October 4, 2017

Burrard Bridge: Always Controversial

City Engineer Jerry Dobrovolny, when asked about controversy surrounding changes to the Burrard Bridge, notes that this has always been the case.
Prior to construction of the bridge in 1932, there was a referendum to approve the cost (probably in the late 1920s).  It was defeated.
Why?  Because the original design lacked room for pedestrian crossings and made no accommodation for streetcars.  Vancouverites weren’t going to settle for that.  The trestle across False Creek just to the east (removed in 1982) had been built only for the railway, and the people of Vancouver, even then, had higher priorities.  Like being able to cross False Creek on foot.
The Bartholomew Plan of 1929 proposed an extension of the streetcar system for a new bridge extending Burrard to Cedar Street (still the name of the road past 16th Avenue), providing for a new streetcar line along Cornwall to Stephens.

So the design by architect G.L. Thornton Sharp and engineer John Grant not only had sidewalks on the bridge deck but, in the piers below, cutaways to accommodate tracks for a streetcar line that, sadly, was never built.


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  1. We narrowly avoided that dreaded “Kingsway Extension” shown in the Bartholomew Plan! It was still being protected through Main Street while you were on Council, Gord.

    1. A ped cycling bridge in that location would relieve some of the pressure off Science World area and Cambie Bridge cycling paths. Also would make a more direct walking path into downtown for many residents..

      1. The planned Active bridge/ramp from Creekside Park to Dunsmuir, for people walking and on bikes, will run very close to that location. The Science World bike path will be supplemented with new protected bike lanes on Quebec, and the Cambie Bridge bike path will be supplemented with a protected lane for bikes southbound. Both those moves will add capacity for people walking and people on bikes.

      2. I think it would be cheaper to just improve the Cambie bridge. While it does have a wider than typical walking/cycling path on the east side it should be even wider or a new cycling path created or something. That should be done before any new bridge.

  2. Missing indeed is a low level ped/bike bridge between Cambie and mouth of False Creek .. or 2 even.. Far more important than inconveniencing the odd sail boat by lowering its mast. Is this in the plans anywhere ?

      1. So 100 sails boat owners benefit while 100,000+ walkers and bikers cannot use a low level crossing of a now recreational (and not industrial) habour ?

      2. If you would read the Act you would see the reasons for its existence.
        Don’t forget vessels that maintain the waterway. And emergency services vessels. And tugs with their tows. Come down some time and watch a single tug spin a gravel barge to approach Ocean Concrete. You could tell them that they are ‘recreational’.
        When you reference walkers remember that if their destination is up one of the escarpments then the advantages of a low level crossing are lost. That applies to both the Granville Bridge, and the Burrard Bridge.

        1. Low level could mean high enough for a tug boat. Perhaps the act needs changing? Perhaps the bridge could be openend for the twice a week or once a day tug boat for ten minutes?
          Climbing these high bridges ( Burrard or Granville) as a pedestrian or biker is quite a detour and detracts from the current main use of False Creek which is recreational. Burrard Bridge had a train below to my knowledge, as evidenced by the large holes in its concrete pillars. Perhaps that level could be reactivated ?

        2. There was not a low level rail crossing under the Burrard Bridge. It was never implemented.
          There was a rail trestle further east, with a swing span. I remember having to wait for it to get out of False Creek.
          You are still ignoring that most people crossing go up one of the escarpments anyway. A more gentle grade on the bridge deck is easier than climbing Thurlow from Beach, for example.

        3. I rarely agree with Mr Beyer, but he has a valid point here. And is there a reason a low level bridge could not be east of the concrete plant? Additionally there are certainly plenty of sailboat slips (and room for more) at the west end of the creek. This definitely seems to be a prioritize the needs of the 1% sort of situation.

        4. There has been a low level bridge proposed for Granville Island, across the opening to Alder Bay. That isn’t a navigation channel. It is a reasonable span. This bridge would improve access to the east end of Granville Island, without adding vehicle traffic.
          A bridge across False Creek would need a fairly wide span, to accommodate barges, and a opening span to handle higher vessels, sail or otherwise. It would require full time staff, so that it could be opened on demand. If we consider the costs of such a bridge, there are just so many more things that need to be fixed first. We have no shortage of projects that deserve funding. In the meantime, if someone doesn’t want to climb the escarpment, there are two ferry lines running that will be happy to shuttle people across to the opposite shore, in some cases with their bicycles or strollers.

        5. (1)Tanslink should integrate the compass card with the false creek ferries like the rest of Metro. (2) stairs or elevators for all 3 bridges north & south

        6. Time to consider new options here as we are now deep into the 21st century with False Creek not an industrial harbor anymore. We need new thinking. The odd sailboat or barge is a secondary consideration.
          I once walked on the wrong side of Cambie street bridge and couldn’t get down to seawall. Then the only other choice further west is an (expensive) mini-boat [ often with long lineups in summer ] or a massive detour via 2 very high bridges designed for cars and industrial type boats from 70+ years ago ?
          Hello !
          Write your MP to change the act and/or the local councilor or Mayor Robertson to get moving on this vital waterfront enhancement.

  3. Don Luxton’s report also cited, as reasons for not having streetcars on the road deck:
    – incompatibility between the grades of the approaches with the required clearance for marine navigation (i.e. the approaches would have had to have been made longer and shallower)
    – the unsightly overhead power lines required for the streetcars (i.e. would the City now allow trolley bus wires to be erected on the bridge?)