Vancouverites will have to wait until the fall to learn whether city council wants the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts demolished and replaced with a new road network.
But the city’s engineering and planning staff are geared to recommend the 1960s-era hulking structures be knocked down after outlining the benefits of their removal.
More park space, greenways, more room for housing and offices with a new roadway linking Georgia Street to Pacific Boulevard were proposed in staff’s update to city council Tuesday on the future of the viaducts.
“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 [for vehicles] that we can never achieve.”
Added McNaney: “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?’”
Mayor Gregor Robertson said he wasn’t prepared to say whether he favoured demolition of the viaducts, which carry approximately 43,000 vehicles per day.
Robertson said the “litmus test” for him is whether the changes will benefit the citizens who live and work in the neighbourhood—and whether the viaducts removal would better connect the city as a whole.
“This is a big, big decision for Vancouver and the future of the eastern core [of the city],” Robertson told council. “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.”
Robertson requested staff report back in the fall on what he described as outstanding issues, including how traffic will be affected on Prior Street, the need to build a Malkin Street connector to First Avenue and Clark and an explanation on how a clear flow of commercial goods will continue without the viaducts.
“I still believe there’s a win-win solution for the city—there are benefits, undoubtedly, there are risks that we need to address,” the mayor said. “I’m not prepared to say we’re there yet, but I think we’re getting closer.”
Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang said he wanted staff to report back in the fall on more details about building affordable housing in the neighbourhoods near the viaducts.
“We use the term ‘affordability’ very broadly, but I would like to see a lot more detail in terms of what we actually mean—what is the range possible,” Jang said.
Staff noted the east side of the viaducts was once home to Vancouver’s black population and social hub of the community. The spirit of Hogan’s Alley could be recaptured on these blocks, the staff report said.
The new proposed road network involves two-way, four lane ramps from Georgia Street to Pacific Boulevard, which would still give motorists, cyclists and pedestrians a route into downtown.
Recently, residents along Prior Street have raised concerns about a possible increase in traffic. But Dobrovolny said the new road network would actually reduce the number of vehicles.
Vision Coun. Raymond Louie requested a cost-benefit analysis to be included in the staff report in the fall. Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr went further to ask who will actually benefit from removal of the viaducts, noting there are several development companies including Concord Pacific which own land under and near the viaducts.
There was no discussion about how the existing SkyTrain track, which runs almost parallel to the Dunsmuir viaduct, fits into the overall plan for the area, although artist sketches in the staff report show it unchanged.
A report will go before council in the fall.