(Update — Excerpts from a City of Vancouver press release after the meeting July 22: Council approves Burrard Bridge upgrades and Pacific-Burrard intersection redesign. The proposed project … will undergo final design with input from the heritage sector and other stakeholder groups. The Burrard Bridge requires major structural rehabilitation, including concrete handrail replacement, roadway lighting electrical replacement, sidewalk overlay, concrete repairs (soffits), access improvements for marine spans and east side duct bank repairs. … the proposed design includes returning pedestrian access to the east side of the bridge and modifications to address safety issues at the Burrard and Pacific intersection….Staff will now begin final design of the project in consultation with stakeholders through August. Construction work will begin early 2016.)
Vancouver City Council will be reviewing a revised $35 million plan to renovate the Burrard Bridge on Wednesday, July 22nd. The plan also includes a number of upgrades to the streets at the north end of the bridge. The reintroduction of a northbound pedestrian walkway would also be achieved by reducing the number of vehicular lanes to four.
The City held two Open House events on June 6th and 16th, 2015 (see our summary here). It’s worth noting that the City’s survey form did not attempt to see if respondents supported or opposed the project, or to see which aspects of the upgrades were supported. Rather, the emphasis was on whether there was support for a complete closure of the bridge during the construction phase or to see if longer construction hours would be possible (staff recommend that the bridge stays open).
A sudden change introduced after the Open Houses in the design of the bridge includes “installing means prevention (suicide prevention) fencing”; this change has raised the ire of heritage activists. The high fence option was something that was not shown to the public during the Open House, thus potentially rendering the entire consultation process meaningless. Staff claim that this change came via feedback from Vancouver Coastal Health.
In the report, staff quoted statistics showing that there were, on average, 0.8 suicides annually from the Burrard Bridge from 2006 to 2011, the same number as for the Second Narrows Bridge (which is the only bridge in Vancouver with high fencing at present). The quoted annual rate of suicide on the Cambie Bridge was 0.3, compared to 2.5 for the Granville Bridge and 4.3 for the Lions Gate Bridge. Staff completely forgot to make any mention of the four bridges that cross the Fraser River to the south of Vancouver in their analysis. The slideshow below shows photos of all 9 major bridges in Vancouver:
There have been calls to have the updated bridge proposal brought back to the public for more feedback. Otherwise the whole “public consultation” phase is a meaningless exercise in manufacturing consent. The heritage protection aspects of the bridge played a large part in stopping previous attempts to widen the bridge.
The planned renovations would take place over a 12 – 14 month period. The estimated costs have soared to $35 million from an earlier $30 million estimate. The highest ranked public concern mentioned in feedback was: “(1) Cost of the project”; is the high cost of the project fully justified? While certain aspects of the upgrades need to made as routine maintenance (such as concrete structural repairs and replacing the handrails), could the Burrard Bridge updates be completed at a significantly lower cost? (For example, forego bridge widening at north end, go to four lanes of traffic by moving concrete bikeway barriers, and so on.) Could overspending on the Burrard Bridge deprive other parts of the City of infrastructure upgrades?
The staff report states that the widening of the Pacific / Burrard Street intersection includes the demolition of a building: “To achieve the new design for active transportation improvements while maintaining motor vehicle capacity, the City-owned building at 900 Pacific (the “Kettle of Fish” building) will be removed and a portion of the site would be used to shift the street to the south.” The “Kettle of Fish” building has been used as a homeless shelter.
While the report claims that “The Burrard Bridge is one of the most important heritage structures in the City of Vancouver,” the staff proposal would widen the northernmost 100 m of the bridge span. Heritage Vancouver tweeted an animation showing the changes in the proposed higher fencing (before and after views):
— Heritage Vancouver (@HeritageVan) July 17, 2015
The heritage group also called for “meaningful consultation”:
— Heritage Vancouver (@HeritageVan) July 17, 2015
Burrard Bridge might have higher fences to prevent suicides (GlobalNews, July 18, 2015, Nadia Stewart)
Vancouver councillor calling for more consultation ahead of vote on Burrard Bridge planned upgrades (News 1130, July 21, 2015, Joanne Abshire)
Heritage groups question changes possibly coming to Burrard Bridge (News 1130, July 17, 2015, Kristin Woodhouse)
Vancouver City Council meeting agenda, July 22, 2015