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Granville and Robson set to become pedestrian ‘scramble’ intersection

Downtown Vancouver crossing change will mean increased delays for buses
Vancouver council will decide Oct.17 whether to proceed with a pedestrian "scramble" crossing at Granville and Robson streets.

A city staff report that goes before Vancouver council next week recommends that a busy downtown intersection be used in a trial for a pedestrian “scramble” crossing at a cost of up to $200,000.

Staff recommends the trial, which would begin before next summer, be conducted at Granville and Robson streets, which is currently a popular pedestrian area and a regular crossing for buses and taxis.

“This location is a strong candidate due to the consistently high pedestrian crossing volumes, restricted vehicle turning movements, presence of upgraded signal infrastructure and it being a high-profile nexus of pedestrian activity,” said the report, which is scheduled to go before council Oct. 17.

A scramble crossing allows pedestrians to cross diagonally through an intersection while vehicles are stopped at all east, west, north and south entry points to the intersection — a concept active in Calgary, Toronto and New York City.

There was a time when Vancouver was one of the first cities in the world to implement a pedestrian scramble. That crossing existed at Granville and Hastings between 1953 and 1970. The staff report doesn’t indicate why it stopped operating.

A photograph from the 1950s shows the pedestrian scramble crossing at Granville and Hastings. Photo courtesy City of Vancouver archives (CVA 772-16)

'Way more pedestrians than vehicles'

Staff’s recommendation for Granville and Robson is in response to a motion that councillors Peter Meiszner and Lenny Zhou brought before council in April. Their rationale, in part, was that such a crossing would reduce conflicts between pedestrians and motorists.

The councillors’ motion didn’t define the preferred intersection for the trial.

But Meiszner said Thursday that he agreed with staff’s choice of Granville and Robson, noting that vehicle traffic is “pretty low” and only buses and taxis are permitted along the Granville strip.

“It's a good intersection for it,” he said.

“As someone who is in the area all the time, I know there are way more pedestrians than vehicles there. The other piece is that the signal infrastructure at that intersection is already upgraded, so it will be less expensive to implement the scramble technology.”

Staff considered three other intersections for the trial — Granville and Georgia, Commercial Drive and First Avenue, and Denman and Davie — but found the overall impact to vehicles would be lowest at Granville and Robson.

Bus delays

At the same time, staff cited concerns from TransLink about delays for buses.

“It has potential to highly impact to transit riders with over 1,120 buses and 21,000 passengers each day,” the report said.

“The delay to transit will result from the reduced green time for vehicles and will depend on when buses arrive at the intersection. This will primarily impact Granville Street buses continuing north and south at the Granville and Robson Street intersection.”

Staff say they continue to consult with TransLink and discussed adjusting the signal timing during the design and trial phase to further minimize transit delay, which the report suggests could increase from an average of 6.8 seconds to 17.8 seconds.

Meiszner said he is aware of TransLink’s concern but is hopeful it won’t be “a huge issue.”

“If this report is approved by council in principle, staff will begin the stakeholder engagement with TransLink to see if this is going to be an issue for them — I hope not,” he said.

'All-walk' crossing on Hornby

The concept favoured by staff would give pedestrians more crossing time and allow them to cross concurrently with vehicles during non-scramble phases. For example, if buses are running north-south on Granville, then pedestrians could cross the intersection in the same direction.

The budget for the trial is estimated at $100,000 to $200,000, with funds coming from the province’s “growing community fund.” Audible tones to indicate time to cross and tactile warning strips would need to be installed at the intersection.

Staff haven't said how long the trial will last.

In recent years, the city has made efforts to make the Robson Street corridor more friendly to pedestrians. A section outside the Vancouver Art Gallery is now a pedestrian plaza.

In 2019, the city installed an “all-walk” crossing at Robson and Hornby streets, but it does not include a diagonal crossing.

“We're a little bit behind on the pedestrianization of downtown spaces that can be reallocated for plazas and walking,” said Meiszner, who lives downtown. “I want to see more of that in my term, and I'm committed to make that happen.”

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