Northeast Vancouver may be getting a little greenway love

City councillor succeeds in getting East Van city greenway prioritized

If East Vancouverites are feeling ripped off because council just approved plans for the Arbutus Greenway on the West Side, relief may be in sight.

On the same day that decision was made, council gave the green light to a motion prioritizing a greenway in the northeast corner of the city.

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Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer pitched the "Northeast Quadrant Greenway" motion because of the lack of attention in that area. She says its residents deserve the same opportunities for "nice things" as those living on the West Side, or in the southeast.

“Over the past decade, the greenway work has filled in many of the pieces on the west and south of the city but nothing in the northeast quadrant,” she told the Courier. “The motion asks staff to prioritize one of the three identified in the northeast quadrant in the next phase of greenway work.”

The city established the greenways program in 1995. Greenways are defined as linear public corridors for pedestrians and cyclists (recreational not commuter) that connect parks, nature reserves, cultural features, historic sites neighbourhoods and retail areas.

Read more about city greenways HERE.

The most recent map, completed in 2011, depicts 17 that are in various stages of completion. Work on some has yet to start. The northeast quadrant sits between Main Street and Boundary Road and Grandview Highway and Burrard Inlet.

The three general greenway routes in this sector include “Portside,” which follows along Burrard Inlet; “Eastside Crosscut,” which travels north-south, roughly along Hastings Park and Rupert Street at its north end before curving towards Renfrew as it heads southwards; and “Midtown Way,” the northeast portion of which is between Clark and Commercial Drive. 

Aside from noting there are no city greenways in the northeast, Reimer pointed out in her motion that:

  • in the last decade the city has made strides in advancing the city greenway network, including filling the Kits beach to Jericho park gap to complete the Canada Place to UBC Seaside Greenway, and adding several new greenways including the Arbutus Corridor, North Arm Trail, Comox-Helmcken and Ridgeway greenways
  • the city has set a goal of ensuring there is a city greenway no more than a 25-minute walk or a 10-minute bike ride from every residence in Vancouver,
  • the northeast quadrant has the lowest per capita open space in Vancouver, the least percentage of tree canopy cover at almost half that of the city-wide average, and the eastside generally has significantly fewer plazas, parklets and neighbourhood public spaces,
  • the northeast quadrant has the lowest per capita incomes in the city and the highest number of renters: both demographics are least likely to have access to private green space, most likely to use active transportation, and receive the greatest benefit from the health and social aspect of greenways.

Although the city has sunk millions into Arbutus Greenway — it was purchased for $55 million and the estimated cost of the first phase is $30 million — it’s considered an anomaly. The city didn’t own any of the land and the motivations for buying the corridor were multifold: to create a greenway, to prevent heavy grade rail from going through that part of the city, and to create space for a future streetcar as the area densifies.

Reimer acknowledges that kind of money wouldn’t be spent on other greenways, including an East Side route.

She added that decisions about funding greenways are typically made because an opportunity presents itself such as when land becomes available, as was the case with Arbutus greenway.

“But the sort of organic filling-it-in strategy seems to be heavily favouring the West Side and, to some extent, the southeast. The northeast is being left out of it,” she said.

"I think Arbutus [greenway] is fantastic. I think Comox- Helmcken is fantastic. I think the seawall completions were fantastic but, as I have pointed out several times, these are fantastic for everybody but much more accessible for West Side residents and, if it’s not happening naturally because the opportunity is not arising — the external opportunities — we need to be a lot more proactive about the northeast sector and that’s what this [the motion] was for.”

While a small amount of work has been done on the Portside route, such as the Powell Street overpass, Reimer noted “it’s definitely not the green part of the greenway.” The new bike path at Hastings Park is also intended, over time, to be part of Portside.

“All of the 17 on the map have had little chunks filled in as opportunities arose… but you have to set the intention or you never get to full completion and you certainly don’t get the green part of the greenway,” she said.

Before the vote on the motion, which was unanimous, a handful of councillors, including the NPA’s George Affleck, voiced support.

“We spend a lot of time in other parts of the city doing all sorts of greenway and bikeway [work]... so let’s give a little love to the East Side of Vancouver for once,” Affleck said.

Vision Coun. Raymond Louie agreed.

“I’m very pleased to support the motion that is contemplating making an investment in a section of our city that is deficient of this type of investment,” he said.

“Clearly the mayor, in his questions to the city manager [during the discussion], already noted the seaside and the Arbutus Greenway as significant investments made by the city — in the case of Arbutus, millions and millions of dollars — and this is an opportunity for us to spread it around a bit more."

Mayor Gregor Robertson, meanwhile, amended Reimer’s motion so that the capital plan will also prioritize some dollars for improvements to the Central Valley Greenway and the BC Parkway.

City staff will include a reference to that and to prioritizing an East Van greenway in the upcoming capital plan. They will also assess the best option and biggest opportunity for a greenway in the northeast and report back to council next year with a more detailed route.

For her part, Reimer pointed out the northeast sector gets all the impacts of the industrial activity along the port, as well as congestion due to traffic from the highway to downtown.

“There could not be an area of the city that needed a seawall-type place to go to get some respite from all that. When I see it in my head, I see that — where someone living in that quadrant, or who wants to go to that quadrant to visit, are able to get away from that noise and traffic congestion and all the impacts from all the activities. Not that they aren’t activities that need to happen, but how do you offset it? You offset it by something like a greenway.”

noconnor@vancourier.com

@naoibh

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