Vancouver is one of the few major cities in North America without a freeway leading directly into the downtown core (freeway proposals in the 1960s and 1970s were defeated by community opposition). As a result, development has taken a different course than in most other major North American cities resulting in a relatively high use of transit and cycling, a dense, walkable core and a development model that is studied and emulated elsewhere.
By public transit
Vancouver's public transit is run by the regional transportation authority, TransLink as an integrated system of buses, rapid transit (SkyTrain) and passenger ferry (SeaBus) . The transit system connects Vancouver with its neighbouring municipalities, stretching as far north as Lions Bay, south to the U.S. border and east to Langley and Maple Ridge.
TransLink's website and customer information line (+1 604-953-3333) both offer complete trip planning.
service covers the widest area and travels along most major streets in the city. Passengers must either buy a ticket (see fares above) or present their ticket/pass on the reader immediately upon entering a TransLink bus. In addition, several bus rapid transit lines named B-Lines crisscross the city. The B-Line routes and a select number of other bus routes make up a Frequent Transit Network which offers 15-minute or better service throughout the majority of the day, every day.
While at any bus stop in Metro Vancouver you can text (SMS) the 5-digit bus stop number (the yellow number at the top of every bus stop sign) to 33333 and you'll get a text (it usually only takes a couple seconds) that tells you when the next 6 scheduled buses will arrive. Standard text messaging rates apply. Alternatively, if you have internet access, you can also check live departures using the Next Bus website.
is the mostly elevated rapid transit system that connects Vancouver's downtown with some of its southern and eastern suburbs. The Expo line runs out through Burnaby and New Westminster and then branches in two directions: one to King George station in Surrey, and the other north to connect to the Millennium Line at Lougheed and Production Way Stations. The Millennium line connects to the Expo Line at Commercial-Broadway Station, and services north Burnaby Port Moody to Coquitlam. The Canada Line connects downtown with Richmondand Vancouver Airport.
Notable SkyTrain stations in Vancouver include:
- Broadway/Commercial Drive - Exchange point between the Expo and Millennium Lines. Accesses the restaurants of Commercial Dr in East Vancouver
- Burrard and Granville - Most convenient for accessing the shopping areas in the central business district
- Waterfront - Meeting point of the SkyTrain, SeaBus, numerous commuter and rapid bus routes and the commuter rail West Coast Express. This is the exchange point between Expo and Canada Lines. It is also at the entrance to Gastown and is right next to the Canada Place Convention Centre/Cruise Ship Terminal facilities.
- Metrotown - Although actually in neighboring Burnaby, this station is next to the region's largest shopping mall.
is a passenger ferry that connects Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver to Lonsdale Quay inNorth Vancouver. It generally runs every 15 min except in the evening and on Sundays. The exact schedule is available on TransLink's website. From a tourist's perspective, a ride on the SeaBus is worth it as it allows an excellent view of the Vancouver skyline and close-up views of the huge ocean-going tankers that are often parked in Burrard Inlet. It also offers a great view of the Canada Place facility which is the city's cruise ship port of call. Lonsdale Quay is a boutique shopping centre featuring an international-themed food court, making it a worthwhile destination before starting the round trip (see North Vancouver's article for other activities in the vicinity).
SkyTrain and SeaBus service ends before last call at night clubs and bars, so if you'll be partying downtown, be sure you figure out a ride home. A handful of bus routes operate late at night as Night Bus routes and cover most of the SkyTrain and SeaBus routes. Although these Night Bus routes cover most of the city of Vancouver sufficiently well, if traveling back to the suburbs you may need to find a way to get from where the Night Bus runs to your final destination.
By ferry across False Creek
A quick trip across on a cute little-boat-that-could ferry can be the most fun, traffic-free, and convenient way to get between various points on False Creek:
- Maritime Museum in Vanier Park on the south shore,
- Aquatic Centre at Sunset Beach on the north shore,
- Hornby St on the north shore,
- Granville Island and its famous Public Market on the south shore,
- Yaletown/Davie St. on the north shore,
- Stamp's Landing/Monk's and Spyglass Place on the south shore,
- Plaza of Nations and Edgewater Casino on the north shore, and
- Science World, the geodesic dome at the east end of False Creek.
Service is offered by False Creek Ferries with little blue boats and by Aquabus with little rainbow boats. The two ferries run slightly different routes, and their docks on Granville Island are on either side of the Public Market.
Vancouver's road network is generally a grid system with a "Street" running north-south and an "Avenue" running east-west. Arterial roads follow the grid fairly well (although not perfectly), but side streets frequently disappear for blocks at a time and then reappear. Most of the "Avenues" are numbered and they always use East or West to designate whether it is on the East side or the West side of Ontario Street. Some of the major avenues use names rather than numbers (Broadway would be 9th Ave, King Edward Ave would be 25th Ave).
Downtown Vancouver has its own grid system and doesn't follow the street/avenue format of the rest of the city. It is also surrounded by water on three sides, so most of the ways in and out require you to cross a bridge. This can cause traffic congestion, particularly at peak times (morning and evening commutes, sunny weekend afternoons, major sporting events), so factor that into any driving plans, or avoid if possible.
One of the best ways to avoid traffic congestion is to listen to traffic reports on AM730. This station reports only about traffic and can be quick to report any accidents and congestion, as well as B.C. ferry reports, bridge and tunnel updates, border wait times, and other information pertaining to getting around the city and its many suburbs. It also posts frequent weather updates and local news.
A unique feature of Vancouver and the rest of British Columbia is intersections with flashing green traffic signals. These do not indicate an advance left turn as it would in many other parts of North America. Instead, a flashing green light indicates a traffic signal that can be activated only by a pedestrian or a cyclist on the side street, but not by a motor vehicle. When the signal turns red, traffic stops as at any traffic signal. Any side street traffic must obey the stop sign on the side street and must yield to any pedestrians crossing the side street, even if traffic is stopped on the main street.
Commercial areas will typically have meter parking on the street, with meters accepting Canadian and American change only (American coins accepted at par value). Residential streets may allow free parking, but some will require a permit.
Easy Park lots (look for an orange circle with a big "P") rank as the most affordable of the parkades, but generally the cost of parking will not vary greatly among parkades within a certain area. Most will accept payment by credit card, as well as coins. Beware of scammers hanging around in some parkades, trying to sell parking tickets for less than their face value — typically, they have purchased the tickets with stolen credit cards. Also be careful parking overnight, as vehicle break-ins are not uncommon.
City meters and parking regulations are enforced regularly. Meter-related offenses will result in fines. Violations in private lots are generally unenforceable, but may result in your car being towed. If your vehicle is towed on a city street, you can recover it at the city impound lot at 425 Industrial Ave.
Many areas of the city have unlimited, free street parking where no permits are needed. However, if parking in front of a residence or commercial building, keep in mind there is technically a 3-hour limit . Thus, if parking longer, it's generally better to park in unsigned areas outside schools and parks, where no one will complain.
One of the closest free, safe areas to park is on East Pender Street between Victoria and Salsbury (1800 block of East Pender Street). You will have the easiest time finding a spot if you come between 9am and 4pm. Once you've parked, walk one block up to Hastings Street at Victoria, cross the street, and take either bus (14 UBC or 16 Arbutus) back downtown. This bus stop is on the north-west corner, in front of the Chinese restaurant. The bus ride will only take 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, walk to Commercial and Hastings (two blocks) and take the 20 Victoria down Commercial Drive to Commercial Station or the 95 Burrard Station B-Line, an express bus going downtown.
- Yellow Cab (604) 681-1111
- Richmond Cab (604) 272-1111
- Coquitlam Taxi (Airport & City) 604-524-1111
- Tikki Tikki pedicabs also operate in the downtown Vancouver area and the pedicabs/rickshaws or bike taxis can be booked for tours and sightseeing (604) 652-2053
The city of Vancouver is a very bicycle-friendly city. In addition to the extremely popular seawall bicycle routes along Stanley Park, False Creek and Kitsilano, there are a whole network of bicycle routes that connect the whole city. The City of Vancouver provides a map of the bicycle routes that is available at most bike shops or online. For those who are less mobile, Vancouver also has pedicabs which offer tours of Stanley Park. Also, all buses have bicycle racks on the front to help riders get to less accessible parts. North American visitors will find that drivers in Vancouver are well accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists.
Bicycles are available to rent by the hour, day or week. Many places also rent tandem bikes. Some bicycle rental locations:
- Bazooka Bikes, 1531 Robson St
- ezeeRIDERS, 1823 Robson St
- Stanley Park Cycle, 768 Denman St
- Bayshore Bike Rentals, 745 Denman St
- Spokes Bicycle Rentals, 1789 W Georgia St
- Reckless Bike Stores, 1810 Fir Street at 2nd Ave & 110 Davie St at Pacific
- JV Bike, 955 Expo Boulevard, also rents electric assist bicycles to make the hills a little easier
- Tikki Tikki Pedicabs, Down town Vancouver
Alternatively, buy a used bicycle and either sell it on or donate it to someone in more need of it at the end of your stay. There are a number of 2nd owner bicycle stores on Dunbar and the surrounding area.
- Our Community Bikes, 3283 Main St. +1 604-879-2453
Hosted Bicycle Tours are available from a number of suppliers. These tours are educational and cover many of the interesting areas and attractions of Vancouver.
- City by Cycle, 101-2539 Laurel St, +1-888-599-6800
Renting a scooter is a good compromise between a bike and a car. Scooters are not allowed on the famous bike path, but it is possible to travel in the inner roads, park and walk at all the attractions.
- "Cycle BC", Location 1: (next to harbour air terminal) Location2: 73 East 6th Ave Vancouver, BC V5Y 1A4, Canada (604) 709-5663 [www.cyclebc.ca]
- "Vancouver Scooter Rental" 501-2050 scotia street Vancouver V5T 4T1 tel: 1-604-787-9177