Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Vancouver looks to upgrade Granville Bridge despite pandemic’s hit on finances

City faces $124 million revenue loss in operating budget, $219 million in capital plan
A rendering of the redesign of the Granville Bridge. Image courtesy City of Vancouver

The pandemic’s hit on the city’s finances has reduced the scope of a long-proposed plan to upgrade the Granville Bridge and left city council to consider a $12.5 million interim solution to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists travelling to and from downtown.

The plan goes before city council Wednesday and calls for two of the current eight traffic lanes on the west side of the bridge to be reallocated to create a path adjacent to a widened sidewalk for pedestrians, cyclists and others who use wheels for manual transportation.

The overall cost of the plan, which is expected to take several years to complete and draw from multiple capital budgets, is estimated at more than $60 million, with $16 million of that for fencing along the span’s railings to prevent suicides.

“With the additional budget pressures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to look for options to minimize project costs has been heightened,” the report said.

The city is facing a revenue shortfall of $124 million in its 2020 operating budget and $219 million in the 2019-2022 capital plan, mainly related to a decrease in development contributions and money from senior governments.

City staff has worked on recalibrating a capital plan that still allows for spending but cuts back or defers projects until a later date. The Granville Bridge connector project was seen as a priority, along with the development of the Marpole-Oakridge community centre.

Other projects still in the works are a new track and field facility at Vancouver Technical school, the renewal of the Grandview-Woodland firehall and the expansion of the South East False Creek low-carbon energy centre.

Coun. Colleen Hardwick has expressed her doubts in previous council meetings about the need to go forward with upgrades to the bridge, noting the city has already spent about $25 million on seismic upgrades and safety measures.

“The so-called ‘Granville Connector’ is literally on top — quite literally — of the upgrades that have already been undertaken,” Hardwick told Glacier Media in an email Friday.

“So, why are we pushing this capital project through when the city’s finances are in jeopardy? I surmise that this has more to do with the future development of the north side of the Granville Bridge and proposed developer contributions than anything else.”

Added Hardwick: “I do not support, and resist saying more, other than this is not essential, particularly at a very volatile time.”

The report says the Granville Bridge represents “one of the biggest barriers” in the city’s pedestrian and cycling networks, with feedback from residents stating how uncomfortable and unsafe it is to travel.

The interim plan calls for a floating barrier similar to the Burrard Bridge to be installed on the west side of the Granville span to shield pedestrians, cyclists and others from six lanes of vehicle traffic.

Other components of the interim plan call for signals on sections of Fifth Avenue, Fir and Howe streets, upgrades to on and off-ramps and reconfiguring the south Granville loop for vehicles so that a pedestrian and bicycle connection can be made to Fir Street.

The overall plan aims to connect the span seamlessly to the Arbutus Greenway on the south side of the Granville Bridge and to new pedestrian and cycling upgrades to Drake Street on the downtown side of the span; the Drake Street upgrades, which will cost $4.4 million, will also go before council next week for decision.

An elevator and stair connection from the bridge to Granville Island below is also being considered for the 1954-era span, which was built with eight lanes in anticipation of a freeway running through downtown.

The freeway was never built and the result has been the bridge having more capacity for motor vehicles than can be utilized, according to city engineers.

“Even when all the lanes leading to the bridge are full, traffic on the bridge itself is relatively light since the signalized intersections at either end constrain vehicle volumes,” the report said.

On a typical weekday, the bridge serves about 65,000 vehicles and 80 buses per hour during peak periods. Truck volumes are limited because of weight restrictions.

On a summer day, the bridge can see about 2,000 people walking across the span, a few hundred people cycling across it and “essentially nobody who requires using a wheeled mobility aid,” said the report, noting cycling and pedestrian crossings of False Creek are much greater on the Burrard and Cambie bridges, which are both equipped with improved cycling and pedestrian paths.

Charles Gauthier, president of CEO of the Downtown Business Improvement Association, said upgrading the Granville Bridge makes sense as more people continue to get around the city by walking and cycling.

“We’ve heard from our building owners and employers downtown that this is something their tenants and employees want more of and to be able to cycle to and from downtown,” Gauthier said. “We’re in support.”

City data taken from 2,653 participants in an annual trip diary survey showed Vancouver set records last year in people choosing to walk, cycle or use transit as preferable modes of transportation, with motor vehicle use declining, particularly into downtown.

Cycling, transit and walking accounted for 54.1 per cent of all trips recorded over one day of the week by the participants. That percentage eclipsed the 52.8 per cent of trips recorded in 2018.

Gauthier recalled a four-month stretch of walking daily over the Granville Bridge in 2001 during a transit strike and said he didn’t feel comfortable as a pedestrian. The span has narrow sidewalks and crosswalks at both ends of the span that are a challenge to cross.

“It’s long overdue and I think we need to get on with it,” he said.

“I’m disappointed we can’t do the full plan right away, but certainly understand the city’s finances aren’t going to permit that to happen in one fell swoop.”

The city’s public consultation on the project generated concerns from some people worried about traffic lanes being removed and creating congestion on the bridge.

Others complained the project was unnecessary and staff overstated safety and accessibility concerns of pedestrians, cyclists and people with mobility issues.

Jeff Leigh, chairperson of HUB Cycling’s Vancouver Local Committee, pointed to the success of the temporary designated lane for cyclists on Beach Avenue as an example of the demand for cycling infrastructure in the city.

The lane was installed a few months ago to help with physical distancing measures and keep cyclists off the seawall. Leigh predicted more people would use the Granville Bridge once a safe path for pedestrians and cyclists is built.

“You can’t build your way out of congestion by building more vehicle lanes,” he said, noting the Granville Bridge provides an important connection to job centres on both sides of the span.

Leigh said city staff’s interim solution for the bridge is “a prudent path forward, given the times we’re in,” but was disappointed it won’t include a cycling connection on the south end of the span from Fir Street to the 10th Avenue bikeway.

“The additional cost for an interim route along the Fir [Street] off-ramp for cycling is not a high cost, and that’s the thing we would have liked to have seen in this first phase,” he said.

[email protected]