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British Columbia Proposed bike lane down centre of Vancouver’s Granville Street Bridge stokes controversy

Vehicle and pedestrian traffic makes its way southbound out of downtown on the Granville Street Bridge in Vancouver on June 20, 2012.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

A proposal to put an elevated pedestrian and cycling route on Vancouver’s widest downtown bridge is going to council this week – with divided opinions already emerging about it.

Supporters say the eight-lane Granville Street Bridge, built in 1954, is underused by cars and a hellish experience for walkers and cyclists because of the narrow sidewalks, speed of traffic and unregulated crosswalks on the exit loops at either end.

“I’m totally embarrassed that if two people on wheelchairs tried to pass each other [on the bridge sidewalks], they couldn’t,” said Tanya Paz, the former chair of the city’s active transportation committee, which has had input on the design for the past couple of years.

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But others say that because it’s the last of the three bridges across False Creek that hasn’t been shrunk in recent years to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, it needs to stay as it is. This would ensure that cars and ever-growing numbers of delivery trucks can move around.

“When you get a bridge that’s a relief valve for the other two, I don’t know why you would take out a significant amount of capacity,” said Bill Tieleman, a well-known political consultant who went public last week on Twitter with his dismay over the project, earning him both public scoldings and support.

The organization representing truckers is also concerned.

Although the Granville Bridge can’t be used by trucks because it’s not a TransLink-designated truck route, BC Trucking Association CEO Dave Earle said it’s a problem whenever space is taken away.

“When we’re trying desperately to build for the future … it should give everybody a concern when there’s a move to reduce capacity.”

Councillors will be asked Wednesday to approve the engineering department’s report, which recommends the proposal go to the public for consultation and that staff be directed to come up with a final concept.

The city’s transportation director, Lon LaClaire, said the middle-of-the-bridge idea was something that popped up years ago, as staff were wrestling with the problem of the poor accessibility to the bridge. Currently, anyone wanting to walk across has to navigate steps and crosswalks with no lights.

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“For people walking, the other bridges are too far away. And a lot of people just won’t make the trip at all,” Mr. LaClaire said. Putting in lights, ramps and other changes didn’t seem feasible.

“It seemed like it was going to be horrendous [financially].” The city’s recently approved capital plan has $25-million set aside for the bridge project.

He said people will exit the centre walkway at the Drake Street crosswalk on the north end and a new Fifth Avenue crosswalk on the south end.

The staff report calls the bridge “one of the most glaring barriers in Vancouver’s pedestrian and cycling networks” and says it’s underused because it was designed to connect to “high-speed, high-volume freeways that were never built.”

As well, they’re exploring the idea of an elevator down to Granville Island as part of the design, although the federal government, which owns and runs the island, would have to participate in that.

The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association is cautiously optimistic about the project.

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“We’re intrigued by the idea,” said CEO Charles Gauthier, who compared it to the very popular elevated walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge that connects lower Manhattan to Brooklyn. “We do support improved pedestrian and cyclist access on that bridge. I know I would never cycle down that bridge [as it is now] because of the speed of the cars.”

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