October 6, 2017

Burrard Bridge: This is Not About a Bike Lane

One of the biggest undertakings in the Burrard Bridge project was one we never really saw.  And it had nothing to do with bicycles.

It was mostly below grade or underground.
The replacement of water and sewerage lines is a big deal.  And for many months whole lanes of Burrard Street south of Davie were taken up to do it.
We take for granted, thank god, this water system that is essential for our existence as a city.  But there has been a long-term commitment by every council to maintenance and replacement of those pipes – and this project reflects that.
More later.

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  1. This is the really exciting part of urbanism! 😉
    Seeing the depth of the pipe in the photo reminded me that downtown, South False Creek and parts of Kits are served by a deep-bury salt water fire suppression system (those blue oversized hydrants out there). Salt water is pumped into the system via big diesel engines housed in bunkers dotted around the waterfront. The system is designed to stay relatively intact during an earthquake powerful enough to break the shallower (and often much older) city water distribution system. Many lives will be saved through this foresight that came from intelligent engineers who paid attention to San Francisco after their 1989 shaker. It’s expensive, but it’s better than insurance.
    One wonders why the rest of the Metro and other coastal communities do not plan to install a salt water system in their densest areas; surely senior government contributions would be made available.
    When they replaced a large water main on my street a few years ago I asked the site manager why he wrapped the new pipe in poly. He said it’s a simple and cheap way to block acidic soil moisture and extends the life of the pipe by more than a decade. Smart.
    Those who are exclusive light rail fans need to look hard at the above photo. No sane engineering department will allow a railway to be built directly above or too close a pipe like this on the same route (crossings excepted). Relocating an array of pipes to accommodate surface rail will add tens if not hundreds of millions to the project cost, and you’ll still have the same issues of getting stuck in traffic, capacity / frequency / speed limitations, or severing signalized crossings in cases where rail runs in a dedicated median or is separated within a road allowance.
    The photo also perfectly illustrates one of the main reasons low density suburbs are subsidized. Roads come with major underground services, and they are serving far fewer people in the sprawling exurbs at the same per metre cost as in denser communities.
    And before someone gets carried away in a rant about “overpaid” public sector workers, most large sewer and road projects are put out to public tender and the competitive bidding process among private contractors works its magic.

    1. I guess they don’t have sewers, water pipes and cross streets in the 200 cities that have light rail and trams.

    2. Interesting to look at the cost of a series of renovations at 30 year old or (or much younger) stations on the SkyTrain system. $27 million for Joyce. $60 million for Broadway, $55 million for Metrotown. $25 million for Surrey Central.
      $25 million would cover the cost of every single LRT station (from scratch) from Main Street to UBC.

  2. Am I right that the sewer needing replacing is what started the project in the first place? That everything else was added to it?

    1. Actually, it was to replace the railings that we literally falling apart and seismic upgrades and had little to do with cycling other than intersection changes. Even the changes northbound was for pedestrians and not cyclists.

    2. The concrete was spalling off the bridge, and falling down on the path.
      The utility work (water, sewer) needed doing.
      The Pacific/Burrard intersection had the second highest number of vehicle crashes of any intersection in the City, due to the slip lanes (and the highest crash site, SE Marine and Knight, is undergoing work now).
      There was an interest in returning the east sidewalk to pedestrians.
      It all came together, reducing the duration of multiple interruptions to one longer span.
      I agree with Colin that bike lanes, which is what the project was tagged as by some, were the least of it.

  3. We tend to have superficial perspectives fed by what is seen on a daily basis. There is an “invisible” dimension most sometimes forget about.
    Transport infrastructure is the doorway to underground utilities infrastructure. In order to maintain flow and connectivity in one system, sometimes another system needs to pay the price. As in life, everything is a temporal compromise.

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