A tragedy occurred yesterday on Vancouver’s federally controlled Granville Island. Three pedestrians were struck by a vehicle apparently trying to exit one of Granville Island’s parking lots. One pedestrian died.

As a pragmatic and sympathetic colleague stated, this accident could have happened anywhere. But should it be happening on Granville Island? Should we be allowing cars coming for a daily shopping trip to be accessing Granville Island? Should we be encouraging cars to be parking off site, developing a tram service, or upgrading bus service to the island?

Granville Island was created in 1915 by the Harbour Commission and morphed into a 37 acre island of dredged land. The history of the island and its industrial past is available here. Early tenants reflected the industrial history of Vancouver with the forest, mining, construction and boating companies located here, close to water access.

One of the earliest tenants, Ocean Cement which arrived in 1917, has a lease which expires in 2046. The island still retains some of its industrial past, and the open houses hosted by Ocean Cement are legendary for children of all ages.


As befits a working waterfront, Granville Island was developed without sidewalks, curbs or pedestrian amenities specifically to ensure that loading and unloading of cargo was not fettered.

Under federal jurisdiction, CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation)  manages Granville Island and has an advisory trust which provides guidance to CMHC’s Granville Island Office.  Towards the future, the Granville Island 2040 Plan will look at the uses for the next several decades, with an advisory committee chaired by Simon Fraser University’s vice-chancellor, Michael Stevenson. The recently announced advisory committee panel is a polyglot of passionate place makers in architecture, industry and the arts. As Dr. Stevenson notes:

Granville Island enjoys a world-renowned reputation as the epitome of successful mixed use development. Its future success is of great significance to the citizens of Vancouver as well as to our many visitors.”

As part of this visioning process the use of Granville Island for day tripping car traffic should be re-examined. While there is historic industrial traffic that will continue to serve the location, the 21st century should also reinforce sustainability, by having consumer and tourist traffic come by foot, bicycle and transit. For some reason the car has maintained  a 20th century dominance on Granville Island, with covered parking and open parking lots. Is it time for a more friendly reboot to active transportation and accessible convenient transit?