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This is a guide plus video of the entire Central Valley Greenway (CVG). This Vancouver bike ride goes from the Science World at False Creek in downtown Vancouver to the New Westminster Quay on the north bank of the mighty Fraser River, via the Central Valley Greenway (CVG). It’s a challenging but very interesting bike ride. Parts are magical, other parts still need work to make them pleasant. It is NOT a AAA route (all ages and abilities), and some parts are somewhat dangerous and require good cycling skills. Still, it is quite an awesome route, covering 24 km (15 miles) from Vancouver, through Burnaby, and into New Westminster. It is remarkably flat most of the time, but there are a few uphills.
Here is a map of the entire route, recorded by Joe with his much loved Garmin Edge Bike Computer.
Overview of the Route
Terrain: very varied: on road; on gravel; on paved separate bikeway; on a shared sidewalk with pedestrians; on a track through a forest; and a little bit of boardwalk right at the end
Location: downtown Vancouver, via Burnaby to the Quay in downtown New Westminster
Distance: 24 km (15 miles) , one way – return the same way, or via Skytrain (the starting point is across the road from the Main Street skytrain station, and the end point is 2 blocks from the New Westminster skytrain station)
Difficulty level: challenging, due to the fact that two very short parts require you to be on narrow sidewalks next to busy roads, and there are a number of uncontrolled crossings that need to be taken carefully, and one wicked blind corner on a sidewalk near Rupert Skytrain Station
Type of bike required: any kind, but hybrid or tricross would be best (one section goes through a forest, which is not great if you are on a road bike)
Safety level: some parts are safe and off-road; many parts are not
Suitable for: experienced, adult cyclists
Congestion: Varies, can be very quiet if you pick your time well – and a little busy if you don’t
Parking: There is lots of (fairly expensive) parking at Science World, or you can get to Science World on the skytrain (get off at the Main Street skytrain station)
Average Joe Cyclist Rating: The Central Valley Greenway does not yet rate a Gold Bike-Star because some parts are not great. Some are down right unpleasant and even unsafe. Once those parts are addressed, it will be a world-class Gold Star bike route
Watch our Narrated Video about Cycling the Central Valley Greenway
Here is a video that shows the entire route of the Central Valley Greenway, with directions. It’s a joint effort – Joe filmed it with his new GoPro camcorder (click here to read his review, which includes how he dropped it 10 stories and yet it still survives). I narrated the video (because of my lifelong knowledge of Metro Vancouver and its history). I hope I have provided a lot of interesting details that will really bring this ride to life for you. I know that Joe loved it.
Directions for the Central Valley Greenway (CVG)
At the beginning you will travel south around the east end of False Creek and then meet up with the Ontario bikeway for a few blocks. This is one of the newest neighborhoods in Vancouver, the former Athlete’s Village for the 2010 Winter Olympics. At 1st Avenue you turn to the east (left) and away from False Creek. The next two blocks are anything but green, as you cross Ontario Street and Main Street. Hang in there – it gets better! And at least there is a bike lane.
Next you cut through a quiet road in an industrial area; then the route takes you along Great Northern Way on a shared sidewalk. There are lots of driveways in this area which have been painted green to alert motorists to use caution, which they mostly do. There is one enormous hill at the end of Great Northern Way, so no shame if you push your bike up. It is pretty tough. Be careful crossing Clark Drive as this is a very busy truck route.
You will then go along a shared sidewalk, turn right and immediately merge onto Grandview Highway (which is actually NOT a highway at all in this section) and travel towards Commercial Drive.
Commercial Drive is a wonderfully diverse and interesting neighborhood with lots of coffee shops, eclectic restaurants, and one-of-a-kind stores. It is well worth a stop to investigate. As with anywhere in Vancouver, if you leave your bike unattended, lock it up securely. There is actually a pub on the corner of Grandview and Commercial where you can lock your bike within sight.
It’s hard to recommend any one coffee shop or restaurant because there are so many great spots. Go check it out!
Passing Commercial Drive you travel in a short “bus-and-bikes-only” road. Make sure you stay to the left, as most of the buses are articulated and all are turning right onto Broadway – so you are liable to get squished on the right-hand side. At Broadway there is a green painted crosswalk for cyclists to use; however, you have to cross 6 lanes of busy traffic.
There is an option to turn left and use the sidewalk for 1/4 block, then use the crosswalks to cross Broadway and Victoria. The route picks up again on the south-east corner of the intersection.
Now the ride becomes safer and much more green. (So in fact if you like to keep your rides as green as possible, you could depart from the Broadway Skytrain Station, which is right around here, instead of the very beginning of the Central Valley Greenway.) You travel along residential streets running parallel to Grandview Highway (the real one) and following the Millenium Skytrain tracks. This part of the ride has a couple of intersections to watch, even though there are traffic lights.
Drivers on Nanaimo street sometimes run the fairly new pedestrian lights, so make sure everyone is stopped before you shove off. Then there is a pleasant cycling stretch on a downhill with few cars.
There are two uncontrolled intersections on minor roads before you reach Renfrew Skytrain Station. This area is being redeveloped as a Technology Business Park, so there are plenty of pedestrians using the shared sidewalk route. At rush hours it’s a bit of a gong show, and cyclists have to be really careful – to not hit pedestrians, and to not be hit by cars. So just don’t would be my advice, unless you have no choice.
From this point, you will follow a bike and pedestrian path directly beneath the elevated skytrain tracks. If at any point you want to take it easy, or you have a bike problem, you can take the skytrain from one of the many stations you will pass. Bikes are allowed at off-peak times (peak hours are 7-9 a.m. towards downtown Vancouver and 4-6 p.m. heading away).
The approach to the Rupert Skytrain Station is fairly quiet, and quite a pleasant bike ride. However, there is a wicked, wicked blind corner – a weird dogleg where you could easily run into pedestrians and cyclists. It’s just a dumb part. There are dense shrubs which block your view of traffic as you turn left to reach the pedestrian traffic light. Complicating matters is that there is usually a large crowd of commuters at the bus stop. I slow right down and get off my bike if necessary. If I bike, I ring my bike bell loudly as I go around the corner, to alert the almost-always-oblivious pedestrians.
The route is very peaceful from Rupert Street to Gilmore with an off-road track with few pedestrians, running under the skytrain route.
When you cross Boundary Road you are entering the city of Burnaby. At Gilmore Street the Central Valley Greenway turns right. You need to do a bit of bike ballet to get through the odd gates at the railway line there, then continue along the sidewalk. Follow the sidewalk for a block and turn left at the lights at Still Creek Avenue.
Follow the sidewalk bikeway and veer left. It is quiet here, and you go over a little bridge and keep bearing left. Soon you will be on a sidewalk bikeway on the left of Still Creek Avenue. It goes on for a while, and you will pass a Costco on your right.
Then you cycle for quite a long way along a shared sidewalk trail on Still Creek Avenue, in an industrial area. It’s taken about 5 years to build this trail, and it is very disappointing as it is narrow, unpainted, and unsafe due to many driveways. Also, some genius decided to put poles in the center of the lanes instead of paint, so you have to avoid hitting poles while looking out for cars and giant trucks in the driveways.
Of course, this section previously looked like a set from Terminator, so it has improved a lot. (The bar was very, very low.) You may choose to bike along the road instead. It has been recently repaved and is no longer a potholed nightmare. I have noticed that most cyclists are choosing the road, because the bike trail is less safe than the road (this could be a case study in how NOT to build a bike route). Here’s a short video of just this part of the Central Valley Greenway:
If you are on the bikeway not the road, you will get to a controlled crossing at Still Creek Avenue and Norland Avenue – and another dogleg. Cross over the crosswalk and turn right onto a short, narrow pathway. You will then see a sign that says “Detour” and has an arrow directing you to turn left onto a gravel track. It is a mystery why someone has put up a “Detour” sign, as this has been the route of the CVG permanently since it was opened in 2010.
You are now on one of the nicest parts of the CVG. As you can see from the pictures below the path is green (finally!), and peaceful despite being just a few hundred meters from the Lougheed Highway.
Lougheed Highway has a marked bike lane parallel to the Central Valley Greenway, but I would not recommend using it. The speeds are alarmingly high. I was right behind Joe when he was almost killed at right about this point on Lougheed by an aggressive motorist. Joe was in the bike lane at the time, but apparently the young Camaro driver thought it would be fun to scare him by cutting across the bike lane right in front of him.
You will cycle along this lovely gravel section, surrounded by foliage, for quite a while. Then you get to a point (see photo below) where you have to turn right onto a pedestrian/cyclist bridge. As you can see in the picture below the route is well lit and the signage is excellent too. Translink did a good job with this. (Although I cannot figure out why they have now put up a “Detour” sign. This is and always has been the Central Valley Greenway – whereas a “Detour” is “a long or roundabout route taken to avoid something or to visit somewhere along the way” – Translink, are you listening?)
Cycle over the pedestrian bridge. It is less steep than it looks – but if you want to get off and push, you will have more time to enjoy the sweeping views! Joe just LOVES this bridge – which is why there are so many photos of it on this blog!
After crossing the bridge and passing by Sperling-Burnaby Lake Skytrain, you will cycle along Winston Street in a marked bike lane. On this part of the ride, we leave the skytrain route and travel a more direct route to New Westminster. This part can be stressful because it is a busy truck route, and there is also a section where there is a parking lane on the right side of the bike lane. Great, now you have to watch both sides for cars. Winston is also a little physically challenging because it has some long uphill parts. What’s truly frustrating abut this part is that just off to the right, there are acres and acres of bush. WHY not run the bike route through this safe part, away from the trucks and cars? (Apparently that was the original plan, but then that was dropped due to budget.)
Winston Street becomes Government Street (because streets tend to change their names in Burnaby). You leave this somewhat unpleasant street at the intersection of Government Street and Caribou Road. A crosswalk and sidewalk have been installed to make this safer – see the video as it’s hard to explain. After navigating this and cycling a short distance, you turn left into a dead-end street and enter the Brunette Forest section. This is a beautiful ride, next to the Brunette River and completely off-road. Please note that this section is not lit so I don’t recommend you ride this way after dark. You can travel the rest of the route day or night.
You leave the Brunette Forest at North Road/Columbia street, which is the border between Coquitlam to your left and New Westminster to your right. You are almost at your destination! Once again there is a narrow sidewalk to travel along, to get to the pedestrian crossing leading you into Hume Park.
In Hume Park you will pass a lone washroom on the left, which is the only restroom on the ride. Not sure whose brilliant idea that was! Then there is a steep hill to travel up – we usually walk because it is just too steep. You then travel an off-road path around the south side of the park. You exit Hume Park onto Fader Street, another shared bikeway. This is a lovely residential route which dead-ends at Sherbrook Street at Royal Columbian Hospital.
Turn right onto Sherbrook Street and turn left at the lights at East Columbia Street, following the marked cycling lane. At the intersection of East Columbia and Brunette there is a one block stretch where there is a narrow sidewalk to travel. This is nerve-racking because the road route is full of 18-wheelers and the sidewalk is treacherous if you have a pedestrian in the way. I opt to travel this block on the road with traffic and then jump back onto the shared sidewalk at Cumberland (even though Joe feels strongly that this is NOT safe). The safest option would be to walk this block and push your bike.
Translink just did not figure this spot out when they opened the route in 2010, and they have not fixed it since then. According to the signage you are supposed to turn right and go around the block. Whoever came up with this idea has never ridden a bike – it is not possible for average cyclists to slam on brakes, make a hard right, and then cycle straight up a very steep hill. You need to get your speed UP before doing a steep hill, NOT come to a complete stop.
In New Westminster it is legal to cycle on the sidewalks, and sometimes it is the only safe alternative. There is one last hill to traverse at Victoria Hill, and it is a long uphill climb. Again, no shame at all in walking your bike. And again, it will give you the chance to enjoy wonderful views over the Fraser River.
The intersection of Columbia Street and McBride Boulevard is very dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, so follow the crossing directions to be safe. Then merge onto Columbia Street and keep pedalling to Begbie Street, where you will turn left and head down to the Westminster Quay.
The New Westminster Quay is home to the world’s tallest tin soldier, the Fraser River Discovery Centre, a lovely boardwalk esplanade to walk along, and the New Westminster Public Market. The Market is home to the Paddlewheeler Pub, Wild Rice Restaurant (unique cuisine with many vegan options), and the Re-Up Barbecue Restaurant, to name a few. There is also a coffee/gelato shop, a tea shop, a bakery, a crepe shoo with vegan options, and a full service grocery store – Donald’s Market.
Here’s an interesting short video about the Fraser River Discovery Center. It also includes video of the Quay itself.
The Fraser River is a working river, so you will be entertained by a procession of tugs and barges. Across the River you can also see the Fraser-Surrey Docks. There are river tours available also. The ticket office is next to the Discovery Center. We did the Sunday Brunch Tour once with Joe’s mom for mother’s day – it was wonderful!
The Westminster Quay is continuing to be developed as a vibrant riverfront recreation area. The newest addition is Pier Park, which is a short ridee east of the Market.
You can let the kids play in one of the two parks, while you relax in a large lounge chair, or on one of the hammocks. The park also has a small “beach” which is used primarily for beach volley ball. There is beach sand, but no sane person would swim in the river. Future plans include linking this with other water front areas further east.
While the Central Valley Greenway is not a perfect off-road route, it is immensely more enjoyable than the original BC Parkway route which follows the Expo Skytrain Line from Vancouver to New Westminster. It has some wonderful parts – parts you may well remember forever in your cycling memories, such as the Brunette Forest. And it is also quite an achievement to cycle from Vancouver via Burnaby to New Westminster!
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