Bev Ballantyne: Drivers win again with Burrard Bridge lane-reallocation trial

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      By  Bev Ballantyne  

      The ongoing saga of the Burrard Bridge continues this week with the start of the second bike-lane trial. Ongoing because the trial is designed to fail.

      Transportation policy in Vancouver clearly gives priority to pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and goods movement, with drivers taking last place.

      Regrettably, successive councils have given priority to pedestrians only if drivers are not inconvenienced.

      The two-decade-long struggle over the Burrard Bridge offers a glaring illustration of where the most benign forms of transportation remain in the minds of engineering staff and elected officials.

      To deny walkers use of the east sidewalk during the trial adds insult to injury after years of negotiating the trek beside equally impositioned bike riders.

      Will pedestrians forever be banned from the sidewalk if the experiment becomes permanent?

      This, combined with only one lane given to cyclists, leaves a huge psychological message: drivers win again.

      The attitude of council, engineers, the downtown business community, and drivers will be more entrenched than ever; pedestrians are second-class citizens. Their mission is less important than that of drivers. They can wait a little longer or walk little farther.

      The bully syndrome applies.

      Vehicles are big and driven dangerously, so they get the space.

      The timidity of council decisions over the years is staggering. Most were made from political expediency using perception and myth rather than truth and reality.

      History and empirical data are not absent from the Burrard Bridge soap opera.  It is just that no one has bothered to consider them.

      Over a six-month period in 2001, the False Creek Pedestrian and Cycling Crossing Study was undertaken. It was a thorough, inclusive, and well-facilitated process.

      Stakeholder and public participation was consistent and enthusiastic.

      The participants and four professional consulting firms arrived at unanimous and well-founded conclusions:

      * The Burrard Bridge required immediate attention before the other two crossings.

      * The approaches were a priority, which meant eliminating the right-turn channels at the north end. (The south end, changed against the recommendations of the city's Transportation Plan, subjects walkers and cyclists to a six-minute trek over five intersections, which accommodate two left-turn bays unnoticed by drivers for two years.)

      * The stairs and access under the bridge must be made safer and more comfortable.

      * Lane reallocation was the best way to accommodate cyclists.

      After more than seven-and-a-half years, none of these modifications have been started.

      One would expect that an outside consultants' report would go straight to council. Not this time.

      Senior staff called the consultants in and told them to change their recommendations. There was to be no lane reallocation.

      Mayor Gregor Robertson has recently raised the third crossing, possibly covering his bases for when the pilot fails. He certainly did not do his research before he brought it forward.

      A third crossing was eliminated early in the False Creek Pedestrian and Cycling Crossing Study.

      The Snoquay (a span under the bridge) was examined carefully and rejected soundly by everyone for economic reasons and comfort level.

      But the most compelling reason was simple practicality. The span would require 24-hour operation and be open to boat traffic, at which time it would be closed for walkers and cyclists--its intended purpose.

      The mayor's idea has the same faults as the hanging span. The distant location from Kits Point affirms the second-class status of the most environmentally and economically benign commuters.

      Pedestrians and cyclists can take the long way. Drivers get to take the direct route.

      The very short but memorable 1996 trial was a success and proved what has been shown over and over again elsewhere. When capacity is reduced, volume disappears.

      By the third day, traffic was down by 9,000 vehicles, resulting in no negative impact on other routes into the core.

      A survey of all users after the pilot showed more than 50 percent  approval for the new allocation.

      The frightened council terminated the trial after only five days, ignoring its own data and the experience of dozens of other cities.

      The myth of congestion without lane reduction prevails among entitled drivers. The truth is there is significant over-capacity midspan, even during rush hour, according to the engineering department ¹s own modelling.

      Leaving the same place in Point Grey en route to a downtown location takes 17 seconds longer over the near-empty Granville Bridge than over the Burrard span.

      The Lions Gate Bridge carries the same number of vehicles daily in half the space.

      Vancouver compares badly to other cities. In Sweden, with a near 40 percent  cycling mode share, when a bike lane is added, a traffic lane is removed.

      Minneapolis has at least three pedestrian bridges, two of which were converted from vehicle spans.

      Sophisticated international travellers will be here for the Olympics. Given the poor cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, Vancouver will not be showing a world-class face to these visitors.

      Shame on our "Green" council.

      Bev Ballantyne is a cofounder of Putting Pedestrians First.




      Jul 11, 2009 at 6:15pm

      Why does this always have to be war, in Vancouver. Can't everyone just share. I guess not. Its kind of a froot loop place. They don't want highways, but have city streets that resemble slow highways with traffic lights. They want more people cycling, but allow any type of vehicle, from trucks to tractors to park along main thoroughfares and on side streets.. Even in rush hour!! Mixed messages. Just concentrate on getting it all moving better, and maybe someone will be happy. MOVE IT!!

      Same old stuff

      Jul 11, 2009 at 8:30pm

      A classic example of making the perfect the enemy of the good. How about instead of dumping all over it, you try and help make it work? And is crossing Burrard at West 1st to use the west sidewalk such a burden? 2/3s of the pedestrians who use the bridge use the west sidewalk already. Is Bev so concerned about the 2 pedestrians who commute to the Molson brewery on the east sidewalk?

      The trial is a good first step and already represents a big challenge to the car-oriented status quo, and Vision deserves props for it. When will the straight write about that?


      Jul 12, 2009 at 10:36am

      "The bully syndrome applies. Vehicles are big and driven dangerously."

      Demonize Car Drivers: This is the typical response from the left, and is why people are sick and tired of the politicization this Mayor and Council (and certain "journalists") do with nearly every issue they raise. How about solutions that are good for ALL of Vancouver and not just a small, vocal minority? Perhaps holding a few more public hearings would have been helpful, but, this Council has already proven they feel they know what's best for all of us.

      Chris Keam

      Aug 8, 2009 at 12:34pm

      Great commentary Bev. I hope we can get the east sidewalk returned to pedestrians, as is their due.