Following a marathon session on the matter of the SkyTrain extension to UBC, Vancouver City Council unanimously approved the launch of a public consultation process for city staff’s proposal to add a bike and walking path on the deck of the Granville Street Bridge.
During the meeting, a concept presented by Paul Storer, the manager of transportation design for the City of Vancouver, illustrated a bike and walking path that replaces the centre lanes of the bridge, with between two and four of the road lanes on the 1954-built, eight-lane bridge repurposed for cyclists and pedestrians.
The path would be elevated one metre above the road deck and finished with lighting, public art, and seating. A barrier would also separate the path from the vehicles on either side.
Storer said the changes are needed to align with the municipal government’s Transportation 2040 plan goals and to improve the bridge’s safety for other users, given that the existing narrow sidewalks are dangerous without any barrier from the fast-moving cars.
The only cyclists on the bridge — originally built for a freeway between downtown Vancouver and Richmond — at the moment are the “fearless cyclists”.
“It is really hard to improve accessibility on this bridge without making big changes to it… it is an uncomfortable style with its highway on- and off-ramps,” said Storer.
The centre path along Granville Street would begin at West 5th Avenue to establish a connection with the Arbutus Greenway to the south and end at Drake Street to the north.
Currently, an engineering study is being conducted to determine the technical feasibility of an elevator and staircase tower connecting the centre path with Granville Island below.
There could also be a direct transit link from a “signature” tower structure, which could feature an observation deck for “extraordinary views.”
A number of alternative options, such as a path on the underside of the bridge, were previously considered, but later deemed unfeasible, Storer explained.
Alternatively, instead of a centre path, one other option of placing the path on the side of the bridge deck, potentially providing more optimal views of False Creek, created conflicts with vehicle traffic at the southern ramps of the bridge. To resolve this problem, new traffic signals could be placed on the bridge in the area of the ramps, but this would lead to traffic congestion issues.
Storer added that preliminary analysis indicated the impact to vehicle traffic should be minimal, given that the Granville Street Bridge is the least busiest of the three False Creek bridges, and its current traffic volumes are well under bridge’s capacity.
Each lane sees an average of about 700 motor vehicles per lane per hour (mvplph) in each peak hour direction, which is less than half of the lane capacity of 1,750 mvplph. But it was alluded there could potentially be some traffic management issues with a four-lane concept (two road lanes in each direction) in the event that road maintenance needs to be performed and one lane is closed.
Brent Toderian, the municipal government’s former director of city planning, and now an international planning consultant, returned to City Hall to voice his support for the project that he previously helped spearhead.
“This is not about car congestion,” said Toderian. “You can lose two lanes or even four lanes with no discernible impact on car movement,” adding that one of the major lessons learnt from the transportation plan created for the Olympics was that the congestion problems are caused by poorly-designed intersections, not necessarily the number of lanes.
“It is a place-making exercise… like the Brooklyn Bridge’s pedestrian walkway, it is a great place to stop, not just a great place to move through,” he continued.
Charles Gauthier, the president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, expressed some concerns over possible traffic congestion for one of the centre path concepts that only provided one lane in each direction towards Granville Street on the downtown side. He also wanted assurances that transit bus access through the Granville Strip would be retained.
However, overall, Gauthier was supportive of the proposal, calling it “bold” and “city-building” and an idea “worth exploring more.”
Councillor Kirby Yung, who was previously the longtime director of marketing for Tourism Vancouver, gave her stamp of approval as well.
“I think that from a tourism point of view, as that is my background, it really has the opportunity to have a lot of appeal for people visiting Vancouver from destinations around the world,” she said.
City Council discussions also touched on the high level of strategic public consultation that would need to be undertaken by city staff, considering the criticism the municipal government has historically received on taking road lanes away in other parts of the city for bike lanes.
“Lots of folks in the suburbs are consumed with congestion problems, and stuff like losing lanes makes them freak out and they tend to punish us in the city, even though Vancouverites might be totally in favour of this,” said Stewart, while also noting that the city should not be viewed as “anti-car” but rather “pro-connections into downtown.”
There was also some consensus that the upcoming phase of public consultation should result in the creation of a number of different designs and alignments for further consideration.
If the project proceeds and receives further approvals from City Council, it would be coordinated with the bridge’s upcoming structural rehabilitation and seismic improvements. Construction could begin in mid-2020 for an opening in late-2021.
There is $25 million budgeted in the 2019-2022 capital plan for this project, not including the elevator and staircase reaching Granville Island and the observation tower.
On the northern end of the bridge, work has started on preparing for the eventual demolition and mixed-use redevelopment of the loops that connect the bridge lanes with Pacific Street. The cost of the loops demolition and new replacement street grid is expected to cost $18 million.
- City of Vancouver pushing forward with Granville Bridge bike lanes and walking path
- Granville Bridge bike lanes and walking path estimated to cost $25 million
- Granville Island redevelopment plan includes bridge elevator, public spaces, and market expansion
- Vancouver seeking redevelopment interest for Granville Bridge loops
- New renderings of the proposed 'gateway' tower next to Granville Bridge in downtown