Guest writer Rob Grant is a retired architect who has been the designer/project architect on a variety of work including nursing homes, residential high-rises, mid-rise apartments, townhouses, and a variety of single-family dwellings. His work includes a number of courtyard houses in the villages of Loreto Bay In Baja California planned by the architectural planning firm Duany Plater-Zyberk.
Rob has also been actively involved in local design competitions, including the Vancouver Special Competition. His attention to detail and thoughtfulness usually places his work in the top three. An active walker and cyclist, Rob has served on the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (now HUB) advising on downtown cycling lanes and the Arbutus Greenway Corridor.
Rob has expertise and interest in the West End’s RM-5B zone that replaced modest housing with luxury buildings. You can read one of his articles about the parking debacle caused by these new buildings here.
Here is Rob Grant on the Granville Island transportation “disconnect” and a well thought out plan for integrating the island with the surrounding community.
“You would not think that the cities of Vancouver and Paris had much in common. Paris the crossroads of rich and elegant European urbanism where the original geography of a river meandering through rolling terrain is mostly absent from view, while Vancouver blessed with a dramatic coastal mountain setting but with a banal suburbanism occupying the greatest part of its land base.
At the same time there are many similarities. Paris with arguably the boldest plans of any big city to address the issue of climate change, while Vancouver with “greenest city” aspirations leads North American on the environmental front.
Image 1 –Il de la Cité in Paris compared to Granville Island in Vancouver
Il de la Cité situated in the middle of the Seine goes back to the indigenous Parisii tribe as fishing and trading outpost, then Roman town, evolving into a medieval religious and administrative centre, now one of the three most visited tourist sites in Paris.
Granville Island, fishing ground for the Musqueam First Nation, demoted to peninsula status with the arrival of colonial resource extraction industries but later revived as a public market and cultural centre, now one of the three most visited tourist sites in Vancouver.
Aerial views of both reveal a tale of two islands. Il de la Cité is knitted into the urban fabric of Paris by nine bridges connected to left and right banks of the Seine. It is easily accessible by all modes of transportation including increasingly popular bicycle and related forms of micro-mobility. Granville Island on the other hand is dominated but not served by a single high-level bypass bridge that rather than connecting supports the smooth flow of traffic dispersal far and wide.
Local architect Mark Melnichuk last June stirred up debate on the increasingly dysfunctional state of affairs on Granville Island as vehicular traffic continues to clog public space in the elusive search for parking. In a Reddit post he offers two thoughtful solutions.
First is to restrict cars from going past the first crosswalk under the island welcome sign, allowing only island employees, hotel guests, residents and emergency workers vehicular access, so that all streets essentially become pedestrian zones. The second is to restrict vehicles to the eastern end of the island, while incorporating a bike path into Anderson Street that connects the island to the seawall cycle route.
Granville Island manager Tom Lancaster diplomatically agrees with the idea yet is concerned about unintended consequences for businesses and artists on the island. A CMHC sponsored study in 2018 entitled Granville Island 2040, suggested two possibilities for reducing traffic on the island, including the revival of the Olympic line tram and the possibility of building an elevator from the upper deck of the Granville Bridge.
Indeed the City of Vancouver Planning department commissioned a study in 2018 to quicken the hearts of streetcar advocates. What was proposed is a 12 km long streetcar network of two routes serving the central core of the city stopping just south end of Granville Island.
Image 2 – Redundancy of proposed downtown streetcar
What seems to have been lost by planners and the proponents of this scheme is that they would replicate existing bus routes and they often do it badly. As transportation expert Jarrett Walker has observed, “streetcars that replace bus lines are not a mobility or access improvement”. Changes to these streets to prioritize buses giving them the same advantages as streetcars, as well as more buses to address chronic overcrowding would be a wiser and less expensive transit investment.
Image 3 – Real accessibility solutions for Granville Island?
The fanciful proposal to create a bus stop on the upper deck of the Granville Bridge and to connect that stop to Granville Island with an elevator is a convoluted and expensive way to provide better bus service to the island. Buses currently stop at West 2nd and Anderson, close to the proposed streetcar stop. That service could be improved with a bus roundabout in the centre of the island where that proposed elevator stops. It could also accommodate tour buses.
The “bridge park” shown with this proposal, is an attempt to recreate the popular High Line in New York City. While the High Line is an oasis of calm and quiet above inner city neighbourhoods, this “park” is adjacent to busy bridge traffic and is likely to have the same fate as underused Devonian and Seaforth Peace parks.
The Granville Island 2040 study noted that the island sits in a central location within a 2 km radius circle encompassing False Creek South, Fairview and Kitsilano to the south and parts of the West End, Yaletown and Downtown Vancouver to the north as illustrated in Figure 4. What this analysis misses is that to actually access Granville Island by foot or bicycle from the north side of False Creek entails taking one of four routes over high-level bridges, routes that are longer than 2 km. This means that for all intents and purposes the downtown neighbourhoods are outside of the 2 km zone.
Image 4– A low level bridge provides the access to Granville Island missing in existing upper level bridges
The image below shows how a low-level bridge beneath and slightly to the east of the Granville Bridge can also be the missing link in both recreation and commuting bike infrastructure, and by doing so puts Granville Island in the position of being a micro-mobility hub. Making the island more accessible to pedestrians as well as those adapting to new innovations in micro-mobility will lessen the need to rely on private vehicle access.
This is also a sensible response to new developments on the south side of False Creek. The highly dense Senakw development has one parking space per every ten units. This overdue and enlightened approach to parking could also be a feature of the proposed tech hub on the Molson lands and future additional density in False Creek South.
The areas of Kitsilano and Fairview that are slated for densification in the wake of the Broadway rapid transit line should follow suit with building typologies that have minimum parking while prioritizing transit and micro-mobility. Existing bike routes such as the Seawall routes around False Creek, the downtown Hornby and Richards bike routes and the Arbutus Greenway already have desire lines that converge on Granville Island, many of which could be further upgraded with the promise of a rich urban network based on walking and micro-mobility.
Image 5– How a low-level bridge knits together recreation and commuting bike routes as the island evolves from a cycling dead end to a micro-mobility hub.
The concept of an operable double door bridge comes from the Scale Lane swing bridge in Hull, England. The advantage of this type of swinging bridge is that pedestrians and cyclists can remain on the bridge as it opens to let marine traffic pass through. In this concept all over-height vessels such as sailboats and large yachts moored in the east part of False Creek would be fitted with transponders that as they approach the low bridge would activate a gate that would rise up blocking pedestrians and cyclists, while disengaging the two “doors “ that would swing away from the boats approaching allowing for safe passage without delay. Once the boats are clear, the “doors” would swing shut. The delay caused to the people on the bridge would be no more than if they were waiting for a traffic light.
Image 6 – Illustrating a concept for a low level footbridge
The bridge would be fully automatic using widely available sensing technology. With an iconic design and premium specifications, it would operate autonomously as a daily feature of Vancouver life. It will and must be expensive, approximately $20-25 million, but a fraction of the $1.1 billion cost of the proposed downtown streetcar.
The impact on accessibility to Granville Island would be immediate, opening it up to dense downtown neighbourhoods. It would also remove much of the dependence on vehicle traffic that creates so much congestion, while freeing up much of the surface parking for new buildings thus improving the financial situation for CMHC.
As a key part of a vital commuter route with many on scooters, bikes and other mobility modes, the bridge would give Vancouverites a more intimate connection to the water and maritime activity, while being a tourist attraction in its own right.
Imagine not only passing through the island on your way to work but also stopping for breakfast, or on the way home pausing to meet someone for a drink, dinner or to pick up some food at the market, on a revitalized Granville Island that has regained its stature as one of the focal points of Vancouver life.”