Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts to be demolished

Vancouver City Council voted in October 2015 to demolish the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

Link to more 2015 emerging milestones

Significance
The viaducts were considered in need of seismic upgrading and expensive maintenance and sit partly on unused land.

Council members voted 5-4 in favour of demolishing the viaducts, arguing that removing them will free up land for new housing, extend a large park, allow for environmental treatment of the False Creeks shoreline, memorialize Hogan’s Alley and reconnect eastern neighbourhoods such as Chinatown, Strathcona and the Downtown Eastside with the rest of downtown and False Creek.

The decision was also seen as an opportunity to make a social and physical impact on the city by uniting parts of it that had been cut off by the viaducts. But those Councillors who voted against demolition had concerns about funding the project.

Viaduct-related work was to start with the development of the replacement road network, including a two-way, four-lane ramped extension of Georgia St between Beatty St. and Pacific Blvd. The road, expected to be complete in 2020, is to be reconfigured to run at grade along Pacific, Prior St to Gore Ave., then southeast through the False Creek flats to Clark Drive. The connecting arterial is likely to be either Malkin Ave. or National Ave., but was not immediately determined. Some neighbouring residents had concerns about traffic, noise and the future of community gardens.

Dunsmuir was to end at Rogers arena in an eight-metre-wide piece of repurposed viaduct to be used as an elevated plaza and pedestrian-cyclist connector, with access to the arena.

A Creekside Park extension at the eastern end of False Creek is also part of the plan. The park has been long awaited by False Creek residents, who in 2014 and 2015 sued the City and property owner Concord Pacific over delays in developing the park and Concord’s use of the site as a temporary condo sales centre. The B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the City has the power to relax zoning provisions for a temporary development permit for the sales centre.

Council also agreed that amendments to the False Creek North official development plan, a revised public benefits strategy, a funding strategy and establishment of a community stewardship group were also a priority.

Staff were to report back to Council in 2017 on the benefits strategy and negotiations with property owners.

Council in 2015 also approved a planning program for the False Creek Flats, some of which work was meant to overlap with viaducts planning.

Background
The original Georgia viaduct was built in 1915 to connect downtown with the communities to the east, including Strathcona, Grandview Woodland, Chinatown and others. The elevated road had to bypass obstacles like the False Creek waterfront , which extended farther north than it does today, as well as heavy industrial uses that surrounded False Creek and a multitude of Canadian Pacific rail lines that ran through northeast False Creek.

In 1971, the old viaduct was replaced with the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, built as the first phase of a larger freeway network intended to connect downtown Vancouver to communities to the north, east, and south. However, the remaining portions of the freeway network were never completed due to community opposition and a lack of federal funding.

The idea of demolishing the viaducts was first raised in 2011 after the elevated structures had been closed to traffic during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Later that year, the City held a public ideas competition called re:CONNECT, seeking suggestions for the area after demolition. More than 100 entries were received.

Council voted unanimously in 2013 to direct staff to do further study on removal of the viaducts and to consult neighbourhoods as well as nearby landowners, which include Concord Pacific, the provincial government and the City.

The decision to demolish the viaducts followed two years of technical analysis and staff study on roadway alternatives, land use, safety and other issues. Staff told Council that at-grade streets would be more seismically resilient than viaducts. The new road system would also accommodate new flood construction levels and provide more resilient infrastructure for flood and earthquake safety. Staff also said maintenance costs of at-grade streets are lower than maintaining the viaducts and that roads have lower life-cycle costs; that demolishing the viaducts would allow for more parkland; that a new road network would allow better connections from downtown to Main Street and between neighbourhoods; and that demolition presented an opportunity to “reconnect” parts of Main Street covered by the viaducts.

Sources
City of Vancouver. (2015). The Future of Vancouver’s Viaducts: Retrieved from: http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/viaducts-study.aspx

Wikipedia. Georgia Viaducts. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_Viaduct

Lee, Jeff. ( 2015, March 3). Court sides with developer in battle over future False Creek Park. The Vancouver Sun. http://www.vancouversun.com/Court+sides+with+developer+battle+over+future+False+Creek+park/10861328/story.html

Link to more 2015 emerging milestones