With the Burrard Bridge bike lane trial set to begin in June, Adam Gaumont finds out why it's taken more than a decade for the City to commit to a "full" trial run
After considerable debate, cyclists will be getting more space on the Burrard Street Bridge—though perhaps not as much as they would like.
On May 7, Vancouver City Council opted for the third of three lane reallocation options: the east sidewalk will be dedicated to northbound cycle traffic, the west lane to southbound bicycle traffic, and the west sidewalk to pedestrians. A safety barrier will also be in place between the southbound cycling lane and other vehicle lanes. The trial is slated to begin around the third week of June.
Despite the heated rhetoric leading up to the City’s decision, which was delayed for two days to allow more public input, response so far has been “muted,” says Councillor Geoff Meggs—likely because drivers haven’t yet been confronted with any new signage or lane changes.
Cyclists, on the other hand, are “positive” about a trial taking place at all, he says, but “very disappointed it was a one-lane trial as opposed to two lanes”—another option that Council was presented with.
Lisa Slakov of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (VACC) says the one-lane decision was disappointing for her organization, but that “it’s a difficult political decision for Council to make to do any lane trial reallocations, and from that perspective we really appreciate the fact that they’re moving forward.”
Slakov, who represents the Vancouver-UBC area for the VACC, says reaction from her community has been “pretty mixed,” but predicts that “overall, cyclists are going to be thrilled to have one lane coming out of downtown that they can freely ride.”
Those who commute by car, on the other hand, may not be thrilled, as southbound vehicle flow will be reduced by one lane; though Councillor Meggs said drivers have plenty of other options.
“What’s going to be news to motorists, although it’s been a fact for at least 12–14 years, is that the Burrard Bridge is the primary crossing the City identified a long time ago for pedestrians and cyclists—not for cars. The cars have Cambie and Granville as well as Burrard, and it seems hard to imagine that Granville could be made bike-friendly in its current configuration,” says Councillor Meggs.
“For a long time it’s been a City priority across various administrations—NPA, COPE, Vision—that the Burrard Bridge was the place to focus on for pedestrian and cycle crossing.”
Indeed, though most of the Burrard Bridge debate has revolved around pedal-pushing, it may end up being those who choose bipedal transportation that end up losing out. Pedestrians heading in both directions will be required to traverse on only the west sidewalk, and according to Councillor Meggs, “that is a frustration for pedestrians who see themselves being [made lower priority] in the sustainable transportation list.”
Still, he says, “the point of the trial is not to disadvantage pedestrians… it’s to demonstrate what happens when you open the bridge to cycling. And until we overcome the safety and comfort [issues] for cyclists we won’t really be opening the bridge to cyclists.”
Alternative solutions, such as widening the bridge and even constructing a new one, have been touted, and may eventually come to fruition. But the cost of bridge deck expansion has been pegged at over $30 million (on top of existing $30 million post-Olympic renovation plans) and would involve multi-year closures of multiple traffic lanes, while a new bicycle-and-pedestrian-only bridge spanning False Creek would be even more costly and time-consuming, according to the City’s estimates. The reallocation trial, meanwhile, is a relative bargain at $1.4 million.
Many opponents of lane reallocation also point to a similar trial conducted in 1996, which was cancelled after just one week due to public furor over congestion and confusion. According to the City’s own report, “The lack of effective public communications is often cited by both staff and elected officers as a contributing factor” to the failure of the 1996 trial.
This time around, the City is promising things will be different, with a heightened public awareness campaign and improved signage and traffic control. But while premature cancellation is unlikely, it’s still not clear when the trial is slated to end: monitoring will occur throughout, with an interim report due to Council by the end of September, but an exact closing date has not been established.
According to Slakov, “what we’ve heard is that, pretty much for sure, it’s going to end in time for the Olympics”—though she’s hopeful the City will extend the trial to accommodate the increased Olympic traffic.
And while, as with the 1996 trial, she expects backlash from drivers early on, Slakov is also optimistic that the new trial will be a success.
“This is most likely going to be Phase One—it’ll be a two-lane before we know it.”
For diagrams, route maps, FAQs, and more, visit the City of Vancouver's Burrard Bridge Bike Reallocation Trial webpage.