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Should Vancouver’s viaducts come down?

October 19th, 2009 · 19 Comments

I’ve been away in the Kootenays doing a media workshop in the town where I got my first-ever newspaper job 26 years ago, Creston, so excuse my lateness on various burning urban issues that broke out in the last few days.

As a result of my sojourn (and digressively, I must say, was it ever beautiful to drive through these mountains, where even the fir trees’ outer branches turn a brilliant chartreuse in the fall), some loyal posters have taken it upon themselves to provide commentary for me even when I hadn’t yet posted the news item. Here below is Lewis Villegas’ comments on the issue of taking down the viaducts in Vancouver. As far as I can tell, this discussion was kicked off by a piece that Councillor Geoff Meggs wrote for The Tyee. I can’t figure out where it came from as I’ve never heard anyone at the city ever talk about this previously, except that Larry Beasley used to refer to that whole area — viaducts, unused garbage strewn land underneath and quasi-freeway boulevards running through — as “our own little piece of LA.”

Anyway, here’s Lewis

“Hearing radio spots on taking down viaduct, and one Councillor being quoted. Just a publicity grabber or something more?

The structure is probably not up to seismic code. Beefing it up is a matter for an engineer to address, but let’s assume the economics are not there. What to do?

Downtown is ringed by bridges, and the viaduct is one of the longest. There is a bonus to traffic management to having a bridge: no intersections, traffic lights, and pedestrians crossing. Thus, traffic exiting the downtown in Vancouver gets a kind of “mini ride” on long uninterrupted spans. It would be very difficult to talk about removing the viaduct is we did not have a good transit option in place.

What about an urban design plan, for full build out, complete with a calculation of new tax increment to city coffers.

We’ve never done that. North Shore False Creek was a private developer’s plan. SEFC was the City acting as a private developer. In each case, the street pattern was either accepted or extended. As public space NSFC is a bit of a dud. The park looks and feels like a big lawn, or should we say “yawn”. SEFC put a park on the edge of the water as well. That’s going to be a Civic non-starter. Let’s wait and see if any of the smaller spaces work.

Taking down the viaduct opens up the possibility to look at urban design as a civic project with the focus on creating both memorable sequences of urban spaces, and a truck load of building sites for private development.

The transportation is already in. And the three biggest projects facing the City are there as well:

1. False Creek Flats (private ownership)
2. Port Lands (huge economic potential)
3. Revitalization in the so-called downtown eastside (the job that never gets done)

Getting the Viaduct lands right would have important repercussions. If it were a civic project it would give Vancouver the opportunity to become what everyone always talks about: a world class city.”

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