Granville Island (GI) has been a wonderful place for locals and visitors alike since the 1970’s, when it was resurrected from a solely industrial place into a mostly people place. The time has come for another resurrection that goes way beyond a lick of paint and new lights.


Granville Island 2040 (big PDF), commissioned by the powers that rule GI (CMHC), looks broadly at GI’s present and way off into its future.  Some guy called Gordon Price is on the Advisory Board that guided this report’s creation.

I count 9 separate consultation initiatives, reaching around 10,000 people by a variety of means, and with varying degrees of intensity.

The big ideas:

  • Improve Access:  elevator to Granville Bridge, Alder Bay ped and bike bridge, Arbutus Greenway connection, streetcar, more ferry access, Anderson St. complete street
  • Expand the Public Market & create a market district
  • Embrace arts and innovation
  • Restore and sustain the public realm — central plaza, east end public space, floating platforms.

And the big challenges currently facing GI:

  • Demographic Change — GI is near the centre of Vancouver population growth, creating an opportunity to become a central focus for people if the right things are done right
  • Economic change — support the shift to tech, knowledge and creative economy
  • Climate change — vulnerability and mitigation.

For me, though, the most serious of these challenges is this one (below), which also carries the opportunity for the greatest improvement in peoples’ experience at GI.

Challenge:  Traffic Congestion & Parking

Granville.Island.2040Quote from Granville Island 2040:

The most serious of these challenges is the combination of the dominance of the private automobile as a mode of access to the Island, along with the traffic congestion and demand for parking that has accompanied the Island’s popularity.

The single largest use on the Island is now vehicular circulation and parking, which occupies over a quarter of current land use. These pressures threaten the freedom of movement across the entire public realm and the pedestrian-friendly character of the Island, and risk the further erosion of public space.

The extent of the transportation challenge is evident in public opinion, which is more or less equally divided between those who want to decrease or eliminate private automobile access and those who call for an increase in parking to facilitate their personal access to the Island. Despite the latter resistance, it is not possible to address the challenge of climate change or create new opportunities that respond to changing generational, cultural and economic interests without the reduction of automobile traffic and parking.

The questions facing Granville Island 2040 are, therefore:

  • How much and how fast can parking be reduced?
  • How best can the minimal necessary traffic and parking be managed?
  • What are the alternative modes of access to the Island which will substitute for private motor vehicles?


  1. My only concern with this plan is that separated pedestrian/bike path in the middle of Granville street. I would hope that this would be on the side of the bridge similar to the Burrard street bridge so that the bikeway/pedestrian path would connect to fir street and ultimately the arbutus pathway rather than going straight along Granville street. Granville street bridge has more lights and more topographic increase/decrease as you go up and down on the south entrance. While fir street off ramp maintains the elevation connects better to the arbutus path.

    1. What’s the advantage of having the centre platform on Granville? I only see disadvantages.
      Busses will have their doors on the wrong side, all pedestrians will have to cross an additional crosswalk, the views off the side of the bridge are minimised/interfered with. The elevator would have to be within the cross section of the bridge rather than outside… etc.
      This looks pretty amateur to me.
      The concept on the Alder Bay bridge looks like a real winner though. That will slice several hundred metres off the pedestrian connection to the Canada Line, and reduce the intensity of use at the causeway. Something similar that floats could also be useful on the west side of the island.

      1. Good plan in principle. Missing is a low level bike & ped bridge to the north side of False Creek. Granville bridge far too high and little ferries too expensive and too inconvenient. Elevator too gimmicky an idea.

        1. People sure are pretty quick to downvote a fairly reasonable idea, which I’d say is especially moderate of Thomas.
          Both the Burrard and Granville St. bridge were sized for the largest boats of their era. Since then, that traffic has disappeared along with most industrial traffic in False Creek. A bridge with moderate clearance and a opening span would be a boon for cycling traffic, peds and the island in general. It’s only approximately 150m to downtown at George Wainborne Park.
          The only bigger boats coming through are aggregate barges or tour boats. Sail boats can have folding masts. A bridge of say 10m clearence would be able to stay closed most of the time, and keep the height of the crossing down. I’d bet it’s probably not much more expensive than cutting a hole in the middle of the Granville Bridge and the construction an elevator tower. The span would be only ~150m shore to shore, or 66% the length of the Q2Q Bridge in New West that has been floundering in planning for years…

        2. The Cambie bridge is a low level bridge. It is still a climb, but a reasonable one. Better to spend the money improving conditions for people on bikes and people walking on that span. Improvements are slated to be coming soon.
          A low level bridge near Granville Island would interfere with tugs and barges, and potentially with police and fire boats, not to mention recreational boat traffic.
          An opening span is a nuisance. I recall sailing out of False Creek, from the fisheries dock near Granville Island, in a small daysailer, when the rail span was still in place. That boat was under 20 feet, with a 25′ mast IIRC, and still required the span to be turned to clear the mast most times.
          Granville Bridge climbs on the north end, but can help avoid the climb up the bank on the south end.
          Thomas mentions that the private ferries are expensive and inconvenient. We find exactly the opposite. They are cheaper than Translink buses, even more so if you buy strip tickets, and at Christmas those strip tickets go on sale so we buy for the year. We live opposite Granville Island, and use the Aquabus ferries regularly.

      2. A bike lane in the middle of the bridge allows people to get off the bus to the sidewalk without be hit by a bike

      1. I seem to remember an earlier elevator + spiral stairs proposal on both sides of the Creek that went up to a wide ped + bike path / deck placed in the girders below the bridge deck. The vertical & horizontal distances were much shorter than the one presented here, and it was completely separated from bridge traffic.
        Maybe that idea should be resurrected as a compromise between a costly low level bridge and the rebuilding of the Granville bridge deck.

  2. Interesting given the hue and cry over global warming here that reducing car access is at the top of your list, over mitigating climate change impact. It will be hard to ride your bike through the water.
    The “how fast can parking be reduced” comment is typical of the “raise the drawbridges” attitudes of many city residents. Transit from Cloverdale, Walnut Grove or Abbotsford will hardly be practical, ergo suburbanites are to be voted off this island!
    In over 25 years, I recall just the one traffic fatality. Granville Island is remarkable in how cars slow to the pedestrians’pace. The only exception is the entrance causeway, which should have speed bumps or rumble strips.
    I’d say a greater challenge is why it feels so dead at night, despite theatres and restaurants being an evening draw. The shops all roll up the carpet with hours more typical of a small town. Some CMHC managed residential rental (with no parking) would be appropriate.

    1. We lived a 5-minute walk away for ten years, and found that the traffic was a drawback to pedestrians. There was always something going on at night, from theatre, writer’s festivals, jazz festivals, restaurants, carol ship watching and hotel pubs and dancing. There is a distinct nighttime vibe there until about 10:00.
      I see the conversion of the buildings devoted to parking and also part of the significant open space to more market space, shops and cultural venues, and possibly a small park or larger performance plaza, would energize the place more and bring in more revenue. Finding alternative transportation isn’t hard.

      1. Come to think of it, a covered outdoor performance plaza on the west side of the island could animate the space year round. You needn’t take out more than half of the west parking lot to accomplish this.

  3. I am grateful that the GI Advisory Board has put the issue of automobile traffic front and centre. The situation with cars in GI has become dire, with cars parked on both sides of the roads, cars clogging the roads and pedestrians pushed out into the roads. I would like to see a minimal amount of commercial traffic/merchant /disabled parking available on the Island, with the remainder off island. There are currently a number of places to park on and around the new Armory district. Perhaps this could be expanded somewhat for visitors from the suburbs.

    1. While less or no cars would be ideal indeed, without other easy access the commercial traffic would collapse. Unclear why we cannot build a ped/bike bridge across to north side of False Creek. It would open occasionally for sailboats.
      It is a popular tourist attraction or when folks come from out of town, piling 3 to 5 to a car. Other easy access options have to be developed first before you ban cars. For example, a pedestrian path from Yaletown subway station over a low lying bridge not the massive walk over Granville or the expensive and slow ferries. The east bridge would help accessibility from Olympic Village subway stop.

      1. Your proposed low level bridge requires a clear span sufficient for barge traffic, and sufficient clearance. I am watching that stretch of water now. The stretch in front of George Wainborne park is where the aggregate barge is turned around (currently by a single tug) prior to docking at the cement plant. There is a steady stream of pleasure boats passing through, to places such as the Heather and Spruce Harbour marinas. that would require the bridge be opened. There is also a new marina expected to go in at the foot of Homer, next to George Wainborne park. When would you expect this bridge to be closed? It would only be useful to pedestrians occasionally, and certainly not on busy days.
        If there was to be a low level bridge, it could be from the Edgewater Casino over to the foot of Columbia. The boat traffic past that point is primarily human powered.

        1. So the needs of luxury items like sailboats are more important than the needs of the masses? How Vancouver of you.
          And that concrete plant should have gone years ago. Why CMHC signed such a long lease is mystifying.

        2. a floating bridge could be open for marine traffic at fixed times Not a perfect solution but better than the status quo.

        3. The mixed use, diverse amenities and industrial character of GI are its most attractive features. The fact that the concrete plant is located next to shops, offices and an art institute (now relocating) is very cool. Tourists are always taking photos of it. Ocean Cement is the major corporate leaseholder on GI and an important contributor to it’s economic success and popularity. They conduct tours of the plant which are a big hit for kids and adults alike. They even commissioned a cool mobile / sculpture which is on display at the plant entry, and hired artists to paint the big silos. There is nothing else like this combination of uses in one self-contained location in Canada, and probably anywhere else on the continent.
          The GI concrete plant is also uniquely situated to receive barges of raw aggregates while being very close to the huge demands for concrete in downtown. This was a top consideration when it won the contract for what was then Vancouver’s largest and longest (24-hour) continuous concrete pour for the deep foundations of the Shangri-La.
          If the concrete plant was closed down because it rubs a few people the wrong way, people who pretend they don’t live in a big city, then you’d may as well hand the island over to condo developers.

  4. The study notes that vehicular traffic is declining on Granville Island. Radical reduction of vehicular traffic could easily kill the retail.
    Bob asks why it’s so dead at night and the answer could be that more restaurants and venues are needed. The Tap & Barrel in the Olympic Village seems to do well. There’s room for something like this around the eastern side of the island. Maybe a Terra Breads café too.

  5. I find these two statements from the report hard to reconcile:
    From the report, page 27: “Contrary to public perception, there has been a 7% decrease in the number of people arriving by private vehicle, a 24% decrease in the actual number of weekday vehicles, and a 9% decrease in vehicles on a Saturday since 2005, all while the overall number of visitors to Granville Island has increased.”
    From the report, page 15: “The single largest use on the Island is now vehicular circulation and parking, which occupies over a quarter of current land use. These pressures threaten the freedom of movement across the entire public realm and the pedestrian-friendly character of the Island, and risk the further erosion of public space.”

    1. Maybe because most people have been born into a world where the noise, stench and carnage of cars was just the accepted norm. It’s hard to recognize awful when it’s all you’ve ever experienced.
      But now that we have hints and glimmers of a world with far far fewer cars, and more people have traveled to cities with vast car-free zones, we see the erosion of public space for what it is.
      There may be a decline in MV traffic on the island, but it’s still far far too dominant.

      1. Possibly. I wasn’t arguing that it was enough. I don’t own a car and would like to see fewer cars on GI.

  6. The elevator is a public grapping idea but raises issues with how to get to it especially with those coming from outside the city-ten million visitors to the island-one elevator ain’t going to do it. There is an $18 million dollar unused publicly built Olympic streetcar line by federal and city taxes that would do much to reduce car traffic on the island. The Olympic line is only a “midterm” prospect in the plan; yet it is capable of being up and running in months between Olympic Station and the present tram stop outside the Island entrance. There is even a relatively empty parking lot beside the Olympic Station that would encourage me to use the streetcar-I avoid the island now because of cars. Even better a streetcar loop on the island would provide easy access for people on the island instead of the hassle to get to the market etc with the current traffic. The plan also suggests future Arbutus connections and even promotes the Telus Science World extension on the preserved right of way sooner rather than later. But then common sense and practicality is probably not sexy enough.. and probably causes some anxiety in the subway crowd to Arbutus ( what difference is there between the Massey Bridge moving congestion to Oak Street and UBC students to Arbutus-but that is another discussion)..

    1. The ELEVATOR could provide access to the best bus service in Vancouver. No need for route 50 Much Improved transit at a lower cost .

    2. Good comments.
      The tram will probably start out as a tourist attraction, but when connected to downtown and the Arbutus corridor, I think GI will have found a reasonable way to displace a portion of the car traffic, enough to reconsider its current land use.
      I suggest GI could have the streetcar circuit you mentioned, possibly with reconditioned heritage Interurban cars, but it must also connect directly to the False Creek tram station at the entry (i.e. direct walk-off, walk-on service). CMHC should also finance the streetcar, make it free, and then it may find the return in new offices, shops and cultural facilities in buildings so inefficiently sheltering cars now will be great enough to offset the costs. The FC tram should be a low floor Eurotram with capacity to expand as demographics and ridership increase. It should have a fairly wide body to accommodate more passengers, and the transfer to the GI streetcar at Lamey’s Mill Road must be easy and well thought out for future expansion.
      It’s obvious the Broadway subway needs to be extended all the way to UBC with the ability to seamlessly reverse a ratio of trains at Arbutus. With the Network Effect, GI could attract even more visitors from afar via the then directly connected SkyTrain, Canada Line and tram systems without seeing much of an increase in car traffic.

  7. Brent Toderian just Tweeted this:
    “A space that wins design awards but doesn’t attract people is a failure. A place designers criticize but is filled with people is a success.”
    Granville Island is filled with people. The design, with the vehicles, is obviously a success.

    1. Norm Hotson and Joost Bakker won design awards for their then original adaptive re-use ideas, basically recycling the industrial assets and vernacular that existed for a century before. Since then GI has been awarded a rank as one of the top urban design destinations on the continent, and has attendance records that are the envy of every mall short of Pacific Centre. And it’s publicly owned.

      1. I don’t think their financial results are the envy of Pacific Centre. Pacific Centre is entirely driven by sales targets. Granville Island is not. Nor would I want it to be. They are trying to do different things so I don’t see the reason to compare them.
        From the report page 16: Economic activity at Granville Island is stable, but growth has levelled off. This situation poses long-term risks to Granville Island’s economic sustainability, and in order to address this, there are a number of current conditions that need to be taken into consideration, including: head-lease properties, increased competition, flat growth of Public Market sales, limited night-time activity, and the current inability to access financing to fund new development.

    2. Cars need to be dealt with. I don’t see huge reduction as being possible — or should I say palatable? — but tying the 9% reduction in traffic to a 9% reduction in parking spaces may be feasible. Note that GI has converted at least one significant building to indoor parking. Isn’t there a better return for higher value uses than dead storage space?
      Copenhagen reduced the parking in its downtown core by 3% a year for 40 years. In the end they had 100,000 m2 (25 acres) to play with. The Stroget pedestrian street system evolved from that policy. It’s a screaming success partly because they also built a decent metro system with several stations there.
      Those who criticize reductions in road space haven’t quite understood the geometry involved. One tour or city bus displaces up to 50 cars. Buses do not require the same amount of land to park on as 50 cars. Now, what about a tram line?
      In addition, the maintenance of allotted space for parking should never be estimated during peak capacity times. If you do that, then there will be an island with a humongous parking lot and no public market, shops or other buildings. Parking lots do not create human-scaled places that attract visitors.

      1. The shortage of parking is because its FREE. Improved pedestrian, transit & cycle access offers an alternative for those who don’t want to pay

        1. Yes eliminating free parking would be a good first step. The report does address parking pricing.

      2. Alex Botta:
        “Cars need to be dealt with. I don’t see huge reduction as being possible — or should I say palatable?”
        “Copenhagen reduced the parking in its downtown core by 3% a year for 40 years. In the end they had 100,000 m2 (25 acres) to play with.”
        Now there are two sentences I can’t reconcile.

        1. The key in both cases is incrementalism. I suppose “…palatable in one go” would be more accurate. GI could do three 3% reductions a year until 9% was achieved in 2020. Or simply renovate one parking building for offices, shops (whatever) and remove about 8% in one go and expect a larger reaction.

    3. “A space that wins design awards but doesn’t attract people is a failure. A place designers criticize but is filled with people is a success.”
      GI wins on both counts: design awards and attracting people. Metrotown wins on one. Is there an equation here?

      1. They have different owners (public vs private) with different goals and funding (government vs market-driven).
        They aren’t directly comparable as they serve different markets – niches vs mass market.
        The “count” that isn’t mentioned is profitability – so whereas GI is trying to find money for redevelopment, the owner of Metrotown, Ivanhoe Cambirdge, has lots of it. – I’d say that’s success on another count.
        But that’s the nature of a public enterprise (it’s not necessarily about making money).

        1. Of course. That was a reaction to an overly broad statement about design and use that didn’t make the distinction between public and private, let alone urban design quality.

  8. There is no reason the city and CMHC shouldn’t get together and build a paid parking structure just off the Island. The surface lot with the Honda dealer comes to mind. Then eliminate some of the on-island parking or convert it to handicapped for those with mobility issues. Get rid of the covered paid parking on-island and convert it to office or retail.

    1. That’s a good idea – along with the reinstatement of the streetcar.
      It would also eliminate the slow circling of the island to find spaces.
      Vehicle access should still be allowed for loading and unloading and deliveries.

      1. There may be numerous parking spaces available in nearby existing apartment building parkades. We didn’t own a vehicle for a decade when we lived there, yet we were entitled to an u/g parking spot not 5-minutes from GI. There are probably several condo and co-op boards and individuals who would jump at the chance to receive revenue from empty or little-used parking spaces, and probably an oversupply of employees who’d rent them. I know of several design firms that moved from GI, citing higher leases and lack of employee and client parking in peak hours as one of several reasons for their decision.
        I wonder if a long, skinny parkade could be incorporated over the tram station on Lamey’s Mill, perhaps pushed into the slope parallel to the Hemlock on-ramp columns. The façade treatment will have to be very creative / attractive with the tram function standing out from the parking structure.

    2. An off island parkade would probably cost about $50 k a stall before land cost. Charge market driven parking fees on island to find out if there is a market for it. A $10 parking fee is less than transit fare for 2 people

      1. Multiple-level u/g parking often exceeds $50K / stall. A above-ground parkade? maybe $25-30K.

  9. What % of vehicles parked on GI are owned by people who work there vs those who are paying customers. The first group would be there all day hogging spaces. The second group, whose cash makes the area viable, are in and out in a couple of hours.

    1. 300 staff and employee passes. The report, page 27, recommends eliminating them: A staff and employee parking policy should be implemented which should see a discontinuation of the existing 300 staff and employee parking passes which are in use today, reducing the demand for parking spaces on the Island by at least 25%.
      Of course staff can still pay the hourly rate of $3.50/hr but that seems unlikely to me.

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