Hatchet job. These are the only words to describe the current plan to widen the bridge’s sidewalks, as the newly elected City Council wasted no time overturning the previous Council’s trial-lane reallocation.
Heritage Vancouver, which is open to other solutions, supported the trial of assigning the outer lanes for bicycles, pedestrians and transit. If successful, the trial would have avoided the need to widen the bridge, saving the taxpayers at least $25 million in current estimated construction costs. Now Council has instructed City staff to prepare final plans for construction of massive outrigger structures that will permanently desecrate one of our most iconic landmarks. What will we show the world in 2010 — a quick-fix hatchet job or a restored world-class landmark?
Completed in 1932 to provide a high-level crossing to the western neighbourhoods, the bridge is a triumph of civic architecture and a key gateway structure. Architects Sharp and Thompson, conscious of the bridge’s ceremonial ‘gateway’ function, embellished the utilitarian steel superstructure with imposing concrete towers, torch-like entrance-pylons, and art deco sculptural details. Unifying the parts are heavy concrete railings, originally topped by decorative street lamps.
The current turn of events takes us back to 2002 and is our worst possible scenario. Cantilevered outrigger sidewalks would radically alter the bridge’s appearance — adding bulky appendages that slice across the bridge’s architectural features. The existing railings would be demolished to make way for new railings pushed out to the edges of the new sidewalks. Without its original railings, the bridge would lose its strong edges, and its defining architectural features would be isolated in a broad expanse of pavement.
For HVS, the issues remain the same: how to accommodate increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians without compromising the heritage architecture and iconic status of the bridge. One potential solution — a dedicated structure retrofitted underneath the bridge — previously made the City’s shortlist and should be seriously reconsidered.
Other solutions, — such as a new dedicated crossing for pedestrians and cyclists, or a retrofit under Granville Bridge —also merit consideration. Given the escalating costs of construction, other low cost solutions could also be explored. We urge City Councilors to carefully consider all the viable alternatives before rushing to implement a solution that will permanently disfigure this civic landmark.