article)