Province column: It feels like we’re being taken for a ride with this bridge roller-coaster

Call me old-fashioned, but I still consider $63 million to be a whole lot of money — even in an era of billion-dollar mega-projects, million-dollar condominiums and $1.35-a-litre gasoline.

So I was both surprised and disturbed to recently hear that this staggering sum of cash would be required to retrofit the Burrard Street Bridge in a bid to improve some cycling and walking lanes.

The reasoning goes that the expanded lanes will improve biker safety and security on the bridge — encouraging folks to junk their car keys or transit passes in favour of a 10-speed or a hip cruiser.

Given our society’s bid to clamp down on greenhouse gases and reduce obesity, this is a comforting thought.

But it’s also a naive one. That’s because, as far as safety goes, the current bike lanes on the crossing are more than adequate.

On many spring and summer mornings, I ride my bike to the office on a route that happens to traverse this very bridge. Guess what? Riding on the bridge feels a whole lot safer than dealing with the road rage and driver mistakes that flourish off it.

Yes, the crossing’s bike lanes are narrow. And this can create a dangerous situation when the few Lance Armstrong-wannabes can’t be bothered to slow down, to the detriment of everyone else. But if the handful of speeding cyclists would pay attention to the bridge’s posted speed limit for bikes, we wouldn’t have these safety concerns.

The bottom line is that $63 million is far too rich a price for a renovation project that offers so little in return — for cyclists or anyone else.

But there’s more to this controversy than dollars and cents. The stylish Burrard Street Bridge is also a local architectural landmark with a 75-year history.

Heritage Vancouver, the non-profit agency devoted to preserving Vancouver’s historic buildings and neighbourhoods, is urging citizens to stop the city from directing “many millions of taxpayer dollars to defacing a work of art.”

That’s not to say there shouldn’t be a plan in place to eventually transport more cyclists — as well as walkers, joggers and stroller-pushers — across False Creek.

Indeed, the folks at Heritage Vancouver advocate for a new bridge for pedestrians and cyclists that would be Vancouver’s answer to London’s Millennium Bridge.

It’s a great idea. Such a dedicated crossing is also being championed by former Vancouver city councillor Gordon Price. He says $63 million would go a long way in building something iconic and eye-catching for the city.

The only thing in the way seems to be the sailboats whose masts wouldn’t fit under such a bridge.

Which begs the question: Will the final outcome of this cycling saga hinge upon the whims of a few recreational boaters?

Sailboats aside, let’s keep the focus on saving the heritage Burrard Street crossing — and the under-siege Vancouver taxpayers — from this ill-conceived bridge boondoggle.

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Filed under Architecture, Commuting, Cycling, Environment, Health, Heritage, Politics, Transportation, Uncategorized, Urban Planning, Vancouver Province Columns

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