Cycling the Burrard Bridge northbound


Watch for bikesMy daily commute takes me east-west through Kits, but a large number of people commute north-south, mostly along the Cypress bike route and over the Burrard Street bridge. The controversial Burrard Bridge Lane Reallocation Trial has made travelling from Kits to downtown much easier and safer, but it still has some issues.

Heading northbound into downtown, there are four options: north-bound straight down Burrard St., east along 1st Ave. (turning north on Burrard), west along 1st Ave. (turning north on Burrard), or east bound along Cornwall to the bridge. All these approaches are along busy roads with lots of pedestrians, motorists, and other cyclists.

Last week I had to head downtown and videoed my trip over the bridge. It wasn’t a bad trip, but punctuated by a number of bad behaviours that discourage people from riding.

The first problem was something that happens all the time on Cypress: Two cars going around the “No entry, bicycles only” sign on Cypress just south of 4th Ave. The sign obstructs the south-bound lane, but cars routinely ignore it.

Ignoring no entry sign on Cypress
Motorists ignoring the “No Entry” sign on Cypress at 4th


No entry sign, Cypress bike route
The “No Entry Except Bicycles” sign

Surprisingly everyone was well-behaved at 1st and Cypress — unusual because this intersection is one where many cyclists blow the 4-way stop. The intersection of 1st and Burrard was more troublesome: as I was clearing the intersection on the yellow light, a vehicle coming in the other direction, and turning NB onto Burrard, didn’t yield.

No yield 1st and Burrard
Oncoming SUV runs red light, fails to yield

The next problem was two people walking their bikes in the bike lane on the bridge. Not sure why they were doing this — pedestrians are prohibited from the bike lane — but they didn’t cause much of a problem. Neither did the other pedestrian a bit further along the bridge.

Walking bikes in bike lane
Walking bikes in the Burrard St bike lane: prohibited pedestrians or permitted cyclists?


Pedestrian in bike lane
Pedestrian walking in the bike lane

The northbound bike lane occupies the full sidewalk and is separated from traffic by a line of concrete barriers. The lane is narrow as a result, and there are signs indicating no passing. This is fine in theory, until you get caught up behind some painfully slow traffic. This happened twice on my way over: once behind an older guy, who made some room for me to pass where the lane widens at mid-span, and once behind an electric scooter. Apparently considered “bicycles” according to the Motor Vehicle Act, I’m not convinced these things belong in the bike lanes. But on the other hand, this one was going about 10 kph, so I can understand not wanting to be in with regular traffic.

Electric scooter in bike lane
Electric scooter in bike lane

The biggest problem of the trip is what to do when you reach the northbound side of the bridge. If you want to connect to the Hornby St. separated bike lane (which also runs north-south) somehow you have to get from the Burrard bike lane, which ends up running along east-bound Pacific. Frankly I’m not sure how you’re supposed to do this. If you go along Pacific, you have a half block to cross two lanes of traffic moving in your direction to turn left up Hornby. There’s just not enough room and too much traffic to do this safely.

Your next option is to go along Pacific, then wait at the south corner of Pacific and Hornby to cross north. This isn’t a great option either since there’s not enough room to turn around at that corner, you get in the way of east-bound bike traffic, and you get in the way of north-bound bike traffic. The third option is to turn down the alley before Hornby, then short-cut through the E/W alley to turn up Hornby. This is the safest alternative, but involves going halfway down a decent hill only to have to turn around and go back up it.

2012 02 Burrard Bridge Northend
Map of north-end of the Burrard St Bridge. How to get to NB Hornby?

To make matters worse, there isn’t any good signage telling you what you should do. The only sign is one that points you down the alley and then points you towards the Seaside bike route — which is in the wrong direction.

Misleading arrow
Yeah, you actually want to turn left, not right

I’ve asked the City of Vancouver Bicycle Hotline ( what their recommended way for transferring from NB Burrard to NB Hornby, but after repeated requests, I’ve yet to receive a response.

At the very end of the video, watch the right-hook maneuver. An SUV decides at the last minute to turn right. However, the SUV has a red light specifically prohibiting that, and the bike lane has a green light specifically allowing the bikes to go straight through. Doesn’t bother the motorist in the least.

Right-hook Nelson and Hornby
SUV running red light, illegal right-turn, not watching for bikes

You can watch the video here:

What have your experiences been travelling northbound over the Burrard Bridge? Have you had many problems? Do you have any suggestions for improvements?

Last modified: February 28, 2012

18 Responses to " Cycling the Burrard Bridge northbound "

  1. Anonymous says:

    That’s a neat trick to get up Hornby. I’ve been going across, then stopping at the East corner to wait for the Northbound light.

    I eagerly await any advice on how to get onto Drake when going Southbound on Hornby. Though your thoughts are, of course, welcome, I would be even more interested as to how on Earth the City thinks a cyclist is supposed to deal with that right turn.

  2. hmm... says:

    This biker is not very smart. There is a bike box at pacific and hornby. Bikes can make a left turn onto Hornby and there is a left turn signal.

  3. hmm... says:

    The speed limit in bike lane is 15 km/hr. This biker is going 25-30 km/hr.

  4. Anthony says:

    @hmm… The bike box? Ha! Tell me how to safely get into the bike box with two lanes of heavy traffic from the bike lane. The bike box is for when traffic has stopped. When the light’s green, trying to get into the flow of traffic is impossible. The barricades end almost right at the intersection giving you no room to merge into the flow of traffic.

  5. James says:

    As someone who commutes by bike I find this video appalling and offensive by the rider’s behavior.
    Honking a sailing air horn at pedestrians doesn’t win hearts and minds of people in this city. Vehicles turning right have the right of way and vehicles or bikes turning left have to yield at lights. The other thing is that this aggressive behavior on the bridge was a little much as he was speeding. I see mopeds and scooters all the time there and they are there for safety reasons like everyone else so mellow out a bit I say. The road must be shared by all and more and more times we are seeing agro cyclists yelling at people in cars, pedestrians, skateboarders, bus riders and so on. Before Christmas a cyclist slammed his hand off the hood of my car because he thought I was too close to the bike lane. A simple jester would have sufficed but no he had to make a big scene. Sort of shocking. Cyclists have bike lanes all over this city. If anything it’s made it more dangerous for bikers because so many out of town commuters don’t get it. The north south burrard street bike lane is a killer. Literally. But cyclists are still using it even though there is a million dollar bike lane one block over. That the city paid for, but cyclists don’t use. My advise to this rider/kits blogger is that he should plan his trips better with more lead time so he’s not rushing, or get a bus pass, or get a scooter/car/motor cycle. And stop using the air horn! It’s embarrassing.

  6. Phil says:

    Thanks for posting Anthony. Here are my 2¢:
    A) Props to you for posting this and opening a discourse. As easy as it is to watch one example of a cyclist’s commute and criticize the choices they made on that day – I agree with a lot of what “James” said above^. I found your behavior very combative towards drivers (that jeep crossing Burrard had the right-of-way by the way) and not presenting a positive image of of cyclists <– perhaps this is not important to you, but it's important to me.
    B) As a daily cyclist, I significantly dislike the usage of air horns. I think it's aggressive, and actually potentially damaging to people's hearing. It's like firing a gun in the air, and I don't understand why they're necessary. That said, I'm curious why you choose to use it.
    C) I don't understand why stopping at hornby on the east side of the road and crossing north at the light isn't feasible. Sometimes there ends up being a queue of riders – but so what? Your alternate "alley route" seems odd to me – it makes so you have to climb a significant hill to re-engage Pacific.

    Overall, I agree there are some things about the North bound burrard cycle lane that bother me, but none of them were represented in this post. The thing that bothers me the most is that cyclists rarely if ever "bell" when passing, despite the close quarters. I always try to do this, and appreciate others who do likewise. Interesting you didn't give riders this courtesy in your commute Anthony.

  7. Bill Barilko says:

    As mentioned the cyclist in the video has some serious attitude problems, is woefully ignorant of the rules of the road and is just plain lazy as well.

    Small wonder cyclists have a poor name with meatheads blasting sailing horns @ people.

    Again-I live on the bikeway and travel the route a couple times a week/will again in a few hours-and while I’m aware of ‘issues’ the so called ‘problems’ as outlined by the author are largely of his own making.

  8. Anthony says:

    “Appalling and offensive” “serious attitude problems” “woefully ignorant of the rules of the road” “plain lazy” “meathead”. I’m the one with the attitude problem? Huh.

    Hey guys, guess what? I’m the cyclist here. If you’re going to make personal attacks you might as well direct them right at me.

    Comments on the air horn:

    It’s an air horn, yes. I used it 3x on this ride, all in the video. Probably more times I’ve used it than the whole month before. It’s not a “sailing horn”. It’s an Airzound bike horn. It’s about as loud as a car horn.

    I’m not going to apologize for using it. I have a bell on my bike and use it when appropriate. I use the horn in cases where I know a bell will not be effective (or heard). In each of the cases in the video, it was justified:

    1. Jeep turning right through yellow/red light at Burrard/1st without looking at me. The driver had not stopped at the yellow/red light (see below). She was turning into where I was going to be and still hadn’t looked at me. The horn got her attention and everybody was safe.

    2. Pedestrian walking illegally in the bike lane on the bridge, wearing headphones, in my direction of travel. Because of the road noise, and the fact that he had headphones on, I gave a small toot of the horn. It announced my presence and everybody was safe. There’s no way he would have heard a bike bell.

    3. SUV driver making illegal right turn against a red light without looking for bikes at Hornby and Smithe. Again, a bell would not have been effective here. Without the horn, there would have been some (ok, probably a lot) yelling.

    Comments on the Jeep at Burrard/1st:

    @james “Vehicles turning right have right of way” and @phil “that Jeep crossing Burrard had right-of-way by the way”:

    I suggest you watch the video again. The Jeep approached the intersection against a yellow light that turned red. The BC Motor Vehicle Act (I suggest you read it to back-up your claims in the future) says:

    “128. (1.) When a yellow light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal,
    following the exhibition of a green light,
    (a) the driver of a vehicle approaching the intersection and facing the yellow light
    must cause it to stop before entering the marked crosswalk on the near side of
    the intersection, or if there is no marked crosswalk, before entering the
    intersection, unless the stop cannot be made in safety”

    The BC MVA is hard to get online for some reason, but here’s a PDF version of it for your reference:

    The driver of the Jeep did not stop at the yellow (which turned red in the middle of her attempted turn). She clearly had time to stop — because she did after finally noticing my presence. Further, I was obligated to clear the intersection that I was sitting in. In no way at all did the Jeep have right-of-way.

    I will admit that I made the turn improperly, though. When turning left a vehicle should turn into the closest lane (ie the centre lane) and instead I headed directly for the bike lane. Thinking about it, I suspect it was done with the thought that when the NB traffic has the green light, it’s safer for me to be in the bike lane than the centre lane trying to get over to the bike lane.

    On “aggressive driving”:

    You will have to point out exactly what you’re talking about here, because I don’t get it. I stopped everywhere I was supposed to. I waited where I should have. I passed four groups of people: the guys walking their bikes on the bike lane, who I let know I was coming with an “on your left” call, the pedestrian walking in the bike lane who I let know I was coming as discussed above, the slow older guy on his bike who I didn’t pass until he moved over to let me pass where the lane widens mid-span, and the older guy on the electric scooter who literally *stopped* to let me by. For the two older guys on “bikes”, I would have kept behind them if they didn’t move over. I wasn’t riding their tails, wasn’t making aggressive moves to get around them, or ringing my bell or honking the horn. If you think what I did was aggressive, I can’t imagine what you think when you do seem something truly aggressive.

    So. Point out what you’re talking about, please.

    Other comments:


    C) I don’t necessarily think that it’s not feasible, but it’s definitely awkward, particularly when there are other cyclists waiting to head NB on Hornby. I must also admit that my perception of “awkward” is coloured by the fact that I often take this route with a Trail-A-Bike, so making a turn like that is physically awkward because of the extra length of the ride-along. I admit I don’t like going down the hill only to go back up it. Someone else asked why I didn’t cross Pacific just after the bridge and keep going up Burrard to Drake then over to Hornby. That might be a better route too.

    Final comments:

    Overall, I like discussion. But if you’re just going to bluster, rant, and name-call I’m not going to have much to do with it. If you have specific things you want to discuss, be specific. Point them out. Discussion about the use of the horn, for example, can be had without resorting to childishness.


  9. runDRD says:

    Best. Post. Ever.

  10. Alex P says:

    Nice stuff. I usually just stop at Pacific/Hornby when I want to go north, wait for the light to turn red, then enter the bike-box in front of the left turn lane, then go left once the light turns green, but I don’t have a trail-a-bike so I don’t know what that’s like.

  11. hmm. says:

    Yes agree, the bike box only works when there is a red light. Be patient and wait in the bike lane, then when light turns red, move into the bike box. Alternative, continue to cross intersection in pacific bike lane and wait in hornby bike lane. It helps to slow down when going through this area.

  12. Jason says:

    Airzounds rock! Tinkly little bells are pretty much useless in this city.

  13. Phil says:


    “In no way at all did the Jeep have right-of-way.”
    Apparently you feel justified in this viewpoint, because it construes to something in some BC road legislation. I simply disagree with you, and apparently the law. Whenever I’m making a left hand turn I let all opposing traffic, going straight or turning right, go first. The “amber moment” in an intersection is hazy, and my perspective on this is not which approach is “wrong” or “right”, but which is safest. Allowing the Jeep to proceed, based on what I can see in the video, is the safest option. And if there is concern about being caught in the midst of an intersection when the north bound green is activated – I find this is rarely an issue. Drivers waiting at the red see you, and I’ve rarely been at risk for a collision if I haven’t cleared on their green.

    re: horn
    Again, I simply disagree. I use a bike bell and use it often. Bells that are sufficiently audible are hard to find but I found one. Let me put it this way, and I do not regard this in any way as evidence to support my stance, but I’ve never met a cyclist that uses an airhorn that I liked. They’re usually combative, try to conform TOO MUCH to the rules of the road, which can actually cause accidents, and tend to yell at people. All-in-all, the answer is not loud sounds that keep you safe, it’s your own defensive riding decisions on the road. You’ll always run into some hummer-driving teenager with ear buds on who barely hears your airhorn, nevermind realizes it’s coming from an endangered cyclist.

  14. Bill Barilko says:

    To paraphrase an old saw-

    “There are old cyclists & there are righteous combative cyclists but there are no old righteous combative cyclists”.

  15. Phil says:

    @Bill Barilko:

    “There are old cyclists & there are righteous combative cyclists but there are no old righteous combative cyclists”.

    Actually Bill, in my experience, the middle-aged riders are the ones that are most combative, self-righteous and most apt to spew vitriol. I see it happen weekly. Do not cut off the Dads – they has RAGE!

  16. S. Morris Rose says:

    I was going to get an Airzound so I’d finally have a practical way to draw the attention of other road users, but if it costs me Phil’s love? Not sure now.

  17. Phil says:

    Glad it’s given you pause to think M. Sorris 🙂