July 6, 2009

A new bridge (and a new option) for False Creek

Lots of buzz about the ped/bike bridge proposal floated by the Mayor as an alternative to the lane closure or widening of the Burrard Bridge.  (See Frances Bula’s post on the subject here.)

Architect Gregory Henriquez and engineer C.C. Yao came up with this:

False Creek Bridge - Henriquez

I’m not a fan.  Too big, too complicated, too expensive – mainly to accommodate the ramps needed to get the bridge deck high enough so that boats can sail underneath without impediment.   And that’s the issue that never seems to get addressed head on: must any new crossing of False Creek be a high-level bridge?

In the past, most bridges over False Creek were low level.  Like the first and second Granville Bridge:

Granville Bridge - second

And the second Cambie bridge:

Cambie Bridge

And the railroad trestle just east of Burrard:

False Creek trestle

If there wasn’t an assumed priority to avoid drawbridges or swing spans, then a passerelle (as the French call pedestrian bridges) becomes a possible option.  (I illustrate many of the new and exciting passerelles being built around the world in this summary post here.) 

The presumed cost of manning a drawbridge or swing span could, I suspect, be handled with some wireless technology.  With respect to safety, I doubt the bridge would be any less safe than the adjacent seawall on the south side.

If this alternative was up for serious consideration, we could then pursue the simplest and most affordable option: a ped-bike bridge under the Burrard Bridge roadway where streetcars were originally supposed to cross.  That’s the reason for those holes in the bridge’s piers.

From seawall to seawall, connected to existing bikeways, it would provide a quick link for most users.  Yes, there are still challenges to connect with Burrard and Hornby Streets on the north end – but that’s true for the Henriquez proposal as well.  A Burrard Bridge passerelle, however, avoids the most problematic intersections and provides the choice that would likely be most used by the most people.

The lower-deck option avoids the contentiousness of dealing with native-land claims.  But the greatest impediment is still political.  Will the federal govermnent come to the table, prepared to allow a low-level crossing under the Navigable Waters Act, which gives it jurisdiction in False Creek?  Would sailors and other users of the Creek be prepared to make some trade-offs on access, as would cyclists, who would have to accept delays when the passerelle is open?

We won’t know until we ask.

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  1. I know the city has stated they would like False creek east of Cambie to be for non-motorized boats only, but it strikes me as easier to change that policy to allow for a low level bridge. All sailboats should be moored outside false creek, there is lots of space west of Burrard and in Coal Harbour, east of Burrard would only be open to motored boats with a maxium height that would still allow a low/mid level bridge.
    I understand Granville Island is still industrial (LaFarge) but those deleviries are made by barge with tugs that would be able to fit under a mid level bridge w/o problem.
    Another option would be as you mentioned a draw bridge, have it down during set peak times (morning and evening rush hour) and then open the rest of the day. When traffic is light people could use the sidewalks on Burrard although I feel the first method would be best.
    Is there any reason for tall boats east of Burrard?
    The only issue I see is people with houseboats not being able to move, at least by water, but even then they might be okay at low tide to pass under a mid level bridge.

  2. I think the low level crossing should definitely be pursued. And we might think about – with the Fed’s participation, of course – some “no swing” times at rush hour when the bridge would be prioritized to people/bikes and not swing back and forth so much.

  3. After studying the following pic


    I realize this would take away from the art deco lines, but there appears to be plenty of height to build a second deck over the sidewalks. You could have walkers along the bottom and cyclists along the top. the path is wide enough if it weren’t shared. Should be quite a bit cheaper then expanding the sidewalks as well. Any thoughts?

  4. There are still quite a few swing bridges operating in the region – road, rail and one combination of both. And, as far as I can see, not much pressure to replace them on the grounds of operating cost.

  5. Peak Oil could hasten the opportunity to construct a low level bridge as fewer people will be recreating in large boats, removing some of the political impediment. On the other hand there would be far fewer cars on the road too so it wouldn’t be as hard to reallocate two lanes on the bridge. Hey maybe we could have both! Except that we’re all going to have to make do with less.

  6. Thank You! Finally someone with an air of reason. We have enough bridges on False creek, we don’t need to spend millions on some fancy new bridge.
    Even if a new bridge under Burrard was close to the current bridge (height wise) we could have a circular entry, like on Cambie, just over the water, then up under the tressle, and back down.
    And as you said, we have to ‘ask’ the questions…


  7. “And we might think about – with the Fed’s participation, of course – some “no swing” times at rush hour when the bridge would be prioritized to people/bikes and not swing back and forth so much”

    Not a bad idea, Richard, but it may take more time and more pressure than you think. For the soon-to-be demolished swing bridges on the Pitt River it took many years of BC pressuring Ottawa to get an agreement that these bridges would not be opened during weekday rush hours.

  8. While great for serving people using the Seawall, this would be of little use to many commuters who currently use the bridge. It would be great in addition to improvements on the bridge deck.

  9. Has anyone studied the feasibility of having a crossing within the girders of the Burrard bridge itself? In other words, above the existing support arches, but below the roadway?

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