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?



  1. +1 to this!!!!
    The business generated by all the additional space created by allowing many of the buildings to house people and shops and businesses instead of cars would likely pay for the parking garage off island, and the tram to boot!
    When is an island not an island? … when its basically a car park on a penninsula with a few shops around the edge and soon a school-shaped-void in the center. … lets get rid of the cars and *make granville island great(er) again*

    1. You need convenient access.
      If you take too many car stall out traffic will drop and business volume will drop.
      You must then compensate with easier access, i.e. a subway/train, and/or a low level bridge for easy access from across False Creek an/or or build more housing so people who live there will shop there.
      False Creek needs 2-3 low level bridges. Saliboats need to be de-prioritized.

  2. Granville Island gives people the sense that it’s a pedestrian zone but it really isn’t set up well for that.
    As happens in any “shared space” location, motor vehicles dominate by their nature. In this case they don’t even benefit from that. It’s awful to try to drive through the island.
    Lots of things could happen but making it easier and nicer to get to by other means is needed. The walking and cycling connections could be better. It’s now difficult to cycle to the island. Cycling on the island itself is bad. Walking to the island isn’t so good either but it’s a bit better.
    I think a parkade close to island (or even on it) and then just not have much car parking on the island would work. The small buildings currently used for parking could then be repurposed for other uses.
    What do others think?

    1. There already are parking lots near the island, but they can’t compete with the CMHC offering free parking on the island.
      You could do a lot of good just by charging market rates for parking. It would eliminate the incentive to do the conga line looking for free parking.
      Why not just ask car parks on (and off) the island to compete for use of space on the free market? Why do we pretend that land designated as “parking land” is special and doesn’t need to earn it’s keep like the land designated as “business land” or “home land”?

    2. I wouldn’t want to see any more increasingly valuable land in the area devoted to parking, which is essentially a very poor land use.

        1. As long as the people parking are paying to “go down” rather than the cost being absorbed into the building so that foot traffic subsidize auto traffic.

    1. The recently approved improvements to the South False Creek greenway will bring separated bike paths right up to Anderson St, under the Granville Bridge. During the consultations, bike access down onto Granville Island itself was discussed, but was deferred to the Granville Island authorities who were said to be working on a traffic plan.

      1. But, Jeff, you neglect to mention that at the “consultations,” disabled and seniors complained that they would lose their loading zone for wheelchair access and would have to dodge speeding cyclists flying by their front door.

  3. Another option would be to have on street parking on Granville Bridge. Maybe strip it in peak direction during rush hour. Still plenty of space for traffic even when the Granville Greenway is built.
    Then have elevators from the bridge deck to Granville Island that would also greatly improve walking and cycling access to the Island.

    1. ELEVATOR & A bus stop on the bridge would access the frequent & convenient BUS routes that cross the bridge. No need for route 50.

  4. I was astounded to learn that on this jam packed island, the CHMC proudly touts the availability of free parking.
    One has to wonder what portion of the constant conga line of cars is just looking for a spot.
    There is no reason for us to continuing subsidizing drivers on a piece of land that small, so dominated by foot traffic, and so close to tens of thousands of customers.

    1. Merchants would disagree with your rather one-sided view. You need convenient access. If you take too many car stall out traffic will drop and business volume will drop.
      You must then compensate with easier access, i.e. a subway/train, and/or a low level bridge for easy access from across False Creek an/or or build more housing so people who live there will shop there.
      False Creek needs 2-3 low level bridges. Saliboats need to be de-prioritized.

      1. For someone accusing another of being “one sided”, your logic is pretty one sided.
        So let’s see here, less subsidy for people in cars might lead to fewer people in cars visiting the island. No arguement here.
        But whether or not merchants would notice depends on whether people in cars currently represent 99% of their business or 9.9%. Without data, neither of us can win, but we can go for coffee one day and count cars and people if you’d like. My unscientific (and of course, biased) observations suggest perhaps 25%.
        Next up, your analysis implies there are precisely 0% of people in cars who would still come, by parking nearby and walking a few blocks. Again, no data, but we do have data on how short average car trips are and they are pretty short, on average.
        Finally, your analysis suggests that, presented with a much quieter, safer, and more pleasant island, not to mention one with more room for interesting businesses in what is now parking, precisely 0% more people might visit because it’s nicer.

  5. It was only a matter of time. Humans are not infallible, and with humans behind the wheel negotiating between groups of humans on foot in an often very crowded location, tragedy was inevitable.
    I got into a heated debate with a TA in a UBC design studio in the mid-80s about cars on Granville Island. She was in support of cars because they were (and still are 30 years later!) deeply ingrained into our culture. I was opposed for the very same reason, and felt then (and still do) that our culture has a few deeply ingrained flaws that must change for the betterment of society, car dependency being high on the list.
    I came back to the studio a week later with a map of GI with all the space devoted to cars (indoors and out, travel lanes and parking lots) coloured with a highlighter. Half the land area was plastered in pink. The TA became very quiet and stopped pushing her point when I asked her what value she would attach to so much land in one of the most popular regional destinations.
    A bit later we rented an apartment within a 5-minute walk of the public market, and I worked for a few years in a firm even closer. That was our car-free decade, and it was very illuminating to this urbanist of just how beneficial having all the necessities of life so close and accessible really is. People who live and work within a kilometre of GI don’t need a car, at least not for everyday use, considering the island’s locus in the transit, bike and pedestrian-rich inner city. It’s the tourists and suburbanites visiting GI who must drag their usually oversized personal cocoons of steel with them.
    The Granville Island Plan must look at the “pink” land as a resource that cannot be wasted to such a high degree on dead storage space for cars any longer. I suggest the Jan Gehl approach be taken where a program is initiated to slowly nibble away at the land devoted to cars, like what was done in Copenhagen since the 60s. Concurrent to this, transit, bike, pedestrian and private tour bus amenities can be incrementally beefed up.
    There is still some chatter out there about placing trams in the Arbutus corridor and the linked False Creek corridor through to downtown. The city scrapped that plan because of the lack of interest by TransLink to run it as part of the transit system, and because of the cost. Perhaps the idea should be resurrected as an alternatively funded mode of transport (i.e. seek a modicum of private funding from the BIA) throughout the inner city with the tram routes separated from traffic (e.g. placed in medians, boulevards or separate lanes outside of the existing corridor) as much as possible, making it more efficient than in mixed traffic, and connect it to all the major destinations, including Stanley Park, Canada Place and GI. Perhaps it’s run on a seasonal basis at first, or more lightly in winter. Again, incrementalism may be the best approach. With NE False Creek coming on-stream and the captive cruise ship passenger market already in place, there are tens of thousands of potential riders year round, albeit heavier in summer.
    Just a thought.

  6. The killing of an innocent – such a sad story.
    Yet many will call it an accident and even feel sorry for the driver. And the driver will go on to live. And to drive.
    To Live and Let Drive.
    Unless it can be proven that the SUV was defective, this killer shouldn’t drive anymore.
    What should be the penalty for someone that doubtless finds it a white knuckle activity to back up? How do you compensate for killing a 23-year-old?

  7. So sad.
    A subway under Granville, with a stop at or above Granville Island could eliminate cars altogether.
    A phased out car free Granville Island would make sense to me. Plus some housing even. Vancouver has to learn to build alternatives to cars, not just bike lanes.

  8. What about using the streetcar line from Olympic Village? It connects with the Canada Line and there’s a big old parking lot right there. All you need is the actual vehicle…

    1. It would cost about $15 million to finish the streetcar line to Science World, purchase 3 streetcars from Gomaco Trolley Company, and repair the damage done by vandals to the trolley infrastructure. Build platforms and extend the existing car barn.
      With 11 million people visiting Granville Island, Science World and points in between, the viability of such a line is beyond any reasonable question. At Cambie St. (Olympic Village Station on the Canada Line) there is a huge under-used, City-owned parking lot. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to connect the dots.
      The streetcars would be fully accessible for people with mobility challenges, and would also accommodate bikes, and strollers.
      Introduction of car-free days on Granville Island could start with three days a week–Friday (afternoon), Saturday and Sunday. Three days a week is about the maximum that could be expected by a system run by qualified volunteers, and it’s also the point at which TransLink would get involved, so it’s a great compromise. Cars will have access to Granville Island 4 days a week, and for 3 days, eventually including holidays and special events, access will be by pedestrian, bike and tram.
      See the Facebook page “Friends of the Olympic Line / Vancouver Civic Railway” for more details of this idea.

      1. What about shoppers in personal vehicles to the market, the Lobster Man, Bridges, the Hotel, the boat yard and other commercial and artists businesses? All exempt? All closed? What does the hotel tell visitors from Victoria or Seattle, sorry, park somewhere else, then take transit, then walk?

        1. We already have Mobi bike share. Are there stations on Granville Island? How about valet parking service at entrance to Granville Island? How about pedicab service for hotel guests? People will come from Seattle and beyond just to experience a car-free space in the heart of Vancouver. How about cargo bike delivery service for market patrons? Tram should go around the island and be free of charge. This could be huge.

        2. Yes Arno, people are clamouring for a car free space. Is this why Granville Island is always packed with people? Because nobody wants to go there as it is? I was there earlier today, by car, parked and shopped. Loads of people everywhere. Bridges had a line-up waiting for a table on the terrace. The children were playing in the park. Tourists were taking selfies and snaps of each other. The seagulls were very happy too.
          As some elitist once said, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s far too crowded”.

        3. How about cargo bike delivery service to where they park or to the valet parking service. Kits Farmers Market had cargo bike delivery service to where the people lived. GI could do this for nearby residents who cycle, walk or take transit.
          And car free does draw huge numbers of people. Look at car free days for Commercial, Main, Denman, Kits. I’m looking forward to car free Water Street, Robson, Davie and Denman. And Granville Island.

        4. “As some elitist once said, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s far too crowded”
          Wait, Yogo Berra is elitist?
          I’ve never seen more people on Granville Island than on Canada Day. They had set up several extra Bike Valet services. And cars were being restricted from accessing the island, as there were too many people filling the streets. There is a lesson there, and it isn’t that free parking is essential for merchants to be successful.

        5. Well, well, well, Jeff Leigh bought the recent legend. Some people are so sports oriented and so hip.
          Quote Investigator: Berra has stated on multiple occasions that he did make this remark, and detailed citations for this claim are given further below.
          Yet, this joke has a long history, and it was already circulating before Berra was born. A thematic precursor about parties was published in 1882 in a London periodical called “The Nonconformist and Independent”. The comedy hinged on the impossibility of all the guests delaying attendance until all the other guests had already arrived:
          “I’m afraid you’ll be late at the party,” said an old lady to her stylish granddaughter, who replied, ” Oh, you dear grandma, don’t you know that in our fashionable set nobody ever goes to a party till everybody gets there?”
          The earliest strong match known to QI was published in December 1907 in a New York newspaper humor column called “Sparklets”. The creator of the joke was unidentified, and the person delivering the punchline was also not named.
          Ambiguous, Yet Clear—Oh, don’t go there on Saturday; it’s so frightfully crowded! Nobody goes there then!”
          In the ensuing days, months, and years the jest was reprinted with minor alterations in other papers such as “The Philadelphia Inquirer” in Pennsylvania. 3 4 It was still circulating in 1914 when the same text was printed in the “Middletown Daily Times-Press” of Middletown, New York. 5 Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who identified this primal version and located other valuable citations.
          Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
          In 1941 Hollywood gossip columnist of Paul Harrison spoke with a comedian named Rags Ragland who claimed that his girlfriend, Suzanne Ridgeway, used a version of the quip. However, it was possible that Ragland was simply providing entertaining fodder for Harrison’s newspaper readers by recycling an old joke. Boldface has been added to excerpts.
          For laughs off the set, Rags goes around with a flutter-brained cutie named Suzanne Ridgeway. He says he took her to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl the other night, and as they inched their way up the ramp with the throng she remarked: “Now I know why nobody ever comes here; it’s too crowded.”
          In 1943 “The New Yorker” magazine published a short tale titled “Some Nights When Nothing Happens Are the Best Nights in This Place” by the journalist John McNulty whose lauded literary style was distinctive. McNulty included an instance of the expression.
          Johnny, one of the hackmen outside, put the whole thing in a nutshell one night when they were talking about a certain hangout and Johnny said, “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”
          Also in 1943 the joke was assigned to an archetypal Irishman in a column by a sportswriter in a Pennsylvanian newspaper.
          “Speaking of places did you see that one about the Irishman who says ‘No one goes to Murphy’s saloon anymore because it’s too crowded.’
          “If you don’t get that one on the first hop it’s not the fault of the gag.”
          In January 1961 the columnist Earl Wilson indicated that the jest was still being used by comedians such as Ukie Sherin.
          Appearing at the Losers Club in Hollywood, Ukie said, “No wonder nobody ever comes in here — it’s too crowded.”
          In April 1962 the joke was assigned to Yogi Berra in the pages of the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Ohio.
          A Yogi Berraism: At Ft. Lauderdale Yogi was listening to his teammates talk about a restaurant in the area. Said Yogi, “Aw, nobody ever goes there. It’s too crowded.”
          In 1963 the gag was ascribed to Berra again, but a detail of the story was changed; the restaurant was in New York instead of Ft. Lauderdale.
          New York Yankee coach Jim Hegan attributes this story to Yogi Berra, the new resident genius of the Bombers.
          Berra was asked if a certain restaurant in New York was as popular as ever. “Naw,” quoth Yogi. “Nobody ever goes there anymore — it’s too crowded.”
          In 1984 the writer Roy Blount Jr. published a profile of Berra in “Sports Illustrated” magazine, and he inquired about the history of the well-known quip.
          “How about the one about the restaurant being so crowded nobody ever goes there?” I asked. “You didn’t really say that, did you?”
          Yogi smiled. “Yeah! I said that one,” he assured me.
          “You did?” I said. “About Charlie’s in Minneapolis?”
          “Nahhh, it was about Ruggeri’s in St. Louis. When I was headwaiter there.” That would have been in 1948.
          “No,” said Carmen, “you said that in New York.”
          “St. Louis,” Yogi said firmly.
          So there you are.
          In 1996 a journalist named Joe Sharkey spoke to Berra and printed his comments about the saying in “The New York Times”.
          We were stalled in crosstown traffic. Mr. Berra glanced at a restaurant awning on 50th Street and recalled something he once said about a nightclub. “That place, it’s so crowded nobody goes there anymore.”
          Mrs. Berra shook him off. “No, you said, ‘It’s so popular nobody goes there,’” she said.
          “Right, popular,” he agreed, and tossed out another one: “Thank you for making this day necessary.”
          In 1998 Berra published “The Yogi Book” which discussed many of his celebrated remarks, and the volume included a date and setting for the joke under investigation.
          Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
          I was talking to Stan Musial and Joe Garagiola in 1959 about Ruggeri’s restaurant in my old neighborhood in St. Louis. It was true!
          In conclusion, the earliest instances of this remark were anonymous. The comedians Rags Ragland and Ukie Sherin employed the quip, as did the writer John McNulty. In addition, there is some evidence that Yogi Berra employed the joke, but in all cases the jest was already in circulation.
          More detailed citations, with specific references, available upon request.

        6. Eric: no problem if you are referring to some person who said it prior to Berra, but please make sure your cited refence is an elitist, otherwise it won’t make sense.
          The real issue is that with all those words of response, you completely skipped over the observation that the day with restricted motor vehicle traffic was the day with the most visitors. Just like Car Free day on the Drive, as referenced above. It is almost like you are avoiding the point.

        7. Jeff, your apologies are always accompanied with a slap in the face. It’s so tiresome.
          If the real issue, for you, is your Canada Day joy of getting a Canada Day crepe with maple syrup and flag on top after parking you bike for free, then why did that become the secondary subject in your retort. I presume you got your maple leaf tattoo too.
          Is that what your angling for, Canada Day fun on the island 365 days a year?

        8. I don’t have any opinion on crepes, maple syrup, flags, or maple leaf tattoos, but if it means fewer cars, more people, and thus more business for merchants, then yes, by all means, let’s have it all year. And not just on Granville Island.

  9. And then extend that to Main Street Station on one end (and into downtown too) and to UBC on the other? The technology would be a little more LRT than streetcar to serve this purpose.

      1. Until Labour Day. But there are also greatly increased and more visible bike racks, and loaner locks from participating stores, and bait bikes, and Project 529 registration. Good progress.

  10. My kids took an architecture class at the Arts Umbrella three years ago. Not once did we take the car onto the island – are you crazy – it’s bumper to bumper carstrophobia.
    To think of the parents, siblings, friends of this 23-year-old – crushed to death. How will they cope? The motorist killed someone in their prime and caused a lifetime of pain for those who remain.
    If it happened to one of my kids I’d be inconsolable.
    Here we are quacking about such trivia; bowing down to Motordamnation.

  11. Granville Island would be sooooo much more appealing as a car-free destination. It’s annoying as a pedestrian having to deal with the endless traffic. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for the poor folks stuck in the vehicles.

  12. Why is the city denying the original plan that Al Clapp had to have streetcars provide the transit necessary to get on and off to Granville Island for tourists and citizens? Why would a successful Olympic line be abandoned to weeds despite the 18 million dollars spent to rehabilitate it and the ten million visitors/local residents who would use it to Granville Island? I avoid going to the Island because it is so car oriented and transit deficient..The line connected with the Olympic station, why does it not still? Is the real estate industry so powerful for Vision re the ridiculous Broadway subway that stops at Arbutus? And when will Thomas ever realize what the cost is to build a subway and then maintain it with taxpayers money?

  13. “Granville Island, for People or for Cars?” — Sandy, when did cars and people become mutually exclusive? They are not, you know.

  14. Granville Island works just fine, as it is.
    Some drivers avoid it and others clearly don’t.
    One way to quickly kill the retail would be to restrict motorized traffic.

  15. It just seems so clear to me- a walking, bicycling, shopping Granville Island. Traffic and parking feels so out of place there. The logical and best solution is to make the whole zone all “no-monitor vehicles.” To imagine it would hurt business is just doom and gloom thinking and living in fear of the unknown. It has been proven that life and commerce go on when you remove cars from public life. Even in our city and culture – it will succeed. It doesn’t take courage it just takes clarity and optimism.

    1. Cars move people. If you provide no access alternative people will go elsewhere. Business will drop. As such you must provide other convenient access methods or more people on the island.
      Maybe we should just ban cars and oil together and see how long Vancouverites like that.
      It is all fine and dandy to make car use more miserable. However, alternatives ought to be provided. THAT is the critical element missing, not just on Granville Island but also elsewhere in Vancouver or N-Van.

      1. #50 bus runs every fifteen minutes right past the entrance to Granville Island and connects with both the Canada Line and the Expo line Skytrains. That feels pretty convenient to me. You can pretty much count on getting a seat. And it’s not at all wobbly!!!! 🙂
        There is an alternative. It goes unused for the large part. Make of that what you will.

        1. Buses are NOT alternatives that too many people that are used to car convenience will consider !
          Why ?
          a) It is as slow as a car, or usually much slower due to too many bus stops and being stuck in traffic.
          b) It is often too hot in the bus.
          c) You have to wait by a busy road, on schedules that are not all that reliable.
          d) You have to share seats with strangers. Not everyone likes that.
          e) You can’t easily store stuff while you do multiple stops / run errands.
          f) It is too expensive if you go with 4 or more people.
          That is why ALL successful malls are either on a subway/LRT/SkyTrain or have ample free parking, e.g. Oakridge, Pacific Center, New Airport Mall, new Tsawassen Mall, Brentwood Mall, Loughheed Mall, Metrotown, Park Royal, etc. …
          You want to kill the mall idea on Granville Island then go ahead and eliminate free parking without convenient alternatives.

        2. I don’t think anyone is saying to get rid of parking, just that the present situation there isn’t working so lets see if parking could be done another way. Any car-free area needs places to park near it.
          And for people who can’t get in on the car thing, buses are libration and mobility.
          Not everyone can drive a car.

        3. There is no such thing as free parking. I’m paying for it every time I have a coffee, muffin, beer, dinner or go to a performance. But I didn’t drive a big hulking menace to the island. I’m paying for someone else’s.
          Thomas, could you please have some consistency in your pay/parking strategy?

      2. Car use on Granville Island is currently miserable. Providing a place to park, then walk could make it a better experience driving to there.

        1. Then fine; don’t drive there. You can cycle there if you want. Nobody minds. If I want to go there for lunch or to pick up some bread at Terra and some seafood at the Lobster Man, then maybe a card or notebook at PaperYa and some wine at Liberty, I will drive. Lunch at Dockside and the Sandbar and art supplies at Opus all are easiest for me, and many thousands of others, by vehicle.
          You can bike, I sometimes do too if I’m not shopping but I’ll usually drive and everyone’s happy.

        2. Thinking the dead 23 year old and her family mind the problematic conditions too many motorists bring with them to this ostensibly pedestrian-ized place.

  16. The tragic irony is that Granville Island is actually a place where cars exist but take second place to pedestrians. How many times here have posters advocated for “slow streets”? Well Granville Island is the slowest of the slow and motorists don’t have any wish to go faster with so many walking by. What seems to have happened here is operator error, as in someone hitting the gas instead of the brake. I would be interested to know the details of the driver’s age, experience etc. In a few years autonomous tech will make such an accident unthinkable.
    As to transit I know a couple South Granville seniors who drive to the island because carrying bags on foot is not possible and even lugging them onto transit (2 busses) is difficult. Ideally there would be a parking structure just outside the Island, maybe where the Honda lot is, and pay parking all over the Island. Even better would be the streetcar the NPA proposed to get running in 2011 for $100 million (coincidentally the estimated total cost of the leisure use Arbutus Greenway).

  17. Speed limit on Granville Island is 30 km/h, same as a residential street. Unless it’s congested, people try to go that speed in my experience of 2/3 trips a week down there, and yielding to pedestrians is not a given.
    Sadly, Coast Mountain discontinued the community shuttle that went all the way into the Island proper from Granville and Broadway. That was a mistake in my opinion, but no doubt a result of the funding issues they face while mega-bridges are given blank cheques.

    1. Default speed on all urban streets is still 50 km/hr in spite of repeated requests from municipalities to be allowed to set a lower default limit. Speed limit on Granvlle Island is not obvious. I looked at Street View and only noticed a weird circular sign with 30 km/hr on the entrance road but I am not even sure if that is a legal speed limit sign.

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