An agreement between levels of government could shutdown the Lions Gate Bridge and Stanley Park Causeway to private vehicle traffic in 2030.
Under the deal, car traffic would be removed from the bridge and causeway, which will be converted to either an exclusive route for cyclists, pedestrians and transit or an extension of the park’s green space.
The four-party agreement between the provincial government, City of Vancouver, Vancouver Park Board and TransLink was signed in 2000. At the time, the bridge was undergoing a bridge deck replacement and required the removal of 47 trees from the park in order to widen the causeway.
However, there is one major caveat with the plan. For the shutdown to occur, the agreement stipulates that a new replacement crossing across Burrard Inlet from Vancouver to the North Shore would have to be constructed.
A political and economic fallout would follow if a new replacement crossing is not built, not just for North Shore residents and businesses but also for the Sea-to-Sky corridor – to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, Squamish and Whistler.
Even when the Lions Gate Bridge deck was being replaced from 2000 to 2002, the bridge remained open for 10 hours a day during the daytime – closures and major construction only occurred during the evenings. A full closure of the bridge over an extended construction period was simply unfathomable.
With all this considered, it is highly unlikely the shutdown plan will be implemented, especially by 2030.
There has been little mention of the agreement since it was first formulated fifteen years ago. But the City of Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 plan, approved by City Council in 2012, highlights the need to review the policy with North Shore municipalities and determine whether it should be rescinded.
“This agreement… was intended to acknowledge the negative impacts of causeway traffic on park users, and to encourage more environmentally friendly means of transportation,” the City report notes.
“Since the agreement was completed, significant public investments have been made in road, transit, and cycling infrastructure at both ends of the Lions Gate Bridge and on the bridge itself. The interchange at the north end of the bridge was completely replaced, for example, and now includes queue jumpers that give transit priority access to the bridge.”
The recently announced provincial government initiative to build a $7-million bike path along the length of the causeway adds to the list of investments made to the route over the years.
New Burrard Inlet crossing options
TransLink’s Mayors’ Council’s $7.5-billion, 10-year transportation plan, which is currently being decided by the region’s voters, does not account for the need of additional road capacity to the North Shore.
The Lions Gate Bridge and Stanley Park Causeway are under the jurisdiction of the provincial government. Any improvements or a replacement would have to be spearheaded and largely funded by the provincial government, as in the cases of the new Port Mann Bridge, Highway 1 expansion, South Fraser Perimeter Road, and the upcoming George Massey Tunnel replacement project.
There have been at least half a dozen proposals to build an undersea tunnel to the North Shore, with the oldest proposal dating back to 1890s.
A more serious proposal was fronted in the 1960s and 1970s when the provincial government pushed a plan to build a network of freeways that criss-crossed the city’s waterfront. With the exception of the Granville Street Bridge and the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, the freeway plan never saw daylight due to municipal-level opposition.
One Danish proposal in the 1990s even called for a land reclamation project in Burrard Inlet at the location of the midway point of the bored tunnel. Condominium towers would be built on the island to help fund the construction of the project.
In the late-1990s, Glen Clark’s provincial government proposed a plan to refit and expand the rusting 1930s-built Lions Gate Bridge. The original plan called for a replacement and expansion of the bridge deck from three lanes to four lanes, eliminating the need for a counterflow traffic system.
But elected officials in Vancouver City Council and the Park Board opposed the plan, given that that a significantly greater number of trees would have to be cut down along the causeway.
Shortly after the Lions Gate Bridge refit project was complete, in 2002 a proposal emerged to construct a six-kilometre long tunnel from the foot of Main Street in Vancouver to the North Shore.
From Vancouver, the route would traverse northwest under Coal Harbour, pass by the area just north of Brockton Point, and end at Taylor Way in West Vancouver to provide a direct and more efficient connection with the Upper Levels Highway. The depth of Burrard Inlet along this tunnelled route option is relatively shallow, ranging from 40 metres to 75 metres.
Like in many other major cities, this 2002 proposal will enable commuters to bypass the street grid and local traffic of the downtown core.
Traffic from the existing Lions Gate Bridge configuration, used by about 70,000 vehicles every weekday, already causes severe congestion in downtown streets and increasingly spills into West End neighbourhood streets.
Any crossing replacement or expansion option would have to consider the reality that downtown Vancouver’s street grid does not possess the capacity to handle a significant increase in vehicle traffic volume. This could be further exacerbated by the City’s plan to demolish the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, which will redirect traffic to other adjacent arterial streets.