City of Vancouver puts Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts future in play

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      Last summer, New York City opened the first section of a new park that was once an elevated railway. Known as the High Line, this green space on Manhattan’s West Side was hailed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as an “extraordinary gift” to the city.

      Imagine if Vancouver developed its own High Line–style promenades on the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts. It’s an idea that has caught the attention of former Vision Vancouver councillor Jim Green amid talk of examining whether the city needs to maintain these structures.

      Vision councillor Geoff Meggs has suggested the twin overpasses be torn down, a move that would free up as much as five city blocks of valuable property. Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Team, cochaired by Mayor Gregor Robertson, mentioned “replacing” the Georgia Viaduct in a report released on October 20.

      For Green, keeping the viaducts but removing vehicle traffic is a better idea.

      “One of the things that we could do is to make bicycle lanes and pedestrian park space up there,” Green told the Georgia Straight. “It [the viaduct] would stay there, and you would have the park up, elevated three storeys.”

      There are residential and commercial possibilities as well. “You can have retail opening onto the high park, which is now the viaduct, and then have that also open down [below on] the street,” the former councillor said. “You could really enliven two different areas of Vancouver.”

      Determining the viaducts’ future will evidently take some time. What’s certain is that there’s no shortage of ideas on how to deal with these thoroughfares that were originally intended to be part of a freeway, a proposal that was defeated in the 1970s by activists including Green.

      According to Barbara Lee, a resident of Prior Street and an active community member, the viaducts send eastbound vehicles into the residential neighbourhood of Strathcona, creating traffic jams.

      “I would prefer not tearing it down but rerouting it over the railway lines,” Lee told the Straight by phone. She explained that she’d like to see traffic directed onto Malkin Avenue and then over to Terminal Avenue.

      The city owns the property below the viaducts, which forms part of one of the most expensive tracts of land in Vancouver—the Northeast False Creek area. Major players in the city’s real-estate industry, including Concord Pacific, hold land there. Canadian Metropolitan Properties owns the Plaza of Nations site, while the Aquilini Investment Group has GM Place. B.C. Pavilion Corporation, a provincial Crown corporation, operates B.C. Place Stadium.

      On Thursday (October 22), city council is scheduled to consider staff recommendations that include bringing high-density developments to this area. A staff report prepared for the council meeting reiterates previous suggestions that 1.8 million square feet of office space and four million square feet of residential space be created.

      If this goes ahead, a total of 7,200 new residents would be expected to move into the district, and the availability of parks and open spaces would be an issue. According to the staff report, if the ideal park ratio of 1.1 hectares per 1,000 residents is to be met, eight hectares of new parkland would have to be added to accommodate these new residents.

      The city has allowed the property underneath the viaducts to be used for recreational purposes, like skateboarding. Coalition of Progressive Electors councillor David Cadman said the land under the viaducts should not be subject to real-estate deals.

      “What I don’t want is to lose some of those amenities that the community has struggled for a long, long time to get,” Cadman told the Straight. “But that said, I don’t know structurally how sound the viaduct is at this point. We’re not having a freeway coming in, so we can look at it and see what might be done.”




      Oct 22, 2009 at 12:51pm

      Just like the Olympics, Green and Meggs are now trying to dress up a developer's dream as a citizen's flower bed. Now just what is the smell coming from the bottom of my shoes.

      Where has Green been spending his time these days, in the bosom of developers and get this, in charge of the Olympic Village...say Jim, where are those social housing units that were promised to you for your support of the Games?

      Well let's see how the city's olympic czars, Green and Meggs deal with that mess in southeast false creek before letting them distract the residents of the city into yet another folly.

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      Jeffrey R. Griese

      Oct 22, 2009 at 3:50pm

      I wholeheartedly oppose this idea! As someone who watched both his parents commute every workday for 20 years over the Georgia viaduct, I can attest to the importance of this roadway to commuters entering the city. Adding more green-space for pedestrians and bicyclists is a fantastic idea with absolutely no grounding in reality. Once again Vancouver's economy, labour, and industry are disregarded in favour of retrograde "slow-growth" policies & activist urban planning. Our city needs a major freeway bringing both commuters and freight in to the core. I see an eventual need for major underground freeways entering from Highway #1 and crossing the Burrard Inlet to N. Van, quite similar to Boston's 'Big Dig'...If only!

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      Oct 22, 2009 at 9:32pm

      Jeffrey: Highways are retrograde policies. Slow growth and progressive urban planning are anything but. A lack of freeways into downtown hasn't held the city back; if anything, it's a major reason why Vancouver has remained one of the most livable cities on the continent.

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      Oct 22, 2009 at 11:02pm

      The LESS traffic in the downtown area the better! The MORE the public realizes that the downtown area is NOT for every single motorized vehicle that comes through the better! I wholeheartedly support this and other ideas that support a better liveable, sustainable, downtown core. I LIVE here, I WILL support these kind of ideas. Drivers will have to find alternate means of getting downtown. You get paid by the hour anyway, don't you?

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      johan greene

      Oct 23, 2009 at 3:41am

      Yes the viaducts are ugly, but so are toilets. They BOTH serve purposes however. While at it, lets tear up the airport runways....there is already enough people here. Oh, and remove the bridges from the North Shore to dtn....can't everyone take the Seabus ???? This is absurd, put forth by Gregor and co, who live in 500 squ. ft. apartments and walk everywhere...they think YOU should too...all in the name of "greening" the city. Is THIS what the city has come to ???? They want us ALL puppet robots, connected to our i-pods, silent, and sipping Starbucks. My God...I wish I was 100 years old, to be dead when this shit TRULY gets to fruition !!

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      Oct 23, 2009 at 3:30pm

      Obviously they just wanna build more condos in North False Creek.

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      Oct 23, 2009 at 6:28pm

      Before people spout off in opposition to this idea let's have a moment of pause. The article above provides no plans and only speculates on what some options might be. Green and Meggs are floating trial balloons as the North False Creek area is going through a high level planning review right now and it makes sense to consider the role of the last dregs of Vancouver's freeway system in the city's future. It's true (electric) cars are going to be part of the city's future, albeit less dominant than today, and the infrastructure necessary to facilitate their movement will need to be provided. However, there is nothing saying that it has to be in the form of these viaducts. I for one would like to see some real plans before deciding the fate of the viaducts. The closest thing to a plan thus far is a post by Paul Hilldson, a private citizen, on his blog:
      As for whether there will be more condos in the area, there will be, without a doubt. It's the reality of a highly desirable city with a site sitting smack dab in between False Creek and Burrard Inlet and next to the downtown peninsula. Will they be affordable? Perhaps a small proportion but that once again has to do with the desirability of our little corner of the world. What I find interesting is that there's this anti-condo sentiment when we are a high growth city with a limited land base (due to mountains, ocean, US border and ALR) facing an uncertain future in terms of energy and climate. Higher density (i.e. townhouses, rowhouses, apts, high-rises) housing is the future of our city and many others, like it or not.

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      Evil Eye

      Oct 27, 2009 at 3:44pm

      Yawn........just testing the waters, it seems. I would guess that Meggs and the very dated Green, are salivating at the fact of seeing hundreds of more condo's to be built, making False Creek a damn ugly little place.

      Sure cut back the roads, create gridlock, Vancouver deserves this as the city has always been a short sighted ugly sort of place. A puerile little burg, that after 2010, no one will remember.

      A fitting end to an unfit city.

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      Oct 28, 2009 at 8:14am

      What happens if these viaducts are demolished and then later there's a change of policy? Who will pay to rebuild them? Will it be property owners in Vancouver City proper, or taxpayers around Metro, or for that matter, taxpayers across B.C. and Canada?

      Rod Smelser

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      Oct 29, 2009 at 5:41pm

      Hey lets put a green roof over the viaducts or perhaps even dig another tunnel.

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