After years of talk, one of the most precarious bike and pedestrian routes on the North Shore is about to get an upgrade.
Starting in March, Park Royal, the Squamish Nation and the District of West Vancouver will be going to work on the Welch Street Bridge to add a safety barrier and 3.5-metre-wide shared pathway connecting North Vancouver and West Vancouver portions of the Spirit Trail.
While the work continues until August, pedestrians and cyclists will still have access the bridge, but vehicle traffic will be reduced to single-lane alternating, meaning the bridge won’t be a viable sneak around Marine Drive traffic for much of 2021.
The developers of Park Royal built the bridge in 1976 to provide access to the mall on land leased from the Squamish Nation. But with a very narrow sidewalk on just one side and no separation from traffic, it gained a nasty reputation for close calls for anyone walking, pushing a stroller or riding a bike.
Park Royal agreed to make improvements to the bridge as part of the addition of new residential towers to the former White Spot site. At the time, cycling advocacy group HUB North Shore called it the district’s “most dangerous roadway.”
In 2017, West Vancouver council agreed to chip in $700,000 from community amenity contributions related to Onni’s Evelyn project. That was later negotiated down to $500,000 out of the $2.4 million total budget.
The project has been delayed several times since then, but is now being welcomed by members of the Xwemelch'stn (Capilano 5) community, said Chris Lewis, Syeta'xtn, Squamish Nation council member and spokesperson.
“We're really pleased that this project is moving forward,” he said. “This file did come to council numerous times and there was our desire for us to ensure that the safety of our residents and our community members were top priority along with people utilizing the bridge.”
West Vancouver Mayor Mary-Ann Booth said the upgrade will have benefits for communities on both sides of the bridge.
“Really, this is the missing link in the Spirit Trail,” she said. “For me, it's pivotal because it really does link our town centre to the City (of North Vancouver)’s town centre of Lonsdale. I really think it's an exciting development, both in terms of recreation, but also in terms of economic development and attracting visitors.”
Booth said she always gets off her bike and walks that section of the trail precisely because it is so dangerous.
“It's a bit hairy,” she said.
The span has gone by many names over the years, including Wardance Bridge, Welch Street Bridge, Bridge Road Bridge, and it is mostly referred to around Xwemelch'stn as the White Bridge, Lewis said. When the project is complete, it will likely bear a new official name that appropriately reflects the Squamish culture and language, he added.
The nation is also working with Park Royal to see that members are given opportunities for contracting on the bridge work.
Also part of the project, contractors will replace the bridge’s expansion joints and repave the deck, add a dedicated right-turn lane for drivers on Park Royal South headed eastbound on the bridge and rebuild the staircase leading to the river, so Squamish members can continue to practise their traditional fishing methods.