Burrard Bridge bike lane trial is doomed: Fred Bass

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      Former COPE councillor Fred Bass has this to say about Vision Vancouver and COPE’s proposal for a one-lane reversible bike-lane trial on the Burrard Bridge: “It won’t work.”

      Bass, a city councillor from 1999 to 2005, devised a six-month, two-lane trial passed by council in July 2005, before current NPA councillors voted to nix it in December of that year after winning a majority on city council.

      Now both COPE and Vision Vancouver have dropped Bass’s idea in favour of a one-lane proposal. COPE’s platform advocates splitting “one of the six traffic lanes”, while Vision’s platform states it favours “incorporating lane-signaling (like on the Lion’s [sic] Gate Bridge) to maintain three of the remaining five lanes for rush-hour traffic”.

      “What they are doing is not planning,” Bass told the Georgia Straight. “What they are doing involves a huge amount of expense, complication, and possibly increased risk in having three lanes going to two lanes going to three lanes. What they are doing is, well, let’s just say they are ”˜bastardizing Bass’. If this foretells the weak-kneedness of Vision and COPE together, then Vancouver has lost something substantial.”

      COPE council candidate Ellen Woodsworth was on council from 2002 to 2005 and voted in favour of Bass’s original idea. In a phone interview with the Straight, she defended the new policy as a “practical, political, and environmental solution”.

      In response to Bass’s comments, she said “both COPE and Vision are filled with bikers who say it [the new trial] will work.”

      “The original idea, in the end, didn’t go through, and I think it cost us a lot politically,” Woodsworth added of Bass’s trial. “As a cyclist, I just want to see something happen before anyone else gets hurt.”

      Bass claimed that a one-lane reallocation is not enough to guarantee cyclists’ safety. He suggested the change of plan has happened “because there are people guided not by the best decision but by which way the winds are blowing”.

      NPA councillors have never supported reassigning any car lanes. After cancelling Bass’s trial, they opted for a sidewalk-widening option priced at $14.5 million. Costs have now spiralled to between $57 million and $63 million, depending on when construction would begin.

      On November 3, the NPA announced it had moderated its position in favour of a barrier between the sidewalk and the roadway. The cost of that is expected to be about $33 million, according to the party’s media release.

      Cycling advocate Richard Campbell told the Straight the NPA’s latest plan is a “lose-lose compromise”, adding: “It took them three years to work out the widening is too expensive. That’s pathetic.”

      Regarding COPE and Vision, Campbell said their one-lane proposal is at least moving in the right direction, “but it’s not as good as Fred’s original vision”.

      Bev Ballantyne, outspoken founder of the community group Putting Pedestrians First, told the Straight she believes “[city] staff won’t do one lane at all. They will fight tooth and nail and they will say it’s not safe enough for cyclists.”

      Speaking by phone prior to the NPA announcement, engineering-services general manager Tom Timm told the Straight “the final decision will be made over the course of the next year.” Unlike the NPA, he did not express concern that the project looked “unaffordable” because costs were rising.

      “I still support the widening option and would start to try and find some senior-government cost-sharing,” Timm said.

      Timm also noted that $20 million allocated to the widening under the capital plan, when added to the $13 million already committed, comes to $33 million, “which works out to about 50 percent of the funding needed”.

      Top cycling priorities according to the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee


      > Greater emphasis on education and promotion of cycling

      > Separated bikeways wherever possible

      > Preferably a two-lane reallocation for the Burrard Bridge

      > A 10-percent bike-mode share (of all trips) by 2010

      > Working closely with City of Vancouver engineering, planning, and police departments to make the roads safer

      Source: Kari Hewett, acting chair, City of Vancouver Bicycle Advisory Committee

      Comments

      8 Comments

      nicmeyer

      Nov 23, 2008 at 1:40pm

      FELLOW CYCLISTS, I am bewildered by this continuing discussion over Burrard Bridge bicycle lanes. I am a westside cyclist that uses his bicycle daily, I also have to use a motor vehicle to drive to my office downtown. Any disruption in the vehicle lanes would create vehicular chaos and is totally unnecessary as there has never been a problem in the numerous times I travel the bridge (minimum 2x daily). As I have pointed out in my various letters to council and the bicylce committee, the real isue in my mind has never been the bridge it is getting on and off he bridge i.e. the route abruptly ends on the north side at the alley next to Kettle of Fish restaurant and on the other side riding along Cornwall at any hour is a very scary prospect. The curb lane is very bumpy and has potholes, there is no bike route delineation, drivers of cars parked on Cornwall in the first block after the bridge do not pay a lot of atention to cyclists and doors are a real hazard and one is to scared to venture into the outer lane as traffic tends to be driving overly fast. However, in my mind the top 2 concerns downtown for cycling are the bike route under the Granville Bridge on Pacific Boulevard going westbound (it stops and the cyclist finds oneself in the middle lane with cars whizzing by from Pacific on the left and coming off the exit ramp of the bridge on the other side...extremely scary! The number 2 blackspot is coming off the Cambie bridge going eastobund on the boulevard again te cyclist is in the middle of the road with exit ramp and speed way traffic on either side.
      I note in this article there is $30million + available for the bridge upgrades at present. My goodness, with that money we could improve all the bike route, install lights stop signs repave sections etc etc.over the whole network! In my mind this would be a great safety benefit , save lives and would be a much better use of our tax funds. I am afraid this continuing debate smacks too much of politics ( aprevious COPE councillor accused me of being desirious of global warming when I forwarded these thoughts 3 years ago!!! He did at least reply - no one else did and 3 years on and now a new Mayor and still nothing is done yet! I wonder has any of these commentators ridden a bike? Have they ridden ALL over the network on a regular basis?
      I would like to participate more in dialogue on this issue, if anyone has comments or wishes to engage in discussion I would hope to hear from them. In addition, I would hope that my thoughts are taken as constructive criticism.
      Thank you for your attention.
      Nic Meyer
      Vancouver

      Nic Meyer
      Vancouver

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      Ron van der Eerden

      Nov 24, 2008 at 1:05pm

      The bike network does need lots of attention and resources for cycling facilities always seem inadequate. That is why we are opposed to unnecessary expenses on a single project. You raise valid concerns about the quality and continuity of the bikeways. Bear in mind that the problem under the Granville Bridge is being dealt with. The plan is to remove the two cloverleaf ramps.

      The dollar figures being thrown about with regard to the Burrard Bridge need some clarification. Approximately $30 million is required to repair the bridge as it is. Widening the sidewalks was going to cost approximately $60 million including those repairs. Re-allocating a lane of traffic for cyclists has been very roughly estimated to cost $20 million since it would require alternating flow signaling similar to the Lions Gate Bridge. But cyclists aren’t asking for this solution. We are asking for two lanes to be reallocated at much less cost. More on that later.

      Your claim to understand the dynamics of cycling across the bridge is a bit dubious since it is, twice a day, from the vantage point of a car. It doesn’t need to look very crowded in order for it to be a hazard for both cyclists and pedestrians. If there were only a few bikes and pedestrians on the bridge at any time, as is often the case, it is feasible to ride the bridge with a reasonable margin of safety. But often the number of bikes and pedestrians sharing the narrow sidewalk without benefit of a guardrail makes for a very dangerous situation. Numerous cyclists have taken the spill onto the roadway and it is just a matter of time before the results are worse than serious injuries. The city is in a position of liability if it does not address such a safety issue in a reasonable way. But a guardrail on the current sidewalk would only make the effective space narrower, making the crowding worse.

      We feel that this situation discourages even experienced riders. But it absolutely inhibits novice riders from joining the ranks of those enjoying the benefits of riding. Those benefits are for the riders themselves, but also extend to society as a whole as fitness levels increase, pollution levels decrease and infrastructure costs are reduced. Discouraging cycling is not a logical course of action with climate change threatening our planet and oil production at peak. Nobody should be forced to ride a bike. Similarly nobody should be forced to drive a car. For fifty years the latter has been the dominant thinking among city planners and road engineers. It is time to level the playing field. A Cyclist pays taxes and is entitled to an equal amount of road space as a motorist. The contributions of motorists by way of fuel taxes are miniscule and don’t amount to the difference in demand a motorist puts on the road network relative to a cyclist, pedestrian or transit rider. In effect, cyclists and others are subsidizing motorists for their use of the road.

      It should be stressed that from the vantage point of a bike, the car lanes on Burrard Bridge also often look nearly empty. As you point out, the ends of the bridges are a problem for cyclists. This is also true for motor vehicles. Much improvement could be made towards the traffic flow both on and off the bridge to allow similar volumes of traffic to occupy only four of the six vehicle lanes. It is counter-intuitive that fewer lanes can often handle similar traffic. But road and lane closures throughout the world have been documented to have had minimal impact on traffic. Our very own 1st Avenue and Grandview Highway were each closed altogether for months at a time a few years back and, after an initial adjustment, traffic managed to get through with minimal inconvenience. These roads each represent about 25% of the east-west road capacity in and out of the city and yet they did NOT cause major havoc when they were closed.

      It is unknown if closing two lanes on the Burrard Bridge would give similar results. While studies of other similar closures bode well, a trial is obviously the most reasonable and cost-effective solution. If is successful the city saves tens of millions of dollars. If it fails we know that we should focus our attention on other solutions.

      The reasons that a two lane re-allocation has been identified as the best solution are many.

      First, it is the most cost effective. The costs include painting a wide solid line (to create a visual distinction for the cycling lane), signage, communicating awareness to motorists, minor adjustments to the intersections and signal timing. Those adjustments would be to improve motor vehicle flow on and off the bridge and to ensure unimpeded transit movement. The signaling may also encourage some motorists to use the Granville Bridge instead by improving flow towards that bridge.

      Second, it is the best solution for pedestrians and cyclists. Pedestrians get a safe and comfortable sidewalk and cyclists have room to pass while maintaining a good margin of space between themselves and fast moving traffic. This should encourage novice cyclists. In fact, cycling increased 39% during the short lived trial in 1996.

      Third, it allows flexibility. The physical changes are so slight as to allow things to change under special circumstances. Cars could still conceivably merge (slowly and safely) into the cycling lane to allow emergency vehicles to pass. And lane closures for maintenance would still be feasible.

      Fourth, vehicle traffic over the bridge has been in decline for over a decade. We live in a different time. Cars have been identified as a great threat to our atmosphere. The general public has become more sedentary and unhealthy through car dependence. Oil production peaked in 2005 and energy prices, relative to the economy, will likely continue their bumpy but upward trend. It is irresponsible to react to these realities by continuing a car-centric planning processes that appeared to work decades ago. We need to improve conditions for alternatives to the automobile. The infrastructure is already there if used wisely. There is no need to bankrupt future generations by building more and more new stuff without using what we have in a more efficient manner.

      A trial, at little cost, will tell us more about what our future might look like and allow us to make reasoned decisions rather than ones based on politics, uninformed opinions or wishful thinking.

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      michael.sg

      Dec 27, 2008 at 11:35pm

      I have to echo the first commenter here. I was both a cyclist and a pedestrian on the Burrard Bridge for 10 years before I moved last year. The bridge was always one of the safest parts of my journey. The fact is, even on some beautiful days, the cycle lanes remained empty, and 99% of cyclists stop riding as soon as it rains or gets the least bit chilly. As soon as we close a lane for cyclists, motorists will sit in a jam, staring at a barely used lane that they want for themselves. No matter how much we think that's fair comeuppance, the fact is, we need drivers to like us, not resent us, if we want courtesy on every road. Unless we can fill that lane with a steady, reliable stream of cyclists, no matter what the weather or time of day, this is not the way to do it.

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      michael.sg

      Dec 27, 2008 at 11:41pm

      I would also like to add this to my comments: Cars going over Burrard Bridge are often zipping at around 80 KPH, sometimes more. If the choice is to have a bike lane on the sidewalk or the road, I feel safest on the sidewalk, thanks.

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      Randy Page

      May 3, 2009 at 9:04am

      I have an idea to only close one lane and put in a counter flow system. 3 lanes into the core in the am and 3 lanes out in the pm .The two curb lanes could be reduced in half and turned into bike lanes. The new Pitt River Bridge is almost complete and a used counter flow system is available.
      B C C C C C B
      1.5m| 3m | 3m | 3m | 3m | 3m |1.5m

      Just an idea from Randy Page in Port Coquitlam

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      Unhappy in Vancouver

      Jul 12, 2009 at 11:26pm

      The Burrard Bridge 'trial' is preposterous. Has no one in City Hall ever tried to move from north to south or vice versa in this city? The Burrard Bridge is crowded and impossible with the lanes that have been there for the last X-number of years. This is going to make the gridlock even worse & reduce the 'world-class' attempts this city is trying to put together. Find another solution for the over-privaledged, law-breaking cyclists of Vancouver. I'm sick of them.

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      Lu

      Jul 18, 2009 at 9:11am

      Why not build a toll bridge for bikers and pedestrians. This is a common way to pay for infrastructure if you don't have the money up front.

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      Brian Grover

      May 5, 2010 at 10:46am

      I love the Burrard Bridge bike lanes and hope they will be retained, enhanced even, once the current test is over. There has been a lot of squawking in the media by a handful of businesses who maintain that the changes have reduced the number of customers frequenting the area. Whether true or just the reflex actions of change-resistant business types is of little interest to me. What they should be doing is embracing the change, mounting bike-friendly events [discounts if you bike in, special delivery services for two-wheeled shoppers who spend over a certain amount, etc. ad nauseum]. Get creative guys. With all this whining going on I certainly can't see myself patronizing these businesses. I dine at Kettle of Fish once in awhile and I visit Art Knapp's every spring. This year I'll hold my nose and buy my plants at one of the big box retailers since the little box retailers can't seem to see outside of the box itself. In the case of Art Knapp's, the opening of the Canada Line, Canadian Tire and Home Depot on Cambie Street are probably having a bigger impact on retail sales than any bike lanes could ever have.

      Change is going to happen with or without them on board. What needs to be done is make hard choices and it's heartening to see that the mayor and council are willing to make those choices rather than bowing to anachronistic interests. Thanks for pioneering a new way forward.

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