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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The Granville Street Bridge needs to lose weight

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Demolition of old Granville St Bridge - November 1954Photo courtesy of Vancouver Public Library – VPL#13218, City of Vancouver Engineering Department

It often happens to the over-50 set. A bit of a mid-life crisis. Too wide around the middle. Some over-50s look just fine, but the Granville St. Bridge, which turned 54 this year, is not one of them. It was overweight to begin with, and the time has come to slim it down.

The current Granville St Bridge opened on February 4, 1954, replacing the second Granville St bridge that had stood for 45 years. It was built on the same alignment as the previous one, but slightly to the west. But as one can see from the photo (looking away from downtown), the new bridge towers over the old one. It was out of scale with its surroundings when it was built, and it is even more so now that both areas are becoming residential neighbourhoods. A massive 27-metre high eight-lane concrete monster, it is probably the most pedestrian- and bike-unfriendly bridge in the City of Vancouver. Of course, sidewalks were merely an afterthought in an age when streetcars were being taken off the roads, cycling was only for weekend pleasure, and everyone was expected to eventually own a car.

The sidewalks are unusable for anyone in a wheelchair, as there are stairs that need to be negotiated on both sides of the bridge. granville-st-bridge-5.jpgPedestrians have to deal with sidewalks that cross on- and off-ramps where cars routinely zoom by at twice the posted 50 km/h speed limit. The sidewalks themselves are narrow, making it a nerve-racking experience even when two people pass each other. Cyclists heading onto the bridge suddenly transition from a relatively slow-paced secondary road to a highway for the length of the span.Yes, Granville St is technically part of Highway 99, but it also connects two neighbourhoods that are seeing rapid population increases: Downtown South and Fairview/W. 4th.

The Bridge’s eight lanes are far more space than is needed in the downtown core – it apparently was the widest bridge in North America when it was built.granville-st-bridge-2.jpg Yes, bottlenecks often occur at the ends of the Bridge, but this is only during rush hour. This is an issue of too many drivers commuting to work in the downtown core by car, not a problem of bridge capacity. For 22 out of the 24 hours in the day, the Bridge resembles a freeway, encouraging drivers to see how fast they can speed to the other side. It is a truly awful piece of work. Gordon Price summed it up well: “The bridge is disconnected from the city fabric.”

Luckily, there is finally change afoot, at least at the north end of the Bridge (See here for an overview map).granville-st-bridge-4.jpg The Granville Loops policy plan, which is currently under review, would get rid of the under-used loops on the north end and replace them with condos and other commercial development. Six new condo towers will go up, with room for more than 1,000 people. Two one-way streets will connect the north end of Granville Street to the seawall. TransitFan isn’t sure what will happen to the cab companies currently located within the loops, but it’s probably just a matter of time before they find themselves pushed out. While the Yale Hotel will be preserved, unfortunately the current plan calls for the Cecil Hotel to be torn down. TransitFan hopes that the both ends of the bridge will be made wheelchair accessible as part of this plan. As well, the City needs to begin looking at reconfiguring the south end of the bridge. granville-st-bridge-3.jpgFirst, the remaining loop needs to go. It simply adds to the pedestrian-hostile environment on W. 4th Avenue east of Fir St. Why not reconnect 5th Avenue across Granville St? A new intersection with a light would help slow down the speeding traffic coming onto the bridge. The Granville St off-ramp on the west side could easily connect with 5th Avenue. Second, easy pedestrian access from South Granville to Granville Island needs to be created. The current environment discourages Granville Island visitors from taking transit or walking.

Third, get rid of the huge off-ramps onto W. 4th, Fir St, and Hemlock St. The City is currently looking at strengthening them, since “Substantial and widespread deficiencies in shear resistance were identified on most of the concrete girder approach spans.” granville-st-bridge-1.jpgTransitFan suggests just knocking them down. Not only are they eyesores, these ramps only encourage drivers to race at highway speeds through the neighbourhoods on the south side along Fir St and Hemlock St. W. 4th between Granville and Burrard has been gentrifying with many new stores and restaurants, and there is a new condo development under construction. Traffic should be encouraged to slow down in this area, not speed up. It’s time to tame the Granville St Bridge.**

John Calimente is the president of Rail Integrated Developments. He supports great mass transit, cycling, walking, transit integrated developments, and non-automobile urban life. Click here to follow TheTransitFan on Twitter.