For well over a decade, Vancouver's Burrard Street Bridge was a hotly contested piece of asphalt. In 1996, what was supposed to be a six-month trial that converted one lane of traffic into a bicycle lane only lasted a week, due to public outcry. From 2005 to 2009, proposals to again trial bike lanes or expand the sidewalk were stymied by rising costs and concerns from motorists, heritage preservationists and the Squamish First Nations group, whose land falls under the bridge. With the Olympics coming in 2010, the City finally agreed to a trial that reduced the number of vehicle lanes on the west side (heading out of downtown) to two and added a separated bike lane. Three vehicle lanes were maintained heading into downtown, and the sidewalk on that side was reserved for eastbound cyclists. Pedestrians were restricted to the sidewalk on the west side.
The trial was extremely successful in increasing bicycle traffic, with the City of Vancouver reporting 24% more bicycle trips over the bridge between July 13, 2009 and July 12, 2010. This amounted to an additional 200, 000 bike trips in one year. Growth on summer and fall weekends was the most dramatic, with volumes up 40-70%. A study by the University of British Columbia indicated that accident rates for cyclists on the Burrard Street Bridge decreased, and the process was also the focus of a research paper at the University of Toronto, titled, "The politics of bicycle lane implementation: The case of Vancouver's Burrard Street Bridge". Vancouver City Council voted to make the bike lane permanent in July 2010.
Complete Street Redesign
Although the trial bike lane was successful in improving safety and access for cyclists, it also limited pedestrian use to the west side of the bridge. Because of its limited capacity, a redesign was needed to enhance access for all ages, abilities and modes of travel.
In 2015, the required replacement of water and sewer infrastructure provided the redesign opportunity to make the bridge a Complete Street. Due to policies adopted by Council, city staff produced a redesign using a Complete Streets approach for this significant piece of infrastructure and for its northern intersection at Pacific and Burrard. At a cost of $35 million, the redesign shows a major improvement in function of the bridge and intersection. Specifically, the changes have improved safety and comfort for all users, maintained previous traffic flow and car volumes on the bridge during peak hours, and preserved the historic and aesthetic value of the bridge.
The most significant changes were subject to heavy discussion and debate at Council and among civic groups alike. This was due to the removal of a southbound traffic lane on the bridge, to provide two-way separated bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the bridge. According to Vancouver planning staff, the redesign will not significantly affect traffic times or congestion, and has maintained previous traffic conditions leading northbound into downtown Vancouver.
After 18 months of construction, this iconic Vancouver bridge was reopened with a Complete Street redesign on October 21, 2017.
The Burrard St Bridge changes are as follows:
- The reintegration of sidewalks on both sides of the bridge
- The removal of one southbound traffic lane, to properly provide for separated bikes lanes in both directions
- Barriers added between motor vehicle traffic and bicycle lanes
- Street lamps and pillars added, which also provide stability for discrete anti-suicide fencing
Pacific and Burrard St intersection changes are as follows:
- Widened the intersection nearly 100m
- Replaced slip lanes with dedicated bicycle lanes, effectively providing protection against right hook collisions
- Added dedicated turn lanes
- Created protected signal phases for different road users and turn movements
- Increased separation between people walking, cycling, and driving
- Sixty trees were planted in the intersection and surrounding blocks, and the large cypress tree at the intersection was protected