Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Granville Bridge

with 7 comments

It’s huge. Eight lanes wide, it was the only bridge in the region which was never associated with congestion. Until the even wider Port Mann opened. There have recently been some proposals to dedicate the centre lanes of the bridge to a linear park.

These pictures are of course all from my flickr stream where they form an album or set. I have the feeling that people there no longer read the set description – if they ever did. So I make no apology for repeating that here. By the way the set is called “Vancouver’s High Line?”

There is much talk in urban circles of finding similar linear structures to the High Line capable of being converted into public space. In Vancouver, that has centered around the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts. Which in my view should simply be removed altogether to create a new development opportunity.

On the Granville Bridge people have been suggesting a new pedestrian area in the centre lanes. This seems to me to be even sillier than the viaduct idea. If I am going to walk over a bridge, I want to see what I am crossing over not three lanes of traffic on either side. And no doubt a pair of solid, unclimbable safety barriers too.

This set is of the views from the Fir Street off ramp, where there is a sidewalk on the west side, overlooking Kits and Granville Island. An elevator directly down to the Island would be good too.

Fir Street

In the foreground the CP railway (Arbutus Line) crossing and then the other Granville Bridge off ramp to 4th Ave. That’s West Van in the distance.

7th Ave

The High Line in New York is actually midblock – it threads itself in between buildings, which used to be the factories and warehouses it serves. So neither this bridge nor the viaducts will work in quite the same way. But they do provide a view down the streets – sorry Avenues in our case – they cross. Much quieter than the streets of Lower Manhattan.

A view of distant snow capped mountains

Just as the High Line there are good views off to the distance. And I happen to think the Burrard Inlet is a lot more picturesque than the Hudson River, but your view may be different.


The playground is a very happy addition to this corner site.

6th Avenue West

The CP Arbutus tracks are off to the right, hidden by the trees

Six lanes on West 4th

Count them – six lanes – on West 4th Avenue. That makes it a stroad: a major arterial road and a shopping street. I would suggest that it is a candidate for traffic calming – or maybe bus lanes for the #4, #7, #44 and #84 – but of course that would set off the same outrage we had to weather from the Point Grey Road changes. Which of course have not actually lead to the decline of Western civilization as we know it.

Starbucks on 2nd

At one time the CP track along Lamey’s Mill Road went through here, crossed the road at an oblique angle and then swung right up towards Burrard. But then Starbucks was built which in some people’s mind ended the possibility of reopening the Arbutus Line for trams, which would connect with the now abandoned Olympic Line. But the old Sockeye Special did not come through here. That line crossed False Creek at an angle on a long gone trestle. Anyway there’s a better alternative: I will get to that in a bit.

Duranleau Street

The Fir Street ramp leaves the main bridge around here. Granville Island is immediately below. One of the features of Granville Island is the large amount of space devoted to car parking. On a sunny weekend, the line-up of cars trying to get on to the Island backs up to the 2nd Avenue intersection and sometimes beyond. Traffic on Granville Island of course moves very slowly because of all the pedestrians, the service vehicles and all those people either hunting for a parking space or trying to get in or out of one. I think a pair of elevators either side of Granville Bridge with their own bus stops would be ideal to improve transit accessibility. I am not a great fan of the #50.

6th Avenue West

This shot down the length of the railway track next to 6th Avenue West illustrates my other great idea. The Fir Street Ramp could be taken away from cars altogether and repurposed for light rail/tram/streetcar – chose your own favourite term. As you can see the trains/interurbans had to climb from here to get up to Arbutus. The alignment could be used for a level rail structure that would connect onto Granville Bridge. That also allows for grade separation of the crossing of Burrard Street. On Granville Bridge the line would use those two centre lanes with a straight shot off the Bridge to the Granville Mall (does anyone still call it that) for transfers to the Canada Line, Expo Line, SeaBus and West Coast Express. The old CP Arbutus right of way could be turned back into an interurban as a cheaper alternative than expanding the stations on the Canada Line. It could also connect to a future conversion of the little used CP tracks to New Westminster and Coquitlam, via Marine Drive Station and the new riverside developments.

new line

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2015 at 2:59 pm

7 Responses

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  1. If light rail ever get’s built along the arbutus corridor I always thought that the best route would be to tunnel under or suspend from(if possible) the burrard st bridge, continuing under burrard st downtown to connect to the sky train at burrard station.


    March 27, 2015 at 5:31 pm

  2. I totally agree re building an amenity down the centre of the Granville Street Bridge. All other things being equal, it would be better to just widen the sidewalks on both sides to include increased pedestrian amenity.

    All other things may not be equal. One possibility is to develop a pedestrian area in the centre that would link directly with Granville Street at the north end, as well as with Granville Island at the south end. At the north end, direct access from the bridge to Granville Street might be limited to buses and taxis. Direct access to Granville Street at the south end would be similarly limited.

    Not wedded to the possibility, but it may be just that.

    Jeffrey P.

    March 28, 2015 at 11:19 am

  3. Great idea to add some sort of elevator/stairs on the Granville bridge directly to Granville Island. It would go a long way to calming traffic on the “island” itself. That place is not easily accessible via transit (the #50 doesn’t count).

    Andrew Eisenberg

    March 29, 2015 at 1:08 pm

  4. Some intriguing thoughts, Stephen.

    The Granville Bridge and the viaducts were the only large structures built from the planned 1960s freeway network. We need to build a permanent shrine to then mayor Art Phillips and TEAM for killing them and firing the director of planning, who was the main proponent. I occasionally look at the old documents and cringe at the plans: thousands of houses would have been lost parallel to Main Street and ripping through Strathcona, all the same Los Angeles Model 8-lane character as the Granville Bridge.

    We lived at 1st Ave x Fir for 10 years and really miss the neighbourhood, especially the 5-minute walk to the market and the ferries. We went that entire time without owing a car. We’re still at the edge of the inner city, but False Creek South has a lot of advantages. One of my co-workers has lived on a sailboat there for over 20 years.

    The bridge elevator idea has a lot of merit and there was once a proposal put out for a spiral stair and a bicycle elevator on both sides of the water (GI and the north seawall), with a gantry / walkway slung right through the lowest girders. They could be extended further up to the bridge deck with a little imagination. One drawback comes to mind. When I was living there I worked at an architecture firm in a building that was located at the entry to GI, practically across the street from the Starbucks (there’s a commute for you: 3-minutes door to desk by foot!). One day I exited the side entry at lunchtime and about 5 seconds later a 50-kg chunk of concrete broke off the bridge slammed into the sidewalk just a few metres from where I was. The city had the area blocked for a month while they patched and repaired the underside of the deck. There was a lot of rusty rebar, so the bridge needs more TLC now. The city also finished a seismic reinforcing project on the bridge close to that time (early 90s).

    Your idea of closing the Fir St ramp has merit should senior governments ever start caring for cities as much as they should and see that utilizing existing infrastructure and corridors would be an efficient and affordable way to build a secondary rail system (i.e. a service between the fast regional SkyTrain level and the slow local bus network). I suggest splitting the line at Pine or Cypress into the raised bridge ramp extension you mentioned as well as continuing at grade swinging east on W 4th, then onto the False Creek line. This would serve both west side commuters needing direct access downtown, and those who are going to Chinatown and Gastown. I don’t have any trouble envisioning a west side population build up with low and mid-rise development along both West and East Boulevard framing the park-like rail corridor (20m CP land, 30m curb-to-curb) with further density increases with rowhouses a block or two either side. A rail extension down to Eburne and Marine Drive Station with a connecting commuter rail service to New West as you outlined could eventually become viable too. The existing route through South False Creek could also be seen as a tourist tram connecting to Canada Place and Stanley Park.


    March 30, 2015 at 4:31 pm

  5. Yesterday (March 30, 2015) I walked to Fir at First to see if CP was cleaning the blackberry bushes.
    To my surprise there was still some gardens left…may be 50 ft long at most, just South of First. Signs identified that area as being Squamish Nation land.
    One lady was working in the garden and told me that the bit of garden, along with buildings nearby and the whole mess of blackberries bushes hiding the tracks all the way to False Creek, was Native land.

    Both the NY Highline (opened 2009) and Paris’ Promenade Plantee (created 1986-1993) are typical of 19th century elevated rail lines that we don’t have here…
    They are both surrounded by offices and housing of various ages, towering over them, without street level parks nearby, so their green conversion make sense.

    The following photo shows a new garden–along new buildings on the left bank, in the 13th arrondissement (district). Gardens are above railway tracks in use.

    Red frog

    March 31, 2015 at 2:22 pm

  6. I have visited both the High Line (more than once) and the Promenade Plantee and both are documented on my flickr stream

    The High Line in Chelsea

    Stephen Rees

    March 31, 2015 at 3:01 pm

  7. Red Frog & Stephen, an excellent record of fascinating pieces of human urbanism. Thanks!

    There are great possibilities for adaptive re-use. However, I agree that the viaducts here aren’t worth it and the motivation for their demolition should be to daylight the land below.


    April 1, 2015 at 11:07 am

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