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Mayor throws a little cold water and caution onto viaducts plan

July 25th, 2012 · 75 Comments

It was confusing yesterday to see most media outlets report the big news out of council as the city’s plan for a “super-road,” something that has been in city documents for over a month.

This was the slideshare the city posted May 28, which provided the framework for the public open houses in June that the planning and engineering staff then reported on yesterday. The whole point of the slideshare and discussions was to talk about the super-road idea, and the way it would absorb the viaducts’ traffic.

The real news, which business groups were watching closely, was that Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a big, fat: “We’re not going to do anything too fast and let’s take a closer look at a whole bunch of things” statement. That was a relief to several parties.

What he said exactly, in case you are dubious about my sketchy translation above, was (from the city’s news release):

The Mayor included the following measures among his priorities:

·         Making immediate traffic improvements  to Prior Street, including re-instating parking and exploring speed bumps and other calming measures, to make the street safer for local residents

·         Pursuing the Malkin connector to divert traffic, including heavy industrial, off residential streets of Strathcona and Grandview Woodlands and onto designated routes

·         A timeline for deliverables for local residents, including expanding park space and affordable housing, as well as options for phased or partial removal of the viaducts, as opposed to one single removal

·         Incorporating any removal of the viaducts with the City’s Economic Action Strategy goals of increasing job density, particularly in the clean technology and digital media industries, in False Creek flats and along Great Northern Way

·         Ensuring that the flow of commercial goods is a priority and that the needs of the business community are considered, as outlined by the Vancouver Board of Trade

So what’s interesting is that he chose not to barrel ahead but get cautious, something that Geoff Meggs, the councillor who has been the most vocal advocate for the viaducts take-down, officially supported but which had to be seen as a bit of a setback.

I understand that the mayor’s caution came because it appeared some business groups were getting worried. The Vancouver Board of Trade has expressed some qualified support, but raised a lot of questions about consequences.

One group has hired former city traffic engineer Ian Adam, who was at council yesterday watching the proceedings. He said his preliminary assessment is that taking down the viaducts will cost city businesses $27 million in extra costs for delivering goods.

As well, he said the planned new Pacific Boulevard, which will have to take the 40,000 cars a day from the viaduct along with its usual traffic of 30,000, will inevitably end up being congested.

That’s quite different from what current transportation engineer Jerry Dobrovolny is saying, which is that the new Pacific Boulevard could easily take the worst-case scenario of traffic with no significant impact.

(It should be noted that Ian was always somewhat skeptical, in his time at city hall, of the newfangled, no-new-car-space theories of younger engineers like Peter Judd, who is now the head of the city’s engineering department.)

There’s a lot more public discussion likely to bubble up over this.

The city’s feedback at open houses indicated 69 per cent of people who came out were supportive of taking the viaducts down. But a new poll, by Barb Justason, gives that a bit more context. Yes, people downtown are quite supportive about removing the viaducts. Elsewhere in the city, there’s more of a split.

One strong advocate, though, who is coming out forcefully in favour of the viaducts-removal plan: Larry Beasley. The city’s former planning director made his first appearance at a public city council meeting yesterday since he left the city six years ago, just to give silent support as staff made their presentations.


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