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Bike-only bridge debate breaks out

July 4th, 2009 · 63 Comments

Some of you think that I’m too busy stuffing my face with pasta to pay any attention to what is going on in Vancouver, but that’s simply not true. There is actually a small amount of time between pasta feedings to keep on top of Terminal City news and so I am indeed aware that the mayor has come up with speculation about building a bike/pedestrian bridge, based on a plan by Gregory Henriquez.

Of course, any mention of something like that can’t help but remind London visitors of the Millennium bridge that has turned into a huge tourist draw, in large part because it spans the river between the Tate Modern and St. Paul’s Cathedral. It makes for a stunning walk and has become a new symbolic identifier for London, along with helping make their refurbished south-side river walk even more appealing.

The question I see many of you asking is whether Vancouver can afford it. (I’ve attached comments below that were attached to a previous post of mine but really need to be in their own string.) I find it interesting how often that question dominates any discussions about transportation infrastructure in this region, whether it’s SkyTrain or a bike path. No one ever seems to talk about good planning for the city Vancouver (and I mean the region here) will be in 100 years.

By the way, just to be mischievous, I’ll suggest that if Vancouver does get interested in this bridge, one obvious element to consider is doing what London did and making sure there’s a powerful attraction on each end: the new False Creek shoreline Vancouver Art Gallery on one end (which Gregory’s father, Richard, has been scoping out for the gallery) and then what could there be on the south side that would be an equal draw? I await your suggestions.

In the meantime, here’s the start of the debate from my adorable commenters:

  • Frothingham // Jul 3, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Frances; you are no doubt much too involved in “la bella vita” in and around Bologna and I am sure will not find much time to access what little wifi is available to be up on the latest coming out of Vancouver: A new pedestrian/bike bridge has been proposed … not unlike those found in london copenhagen and other world class cities. But this is Anton take on it.
    “Coun. Suzanne Anton says drivers are already firing off angry emails to council about the changes on the Burrard Bridge. She says the new bridge proposal is the mayor’s way of diverting attention from the controversial bike lane trial.”

    Anton is a neantherdsl and a dim-wit. she just can’t see the future… time for her to retire.

  • 7 Fred // Jul 4, 2009 at 5:21 am

    Anton is 100% correct. The dimwit in this little story is Gregor, who knows his bridge idea is dead before birth – he has no money, the province has no money and the Feds have no money for the bicycle mafia.

    It is a channel changer to take the HEAT off his last brilliant foray into public policy making by good intentions.

    Look at the pictures for that bridge . . . triples or even quadruples the distance people or bikes have to travel to get across False Creek.

    Now that’s gonna be a winner.

  • 8 michael geller // Jul 4, 2009 at 7:34 am

    So Frances, this is what happens…you want to talk about the joys of being proud Canadians, but some of your readers want to snipe at civic politicians. Since Canada Day has come and gone, I too would like to offer a couple of thoughts on Gregory Henriquez’s bridge proposal.

    I too have been intrigued by the idea of a pedestrian/cycling bridge as another crossing of False Creek. Indeed, I mused that a separate bridge crossing might be a longer term solution during the last election campaign at the Think City Debate at the Public Library. I even presented images of similar bridges in Melbourne and Dublin as part of a presentation at the St. James Community Hall. (12 Great Ideas for Vancouver from Around the World).

    Gregory’s design is very elegant and seductive. However, based on the information that I received, I have to say that the cost will be significantly more than the $45 million suggested by Henriquez and Robertson. In fact, I’m told that the city engineering department did look at a separate bridge crossing as one of its many options, but concluded that the cost would be so much more than the $33 million estimated to widen Burrard Bridge (on top of the $30 required to repair the disintegrating concrete elements.

    I wonder whether the mayor asked his engineers to comment on the proposal before going public. Somehow, I don’t think so. This was foolish of him.

    Now, as any Winnipeger or Bratislava resident will know, one could try to offset the capital cost of the bridge by creating a site for a restaurants at the end(s) of the bridge, or on the top. This was done in those two cities. But the financial benefits would be modest.

    Secondly, I too was told that most commuter cyclists would find the proposed crossing too circuitous to be attractive. This doesn’t mean that the idea shouldn’t be implemented. But not everyone would want to use it. Many cyclists and pedestrians would continue to use the existing bridge.

    So before some of us become too attached to this idea, we should appreciate that the cost estimate is likely to be significantly more…Anton’s suggestion that it could be double (or more) may not be far off…and we should hear from more commuter cyclists in terms of whether it is likely to be too circuitous to be functional.

    But over the longer term, I agree this could be a nice alternative for our city. We just can’t afford it now or in the near future.

    I for one look forward to the results of the July 13 trial. I’ll bet Peter Ladner will also be watching. Frankly, I hope it will work, but I don’t know enough about traffic engineering to say whether it will or not. We’ll see.

    Now, the best Canada Day I ever experienced was in Canada House in London in 1968…..

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Westender

    I am happy to use Davie Street. How would you suggest I get to it? By driving through Yaletown (an “adjacent neighbourhood”)? At many hours of the day I cannot legally turn left from Burrard to Davie. At the times when it IS legal, such a left turn is dangerous and time-consuming. The chaos theory pretty much sums up the (ir)rational approach we are taking to the management of our multi-faceted transportation needs.

  • Joe Just Joe

    Not that it overly affects the bridge debate but it is of interest to most of the readers here.
    Translink will be keeping the buses off of Granville St even after construction is complete. The buses will remain on Howe and Seymour until Fall of 2010.
    Personally I beleive if things go well they won’t return to Granville at all.

  • gmgw

    JJJoe said:
    “Translink will be keeping the buses off of Granville St even after construction is complete. The buses will remain on Howe and Seymour until Fall of 2010.
    Personally I beleive if things go well they won’t return to Granville at all.”

    The shift of buses to Howe and Seymour has worked surprisingly well, though those streets have been congested lately during and since the Granville construction (this is also due in part to the fact that there are several major construction projects underway on Seymour at the moment, which frequently block traffic lanes).

    But this begs the question: Will this mean we could get the Granville Mall back? Done right this time, with no bus/car lane? This could be the best opportunity we’re likely to have for a true downtown pedestrian mall, a la the European model(s), that Frances has suggested elsewhere. And it might bring some quality ambience back to an important downtown street that’s long been devoid of it.

    I know I’m dreaming in Technicolour here, but it’s worth a look.

  • MB

    The advent of Pacific Centre effectively killed retail on Granville north of Robson by sucking all the humans underground. Small shops and cafes were just starting to reappear, noteably north of Dunsmuir, just before they ripped up Granville for the subway.

    Some critics said that banning cars killed Granville retail when they built the mall, but I’ve never bought that argument because the mall occupies only a tiny portion of surrounding street grid, and gave pedestrians a modicum of respite.

    I hope they do bring back the buses to Granville. It was exceedingly convenient to access so many routes in one location, and I’ve always found the mall a little quieter with no boom cars. Let’s hope the Canada Line foot traffic helps to resurrect retail on the mall.

  • Darcy McGee

    > At many hours of the day I cannot legally turn left from Burrard to Davie. At
    > the times when it IS legal, such a left turn is dangerous and time-consuming

    So change that corner to an advance green. Problem solved.

    This of course will lead to some “other” problem that needs resolution and that’s the point: such a change (converting bridge lanes to cycling lanes permanently) is part of an overall strategy, and is not done in isolation. It’s doable, and it’s cheap.

    I still want a separate bridge, but this is a faster solution.

    As for Mr. gmgw’s assertion that I “…might say that that will be the karmic cost of people refusing to give up their cars” I would say YES and downtown should be designed so that Public Transit is the PREFERRED method of travel. I’ve taken vehicles through downtown in the recent past (recent being winter, on my way up to Cypress Bowl) but I can count the number of times I’ve taken a vehicle TOO downtown in the last 5 years on one hand…and I wouldn’t need all the fingers.

    As for the rest of Mr. gmgw’s statement:
    “the situation will prove equally unpleasant for bike riders, pedestrians, and area residents and merchants as well.”

    I’d say not it won’t, if the system is designed around pedestrians, bike riders and area residents (as much of the West End is already, albeit somewhat superficially.)

  • gmgw

    Mr. Darcy (not surprisingly) opined:

    “As for Mr. gmgw’s assertion that I “…might say that that will be the karmic cost of people refusing to give up their cars” I would say YES and downtown should be designed so that Public Transit is the PREFERRED method of travel.”

    Um, Darcy, hate to break it to you, but you don’t persuade people to make public transit their preferred method of travel by forcing them to take it by “designing downtown”. That just leaves you with crowded, unpleasant buses full of disgruntled, unhappy riders who curse the fact they’re forced to take public transit and long to make enough money to afford monthly parking downtown. (Which is what we have already.)

    What you do, instead, is design public transit itself– the conveyances, the routes, the scheduling– so that transit becomes the preferred method. Taking the bus/Skytrain/Seabus/Canada Line/whatever should not be the worst part of your day, as it is for way more people than you can evidently imagine, Darcy.

    Got any suggestions on how to fix that? To make people relieved to not have to sit in the tunnel lineup for half an hour every morning and instead prefer to take the bus? If you haven’t, you can scream from now till doomsday about evil car drivers and so on, but you’ll still have contributed nothing to better the lives of the far greater number of daily commuters in Metro who take transit rather than ride bikes. Not to mention everyone else. I really don’t think you have any idea how much your sanctimonious tough-guy approach to this whole issue rankles.

  • “Got any suggestions on how to fix that? ”

    We need to try the L.A. Bus Riders Union ‘no seat, no fare’ rule. It’s utter madness that the people who are part of the solution should be punished for their contribution to reducing congestion.

    There should be absolutely no vehicle allowance for Translink board members… in fact they should have to present some proof of using transit on a regular basis to be allowed to keep their position.

    We should continue to promote active transportation and increase our commitment to it, so that more people get off the bus and ride a bike, freeing up space for those who can’t choose self-propulsion to travel in some modicum of comfort.

    Provincial transportation ministers should be compelled to read “Energy and Equity” by Ivan Illich before taking their position, and should be be able to provide proof that they are regularly taking steps to educate themselves regarding the somewhat counter-intuitive nuances of transportation demand management.

    Those are just a few easy to implement ways to keep the ball rolling in the right direction.

  • Darcy McGee

    Mr. gmgw:

    Trust me. You’ve never “broken” anything to me. Your comments are consistently exactly what I expect, nothing more.

    I suppose the fact that I didn’t explicitly state it left room for your interpretation: obviously planning the transit system is a KEY part of planning downtown. It requires cooperation across many city and provincial departments: most noble goals require cooperation and vision.

    Chris has made some good suggestions. The rising cost of operating an automobile also plays a role here, including higher cost parking (there there is any remaining free parking in the downtown area never fails to astonish me.)

    I’m not sure I agree 100% with the “No Seat, No Fare” idea, but as an act of protest I admire it. I shudder to imagine the cost of a transit system that must provide a seat for every person (in addition to their luggage, as people seem to feel that’s a right.)

    I, for one, would support a downtown entry tax of the sort that London implemented to fight congestion. I don’t think we’re QUITE at London levels of congestion yet, but why not be proactive? Residents with a VALID proof of residency and vehicle ownership could purchase an annual version of the pass at a discount.

    I’d also support a “fare free” zone on Downtown buses, though I don’t suspect that the cost of the bus fare is a significant factor in the choice to drive given how marginal it is relative to the cost of driving. Seattle does this, and when I’ve been there it’s been popular with visitors. (I usually walk, preferring the staunch uphill posture that city’s downtown promotes.)

    West Coast Express service needs to VASTLY improve as well. It’s a pale imitation of the highly successful GO system in Toronto, which is itself a pale imitation of more successful commuter rail systems. Seattle’s commuter rail system is popular with downtown works there.

  • gmgw

    I don’t think anyone rides the bus because they like the experience. I myself only take transit when I’m either in a hurry or am headed for a destination that I can’t reach on foot in 30-45 minutes. This is subject to conditions, of course– I have walked more than once from 30th and Dunbar, upper 10th Avenue, Broadway & Victoria, and even, once, Oak and Southwest Marine (wouldn’t care to repeat that one) to False Creek South– when I’ve had the time, the weather was decent, and I was feeling up to it.

    I think the suggestions of Darcy and Chris are useful, up to a point, though some of them drift into the sort of vagueness that often afflicts idealistic urban visionaries. I like Chris’s idea of requiring Translink Board members to use transit on a regular basis; I’ve been making the same argument for years, though I tend to feel that it’s the transit planners that should be forced to ride the bus. I lived in Kitsilano, near 4th and Balsam, for a few years in the 70s, and found it annoying that the 4th Avenue bus ran on a 20-minute schedule even during peak times, which meant often-crowded buses. The switching of the Dunbar bus to 4th Avenue did little to improve things. In the mid-90s I worked in Yaletown for a while and once a week or so would attempt to catch a 4th or Dunbar bus at Granville & Helmcken to do some shopping on 4th. I quickly discovered that at 5 PM it was almost impossible to even get on board a 4th or a Dunbar that far south on Granville– the buses were full to bursting and as often as not the drivers would just sail by without stopping. This said to me that transit planners still had no idea of how to properly service Kitsilano. 15 years later still, the situation is much the same. Anyone who’s ridden a bus up 4th Ave in rush hour will remember breathing a deep sigh of relief when the bus finally reached Vine, when the bulk of the crowd will have finally debarked.

    Of the people who have to jam onto those buses like the proverbial sardines every working day, you can bet that the vast majority would *love* to be able to commute by car instead (I think that most people willing and able to ride a bike instead of a bus in this town have already made that conversion, a long time ago). As would anyone (especially single women) who has had to ride the Fraser, Main, or Hastings buses– the “Vomit Comets”, as we used to call them– on a Friday or Saturday evening from around 9 PM on. Or who has had to ride the (soon-to-be-gone, alas) 351 Crescent Beach standing up all the way to White Rock, rolling along Highway 99 at 60+ MPH, keeping a death grip on the overhead bar (ever had the experience of feeling a fully-loaded commuter bus fishtail on a snowy freeway? Not fun). Or who has caught an eastbound Skytrain after a Canucks game or stadium concert. Or who has spent 45 minutes waiting in a deserted and threatening downtown at 2 AM, praying for a bus, any bus, to come along. Or who has ridden that same 351 on Christmas Day, burdened with presents for the family.

    Anyone who has had any of these experiences– and I’ve had most of them, and much more, at one time or another in 40 years of riding buses in this here town– knows that Vancouver, simply put, is inadequately serviced by transit. To get people out of their safe little hermetic experiences in their cars, ways must be found to ensure people won’t have the experiences I’ve described, at least not often. No one in their right mind would make that kind of trade without some powerful incentives; not until oil hits $300/bbl. Increased scheduling, safe and comfortable riding experiences, better late-night service, faster service, more comprehensive routing– these are some of the basic changes that have to be made. Free-fare zones and the promotion of “active transportation” are all very well, but if you want to put bums in seats, you’re going to have to resort to basic, practical, convincing means to convince the owners of those bums that they’re better off leaving that-gas-sucking dinosaur at home. And one final note: The more you try to effect these changes by threatening people with dire consequences, the more you’re just going to piss them off. You get more positive and long-lasting results with persuasion than you ever do with threats.

  • (I think that most people willing and able to ride a bike instead of a bus in this town have already made that conversion, a long time ago)

    Actually, Translink’s research indicates there is a huge untapped pool of potential cyclists wanting to get out of their cars or off the bus… but safety concerns leave them cold to the idea of riding in traffic.

  • “I’m not sure I agree 100% with the “No Seat, No Fare” idea, but as an act of protest I admire it.”

    I can’t think of too many other things you can buy where you have to pay the same price for substandard service. There’s no standing room on an airplane, or a passenger train, or a taxi. You can’t stand in the aisle at a movie theatre, rock concert or stage play… and nobody tries to sell you a half a box of cereal for the same price as a full one.

  • Darcy McGee

    Sure, but one could extend that argument to suggest that any reduction in service in any capacity would merit similar action. By extension, I expect the bus to run at rush hour scheduled intervals all day long.

    Vancouver actually prices transit properly, in that sense, by charging more during “rush hour.” Because rush hour creates dramatically higher demand, economics suggests that we should be charging a premium.

    If the entire system were planned around providing that level of service all day every day, we’d be needlessly allowing costs to rise: the buses would be empty much of the time.

    Since money isn’t endless, and all things have a cost it’s rational to plan the system for average demand and build it to accommodate bursts.

    Seating capacity works the same way. I’ve never had trouble getting a seat out of rush hour on any bus I’ve taken. Sometimes when I take a 99 B-line downtown in the a.m. (rare, but it happens) I can’t get a seat, but in those cases I’m at the end of the route relatively speaking. Arguably I could wait only a few minutes for a less densely packed bus (a Granville 10) or take an alternative route (Arbutus 16) which is a bit slower, but /always/ has a seat on it.

    So what are planners supposed to do? Allocate a seat for me on each of those three buses, just in case I decided to take them?

    As I said, I support the protest as an act of protest and I understand the point, but the reality means that budget needs to be a factor in these types of decisions.

    I’d certainly argue that transit budgets should be VASTLY improved, including funds from the Carbon Tax but if I were going to pick an area of focus I’d start by trying to provide services that would get valley residents out of their cars rather than trying to get a seat for everybody.

    Of course the Liberals aren’t really doing either…but neither would the NDP I bet.

  • “Sure, but one could extend that argument to suggest that any reduction in service in any capacity would merit similar action.”

    I don’t agree. The schedules are posted and ostensibly the bus comes when it is supposed to. If there are empty seats then you are getting your money’s worth and then some. That’s different from paying for an expected level of service (a seat) and not receiving it.