Vancouver City Council has approved a downsized first phase project for the Granville Bridge Connector and the new bike lane on Drake Street.
The decision on Tuesday follows city staff’s recommended altered plan to allow core components of both projects to proceed within the municipal government’s current fiscal constraints, due to the health and economic crisis.
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As a result, the first phase of the project will cost $12.5 million, down from the $25 million budgeted in the 2019-2022 capital plan. This does not include $2 million already expended in preliminary planning and design. Future phases will depend on further city council approvals.
The existing eight vehicle lanes will still be reduced to six narrower lanes to accommodate added pedestrian space and a bi-directional bike lane on the west side of the bridge. However, the interim design will utilize temporary concrete barriers, and the widened pedestrian pathways will be deferred.
As planned, new traffic signals on the bridge deck — at the Howe Street on-ramps and the Fir Street/West 4th Avenue off-ramp — will be installed for the new pedestrian and cyclist crossings.
At the southern end of the bridge, on the west side, the city has plans to demolish the southwestern loop off-ramp onto West 4th Avenue in favour of adding another traffic signal-controlled intersection on Granville Street. This component has been deferred, but there will still be interim changes to allow for a direct connection between the Granville Connector and the Arbutus Greenway. City Council also unanimously approved an amendment calling for this loop space to become improved public green space.
Interim changes to the southwest loop of the Granville Bridge:
Future permanent changes removing the southwest loop of the Granville Bridge:
All envisioned changes to the east side of the bridge — including the widened sidewalk and new traffic signals for the on- and off-ramps, and the installation of suicide-prevention fences on both sides — will also be deferred to future phases.
Another $4.4 million — down from $9 million — has been approved by city council for the Drake Street changes at the northern end of the Granville Bridge Corridor. The changes to accommodate wider sidewalks and a new bidirectional bike lane on Drake Street will eliminate the westbound traffic lane and turn the route into an eastbound, single-lane road for vehicles. The interim design for Drake Street uses lower quality materials, such as interim paint, planters, and limited concrete work.
NPA councillor Lisa Dominato said the forthcoming changes to the Granville Street Bridge are necessary for safety and accessibility, given the existing narrow sidewalks, and offer tourism opportunities.
“I firmly believe that we will look back years from now and see this as bold, a no brainer, in the context of serving a shifting population. We know we have the Broadway Subway coming and there will be a station at the southern end at Broadway and Granville,” said Dominato, who deemed the existing pedestrian experience as “precarious.”
Green Party councillor Pete Fry said his most terrifying experience cycling was on this bridge, while NPA councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung and mayor Kennedy Stewart also emphasized the bridge’s real safety concerns and the avoidance of pedestrians for that reason.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to have a poor cousin of a bridge, where the other two (Burrard and Cambie bridges) have been provided with an upgraded experience and this one hasn’t,” said Kirby-Yung, noting connections over the water have become memorable experiences in cities such as Sydney, London, and Portland.
Stewart added: “Nobody in the entire city is saying, ‘let’s go for a walk across the Granville Street Bridge.’ Nobody is saying that today… I think we’ve come at a good decision here respecting our economic circumstances and the need to city-build.”
The project has faced some public backlash over its cost in the backdrop of the city’s new fiscal realities, especially with other housing and pandemic-related priorities, but Kirby-Yung asserted the funding is coming from developer contributions (community amenity contributions and development cost levies) and cannot be reallocated to other initiatives.
For COPE councillor Jean Swanson, she saw the Granville Bridge Connector as a tool to reduce vehicle traffic coming into downtown.
However, the bridge is an extension of the Highway 99 corridor, a vital link for the regional transportation network. It normally sees an average of 65,000 vehicle crossings and 25,000 bus transit trips per day, with six bus routes running a combined total of nearly 80 buses per hour during peak periods.
“The time spent crossing the bridge, whether it’s in vehicles or buses, does not make sense,” said NPA councillor Colleen Hardwick, who cast the only vote against the project. “Sure, everyone supports cycling and walking, but Granville Bridge has the most bus routes compared to Burrard and Cambie bridges.”
“This is not essential, it is nice to have and not need to have,” continued Hardwick.
Separately, the city is spending $34 million to provide the bridge with seismic upgrades and structural rehabilitation. Construction began in late 2019 and is slated to end in early 2021.
Now that the project has been approved, detailed design on the Granville Bridge Connector, Drake Street bike lane, and the demolition of the bridge’s north loops will occur throughout 2021. Construction on all three projects will start in early 2022 for completion in the middle of 2023.
The north loops will be replaced with a new ground-level, H-shaped street network, creating new city-owned blocks for development potential.