New bike lane impacts 5 events, forces big re-route of Vancouver Sun Run

Mar 28 2022, 8:05 pm

Organizers of five major annual events — some of the largest events in British Columbia — that are historically held on downtown Vancouver’s West End waterfront say their returning events this year have been impacted by the concrete barrier bike lane installed along Beach Avenue in 2021.

Daily Hive Urbanized interviewed the five separate organizers of the Vancouver Sun Run, Honda Celebration of Light, BMO Vancouver Marathon, Vancouver Half Marathon (formerly known as Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon), and the Vancouver Pride Parade.

Each organizer expressed varying degrees of impact, and in some cases, the impacts have been highly detrimental and expensive and are a public safety issue for the events.

“This area serves as the prime event location for major events, including a couple of the most well-attended and beloved events in the summer calendar, and they drive huge economic and tourism benefits, but now they’ve been made more difficult,” said Paul Runnals, partner and senior vice-president of creative and production of Brand Live, the event production firm that organizes the Honda Celebration of Light.

“The temporary bike lanes that they’ve got on Beach Avenue and Stanley Park do not look that temporary anymore, and it has had huge impacts in terms of events, and large events that happen in and around the park.”

beach avenue bike lane denman

Beach Avenue concrete bike lane barriers and islands. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

beach avenue bike lane denman

Beach Avenue concrete bike lane barriers and islands. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

This year will mark the first year all of these events will be returning following a two-year pandemic hiatus.

In Spring 2021, the City of Vancouver completed its fixed changes to Beach Avenue’s configuration by installing concrete barriers and islands onto the roadway to re-designate the bike lane. The City has deemed this to be “temporary,” but the constructed design — replacing the previous use of movable traffic cones — carries a great degree of permanency.

As a result of the new construction, Beach Avenue’s four-lane width has been largely narrowed to two lanes for vehicles — one lane in each direction — to establish the bi-directional concrete barrier bike lane on the eastbound curbside lane. West of Denman Street, the narrow section of Beach Avenue to Stanley Park has been reconfigured to one eastbound lane for vehicles and the bike lane on the former westbound lane.

The concrete barrier and island along Beach Avenue present a major obstacle for the various events, but the most challenging area is the intersection of Denman Street and Beach Avenue, where new road barriers and islands have narrowed the width of the usable road space for events considerably.

The Vancouver Sun Run is amongst the most impacted of the events as a result of the road design changes.

Tim Hopkins, the race director of the Vancouver Sun Run, says the bike lane barriers have forced a major re-route of this year’s race. Such an extensive re-route, he says, has never been done in the decades-long history of the race.

The Stanley Park segment of the Vancouver Sun Run route has been completely eliminated. Instead, runners heading westbound down West Georgia Street will turn left on Denman Street.

And without the Lagoon Drive and Stanley Park Drive segments, the race has been required to make up the lost distance elsewhere — towards the end of the route to ensure their 10 km distance remains internationally certified.

Vancouver Sun Run route in 2019 and prior:

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2019 Vancouver Sun Run route map. (Vancouver Sun Run)

Vancouver Sun Run re-route starting in 2022:

vancouver sun run route map 2022

2022 Vancouver Sun Run route map, showing major re-routes. (Vancouver Sun Run)

Instead of the scenic climax of running northbound across the Cambie Street Bridge to reach the finish line on Pacific Boulevard outside BC Place Stadium, runners will continue heading eastbound into the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area — a far less optimal experience of running through about eight blocks of industrial properties, along 2nd Avenue, Columbia Street, East 5th Avenue, and Quebec Street.

The Vancouver Sun Run will loop around the easternmost end of False Creek via Quebec Street to reach the finish line outside BC Place Stadium.

“It’s really unfortunate that the past two years of the pandemic, the City arbitrarily, without approval from fire, police, ambulance, and any event stakeholders, took a temporary bike and made it permanent with highly dangerous cement barriers all along Beach Avenue. It has forced us to change our course,” said Hopkins.

“Unfortunately for us, one of the signature parts of the Sun Run since almost year one has been running around and through Stanley Park, and this will be the first year in over 30 years that we won’t have some portion of the course going through Stanley Park.”

vancouver sun run cambie street bridge

Historically, the northbound direction of the Cambie Street Bridge is used as the final leg of the Vancouver Sun Run. (Daniel Chen/YouTube)

vancouver sun run route 5th avenue columbia

Runners of the 2022 Vancouver Sun Run will go down Columbia Street and turn left onto 5th Avenue within Mount Pleasant Industrial Area instead of the scenic Cambie Street Bridge climax. (Google Maps)

5th avenue vancouver sun run route

Runners of the 2022 Vancouver Sun Run will go down 5th Avenue within Mount Pleasant Industrial Area instead of the scenic Cambie Street Bridge climax. (Google Maps)

Hopkins also notes that their costs have increased as a direct result of the forced re-route: Traffic management, one of the largest budget items for the running race, has now more than tripled compared to the previous event in 2019.

In the past, the Vancouver Sun Run has seen annual participant numbers as high as nearly 60,000, plus thousands more people cheering on the sidelines.

Smaller races that typically use Beach Avenue have seen impacts, too. The BMO Vancouver Marathon typically reaches its combined capacity of 15,000 runners for its Full Marathon and Half Marathon races, with both races overlapping on Beach Avenue.

Eric Chéné, the race director of RunVan, the organization behind the BMO Vancouver Marathon, says the bike lanes cause a “slight pinch” for runners, especially at two specific sections of Beach Avenue.

There is no re-route for the BMO Vancouver Marathon, but the available space dedicated to runners will be limited.

On Beach Avenue, the two-vehicle lanes will narrow to one running lane on the westbound vehicle lane instead of the traditional two lanes, but the concrete bike lane will be closed to cyclists for the runners. However, organizers are still required to establish a temporary bike lane during the partial-day event on the eastbound vehicle lane of Beach Avenue.

As well, on Stanley Park Drive after Pipeline Road, due to the bike lane, runners of BMO Vancouver Marathon’s Half Marathon and 8KM races will only have one road lane rather than the usual two. Runners can use the bike lane in the area, but they will have to navigate the cement divider.

But Canadian Running Series’ Vancouver Half Marathon, previously known as the Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon, will see a major re-route this year due to the Beach Avenue bike lane, with the race no longer crossing the Burrard Street Bridge. In fact, it will not be entering the downtown Vancouver peninsula at all.

The Vancouver Half Marathon typically ends near the Stanley Park Brewery, but instead, it will now end next to the crab sculpture fountain of the Museum of Vancouver in Vanier Park in Kitsilano. The lost distance will be made up by extending the existing route segment along Southwest Marine Drive further eastward to nearly Camosun Street, adding about four km of the race through the University Endowment Lands.

Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon route in 2019 and prior:

scotiabank vancouver half marathon 2019 route

2019 Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon route. (Canadian Running Series)

Vancouver Half-Marathon re-route in 2022:

vancouver half marathon 2022 route

2022 Vancouver Half-Marathon re-route. (Canadian Running Series)

Canadian Running Series race director Ryan Chilibeck says the changes have worked out for them and are projected to lower their traffic management costs. He says the event, which usually sees about 6,500 runners combined for the 21 km and 5 km races, will have “the same great vibe.”

The largest of the five events is, of course, the Honda Celebration of Light, which attracts about 400,000 attendees for each of the three fireworks nights.

With the bike lane, there are crowd control and accessibility concerns and the potential for more injuries from the tripping hazard of the concrete curb barriers.

Runnals says the Beach Avenue bike lane has complicated logistics, requiring their organization to redo all traffic management plans and account for the need to hire more logistics staff to help manage the ingress and egress of crowds. Food trucks are also typically placed on Beach Avenue.

Higher costs are very likely for the event, he notes, which would otherwise be directed towards event programming.

“We can work around it, but it’s not helping, and it’s certainly going to be a trip hazard at the end of the nights when we have tens of thousands of people heading out of the beach and flushing into the streets,” said Runnals.

“The frustrating thing is the concrete bike lane was rammed up in a hurry, without any consultation with the event sector. They did it when no one was looking. Had we been invited to be part of the conversation, as we’re putting on some of the biggest events in the province that drive huge benefits to the region… we’re not even invited to look at the plan and provide a level of input.”

beach avenue bike lane cactus club

Beach Avenue bike lane concrete barriers, near Denman Street and outside Cactus Club restaurant. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

beach avenue bike lane denman

The Beach Avenue bike lane configuration bans cyclists from using the seawall in the area. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

Runnals is also not convinced that concerns relating to pedestrian safety, particularly seniors and children, as the direct result of the bike lane encouraging speeding cyclists, have been adequately addressed.

“I do support the concept of active transportation, and I do think the bike lanes overall are a great addition to the city. Let’s develop a bike strategy, but don’t do it blindly without including some of the other considerations and groups that are significantly impacted by the decisions being made. That’s a frustration,” he continued.

“I really feel other concerns and groups are not being given the same weight as the need of the cycling community. It is really interesting to see that happening, as the city has improved the way it has engaged and consulted, but this seems to be working in its own space.”

Runnals suggested the impact of the Beach Avenue bike lane on the Vancouver Pride Parade, held the day after the final fireworks night, will be “really problematic.”

“This year, there are a few more challenges for sure, but we’ve scoped it out,” said Lee Keple, interim executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society, emphasizing that the organization is working with the city to mitigate and overcome the obstacles.

“I know our parade coordinator has been working on that. There has been a certain amount of muttering and hard work on how to tackle it.”

An obvious major issue is the intersection of Denman Street and Beach Avenue. Previously, there were three vehicle lanes — including two wide lanes eastbound — on Denman Street, merging onto Beach Avenue. But with the new concrete bike lane islands and barriers at this juncture, organizers need to figure out how large floats and delegations can safely pass through.

beach avenue bike lane denman

The Denman Street transition onto Beach Avenue is now considerably narrower due to the Beach Avenue bike lane barriers and islands. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

vancouver pride parade

Vancouver Pride Parade on Beach Avenue, 2017. (Shutterstock)

vancouver pride parade beach avenue

2017 Vancouver Pride Parade on the full width of Beach Avenue. (Daily Hive)

Considerations also need to be given for the rest of the narrowed parade route and public viewing areas due to the bike lane along Beach Avenue between Denman Street and Jervis Street, where the route ends. Floats and delegations typically transition towards Sunset Beach Park.

With all that said, needless to say, all organizers are hopeful for resolutions and are keen to bring back their events.

“We’re excited to be back, having a large-scale, mass participation-based event in Vancouver that is really going to celebrate all things great about our city,” said Hopkins. The 36th Vancouver Sun Run will be held on April 24, 2022.

Hopkins said the Vancouver Sun Run typically sees about 35,000 racer registrations at this time before race day, but currently, they are at about 50%, given the earlier impacts of the pandemic within the registration window, which began last November.

He says there will be ample room for the race’s start line, with runners setting foot in staggered waves as usual. Although they are currently not required by provincial health guidelines, everyone is encouraged to wear a mask.

There will still be over dozen bands on the sidelines of the route, and volunteers handing out water to runners. The public is invited to cheer the runners all along the route.

Honda Celebration of Light fireworks crowds at English Bay. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

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2018 BMO Vancouver Marathon start line. (Christopher Morris/RUNVAN)

The BMO Vancouver Marathon will celebrate its 50th anniversary on May 1, 2022. There will be a “Cheer Screen” by the event’s title sponsor on Beach Avenue to help motivate runners. Chéné says a record number of runners are expected for Canada’s largest Full Marathon race.

For Canadian Running Series’ Vancouver Half Marathon on June 26, 2022, Chilibeck says registration so far has been “going quite well,” and he believes the public is ready to hit the pavement again for mass running.

“We, of course, want this to be a celebration of the running community and the return of racing,” said Chilibeck.

The Honda Celebration of Light will be held on July 23, 27, and 30, 2022, over the BC Day long weekend as usual. This will be the 30th anniversary of the fireworks competition, which has grown over the past decade to include more major programming than only the traditional fireworks.

Just hours later, after the fireworks, on July 31, 2022, the Vancouver Pride Parade will make its grand return in the same area, marking its 44th year.

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