City review of of Georgia, Dunsmuir Viaducts at a turning point: “A World of Possibilities”

Vancouver’s Viaducts are a step closer to removal and replacement with a new street system, larger parks, affordable housing and a new sustainable neighbourhood. All those benefits are outlined in a detailed new report on the Viaducts headed to council June 25.

The Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts, a residual fragment of Vancouver’s rejected freeway system, closed Feb. 5, 2010, for the first time in their 39-year history.

The 22-day shutdown, required by 2010 Winter Olympic Games security rules, gave neighbourhoods east of the viaducts their first traffic-calmed days in more than a generation, a real-life test of what life without the viaducts might be like.

Now the City of Vancouver is undertaking a study that could lead to consideration of removing the viaducts for good, reconnecting the roads for goods and people movement in a new way and opening up the possibility of a new, sustainable neighbourhood that knits together Yaletown, Gastown, the Downtown Eastside, Strathcona and Chinatown.

2012 UPDATE: read the city staff’s proposal for a Vancouver without the Viaducts.

The Youtube posted here, produced with the assistance of Kurt Heinrich, describes the city study that began early in 2011 and the reaction of nearby community organizations to the proposal. Since late 2010, I have held a number of community discussions with residents and organizations around northeast False Creek at Citygate, in Chinatown, in Strathcona and Grandview Woodlands.

  • Download the Powerpoint presentation used at the community meetings.

Removing the viaducts is not a new idea — many have dreamed about it since they were built — but an article I wrote for The Tyee in 2009 proposing the study  was one of the most-read pieces on the site that year.

Many are struck by the fact that the viaducts are duplicated by Pacific Boulevard on the ground beneath them, and that the surrounding land, once home to warehouses, railyards and a gas plant, now offer the potential for a new inner-city neighbourhood.

The viaducts are all that remain of a massive freeway program that city planners of the 1960s expected would ring the city, driving a wedge through Chinatown and diving under Burrard Inlet in a submarine tunnel dubbed the Third Crossing.

The Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts: part of Vancouver's future or relics of a project the city rejected?

The Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts: part of Vancouver's future or relics of a project the city rejected?

But in a series of citizens’ revolts, Vancouver voters defeated each effort to build the system, often by convincing the federal government it should not share in the projects’ massive costs. Ultimately Vancouver was left with the only part it could both afford and build on its own: the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts, completed in 1971 to replace the original 1915 viaduct built over CPR’s False Creek yards.

Traffic across the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts has been declining for 15 years, but they remain an important part of the city’s traffic system.

Now city council is considering development proposals around Northeast False Creek worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Thousands of additional residents are expected to move to the area in the next decade.

The first phase of the current study will review a series of options to reconnect the traffic grid while opening up a world of new possibilities for the heart of Vancouver. A second phase, to be considered by council later this year, would study the urban design possibilities of a city without the Viaducts. Read some of the debate here.

Are the Viaducts part of the city’s future? As the short video below reminds us, many Vancouverites never wanted them built in the first place.