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City engineers are trying to convert the Granville Bridge from its origins as a behemoth meant to be part of a freeway system, into an urban bridge filled with walkers and cyclists.

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The Granville Bridge gets only a fraction of the foot traffic that Vancouver’s other two bridges linking the city’s downtown with many of its residential neighbourhoods get, but an early plan to improve the situation by turning part of the bridge into a tree-lined elevated walkway down the middle is no longer up for discussion.

About a year after the engineering department proposed it, the response was clear, said Paul Storer, the city’s manager of transportation design. The public generally hated the idea, he said.

"People were imagining themselves in the middle, with traffic on both sides, and that didn’t feel comfortable,” he said.

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So now, the city is proposing a $30-million to $40-million redesign of the bridge that would see two lanes of the bridge taken away from cars and used for wider sidewalks on both sides and a new two-way bike route on the west side.

City engineers are trying to convert the Granville Bridge from its origins as an eight-lane behemoth meant to be part of a freeway system – one that never came to pass – into an urban bridge filled with walkers and cyclists.

“Because of the freeway design, it has huge safety and accessibility issues. At the crosswalk, people are afraid of crossing,” Mr. Storer said. “We want to slow the traffic and bring it down to a more urban speed.”

City statistics indicate that Granville – despite the fact that it runs directly into downtown Vancouver – gets fewer than 2,000 pedestrians a day and almost no cyclists even on a July day, compared with nearly 4,000 walkers and 3,000 cyclists on the Cambie Bridge and 3,000 walkers and 7,000 cyclists on the Burrard Bridge in the same period.

The proposed change for the Granville Bridge is getting a push from the engineering department as part of the city’s mandate to lower greenhouse-gas emissions.

Although Mayor Kennedy Stewart has gone on record saying that bike lanes are not a priority for him, as they were under previous mayor Gregor Robertson, he and the city’s 10 councillors have supported an aggressive move to combat climate change.

For the engineering department, one part of achieving that goal is pushing to have two-thirds of all trips in Vancouver be walkers, bus riders and cyclists by 2030 – 10 years ahead of the previously set target.

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That means changes to the bridge, among many other efforts.

They’re hopeful that walking and cycling on the bridge could become as popular as it is on the Burrard Bridge.

Mr. Storer said the changes will have almost no effect on car travel times, even though the proposed new design introduces traffic lights at four of the bridge’s on/off ramps.

He said the bridge has more capacity than is ever used and the ramp lights can be timed to work with other lights already on the street to ensure drivers aren’t delayed any more than usual.

The city will take the proposal out for one more round of consultation before going to a council vote. If approved, the project could be done in 2021.

On Monday, Neil Manchon was one of only a handful of walkers braving the Granville. The industrial designer likes walking along the bridge from downtown to Granville Island. But he was a rarity that day.

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Nearby, the Burrard Bridge bustled with walkers and cyclists. Mr. Manchon said he was disappointed about the change in plans for the Granville Bridge.

“I liked the idea of that double-decker in the middle,” he said.

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