My Remarks To Mayor & Council On Viaduct Study

Madam Chair, Mr. Mayor, Councillors, Staff and Guests:

I speak to you today as the President of the Paris Place Strata Council and as a resident of the International Village on the proposed study to examine bringing down the Georgia Street and Dunsmuir Viaducts.

Forty years ago, a misguided government of the day built those viaducts in an attempt to remake Vancouver into Los Angeles, destroying Hogan’s Alley – Vancouver’s historic black community – in the process and walling off Chinatown from growth and from the rest of the city.

Today we’re finally contemplating the correction of that ancient mistake and in so doing see the possibility of re-integrating a long-neglected neighbourhood into the traffic grid and the downtown core of the city.

Photo: Tom Hudock

I pass under those viaducts almost every day on my way to walk on the seawall. The space underneath is dead, littered with needles and the broken glass of too many car break-ins to count. The vacant lots beneath the viaducts sit empty most of the time, used sporadically for temporary parking, junk storage, as public latrines and far worse.

Put very simply, dead streets are not safe streets.

Seattle’s tearing down their viaducts, as are cities across North America including Toronto, Montreal, Boston and San Francisco among others. And during the Olympics, we learned we could live without them too.

For all these reasons and more, back in January, I issued a New Year’s greeting to friends and supporters calling for the viaducts to come down and a 1000 parks to bloom in their place.

I received a number of unhappy calls as a result …

Hogan’s Alley, Vancouver’s historic Black village

But I’m here today to support this study as a resident of the area and on behalf of my strata because I believe it’s the right thing to do for my neighbourhood and our city.

To ensure that this works for everyone, though, care must be taken to ensure that Strathcona and the neighbourhoods along Pacific are not inundated with diverted traffic while Georgia Street traffic flows are accommodated. This study is crucial therefore to be sure this step can improve the quality of life for everyone in the areas affected.

But more than just a study of the viaducts in isolation, we need a comphrehensive, integrated plan that encompasses all of the changes and needs currently facing this dynamic area of the city.

First, this study should address solutions to deliver Creekside Park in the context of all the new development in Northeast False Creek. I find it greatly encouraging that the planned study will examine new technologies and scientific research on remediation, which may well solve the current impasse on remediating soils on Lot 6c – the challenge holding up delivery of Creekside Park on Lot 9.

Photo: Tom Hudock

We are facing an estimated increase in population around False Creek of nearly 25,000 new residents and need park space and recreational and cultural amenities commensurate with that increase.

Tom and I lived in Manhattan for twenty years and loved that dense, vibrant environment. One of the things that makes it possible to live there is the huge park easily accessible in the centre of the city – Central Park – and all of the large neighbourhood parks and pocket parks scattered across the city. As we grow, we will need the same.

Other issues need to be addressed.

The Dragonboat Festival needs a new home. The Sun Yat-Sen garden celebrates their 25th anniversary next year, yet they lost a crucial tour bus stop in the construction of the Carrall Street Greenway, and want to open the garden to the south. A massive and ugly casino is proposed that offers no amenities to the community and no funding to the arts. Why should anyone support that zoning change?

And many are concerned that the Great Wall of viaducts currently isolating Chinatown is not simply replaced with a Great Wall of towers that do the same thing. Development in proportion to new park and recreational opportunities is called for.

We have an opportunity to plan an entire community and I hope this viaduct study will lead to that more comprehensive neighbourhood plan with full public input and participation.

Thank you.

2 thoughts on “My Remarks To Mayor & Council On Viaduct Study

  1. Sean, you’ve presented your case well. As the viaducts now exist, I too would support a change. However, have all the alternatives been explored? Can the affected neighbourhoods be rejuvenated by introducing cultural amenities and green spaces to those “dead zones” without removing the viaducts? Getting rid of existing roadways is all very well and would certainly be in keeping with the optics of the current anti-car movement, but by tearing down the viaducts, will we make conditions worse for the surrounding residents who will then have to deal with greatly increased traffic flows at ground level? (I can’t help but recall the tragic accident a couple of years ago involving a woman and her baby trying to cross the street below the viaduct.) Does anyone really think that the effected drivers will simply hop on the bus instead? They might, eventually, but not for a long time – years. Certainly not before the suburbs receive the same level of service Vancouver residents currently enjoy.

    I also question the logic of singling out the viaducts as the cause of the social ills of Chinatown. How does an elevated roadway, with plenty of clear space below it, “cut off” a neighbourhood? Wouldn’t that same traffic at ground level create an even greater barrier?

    I wonder if the scope of the study being proposed is broad enough to allow for truly innovative thinking, or whether it is meant to be a token to democracy so that the Vision council can move on with what they have already decided behind closed doors to do – that is, wish away automobiles before a viable alternative is in its place.

    Council would be well advised to move towards an alternative BEFORE eliminating existing infrastructure. An example of progressive thinking would be the construction of a city-owned mega parking facility adjacent to the Rupert SkyTrain Station: providing free parking to bus-adverse commuters coming in from a newly-widened Hwy 1 would go a long way to providing a realistic and viable alternative to reaching downtown from the suburbs.

    Getting rid of commuter routes before alternatives are in place will simply push investors and businesses – the engines of Vancouver’s economy – to nearby jurisdictions friendlier to their needs. Vancouver’s influence in the region will diminish, as will its relative wealth and tax base.

    • Hi Steve, I think the study as I understand is designed to answer the exact questions you’re asking, which is why I support it. While I’m personally pre-disposed to see the viaducts come down, I’m quite open to what the results reveal. The staff is very concerned about the cost necessary to elevate the end of the skyway which stoops down to take the train currently under the Dunsmuir viaduct as just one example of the scope of work that might be necessitated by such a move. As we’ve both noted, neighbourhoods are concerned about the traffic that might be suddenly directed their way etc.

      But, if these concerns can be addressed, and there is a way to accommodate traffic flows, I personally believe it’s time for this area to stop being a derelict no-man’s land, be re-integrated into the downtown street grid and fully rejoin the two sides of the city into one.

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