February 15, 2021

How a Bikeway is Transforming Richards Street

As we’ve noted for the last few weeks on Instagram @gordonpriceyvr, the transformation of Richards Street is remarkable.  Once a four-lane high-speed arterial, it’s now down to one lane for moving vehicles on some blocks.

The northern blocks in blue below are now open, and construction is well underway to the south:


It’s been transformative, and not just for transportation.  The feel and look of the street is now tamed and dignified.

There will up to five rows of trees in a 75-foot cross-section – a street experience unlike any I can think of, including Paris.

Richards with Seymour was once part of a one-way couplet system (like Howe and Hornby), intended to move traffic expeditiously through the downtown peninsula.  Other than a few decaying houses, there was no residential to speak of.  Downtown South was primarily for city-serving uses (laundries, printers, garages, parking lots, bars and clubs).

Now it is becoming, dare we say, one of the classiest streets in the city, using the Vancouverism technique of podium-and-rowhouses to define the corridor in a way typical of 19th-century eastern and European cities.

For cyclists, it is, like Hornby, a bikeway that connects neighbourhoods and destinations, now on the eastern side of the peninsula, from Gastown to Chandelier, through the SFU /Academic Quarter, past the  emerging Amazon Town, by the East Robson and Davie high streets, with three parks (Cathedral, Emery Barnes and one as yet unnamed) in between.  It will be safest and most comfortable way to get to Yaletown, Concord and the Cambie Bridge.  It helps complete the separated system, with connections to Dunsmuir (below), Smithe/Nelson and eventually Drake.

And it’s all happened without much of the nonsense that has typified so many of the bikeways; its construction has occurred with a minimum of impact because of Covid; and its real impact is still to come.  Once completed, it will go through a period of discovery as cyclists figure out how it fits into their mental maps. And then, in a few years, it will be one of the busiest bikeways in the system.

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  1. Street trees have now been planted in some blocks.

    The current estimate is that the improvements will be done to (and across) Pacific by the end of the summer. A protected connection up Pacific towards Seymour is included in the plan.

    I agree with the comment in the article, this has all happened without much of the controversy seen on earlier protected bikeway projects in the downtown core. That has been great to see.

    While Richards connects a lot of bikeways (Dunsmuir, Smithe, Nelson, Drake, Pacific, Beach) there is a black hole in between Dunsmuir and Drake, and Richards and Hornby. The completion of the Richards bikeway will further highlight the need for protected routes in between the West End, and Yaletown. Nelson and Smithe are the two obvious candidates, with protected routes required to bridge the gap.

  2. New trees have finally been planted around the Library too (Homer and Robson sides).
    They are a smaller species than the old ones which never grew well.

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