How the Lions Gate Bridge Counterflow Works

Lions Gate lane control
Lions Gate Counterflow Lane

Ever wonder how we manage the Lions Gate Bridge lane control system? Let us explain.

Watch our animated explainer video on YouTube:

WHO IS INVOLVED?

Miller Capilano Highway Services, our local maintenance contractor, monitors more than 40 cameras on the bridge and surrounding roads and manages the lane control operations, all from the Transportation Management Centre of British Columbia (TMCBC). Two crew members are also stationed at either side of the bridge between 6 am and 10 pm, helping clear vehicle incidents, stalls and debris from the bridge as safely and efficiently as possible. They also help with traffic support for emergency services when needed.

Now that we’ve got that straight, let’s talk about counterflow timing…

WEEKDAY MORNING OPERATIONS

During the weekday morning commute at 6 am, we provide two lanes southbound on the Lions Gate Bridge for morning commuters. At the same time, the City of Vancouver provides an extra southbound lane on Georgia Street to help with the flow of traffic. With a quiet and less congested downtown, southbound commuters can flow steadily over the bridge and continuously into the city.

At around 9:30 am, the City of Vancouver removes the extra lane on Georgia Street. At the same time, we provide two lanes in the northbound direction on the bridge.

Lane control overview Lions Gate Bridge
Lions Gate Lane Control overview

WEEKDAY AFTERNOON/EVENING OPERATIONS

After the 9:30 am switch over, the lane control operations on the bridge becomes dynamic, which means the lane operators choose the direction of the middle lane based on how traffic unfolds.

After 3 pm, we generally have the centre lane open in the northbound direction. At the same time, we need to make sure southbound vehicles waiting to get into Vancouver from the North Shore don’t spill onto Highway 1, causing safety issues. And that’s why we dynamically change the direction of the centre lane throughout the day.

RISING TO THE CHALLENGE FOR EMERGENCY RESPONSE  

Here’s the challenge: When two lanes are provided for northbound traffic, the North Shore can easily disperse commuters with two separate major routes and Highway 1. But for the rest of the day, and into the evening, southbound traffic faces a busy downtown Vancouver with an active downtown core – with traffic lights, pedestrians and overall congestion. This slows down traffic through Stanley Park Causeway and onto the bridge, quickly clogging the centre lane throughout the corridor.

If the southbound traffic continues without intervention, the congestion, which begins at Denman Street, will quickly reach the Stanley Park Causeway and clog the centre lane with bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way back through the Causeway, eventually reaching the bridge.

This heavy traffic can be challenging to manage in an emergency. This scenario creates a significant increase in the amount of time it takes to clear the centre lane compared to when traffic is free-flowing.

Emergency responders are a priority; it’s important the centre lane is easily accessible so responders can get across quickly to their destination. If the centre lane is clogged, they are not able to get across in a timely manner. Emergency personnel communicate with operators to coordinate crossing times. By monitoring and ensuring the centre lane doesn’t reach the point of bumper-to-bumper traffic, the centre lane can be cleared quickly for emergency vehicles.

WEEKDAY OVERNIGHT OPERATIONS

During weekdays, the centre lane of the Lions Gate Bridge is closed from 12 am to 6 am so emergency services can easily cross the bridge without having to wait on operators. Due to the lower volumes of traffic, this procedure does not cause delays.

WEEKEND OPERATIONS

During the weekend, the Lions Gate Bridge lane control operations are managed dynamically throughout the day and evening. Operators change the lanes based on volume in either direction, making sure the centre lane is never too clogged and ready when it matters most.

So, there you have it! The rhyme and reason to the Lions Gate Bridge lane control system. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.

21 comments on “How the Lions Gate Bridge Counterflow Works”

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  1. We experienced a very scary incident at around 6-30 pm January 1st. Someone made a huge error switching the lane change lights on the lions gate bridge. Travelling north we appeared to have 2 lanes north because we had 2 green arrows in our direction. As we turned the curve we noticed at the last minute the barriers were down already blocking our path but the lane signals were still green indicating 2 lanes northbound. Stopping abruptly we managed to avoid running into the barriers. . How could this happen. Within a couple of seconds the light changed to amber. Very quickly the centre lane changed back to 2 lanes northbound. South bound vehicles were given no amber warning and i have photos of southbound vehicles desperately forcing into one lane as as northbound traffic was heading straight for them

    Reply
  2. Hello,

    I am interested in creating a widget for iOS and Android devices, that will show the current counterflow operation on the bridge. Thanks for providing the information on http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/ATIS/lgcws/ and the regular schedule of operations , but is it possible to get closer to real time notifications in another format?

    Thank you.

    Reply
  3. I often try to time my afternoon trip home to the North Shore with what I think coincides with two northbound lanes. I get the impression that it’s 2 lanes northbound from around 3:50 to 4:15 and again about 4:40 until after 5:00. I know that there is a need to remain “dynamic”, but do you have regular target time periods when it’s two lanes northbound? I HATE getting stuck in traffic when it’s only one lane northbound.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Brad – thanks for your message. We have sent it to our team who oversee the counterflow on the bridge and will let you know what we hear back.

      Reply
    • Thanks for following up with us Brad. Sorry for the delay. Here’s what we heard back: Between 3-7 pm, northbound traffic receives priority. The southbound traffic will get 2-3 opportunities (this can vary depending on conditions) to have 2 lanes in their direction which lasts between 5-15 minutes. It is entirely dependent on the congestion levels on either side of the bridge to determine when a lane change will be made. Which in turn, does not allow us to have set time periods. It defeats the whole purpose and will cause further congestion. In short: Lane changes are made when required. We hope that this helps!

      Reply
  4. When changing the direction of the centre lane why do you sometimes go from yellow to red in under 30 seconds but other times take a couple minutes?

    Reply
    • Good afternoon Jon – thanks for your question.

      There is a minimum time requirement of 3 minutes to do a complete lane change but there are a couple of possibilities that might lengthen or shorten that time:

      1. Operators monitor the centre lane via cameras and ‘hold’ the centre lane (red) until there are no more vehicles occupying the centre lane before the switch the lane in the opposite direction. This sometimes takes longer due to congestion and bad driving behavior. Drivers can observe a clear centre lane where they are located, but somewhere along the corridor could be vehicles that are still in the centre lane trying to merge over. The centre lane can also be clear well before the 3 minutes requirement but due to safety, operators must wait the full 3 minutes before switching the lane. During that time, operators are viewing all the cameras and ensuring that a lane change is safe to execute.

      2. There is an emergency vehicle or situation which would warrant a quick lane change which allows operators to switch the lane sooner than the 3 minutes minimum requirement – as long as it’s safe to do so of course.

      Hopefully that all makes sense!

      Reply
  5. I must say whoever control the lane on lion gate bridge is incompetent.
    I’ve seen countless times they set one late into downtown while it huge traffic in
    West Vancouver and north Vancouver while downtown is less than normal traffic.
    Sometimes they change lanes and switch back in a matter of 10 min as if it was some kind of mistake.

    Tonight, November 7th, 2019, west/north Vancouver had a huge traffic problem.
    9:28PM, now, they still have one lane toward downtown.

    Also, the traffic cams located in such useless location that not showing traffic dynamic.

    Reply
  6. Hello!
    I would like to get access to a log of lane direction changes with a max of 5 min intervals for a project I am working on. I was looking for some sort of open dataset but could not find it on your website. Any chance you could make this data available? 1 year wrth of data would be sufficient.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hello Rene,

      We have generated a days dataset report for you. Could you confirm if the City of Vancouver email you listed for this comment is the correct email to send it to?

      Reply