Burrard Bottleneck

This picture says it all – a chaotic situation generating no end of frustration for many drivers. Even the hold-up being on a bus is not pleasant. This $58 million upgrade is set to finish sometime in the fall of 2017.

So what’s it all about. First a bit of history: the Burrard Bridge opened in 1932 for a total cost of $3 million. It helped ease congestion on the Granville Bridge of the day and, of course, helped extend development south, so not unfamiliarly, real estate was a factor. The architect, G. L. Thornton Sharp, designed the two imposing galleries we see at either end of the central span of the bridge together with supporting piers at their sides to hide steel trusses. In the centre on both sides of the galleries is the coat of arms of the city of Vancouver with windows flanking them. The piers on the ends of the gallery feature molded prows of boats with figureheads carved by Charles Marega. The figures represent Captains George Vancouver and Harry Burrard-Neale. According to Chuck Davis’s The History of Metropolitan Vancouver, it seems Captain Burrard was never part of Vancouver’s history but a close friend of Captain Vancouver who named Burrard Inlet after his friend and subsequently Burrard St. and Bridge adopted the same name. The central piers and galleries were also thought of as gateways to the city.

The two huge lamps on the pillars at both ends of the bridge were the inspiration of engineer John Grant. They honour Canadian WWI prisoners of war who huddled around fires in their prison camps.

Currently the bridge is under needed repair which is part of a project that extends from Burrard & Davie to Burrard & 17th Ave. For the bridge itself, the lanes will be reduced from 5 to 4. There will be bicycle lanes with protective barriers and separate walking areas for pedestrians on both sides of the bridge. Bridge structure will be improved in upgrading the historic concrete railings with new lamps and a suicide prevention fence. The first suicide occurred in 1933, and many followed. The city intends to increase safety conditions at Burrard and Pacific by reconfiguring traffic flow since this is a highly accident-prone area. All along the route from Burrard and Davie to 17th Ave., sewer & water facilities, roads and sidewalks will be upgraded.

Right now people are probably most disturbed by the impeded traffic flow but there is also an abundance of ill will because of the space given to bike lanes. The city claims the barriers protect the bikers from traffic and safely separate them from pedestrians. The city understands the traffic lane reduction may result in more congestion but is hoping to promote alternative transportation by bike, bus and walking, in keeping with the greening of the city. Opponents feel the money could have been better spent improving infrastructure elsewhere or going to help the homeless, etc.

What really seems to be lacking in a lot of the city’s building projects is inclusive consultation, which results in a truly collaborative effort with the community. The city may state it has consulted but the general reaction of people is that their opinions have not been respected. Real inclusiveness might lessen a lot of ill will.

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