January 25, 2019

Overbuilt and Underused — Granville Bridge

Changes are in the wind for Vancouver’s Granville Bridge, planned in the 1950’s as a downtown freeway component (like the viaducts) and now operating way under capacity, as motor vehicle volume continues to drop and other modes continue to grow.

With thanks to City of Vancouver and Engineering Services (report HERE).

What “way too big” looks like.

It’s time to rebuild it, and put that wasted capacity to use — in favour of those who travel by foot and by bike.  Not to mention the opportunity for a major new component to the network of AAA cycling infrastructure, by connecting the Granville Bridge to the seawall and the Arbutus Greenway on the south, and to Drake and Richards on the north.  The elevator to Granville Island is a terrific idea.

Today, the bridge is deadly for people on a bike, and contains tiny sidewalks and Vancouver’s nastiest crosswalks for people walking.

The idea has way more support than just Price Tags, despite the silly click-bait headlines pushing that tired and discredited trope “bike lanes = carmageddon”.   We may not always agree on the exact design concept, but we do agree that improving life for people who walk or ride a bike for every-day transportation is a good idea.

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  1. Good idea to add per/bike lanes, maybe even a bus stop and elevator, on top of Granville bridge.

    Missing in this debate though is at least two new LOWER bridge decks hanging well below Granville and Burrard bridges, high enough for motor boats to go under but not too high for easy pedestrian or bike access. Very cheap to build.

    Both bridges are quite high, built for a bygone area of industrial boat traffic below. That is not False Creek’s purpose today anymore. The few sail boat crossings a week need to take a lower priority compared to the tens of thousands of crossings bikers or pedestrian would do with these two lower bridges. Sailer can easily learn to lower their mast by automatic / electric winches of their forestay. A minor inconvenience compared to the massive urban benefits.

    Where is this debate / proposal ?

  2. Can you update this post with one of the cycle/walk/jog park-like lanes renderings? They suggest the two centre lanes be converted, but the side lanes would be more scenic for non-drivers. Why should the drivers keep the best views?

    1. Post

      Hi Mike: the illustration you seek is already in the post (see Gauthier tweet), and available through the linked CoV report. In any case, you’ll have endless opportunity to debate this “centre vs. edges” issue during the February to June public consultations (CoV report, Appendix B, page 2).

    2. Views are one issue, but the real issue here is that the bridge has three connections at each end (Howe/Granville/Seymour at the north end, and Hemlock/Granville/Fir at the south end). If the walking/cycling zones are on the outside lanes of the bridge, then you have just subjected those users to longer trips down the on and off ramps, instead of connecting Granville downtown to the South Granville business district and Granville Island. If you want to be on the sides on the centre span and in the centre at the ends of the bridge, then you are planning for replicating the four dangerous crosswalks that exist today. Bad idea.

      The centre lanes work fine for people walking and people cycling, as long as a few conditions are met:
      1) Safe connections at 6th and at the new Drake Greenway, with signal lights
      2) Physical separation and a buffer zone so that people walking and on bikes do not have vehicles at their elbow.
      3) Elevation of the centre paths so that people can look out in both directions over the traffic, reducing noise and discomfort.

      1. It would be far more preferable to have pedestrian-activated lights at crosswalks at the offramps. Who wants to walk in between four lanes of traffic? When I walk over it now half the pedestrians are taking pictures. As to cyclists, will the very short detour to Hemlock to Fir be such an unbearable hardship? I thought the whole point was to get exercise?

        1. The outside lanes would be far more AAA when one considers the south end. If its in the middle then one needs to go up and down Granville street and cross more traffic lights. If its on the sides then off ramp leads the active users to the same elevation as 10th avenue while skipping several intersections. Granville bridge is the only bridge that allows the users to not go back down to sea level when crossing false creek on the south end.

          1. The path would be unlikely to carry on up Granville. There would be a T junction for path users at 6th, with connections directly to the Arbutus Greenway, and back down to the water.

            It would be nice to be able to access the businesses in South Granville but that would likely involve a discussion over reallocating road space and the importance or not of on street parking.

            None of Fir, Hemlock, 4th, Seymour, or Howe have cycling infrastructure, so any conversation about dumping people on bikes on to any of them should include a plan on installing protected lanes on them.

          2. “a protected lane along the fir street off ramp would be the best option”

            That would preserve elevation gain, so no need to drop down and climb back up for those cycling south past South Granville. But it bypasses the South Granville business area, and steers customer traffic away. Presumably the protected lane would run to 10th, so it would reduce the capacity of Fir. Would you close the 4th Ave off ramp or put a traffic light on it? At the north end, being on that side of the bridge (bidirectional?) would mean cutting the number of lanes in half coming off Howe, back to Drake. Howe handles most of the traffic going on to the bridge at the moment, and that will be even truer when the north end loops are removed.

            No real benefit in not dropping down to sea level compared to Cambie bridge, as one has to climb up from Drake in any case. It is just a case of whether you do that climb on the north side, or the south side.

            1. Re Jeff

              A stop sign should suffice considering those cars have to stop before they join 4th ave. So should not reduce auto capacity.

              For south Granville businesses would not the elevator be a good option for that destination. Maybe even a second elevator (phase 2) more south on the bridge if the other elevator becomes too popular.

              Yes I would suggest bidirectional from the north end. This could also lead to another bidirectional bike lane on the other side of the bridge for a phase 2 expansion. This active lane could almost be like those European bike elevated highways.

              Dare to dream…

          3. “A stop sign should suffice…”

            The question wasn’t about where the ramp hits 4th, but rather about where the path along the outer edge of the bridge deck would have to cross the 4th Ave ramp at the start of the ramp, on the bridge. Stop signs wouldn’t be appropriate on the bridge deck, so the traffic signal would impact vehicle movements.

        2. If the paths were on the outsides, vehicles would be at the same level. Very uncomfortable. Putting them in the centre allows the paths to be elevated. But if someone wants to walk on the outside next to the railing, the sidewalks would still be there.

        3. Re Jeff stop sign

          I meant for the stop sign to be on the Fir Street off ramp where the 4th avenue ramp splits. To allow bikes and pedestrians to continue onto fir street off ramp.

          Sorry please explain why a stop sign is not appropriate but a traffic light is?

          1. Lack of compliance, and safety issues for people crossing the ramp. There are painted crosswalks there now, and frequent examples of vehicles not stopping when people are in the crosswalks. Traffic needs to be stopped before people enter the crosswalk.

            And that will impact vehicle traffic flows.

      2. Agreed! Plans need to consider the interface and multiple accesses at the ends. The Downtown Transportation Plan and its follow-up in 2006 attempted to handle north-end issues. Some previous planing made a start on the south-end.

  3. It is time that this concept becomes reality. Some of us advocated for it to Council during the public engagement sessions for the Granville St rebuilt as part of the Canada Line development. It sure is a long time for realization of a project that would transform the bridge from a structural grey ugliness of the 50’s to an iconic bridge in the world. Last summer, I enjoyed the use of plants and flowers on the separation barriers of cycling and walking from the vehicular traffic on the bridges in Shanghai. How it took an ugly infrastructure into the realm of people streets, people cities. Now, there is a chance for this to happen in Vancouver. Jack

  4. Why not consider the removal of this bridge and replacement with a tunnel for cars and a lower bridge for pedestrians/peds ?

    Its an ugly product of bygone area, way too high and way too wide. It would never be built today in its current form.

    Consider demolishing it.

    1. Because we don’t have unlimited funds, and we have other priorities. Smart spending, not unlimited spending.

      Keep the four lanes that vehicle traffic can use (at least at peak hours; it will still be vastly underused at other times) and repurpose the centre four lanes.

  5. I wonder how the trolley bus wires will be strung?
    The cantilevered arms they used to have on the Cambie Bridge only seem to allow use over the curb lane and the buses on Granville Bridge will effectively take the centre lane to avoid the offramps (though Seymour / Howe would be used as well.)
    They may have to erect a parallel series of poles flanking the elevated walkway to string wires across
    – in which case they might double for ornamental banners ad flags, etc.

  6. I don’t know anybody who wants pedestrian walkways down the middle of the bridge. the whole point of walking is to enjoy the view, not have busses rumbling between it and you. Just take the two curb lanes and turn them into bike lanes and add pedestrian activated crossing lights.

    1. Now you do! Regular walker here.

      If you take two curb lanes across the span for bike lanes, you also need to take a lane from each of four main on and off ramps., for them to connect to. That is quite an impact on vehicle movements. How far up the four access roads would you carry those protected lanes? To 10th on the south side?

      1. I don’t think it would be that hard to make the pedestrian way duck under the onramps, or for that matter go over them. Pedestrian additions onto bridges are magnitudes easier/cheaper than adding vehicle lanes.

        Just look to the north end of Cambie Bridge for inspiration.

  7. Gordon,
    I’m not a cyclist but I support bike lanes and the ideas for the Granville Bridge. One caveat: I would urge the separation of the bike lanes and pedestrian paths. Neither cyclists and pedestrians appear to be able to follow the rules and consequently there are frequent confrontations between these groups – the cyclists are speedy and weave around; the pedestrians are slower and can’t always hear when as cyclist is coming up. Case in point: The Spirit Trail in North Vancouver is a mess particularly on weekends – we can’t walk there anymore because of the speedy bunches of cyclists zipping through. Thanks for all your work!

    1. City transportation engineers, walking advocates, and cycling advocates would all be in favour of separation between modes. Safety studies show that shared multi use paths are not as safe as separated ones, particularly as user volumes increase.

      The artist’s perception sketches being circulated are not designs, just concepts.

      1. We heard it first in the 2002 Downtown Transportation Plan, which included the direction to reconfigure the north loops on the bridge. These are the on and off ramps to Pacific, not the Seymour and Howe ramps which are the primary connectors to the bridge deck.

        We next heard that direction approved as a policy plan by Council in October 2010

        We then heard it approved for implementation by Council in December 2017. And then saw tenders issued.

  8. This seems a great opportunity to improve pedestrian and cycling access over the bridge. There’s no question that crossing the on and off ramps today as a pedestrian feels very uncomfortable, putting your life in the hands of aggressive, distracted or disoriented motorists.

    What is oddly missing from the Council report is any mention of the impact that this project might have on the six major bus routes, and their riders, that use the bridge, and likely move more people than the automobiles that get all the attention in the press. It would be good to see a requirement to minimise any negative impact on transit speed and reliability included in the Terms of Reference, including during abnormal conditions such as closures of the Burrard Bridge. This might require adding some real transit priority on the approaches to the bridge, especially at the S end. Ideally a clean-up of the poor operating conditions N of the Bridge, up to Dunsmuir might be included as well. When busy, that section of Granville works poorly for all vehicular traffic, with buses caught in the mess.

  9. I believe that the Granvill Bridge may have been a better candidate for multi-mode transportation. I.e. Bike lanes, wider pedestrian walks, other alt forms of transport like skate boards, scooters etc.

  10. How much of a car traffic impact would a red light have? The time would be very small considering the very short distance pedestrians would need to cross.

    1. Apologies this was supposed to be in response to
      “Jeff and lack of compliance on stop signs” thread.
      Not sure why this got posted at the bottom

    2. Well, you proposed putting a bidirectional path down the side of the bridge, then taking it off the Fir ramp on the south side. You used one lane for the path, so the two lane Fir off ramp is now down to one lane for vehicles. Now add a traffic light on it to stop vehicles turning right at the 4th offramp, so as to allow path users to proceed along Fir. You just stopped all traffic exiting on the Fir ramp, since it is only one lane. How can that not impact bridge traffic?

      The transportation engineers looked at all the options and with an eye to keeping traffic moving, came back with a recommendation to put the path down the centre of the bridge. Maybe they know something. If Council approves the public engagement process, we will get to see the options. Let’s hope that happens soon.

      1. Ok those are good points I see now Fir Street off ramp would not work.

        Any chance a pedestrian/bike extension bridge could be made to get them to 8th (without a drop in elevation)and have that T junction at 8th. 6 to 8th street is very steep.

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