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TCR Takes On the Arbutus Greenway

Growing up on the West side of Vancouver back in the '80s and '90s the trains along the Arbutus corridor were a part of every day life.  Back then a little switcher loco hauled a few grain cars back and forth between the Marpole sorting yard and the Molson brewery down on Burrard street.  Tiny little trains with usually only one or two grain cars plus the occasional caboose would journey down the track usually mid day, then head back down to Marpole in reverse.  More than a few times I recall seeing a couple kids jump on the ladder on the back of a grain car rather than wait for the #14 (at the time) bus to head down towards Kits.

Back then I used to ride along side the track on my Norco to get from Kerrisdale down to the Burrard Bridge, do a few loops of the Stanley Park Seawall and then head back the way I came home.  The route was always a little hairy in parts - besides needing to keep your eyes open for trains you needed to watch for broken glass, smashed up discard household goods, LOTS of blackberry vines plus the usual rocks and things you'd find around a railroad track.  A somewhat well worn single track along the east side of the rail lines provided a solid route between 37th and 16th plus you could USUALLY squeeze your way through the lower parts of the line right to Burrard, depending on how aggressive the blackberry bushes were that particular year and how recently the railway had hacked away at them.

The Arbutus line was part of the BC Electric Railway Interurban system running from Vancouver out to Stevenson.  BCER began operations along this line in 1905 when Vancouver was only 19 years old; the route was chosen to be the absolute easiest route for trains at a time when trees and rocks were the only obstacles - you really can't find a better way to get up the prominent ridge the crosses Vancouver from UBC all the way to the water in New West.  What's that mean for us cyclists? Way less hills!

Over the past few weeks we've had some opportunities to try the route out despite it still being very definitely under construction.  You can get on to the right-of-way down by Granville Island and then pedal your way straight across the city down to the former Fraser Arms on Granville.  Of course at the moment there's no crossing signals, there's plenty of concrete dividers you need to find your way around and you absolutely won't be wanting to even think of trying the ride without some good quality puncture resistant tires (in fact every single person in our group without armoured tires ended up with a flat on our last ride).  As of last weekend, here's what you can expect:

Arbutus Greenway Map View
  • 2nd Avenue to 4th Avenue: reasonably easy going - mostly dirt. Crossing 4th is a bit tricky. At the moment the automotive shops in the area are trying to get away with using this for parking
  • 4th Avenue to Fir: Lots of vehicles belonging to the auto body shops nearby; difficult to get through.
  • Fir to Burrard: Packed gravel, reasonably easy to ride on
  • Burrard to Maple: Packed gravel, lots of community gardens to look at :)
  • 6th to Broadway: Broken glass everywhere! Definitely avoid this section until it has been better prepared. There's 100 years of people smashing bottles on the train tracks scattered along in here.  Crossing Broadway is quite difficult.
  • Broadway to 12th: Some broken glass, there's a fairly rideable foot trail along the west side of the track that wasn't disturbed when the rails were removed.
  • 12th to 16th: Pretty hairy in here right now; difficult to get around the dividers, still some significant chunks of blackberry vines everywhere to dodge.
  • 16th to 25th: Paved awesomeness! You can get a great feel for what the route is going to be like; this section is fully paved. Smooooth sailing. :)
  • 25th to 33rd: Some paving, the surface has been prepared for asphalt so there's a nice packed clay and gravel layer.  Very nice to ride on; I'd be happy if it just stayed like it is though I'm sure I wouldn't be saying that after a few years.  Check out Quilchena Park on your way by, there's a small gap with a path leading in to the park.
  • 33rd to 37th: Likewise the path is mostly prepared for paving along here.  Stop and enjoy the awesome views of Vancouver, the mountains, the ships in the harbour and the general beauty of our city around half way through this part.
  • 37th to 49th: Somewhat hairy in this section; you may prefer to ride East Boulevard.  41st to 49th has a decent foot trail.
  • 49th to 57th: Bulldozed dirt; fire road style.  Lots of fun to ride though you'll be dodging chunks of broken railway tie, the odd miscellaneous metal piece, blackberry vines, etc.  If you enjoy off-road riding go try this stretch out now before it gets paved, you won't regret it.
  • 57th to 64th: We skipped this stretch as it looked pretty rough...
  • 64th to Milton: Packed gravel, there's still a pretty defined path that used to run up the edge of the old railway.
  • Milton to Hudson: Nothing has been touched here; the rails are still in place, it's exactly like it has been for the past 100 years or so.

We'll definitely be riding this one lots through the rest of the season - paving is scheduled to be complete some time in September.  For me the nostalgia of riding this route with gravel, rocks and random attacking blackberry vines like when I was a kid will keep me tackling it regularly in the meantime.  Stay tuned for an official TCR interurban ride on our 2017 calendar!

Bryn Tuesday, August 2 2016 0 608
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