Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Burrard Bridge

Good news

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Two good news stories this morning.

The Burrard Bridge trail looks like it has been a success. The report will go to the Transportation Committee tomorrow. Or you could could read the Vancouver Sun’s summary. (Or that of the Georgia Straight.)

Its popularity among cyclists – 90 per cent in favour, and pedestrians, with 79 per cent in favour — isn’t surprising, but the support among drivers may be.

Of those drivers who travel the Burrard Bridge without a passenger, 51 per cent support the continuation of the bike lane trial, with 31 per cent opposed.

So the promises of doom turn out to be wrong. Do you think there will be any public statement from the DVBIA aplogising? No, neither do I.

The other one is a bit further afield. The Guardian reports that one of the busiest intersections in Central London has been rebuilt. Following similar experiments in Kensington all the street furniture designed to pen in pedestrians has been removed.

This boosts available space for pedestrians by around two-thirds, as well as – the designers hope – encouraging all road users towards a more thoughtful, responsible attitude.

The biggest innovation is the use of diagonals for one pedestrian crossing phase. All vehicle traffic in all directions is stopped and pedestrians can cross diagonally, if they wish.  This is known by the unfortunate name of a “scramble crossing”. The reason for the redesign was exactly the same as that for Broadway in New York. There were far too many pedestrians for the space allocated to them. But due to the street furniture they could not spill onto the street, the way they did on Broadway, resulting in considerable congestion and a field day for pick pockets.

Oxford Street and Regent Street are two of London’s busiest shopping streets. Oxford Street has been closed to car traffic for a while now but is heavily used by buses, taxis and, of course, delivery vehicles.

Now that the cyclists can use Burrard Bridge safely, I hope someone will start looking critically at some of the busier intersections of downtown and thinking about where diagonal crossings might make a reality of Vancouver’s claimed priority for pedestrians.

And while I am thinking about that, will someone please reconsider the idiotic decision to limit the number of entrances and exits at Canada Line stations that are underneath intersections. Since the trains are below the street surface, it should be possible to get directly to the platforms. It should not be necessary to have to cross two busy streets, and then do a labyrinthe of tunnels and staircases. You can see how that is done at Oxford Circus too.

Oxford Circus

Oxford Circus

Written by Stephen Rees

November 2, 2009 at 10:17 am

Posted in cycling, pedestrians

Tagged with ,

Two-lane Burrard Bridge trial finds support

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Georgia Straight

It has been what they call in the trade a “slow news day”. I look for things to blog about but find little worthy of comment. The Burrard Bridge should not be controversial any longer because the people who made it an issue (the NPA) are no longer in power at City Hall. Converting two lanes from cars to bikes should not be an issue since that has always been consistent with stated city priorities. And, most important but apparently always forgotten, does not actually reduce car carrying capacity of the local network. Because the volumes across the bridge are controlled by signalised intersections at each end of the bridge.

So when Todd Litman (a man I greatly admire) says

“In the past, we said, ‘Oh, we like walking and we like bicycling, and we’ll fit them in where we can, where it doesn’t impair or require a tradeoff with automobile travel.’ ”

I can smile at the generalisation as accurate, even if it doesn’t apply to this bridge in particular. But when I read that Matt Burrows decided to call George Puil for a comment (why, Matt, why?) I see red

“I really don’t believe that shutting off any lane on Burrard Street Bridge is going to endear people to the electorate,” Puil told the Straight by phone. “The Granville Bridge, for example, is not an ingress into the city anymore because of the mall and the restricted automobile access [on Granville Street]. So, really, from the West Side the only access you’ve really got is the Burrard Bridge—certainly from Point Grey and from further south.”

Granville Bridge is still the major “ingress” to downtown. In fact it is the only 8 lane bridge – and all those 8 lanes flow quite well. The section of Granville Street at the north end of the bridge is not closed to traffic for several blocks and traffic does readily use those lanes for access to cross streets. And of course the Howe-Seymour couplet of one way streets provides significant capacity – or would if one or more lanes were not almost permanently closed to traffic due to construction and those trucks and buses always parked outside the Orpheum. And that film crews that seem to dominate much of Howe.

George is apparently incapable of doing a simple windshield survey. If he had driven across Granville Bridge any time in the past few years he would have seen that it flows freely nearly all the time  – just as Burrard does. The queues form at the lights. The statement destroys any credibility that he might have retained from his disastrous tenure of the Chair of Translink (a term which resulted in frustrated citizens dumping horse manure on his front garden).

I can only assume that Matt was stuck in trying to find an NPA spokesperson – there being only NPA Councillor left.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 8, 2009 at 11:15 am

Posted in cycling

Tagged with

Aston Martin designs Routemaster

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BBC News

The Aston Martin-Foster design has solar panels

The Aston Martin-Foster design has solar panels

The Capoco Design retains the Routemaster-style front engine

The Capoco Design retains the Routemaster-style front engine

Sports car manufacturer Aston Martin is joint winner of a competition to design a new Routemaster bus for London.

The Warwickshire-based firm’s winning entry was a team effort with leading architects Foster and Partners.

They share the £25,000 first prize with bus, coach and truck design firm Capoco Design, based in Wiltshire.

This is really about the vanity of Mayors in general.

Labour’s transport spokesperson on the London Assembly, Val Shawcross, said: “The design competition may have been fun and the winning designs are extremely impressive, but this is not a serious way to make policy and not a worthwhile use of public money. I have yet to hear one convincing argument for why London needs a new double-decker bus and until Boris comes up with some, Londoners will see this as little more than a vanity project.”

But Boris Johnson is not alone in thinking that his ideas beat everyone else’s simply because he won an election. We see the same thing here – both Sam Sullivan and Gregor Robertson think that they know more about traffic than their traffic engineers. A quite reasonable idea – to try two bike lanes across the Burrard Bridge – was rejected by Sullivan based simply on his own prejudices. Robertson thinks he is even cleverer, now proposing a five lane bridge wth a single reversible lane.

The problem with both these ideas is they are based on a politician’s need to be popular. This is not a sensible way to plan anything, let alone a transport system. Londoners have always had a preference for nostalgia. These new Disney cartoon versions of what was once quite a good bus design – for the 1950s – actually doesn’t satisfy that very well. Since then there have been a whole bunch of changes in our understanding of how buses work – and also regulations governing how they should operate. The old Routemaster’s features , an open platform on the back and no accessibility except for the able bodied, no longer fit the requirements of a safe, accessible form of transport. Trying to retain the “design cues” of an old fashioned bus in a “modern” design is, frankly, pointless.

The Burrard Bridge decision – which the City of Vancouver makes soon – should equally reflect the new reality. There are a lot of cyclists now – and there has never been a real need for three lanes of car traffic in each direction. That is because the volume of traffic across the bridge is determined by two sets of traffic lights: the controlled  intersections at each end of the bridge do not release the sort of volume that need three lanes. That really should have been the only thing that counted. All the rest is sound and fury signifying nothing. Except the self importance of the Mayor.

In both cases there are simple, low cost, workable solutions. Having a few old buses refurbished for two “heritage” routes is quite enough to satisfy the need for nostalgia. Two lanes designated for bikes will work – all you have to do is try it and see. Both of you mayors – get on with some important work and stop messing about.

RM on Westminster Bridge with County Hall in the background

RM on Westminster Bridge with County Hall in the background

Written by Stephen Rees

December 19, 2008 at 9:58 am

Estimate for bike lanes on Burrard Bridge hits $57M

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Photo by Chris Piggott on flickr


The cost of adding bicycle lanes to Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge has quadrupled, according to the latest estimates.

“The estimated cost to do the work necessary to make the improvements in 2009 dollars would be $57 million,” Coun. Kim Capri told the CBC on Monday.

And the final cost could rise further, as high $63 million, since the work would have to be put off until after the 2010 Olympics, said Capri.

The numbers were presented to city councillors on Monday by city engineers at a special workshop on the latest plan to add bike lanes to the heritage-listed bridge.

It was always a very stupid idea. Say thank you taxpayers of Vancouver to your Mayor and the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. It all stems from their inability to understand basic traffic management. City staff, and Kim Capri, are infected with the same disease.

The news reopens the debate about whether the city should reconsider an older plan, which called for closing traffic lanes to make room for bikes, said Coun. George Chow.

That plan was adopted by the previous council, but dropped by the current council immediately following the last civic election, in 2005.

But staff warned against reconsidering it because it would back up traffic on both end of the bridge and lead to gridlock, said Capri.

If anybody ever uses the word “gridlock” you know they are grandstanding. Gridlock is a temporary phenomenon caused by drivers entering an intersection when their exit is not clear. Networks quickly sort themselves out – which is why the idea of a trial of lane closures preceded by a public information period was also rejected by the City. Because that would demonstrate that closing lanes to cars on the bridge (to allow for bikes and buses) would work. And we don’t want that do we. Otherwise people would start saying things like “Why can we not close more lanes to through traffic?” – just like they have been doing in Copenhagen for the last forty years and seeing a dramatic rise in the use and popularity of the City Centre.

The number of lanes on the bridge is not the critical issue for traffic flow. It is the capacity of the junctions at each end. And if all the traffic from West Vancouver (and some of North) can be accommodated into the three lane Lion’s Gate Bridge, which does Kits and Point Grey need six? And why would you wreck an art deco jewel with bolted on excrescences?

The City has a Transportation Policy. It states that priority will be given to pedestrains, cyclists and transit ahead of cars. That policy has not been rescinded and is part of the City Plan. So how come this nonsense continues? Because a very small group of very powerful people put their self interest ahead of common sense.

If they have $57m to spend I can think of a lot of things that could be done with that sum that would make the City a much nicer place to be. And the Burrard Bridge could stay pretty much as it is: a bit of paint for lanes and some road signs, and a bit of re-jigging of the intersections ought to do it for well under $1m I reckon. But the people carrying performance of the bridge would be enhanced significantly – and it is people that need to be counted not vehicles!

Brent Granby of WERA advises that there is a survey on the CBC web site

Written by Stephen Rees

April 29, 2008 at 11:26 am

Posted in bicycles, Traffic, Transportation

Tagged with

Bike Lanes on Burrard Bridge

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West End Residents Association at SFU 22 February

Burrard Bridge Facing South

This meeting was called, I thought, to build the case for lane reallocation on the bridge. It turned out that it was supposed to be a forum. And contributions from the floor were supposed to just be questions of the experts on the panel. Yet more than one panel member admitted to be unfamiliar with the issues and there was a lot of expertise in the room.

John Whistler of WERA introduced the meeting with a quick run through of the history, starting with the 1960 freeway plan, which gave rise to the Hornby Connector. While this is still part of City Policy it now seems highly unlikely. Bikes have always an issue on the bridge but up until 1988 shared the roadspace. The city bike plan and city bike network followed but on Burrard Bridge pedestrians and cycles have to share a narrow sidewalk which is a poor solution for both groups. In 1994 Delcan was appointed to look at False Creek crossings and many options were looked at including new bridges. The lane reallocation on Burrard rated highly. In 1995 Vancouver produced its City Plan, and on transportation priorities pedestrians and cyclists were the top two priorities.

Eventually a six month trial of lane reallocation was started in 1996 but stopped within a week when motorists called City Hall on their cell phones. A staff report of the brief trial showed that most of the 9% reduction in motorists trips simply “disappeared”. In 2006 another trial became an election issue and was cancelled by Sam Sullivan. Delcan was then hired to do widening study.

Times are changing – traffic volumes across the bridge have decreased, transit riders, cyclists and pedestrians have all increased. We also now have to deal with climate change and peak oil, neither of which were an issue 16 years ago when this debate started. A report from Delcan to is due to go to council in the next few months.

The moderator was provided by the Vancouver Public Space Network: Andrew Pask

He chuntered on about urban fabric, residents, sustainability and said that questions are being asked about our ecological footprint. He also mentioned the bridge’s importance to our urban experience and quoted Bing Thom’s remarks at that iconic buildings meeting that it is his favourite place. “Burrard Street is designed for speed” and creates all sorts of conflicts but there are a multiplicity of perspectives. Sadly he did not use the amount of time he took to explain the way he was going to run the meeting, which led to conflicts later. He seemed inexperienced in moderating meetings.

Tara Scollard represented the City Engineers Department but was the first to admit that she had not been part of the process and had in fact fairly recently arrived in Vancouver. Throwing her at this meeting was unfair on her and her audience, but she was treated very gently. I suspect if the man responsible for the current mess had been there that would not have been the case. She also recited the history and said that the current condition is that SOVs are “constant” across the bridge while numbers of bikes and pedestrians are increasing. [In fact traffic volume dclined 5% from 1996 to 2004] In 2005 design direction was determined by Council (expansion of the footway) with final design in next month or two. There are two choices either widening both footways for the length of the bridge or retaining “pinch points” at the arches to preserve the current design.

Larry Frank

“I use the bridge every day and I see near disasters every day. How much money are we really saving? I am all for accommodating non-motorised travel. I think we need a Cost Benefit Analysis of how much we should accommodate the car. Since I arrived here, we seem to be in the dark. The problem is analogous to the Port Mann twinning: the policy here is to preserve the roadway. Why do we need to accommodate capacity for cars? Is there to be a transit lane on this bridge? If not, then it’s wrong! Don Buchanan [who was in the audience] has pointed out that transit is the missing piece. There is a significant volume of latent demand for cycling but people are currently afraid to ride their bikes over the bridge. This is due to a combination of conflicts with pedestrians and the high curbs, which threaten an errant cyclist with being tipped off into fast moving traffic. There is not enough space for both pedestrians and bikes on the sidewalk. Take a lane for bikes and then leave sidewalk for pedestrians. This not only mitigates vehicle use, it sends right message. How does that accommodate transit? By diverting cars to Granville Bridge which has spare capacity and is designed for cars. All my research on obesity and physical activity shows that we need to get moire people cycling and walking. Of the present plans pinch points are just a way to create accidents: neither is consistent with the vision for the region or the city but only one option (widening) is being looked at.

Donald Luxton of Heritage Vancouver has been “saying the same thing since 1990s. The only alternative that we oppose is the widening of the bridge. We are not against change, but the outriggers (the worst design solution) keep coming back. We are trying to work productively but we don’t need to wreck the Burrard Bridge. It is the No 1 endangered site of Heritage Vancouver list. The present design would see masonry railings replaced with metal – and metal hoops at the piers. This will cost at least $50m, maybe more and does not address real problem which is at the bridge heads. It is on the 2006 top ten list produced by Heritage Canada and is an internationally significant art deco icon. Heritage issues do not run the show but there are times when they are paramount. We need to tackle the issue but why mess up the bridge to do it? The cost is too high and it is wrong.

Bonnie Fenton,asked why we need to do this when we don’t have to? Re-allocating lanes will not save the world or destroy the city. The major issue is the need to make the bridge safe for bikes and pedestrians. There are actually two cycling camps which she labelled pragmatists and idealists. In 15 years of talking nothing has been done. Lane re-allocation would send a strong signal about what we need to do in this city. In the 1996 trial there were 870 cyclists, a 39% increase but a 9% decrease in car trips. these were not diverted but trips not made. This suggests that these trips were discretionary and their loss caused little inconvenience. Car drivers made the adjustment quickly. And at the end of the week there was a 50-50 split in comments received by the City – for and against. Fred Bass’s motion to the last Council was visionary and would have include a major communications package – something omitted in 1996. She also quoted at length a Business in Vancouver article by Peter Ladner which conclude that if the trial was successful it would be a potential bonus for tax payers. We now that traffic disappears. The modelling assumptions used by engineers do not include this. But we know that people have brains and do not try to go where they cannot. We also know that of the trips across the bridge by SOVs, 50% are not regular. In other words those trips can be made in other ways. Logic is not being used by the City.

John Tylee was the other newcomer to the issue and represented the Economic Development Commission for Vancouver. He was the only speaker who said “I think the city is doing the right thing.” He said that strong downtowns are vital to the City and the region. “The suburban challenge is eternal and relentless.” Downtowns set the identity of the community, and you only get once chance to make a good impression. Currently Vancouver’s downtown is profitable: 25% of the region’s population is in Vancouver but 50% of its commercial property value. It is necessary to balance a large critical mass of “people like us and and people unlike us” and Vancouver has a great mix of ages, races and occupations. It must be easy for people to get in and out. Downtown is the high cost option so it has to provide a better experience than its competitors in the suburbs. “Change can be sudden and hard to spot .” There will be a tipping point: a lot of assessment left downtown Toronto for “905 area” because of congestion. San Diego and San Francisco both had similar experiences and the VEDC has “reasons for concern” as business is becoming difficult to do. Richmond and Surrey both have ambitious plans for commerce in their downtowns. Removing lanes from cars makes downtown less attractive. He said that he thinks adaptation is more interesting than preservation, and noted the way that Berlin had modernised the historic Bundestag by adding a “glass bubble” to let in more light. We can find a way but we do need to deal with the “attitude of cyclists”

At this point my battery waring flashed and we moved on to discussion, so from here on we must rely either on contributions from the small number of people who were there – or my notoriously unreliable short term memory.

I do not recall anyone supporting the City’s position. Reallocation seemed to be the most popular option though I also liked Ned Jacob’s idea. Sidewalks for pedestrians only. Two lanes for cars and cycles with a 25kph speed limit, and the centre lanes for transit only with no speed limit.

I did get to point out that the car volume across the bridge was not determined by the number of lanes but by the intersections at each end. And Don Buchanan said that the intersection at the north end is the second most dangerous in Vancouver – with a casualty number higher than all the fires in the city.

One recent immigrant from Holland was adamant that pedestrians and cyclists should never be expected to share the same path.

l to r Tara Scollard , Bonnie Fenton, John Tylee and Donald Luxton

Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2008 at 9:22 am

Burrard Bridge – Let’s Do It Now!

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Burrard Bridge Facing South

The West End Residents Association (WERA) is hosting a public forum on the Burrard Bridge on Thursday February 21, 7:00 to 9:00 pm, in the Fletcher Challenge Room at SFU, 515 West Hastings St.

At this time conditions are unsafe and uncomfortable for pedestrians, cyclists, public transit and other non-motorized users. Their growing numbers need to be managed and encouraged now for Vancouver to Eco-Densify and to mitigate impacts from Climate Change and Peak Oil. The best value option is to reallocate two existing traffic lanes, however Mayor Sam Sullivan has committed to widen the bridge to accommodate single occupancy vehicles. This project is expected to go to City Council for approval to proceed in the next couple of months.

This forum will have a panel that includes:

· Bonnie Fenton: Chair, City of Vancouver Bicycle Advisory Committee
· Dr Larry Frank: UBC Bombardier Chair in Sustainable Transportation
· Donald Luxton: Hertage Vancouver
· David Rawsthorne: Project Manager, City of Vancouver Engineering
· TBA: Representative of Business Community

The forum will be moderated by Andrew Pask: Vancouver Public Space Network. It will be followed by a public question and answer period.

Further details of the widening project can be found by searching “Burrard Bridge” at or

Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2008 at 10:23 am