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One Last Loop

January 21, 2009

We’re down to the last loop on the Granville Street Bridge.


Now that a City report is recommending the reconfiguration of both loops at the north end of the bridge, only the southwest loop (lower left above) will remain.

Opened in 1954 at the height of the post-war infrastructure boom, the Granville Bridge was vastly overscaled for its purpose.  This high-elevation eight-lane structure would never reach its design capacity unless the feeder roads to it were likewise enlarged. 

But back then, they presumed that the city would be rescaled for the car, so they built freeway-style cloverleafs at both ends.

In 1997, the Pacific Press building, a bland modernist box squatting on the block just above the southeast loop, was acquired with the intent to build what is now the Portico condo complex.  The City took the benefit moneys to develop an adjacent park, requiring the removal of the loop.  Vehicles now have to make two right turns to get on to the bridge from Fourth Avenue.


The landscape architects retained the memory of the curving on-ramp in their design of a pathway between the tennis courts and water feature.


The changes at the north end will be even more dramatic.  Here’s the current situation:



When the loops are removed, the blocks will be subdivided, squared up, and sold as development sites.  To eventually look like this:


Several new streets will be created:


Tilly Rolston, after whom the streets are named, was the first woman cabinet minister in British Columbia, given the Education portfolio by Premier W.A.C. Bennett.

Most of the land is currently under asphalt, mainly a parking lot for a taxi company.


The city-owned Continental currently serves as social housing, to be replaced as part of the redevelopment.


It’s not quite clear how pedestrian linkages and bikeways will work to connect Granville Street to False Creek – but the changes will be far superior to the near-impenetrable barrier there now.


Another sign that we are in a post-Motordom city, reversing the insensitivities of the era when the car was king and the pedestrian an interloper.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. helen permalink
    January 22, 2009 8:54 am

    Great post, a nice overview of the past, present & future.

  2. January 22, 2009 11:18 am

    The top photo is truly startling. The area is built up with towers now and so the scale of the bridge, in particular its height, doesn’t seem quite so bizarre. But in that picture: wow.

    More old photos please!

    One more tidbit. I really like that park they created where the southeast loop was. On the other hand, the southwest loop is somewhere I really can’t imagine myself doing anything other than walking through to go somewhere else. It’s amazing how much difference a little tweak, a playground and a few tennis courts can make.

  3. Rod Smelser permalink
    January 22, 2009 12:42 pm

    On the north side, what is the new route from Pacfic Ave to Granville southbound, and from Granville northbound to Pacific westbound?

  4. Ron C. permalink
    January 22, 2009 1:21 pm

    Three rights turns – you would use the new alley called West Rolston.

    My concern is that it looks like Pacific is narrowed to two westbound lanes (from the current three) to provide additional land for redevelopment.
    That would really clog up the area – since the left lane is clogged by left turns onto Howe and Hornby into the Beach Neighbourhood (Beach Ave. is blocked under the Granville Bridge so there is not alternate access from the east). With the right lane being the major “thru” lane, cars making the right turn, right turn, right turn movement on East Rolston from the northbound Granville Bridge to westbound Pacific will be backed up all around that block. Not a pleasant place to have a condo.

  5. Rod Smelser permalink
    January 22, 2009 2:22 pm

    “Not a pleasant place to have a condo.”

    I recall saying something like that about ten years ago concerning a then new, four-storey condo building that is basically located on the remaining cloverleaf loop on the SW side of the Granville Bridge, and more or less underneath the southbound ramp from the bridge to Broadway. I recall being told that there is no such thing as a bad location in Vancouver!

    Obviously, the City’s real concern here is not better transportation, but to get more developable land that is paying property taxes. The notion that there is such a thing as public infrastructure which increases the utility/productivity of private properties, but which is not in itself costless, is too much for the urban property maximizers. It’s their single-minded determination that every possible square inch must be private, tradable property generating land rents for their owners, and some taxes to the City. It’s like something out of the 17th Century.

  6. John Wilson permalink
    January 23, 2009 7:15 pm

    Why are they naming it “Rolston Way”? Downtown Vancouver is almost all street, except for the occasional Boulevard, Avenue, Road, Drive or Crescent.

    Drake Street
    Davie Street
    Helmcken Street
    Nelson Street
    Smith Street
    Robson Street
    Georgia Street
    Dunsmuir Street
    Pender Street
    Hastings Street
    Cordova Street
    Water Street

    So…it should be Rolston Street.

    Street is urban. Street is downtown. The term “way” is always used in bland curvilinear suburban office/industrial parks, and that’s what it reminds me of.

    If not Rolston Street, then Rolston Avenue would be my second choice.

  7. Sungsu permalink
    January 23, 2009 7:32 pm


    I think it will be West Rolston Street, East Rolston Street, and Rolston Way. I agree, however, that Rolston Way could easily be Rolston Avenue.

  8. John Wilson permalink
    January 23, 2009 7:56 pm

    These new buildings will be an excellent opportunity for the city to get some much needed iconic architecture. They will be like the gates to downtown. The city should recognize this and should really push for some great 21st century modern architecture.

    It doesn’t need to be Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid, just give us something more interesting than the bland forgettable architecture that Vancouver has already filled itself with.

  9. John Wilson permalink
    January 23, 2009 8:02 pm

    Why does there need to be a Rolston Way at all? If there’s going to be West Rolston and East Rolston, I think that’s enough Rolston. It’s actually so much Rolston that it will be confusing.

    If we are honouring Tilly Rolston, why not name it Tilly Street?

  10. January 23, 2009 9:19 pm

    Knowing nothing about this but what you’ve posted here, I absolutely love the North side plan! Here in San Francisco, I’m quite sure those massive blocks would be devoted to buildings with equally massive footprints. I’m all for dividing large blocks to create new streets. It’s just always a good decision!

  11. January 26, 2009 12:58 pm

    This is an excellent example of returning towards a context, place, and pedestrian-sensitive solution. If only more cities would follow Vancouver’s lead and see the value of placemaking over road building.

  12. January 26, 2009 1:34 pm

    I think that final southwest loop needs to be taken out, along with those off-ramps on the south side. They really encourage speeding in a high-density, residential neighbourhood. I wrote an article about it last July in Re:place:

  13. Rod Smelser permalink
    January 26, 2009 2:07 pm

    “These new buildings will be an excellent opportunity for the city to get some much needed iconic architecture.”

    John, it’s not my imporession that condo projects are designed by well-known architects. While the name of an architectural firm may appear on the permit application billboard, I really don’t think they have much of a role. Most condos are finished in the same way as today’s suburban subdivision, using the currently fashionable materials and colours, so that in five years time they will look dated and the new product will stand out from the crowd!

  14. Rod Smelser permalink
    January 26, 2009 2:09 pm

    “I think that final southwest loop needs to be taken out, along with those off-ramps on the south side.”

    I was waitng for this demand. Thanks, Transit Fan, I just made five bucks!


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