Across North America, cities are focusing on improvements to their transportation systems to enhance safety and mobility. Investments in walking and cycling infrastructure make it increasingly easy for people to choose active modes of transportation – which have positive benefits on people’s health and well-being.
In Vancouver, both health and climate considerations are outlined in policies known as the Healthy City Strategy and the Greenest City Action Plan. To support these policies the City has a long-range transportation plan known as Transportation 2040, which recognizes the challenges and opportunities for rethinking our transportation system to consider the highest level of long term health and safety of residents and the environment. The plan emphasizes the importance of accommodating population growth by enhancing facilities for walking, cycling and transit. The plan also aims for the city to have zero transportation-related fatalities.
Ultimately, the goal of Transportation 2040 is to make it easier and safer to choose modes of transportation other than a personal use vehicle.
Protected bike lanes (or cycle tracks) have been shown to not only be safer for those choosing to travel by bicycle, but also attract a more diverse cross-section of people including children and seniors to cycling. Protected bike lanes help to prevent collisions mid-block, but don’t necessarily address conflicts at intersections. A Cycling Safety Study recently completed in Vancouver found that 50% of all collisions between vehicles and bicycles occur at intersections.
When intersections only have to accommodate motor vehicles, they can be relatively simple. When people travelling on foot and by bike are added to the mix, the intersection can become extremely complex.
With multiple modes engaged in crossings, the driver workload
and the risk of collisions both increase.
In Vancouver, the answer we are pioneering to the problem of a highly multi-modal intersection is the protected intersection. In 2014, the City constructed the first “protected intersection” in North America at the intersection of Burrard Street and Cornwall Avenue, at the south end of the Burrard Bridge.
The protected intersection eliminates or minimizes conflicts between vehicles and people walking or cycling by separating movements in time and space. To be truly effective, a protected intersection must be clearly thought out and carefully designed using geometric layout, separated traffic signal phases, and well placed signs and pavement markings.
Prior to the protected intersection at Burrard Street and Cornwall Avenue (Burrard / Cornwall), the intersection was designed to allow for high-speed vehicular turns onto both Cornwall and Burrard. The intersection was very uncomfortable for both people walking and cycling.
The redesign simplified the intersection to a more typical T‑intersection and reduced the pedestrian crossings from five to two. Protected bike lanes and vehicle turn lanes were constructed on all legs of the intersection and traffic signals were used to separate the turning vehicle phases from the crosswalks and bicycle crossings. Space was also provided behind the curb to accommodate turning bicycles. The reconstruction of the intersection and surrounding streets cost $6M and was fully designed and constructed by City of Vancouver staff.
The intersection redesign was highly successful, with the intersection continuing to function well following construction. For these works the City won the 2015 Public Agency Council Achievement Award of Excellence from the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the 2015 Transportation Association of Canada’s (TAC) Sustainable Urban Transportation Award. Vehicle volumes over the bridge have remained steady at over 50,000 vehicles per day, while people cycling over the bridge has increased significantly with over 7,000 trips per day this past summer.
Following this success, the Burrard Street and Pacific Boulevard (Burrard/Pacific) intersection at the north end of the bridge was selected to become the City’s next protected intersection as part of a larger Burrard Bridge rehabilitation project. This intersection has the second-highest collision rate in the city and some of the highest cycling volumes of any intersection in Vancouver. The intersection also sees high usage for those choosing to walk for leisure or commute.
The overall project includes the reconstruction of five city blocks with protected bike lanes, the reallocation of a vehicle lane on the Burrard Bridge for walking, and a 150 meter long widening at the north end of the bridge. Free flow vehicle slip lanes on and off of the bridge, where the majority of vehicle collisions currently occur, will be replaced with dual right turn lanes controlled with protected traffic signal phases. Almost all movements at the intersection are proposed to be conflict free. The intersection has also been designed with some flexibility so that as volumes change in future years, the City has the ability to make adjustments in the design.
The project experienced very little push-back from the public or business groups, despite the decades-long debate around improving active transportation connections across the Burrard Bridge. There were several reasons for this, but key among them was the previous successes of introducing protected bike lanes on the bridge in 2009, and the subsequent intersection redesign at Cornwall, which did not lead to the vehicle congestion that some had predicted. Even with a reallocation of lanes at the mid span of the bridge and removal of the free-flow slip lanes at the north end, staff are confident that this project will be as successful as the modifications to the Burrard / Cornwall intersection in 2014.
Vancouver City Council approved $35M for the intersection upgrades and needed structural rehabilitation work on the 83 year old bridge in July 2015. The project is being funded by the City of Vancouver with cost sharing from TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation authority. The intersections at each end of the Burrard Bridge have been an uncomfortable place to walk, cycle, or drive through for many years. We are looking forward to completing the safety and comfort improvements at the north end, scheduled to begin in early 2016. As active transportation becomes increasingly popular method of travel in Vancouver, and as we build out a network that creates a safe environment so that we can achieve our zero traffic fatalities goal, we anticipate that protected intersections like these will become the expected treatment at intersections throughout the City.
We look forward to hosting professionals from across the continent and showcasing our recent work at the upcoming Pro Walk / Pro Bike / Pro Place conference in Vancouver in September 2016.
Burrard Bridge Quick Facts • Opened on Canada Day in 1932 with six general purpose vehicle lanes • Protected bike lanes constructed in 2009 with 1,000,000 riders the first year • Over 1,300,000 bicycle trips in 2014 • On a typical sunny weekday you can expect: • 55,000 motor vehicles • 13,000 on transit • 10,000 people walking or biking • Over 700 reported vehicle collisions at Burrard and Pacific between 2009 and 2013 • Construction scheduled to begin in 2016 and take up to 15 months