The Burrard Bridge Archive

The Burrard Bridge two-lane trial: artist's impression

The Burrard Bridge two-lane trial: artist's impression.

The future of the Burrard Bridge has been one of the most hotly-debated issues in the city’s recent history. Since 1992, the city has wrestled with the problem of how to make the crossing safe for cyclists while protecting its heritage character. Here, for those who wish to learn the entire, complex story, a Burrard Bridge Archive of the critical documents.

The early history of this remarkable Art Deco structure, built in 1932 at a cost of $3 million, is well outlined in Wikipedia. (Many of the resources here can also be found in links in the Wikipedia entry.)

For many years, it has been considered one of the city’s most important heritage landmarks, among the Top 10 Endangered Buildings on Heritage Vancouver’s list.

1996 lane closure trial

In 1994, Vancouver began a lengthy consultation on measures to improve pedestrian and bicycle crossing of Burrard Bridge. By 1996, it was clear a trial of lane closures was in order. In April, 1996, council put the wheels in motion, acting on a process begun by Councillor Gordon Price.

The 1996 trial was short-lived, lasting less than two weeks. Public outcry was intense. This July 1996 report sums up the experience, noting that cyclist traffic rose significantly despite the hostility of motorists. By the end of the one-week trial, motorist delays were minimal.

City council and staff remains scarred by the experience for more than a decade, but the 1996 report establishes some benchmarks for a new trial:

  • more communication must be done in advance;
  • bicycle connections must be improved, as well as the downtown cycle network; and
  • lane configurations need to improved along the bridge.

2001 False Creek Crossing Study and Burrard Bridge Heritage Study

By 2001, the city was ready to try again. This massive review considered more than 30 options to resolve the False Creek crossing problem.

A comprehensive Burrard Bridge Heritage Study, completed by Donald Luxton, documented the importance of the bridge to the city’s history and makes the case for protection. (For the complete study, search for the title on the city website and follow the links.)

The 2002 report on cycling and pedestrian crossing

By 2002, pressure was rising to tackle the problem again. A lengthy staff analysis found the Burrard St. corridor should be a priority for cycling and pedestrian improvements and considered the option of building a new pedestrian and cyclists’ bridge to carry the load. Council agreed, but nothing happened.

2004: focus on safety

In 2004, CBC Marketplace told the story of Jane Lister, who was nearly killed when she was knocked off the Burrard Bridge’s sidewalk into traffic. It was a rare glimpse of the major liability faced by the city if it failed to deal decisively with a clear safety threat. The CBC referenced another accident for which the city settled out of court with a confidentiality agreement.

2005: bridge widening, another promised trial lane closure

By 2005, the city’s engineers were convinced only a sidewalk widening would work. A major report to council June 28, 2005, urged that course of action, offering an underslung pedestrian crossing as a fallback.

Larry Campbell’s COPE council rejected that advice in favour of another lane closure trial. Councillor Fred Bass was delighted, but Kitsilano commentators warned of stormy weather ahead. Bass’s celebration was premature: he and the COPE council was defeated before the trial could be implemented. The Sam Sullivan NPA council, led by Councillor Peter Ladner, a former lane closure supporter, cancelled the trial and asked for new options.

But in April 2008, council learned the tab for bridge widening had soared to $63 million. Frances Bula explained why: the widening option was creating new headaches for engineers because the bridge wasn’t built to take the weight. Daunted by the massive bill, which effectively quadrupled the budget for remediation, the NPA backed off.

During the 2008 civic election campaign, Peter Ladner’s Non-Partisan Association promised to put up railings on the bridge to avert the massive cost of widening. Vision Vancouver proposed a one-lane trial. But soon after the election, Vision councillor George Chow told a reporter that a two-lane trial was more likely.

On April 29, 2009, the debate resumed with this report to council offering three options: a two lane closure and two one-lane options. Council selected a one-lane option.