Vancouver unveils plan to replace viaducts with 'super road', more housing

Half-marathon runners make their way across Dunsmuir Viaduct shortly after the start of the Vancouver Marathon. The Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts could be demolished almost immediately, paving way for a new neighbourhood park system. 
Half-marathon runners make their way across Dunsmuir Viaduct shortly after the start of the Vancouver Marathon. The Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts could be demolished almost immediately, paving way for a new neighbourhood park system.

BY JEFF LEE, VANCOUVER SUN

 

The Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts could be demolished almost immediately, paving the way for new housing

and a neighbourhood park system, if the plan is approved by council this fall.

 

On Tuesday, city transportation planners unveiled a new plan to create a “super road” around the north end of

False Creek that would allow for the accelerated destruction of the viaducts and create more than 850,000 square

feet of new housing space in Strathcona. It would also affect several other planned changes, including the

construction of a long-awaited truck bypass route along Malkin Street.

 

The plan has yet to be approved, and the planners will bring back a final version within months, but the general

proposal received thumbs up from both Vision Vancouver and Non-Partisan Association councillors.

 

Mayor Gregor Robertson said the ambitious project still has to meet the support of neighbouring residents as well

as downtown businesses affected by the removal of the viaducts.

 

“I’m not prepared to say we’re there yet, but I think we’re getting closer,” he said. “This is a big, big decision for

Vancouver and the future of the eastern core. It will be a big influence on how we connect and how we respond to

the needs of neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Strathcona, Grandview-Woodlands for many decades to come.”

 

In removing the aging elevated roadways, the last vestige of Vancouver’s short-lived fling with a freeway, the city

would unlock land that could either be turned into parks, traded with adjacent landowners or sold in order to create

more affordable housing in the neighbourhood.

 

The plan calls for a new road that sweeps north from Pacific Boulevard and links up with Prior, Main and Quebec

streets. Georgia Street would be extended to Pacific down a five per cent grade so gentle planners say it will

accommodate people in wheelchairs.

 

Westbound vehicle access to Dunsmuir would stop, but a bicycle and pedestrian bridge would connect from a

planned park to Dunsmuir Street above.

 

The proposal also calls for a broad bicycle and pedestrian mall on the west side of a future park linking Carrall

Street with False Creek, and an additional 13 per cent park space could be added to the 9 hectares (22 acres)

already committed for completion.

 

Transportation Planning Director Jerry Dobrovolny told council removing the eastern approaches of viaducts would

also give the city back two blocks between Quebec and Gore streets, including Hogan’s Alley, that were once part

of the city’s vibrant black population. Those two blocks, if developed correctly, could generate 850,000 square feet

of housing and retail space and could help pay for the cost of demolishing the viaducts.

 

A previous plan considered by the transportation department would have kept the viaducts in place for 15 years.

But Dobrovolny said under the new scenario, the viaducts could be removed almost immediately as the

neighbourhood parks are built without negatively affecting traffic. He said public consultation surveys showed that

nearly 70 per cent support or strongly support the plan.

 

Dobrovolny told reporters later the timeline for removal was contingent on other development and reconstruction in

the neighbourhood, but that there was no long-term obstacle to removal of the viaducts. He suggested the project

could cost up to $100 million, but much of the money could come from the city’s sale of development rights on

land currently under the viaducts.

 

Robertson said before staff come back in the fall for a final decision he wants to make sure five issues are

addressed, including advancing work on the long-planned Malkin Street connector, a truck bypass route from

Clark Drive around the north end of the False Creek flats to Main Street. That route would take much of the traffic

that now uses Prior Street, which has been a constant source of anger for local residents.

 

The city also expects the Malkin connector, which could cost $40 million, would attract financial support from the

federal and provincial governments as it would eliminate several at-grade rail crossings and give the province

better access to land it wants for a new health centre.

 

Robertson said local residents also need “clear timelines” for when the park next to False Creek will be built. That

project, the last part of the 25-year-old Concord Pacific development, has been stalled while the city and the

developer negotiate over road alignments and density allotments of the last adjacent construction project.

 

The proposed changes, from the creation of additional parks and more affordable housing, must also meet the

city’s new strategy for creating high-value jobs, the mayor said. And he also wants assurance the flow of goods

and commerce into the downtown core won’t be affected by the removal of the viaducts.

 

NPA Coun. George Affleck said he’s in support of the proposal, with some reservations.

 

“My personal opinion is about the impact on businesses and communities. If in fact this can work without negative

impact, I think it is better to have a normal streetscape as opposed to a highway, which is what this is, going

through our city,” he said.

 

The idea of removing the old viaducts, first proposed by Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs, was embraced by city staff after

they set aside concerns that removing them would be “a showstopper” for the thousands of cars and trucks that

use them daily.

 

“The viaducts were built at a time and in a context that made sense,” said Kevin McNaney, the city’s assistant

director of planning. “They crossed industrial land, which no longer exists, they were built to be part of a freeway

system, which was never built, and they were built to a capacity that we can never achieve. So the question for

council over the coming months and this coming fall, is: ‘Is there a better, more coherent vision, and how can we

get there?’”

 

The viaducts were built in the 1960s to carry as many as 1,800 vehicles an hour. But less than half that number use the viaducts now and that amount is declining as improvements to public transportation are made,

Dobrovolny said.

 

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