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Vancouver’s 2nd Narrows Bridge by Bike

25 Aug
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I’ve lived in Vancouver on and off since 1988, of which most of that time has involved either living on the North Shore, or working there. Despite this, I have embarrassingly never ridden or walked across the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge, also known as the 2nd Narrows Bridge. So earlier in June I decided to take the plunge and bike east, rather than west, to get from Lower Lonsdale to a meeting in East Vancouver.

Getting to the 2nd Narrows Bridge by bicycle has a decidedly retro feel to it, reminiscent of how it was to ride a bike in a North American city in the 1990’s. Most of the ride involves either riding steep uphills to bypass extensive road works, or navigating a minefield of roads filled with belching cars and trucks. The section below is part of a enormous road configuration that will eventually move vehicle traffic away from the rail yards up to the hillside – a much needed upgrade, which will move motorists off a roadway that runs dangerously in the shadow of passing rail cars.
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The bike lane through this area is non-existent; however, I do have the impression that one will be in place once the road works are completed later this autumn.

East of this area one is forced to ride on the sidewalk, or share crammed roads with commercial vehicle traffic.

Access to the bridge is via a narrow onramp sidewalk.

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The bridge crossing itself is terrifying. Sidewalks are fortunately being upgraded, but in the interim, for the next two years cyclists and pedestrians are forced to share 1.25m of space, with minimal railings on each side. The space is so tight that I could not take any photos when bikes were around, as everyone would have to stop and wait while I took pictures. It also meant cyclists coming from opposite directions had to dismount in order to pass each other, unless they felt comfortable enough balancing between a terrifying drop to the bay below and the murderous freeway traffic on the other side. It was also rush hour and there were as many as 50 bikes on the bridge deck during my crossing. Some of the bikers seemed to be seasoned pros who had no problem passing each other without dismounting, I felt I should have been wearing a “I’m new, please don’t yell at me” shirt.

Yes, as much as I dislike cars, cyclists can be just as impatient and nasty as the worst of motorists. Just because someone is peddling two wheels doesn’t mean they suddenly become all honey and love. Some of the prickliest of commuters I have met have been cyclists wearing way too much spandex littered with expensive bicycle adverts.

The bride affords some stunning views, some of them so exposed that I got a good rush of vertigo just around midspan.

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On the south end of the bridge there is a tiny memorial to the Iron Workers who died when the bridge collapsed during construction. Most people will never visit the memorial or even know where it is, as the platform is jammed beside the sidewalk and the freeway curb.

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Leaving the bridge, one descends a steep series of switchback turns, down into a quiet industrial zone behind the grain towers and the Vancouver Shipyards. Traffic here is light, with numerous bikes passing on their way up to the bridge to the North Shore. A lovely separated bikeway takes one past Brighton Pool, where I stopped for a brief break. I’d never visited there before, and while the pool is nothing in comparison to Kits or 2nd Beach pools, it does have a stunning setting and gorgeous views.
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The ride up the Vancouver hillside is a surprisingly steep one, indeed I often forget how much of an elevation change there is between the water and the communities up at 1st avenue and further south. On my way to my destination I spent a good 20 minutes meandering through leafy streets lined with the finest of East Vancouver’s Queen Anne era homes, stopping occasionally for photos and to catch my breath.

A lovely ride indeed, but I will hold off doing it again until the new bike infrastructure is in place on the 2nd Narrows Bridge and in North Vancouver.

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The Way Back from North Vancouver Lonsdale to Kitsilano

19 Aug
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My ride home follows more or less the same route, with some modifications. The most challenging part of the trip is navigating the rush hour traffic off the North Shore, which can be mayhem, especially if there has been an accident on one of the bridges. This may seem a rare occurrence, but in fact between the two of them, there are accidents on the bridges on a daily basis. At rush hour this can mean chaos, the kind of chaos that ultimately got me out of a car.

This is an area just entering the lower road (1st Street) from Marine Drive and 3rd Street. It has morphed into a substantial construction site as the City of North Vancouver and a developer swapped properties, giving City road works the south side of 1st, and the developer the north end. The result is a large high density project, which upon completion will hopefully do a lot to improve Marine Drive, one of the North Shore’s ugliest stretches of road. For the time being it is a dangerous section of road, where trucks and and cars often cross into the cycle lane, so much so that the lane paint has disappeared.

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On 1st Street the bike lane is littered with obstacles – signs, bumps, parked cars and trucks.

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The ride after this section is perfect to the start of the Lions Gate Bridge deck. Apart from an errant dog, the Spirit Trail is open sailing, populated with cyclists, walkers, and joggers most of the year.

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Part of the Provincial Highway 99 network, the Causeway and Lion’s Gate Bridge crossing is typically terrifying and should come with a parachute. As usual the sidewalk is shared between cyclists and pedestrians. Pedestrians can walk in either direction, which means more often than not one comes across a pedestrian oblivious to the world, listening to his music, sunglasses on, walking with his back to vehicle and cycle traffic – insanity. Only in British Columbia, “The Best Place on Earth” can pedestrians walk wherever they please without being responsible for their own and others’ safety. The results of such lawlessness can be fatal, as on this stretch of the causeway, where a cyclist was killed trying to avoid an mindless pedestrian.

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Cyclists easily gather speed on the causeway, and since the sidewalk is narrow, traffic is loud, and bushes are overgrown, communication between cyclists and pedestrians is challenging – I personally use an air horn, which is useless when a walker has their back to me and is engrossed in their telephone.

The causeway ends here.

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No barrier separating cyclists from death at the hands of a wobbly SUV.

The cycle through the West End is a bit busier than in the morning, as most people are out of bed and on the seawall, especially if the sun is showing its face. The most congested area of the Seawall is at the Cactus Club, where cyclists, cars, and pedestrians converge on several square meters of space. This area was not the most intelligently designed, and it still bewilders me as to why Vancouver has not considered removing one of the 7 lanes of roadway that connect Beach Road with Denman to widen the seawall in that area.
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Getting from the West End to Burrard Bridge has its challenges, involving riding Beach/Pacific Roads up to the start of the bridge. There is often congestion on Pacific, and motorists almost always speed to get to the lineup as fast as possible.
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Burrard Bridge is currently undergoing a renovation, the first in its 81 year history, as far as I know. The roadwork has caused some delays and inconvenience for motorists, this despite the fact the city has made it abundantly clear that Granville Bridge is just two blocks away and has 4 lanes of mostly empty road – people prefer to sit in traffic rather than try a different route.

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While the bridge work is still ongoing, the south end of the bridge has been completed. The result is a drastic improvement from the parking lot that once was the gateway to Kitsilano. The new layout moves cars, pedestrians, and cyclists safely and efficiently, all while requiring less road space.

These are a couple of pictures from before, when cyclists and pedestrians shared the sidewalk.

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And when the tree and Kitsilano welcome sign sat in the middle of 12 lanes of converging traffic.

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And this is how it looks today.

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There is still work to do on the Kitsilano side. The Park Board bungled the plan to implement a bike lane in Kitsilano Park, and Cornwall still has no bike lane to connect the bridge to the bike way on Point Grey; however, this is a work in progress. The Councils, mayors, and Squamish Band should be commended for their vision in working to building a safe pedestrian and cycle network in Vancouver and the North Shore. Now if only the Province would get on board and fill in the gaps.

To follow, time for the “big league”, your merry cyclist changes it up and goes 2nd Narrows!