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Vancouver calls for $30 million fix to Burrard Bridge

Upgrades involve removing one vehicle lane
burrard bridge
The city wants to spend $30 million to upgrade the Burrard Bridge and reconfigure the intersection at Pacific and Burrard to improve safety and mobility for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The City of Vancouver unveiled a $30-million plan Monday to upgrade the aging Burrard Bridge that involves removing a traffic lane, adding new sidewalks to the outside of the span and widening portions of the bridge as it descends into downtown.

Though two-thirds of the cost will be spent on the bridge, the project includes an $8 million reconfiguration of the intersection at Pacific Avenue and Burrard — the second highest vehicle-to-vehicle collision spot in the city — and demolishing the former Kettle of Fish Building at Hornby and Pacific.

“To be really clear, the capacity of this bridge is not determined by the number of lanes on the bridge,” said Lon LaClaire, the city’s acting director of transportation, when asked by reporters what effect removing a vehicle lane would have on traffic. “If you drive over it today, you’ll know that where you experience congestion is at the intersection of Burrard and Pacific. So the changes we’re making to Burrard and Pacific will address all the traffic demand needs on the corridor.”

Standing on a sidewalk at the intersection, LaClaire pointed out the downtown side of the bridge will be widened to accommodate traffic coming into downtown. So a motorist travelling from Kitsilano in one of two lanes will see those two lanes widen into two right-turn lanes, with signals, that will join Pacific, while two other northbound lanes will continue up Burrard into downtown.

burrard bridge
Photo Dan Toulgoet

To widen the bridge, the former Kettle of Fish building, which is owned by the city, will be demolished.

The existing two southbound lanes on the west side of the bridge will remain. But the approach from the downtown side along Pacific, out of the West End, will see two right-turn lanes, with signals, replace the current free-flowing single lane.

In June 2009, when the city removed a traffic lane to create a barrier-protected bike lane running from downtown to Kitsilano, pedestrians were restricted to the west side of bridge. The plan calls for pedestrians to be allowed to use both sides of the bridge, which involves building cantilevered sidewalks on portions of the span.

Up to 3,000 people per day walk across the bridge. Cycling trips averaged 7,000 per day during the summer of 2014, while up to 65,000 vehicles travel across the span. The goal of the project, LaClaire said, is to improve access, safety and maneuverability for all modes of transportation.

But with the city offering only a month of public consultation on the project, with council expected to approve the design sometime in July, Burrard street business owner Jack Larbi said he believes the city has already made up its mind and citizens’ voices will be drowned out.

Larbi, who has operated Swan Laundry at 1352 Burrard for 10 years, said he’s worried parking spots will be lost outside his business, which is near the intersection of Pacific and Burrard. He pointed out there is no alley behind his building and his customers rely on parking out front.

The city’s plan includes adding a protected bike lane from the bridge, up Burrard and connecting it with an existing protected bike lane on Drake Street. Larbi brought his concerns to Monday’s news conference, frequently interrupting LaClaire as he spoke.

“I love the bikes — don’t get me wrong, but you’ve got to think about the small business,” Larbi told the Courier after the news conference. “I’m not satisfied, at all. They’re going to do what they’re going to do.”

The plan published on the city’s website says “parking will generally be maintained.” Vision Coun. Heather Deal said she checked with LaClaire and confirmed Larbi won’t lose parking. However, the plan says construction could take up to 20 months, meaning disruption and delays for businesses and motorists.

Deal said the plan is a result of consultation with staff, business associations and the city’s active transportation committee, noting Charles Gauthier of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association took to Twitter Monday to announce his support for the project.

“We’re confident with the pattern that’s being suggested here that we’ll be able to keep traffic flowing well in and out of downtown,” Deal told the Courier by telephone.

The city is hosting two open houses on the project, the first this Saturday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and the second June 16 (7 p.m. to 9 p.m.). Both will be held at the Roundhouse Community Centre.

NPA Coun. George Affleck listened to LaClaire as he spoke Monday, telling reporters after the news conference that he wanted to hear more from staff on justifying the removal of a traffic lane from the bridge.

“It’s going to be very hard to believe — and I’ll be skeptical — that this isn’t going to create a bottleneck in the middle of the bridge,” said Affleck, who also took issue with the short period of public consultation before a council vote. “So I’ll be interested to see staff provide the analysis that that won’t happen.”

Affleck acknowledged the intersection at Pacific and Burrard has to be upgraded because of the dangers to cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Collisions totalled 716, between 2009 and 2013, for all modes of transportation reported at Pacific and Burrard.

The Burrard Bridge opened in 1932 and the city has gradually been upgrading the iconic structure, taking on a project last year to replace aging bearings and joints. The intersection at Burrard and Cornwall also went a significant reconfiguration, costing about $6 million. The plan announced Monday also includes upgrades to the railings and maintaining the heritage of the bridge.

In 2012, city council approved in principle improvements to the bridge when it adopted the 2040 Transportation Plan. Money for the work was approved in the recent capital plan. When council votes, it will decide on design and how best to proceed with the project.

Construction could begin in early 2016.