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A cyclist passes vehicles driving along the Dunsmuir Street Viaduct adjacent to the Georgia Street Viaduct in Vancouver, June 25, 2013. (Rafal Gerszak for the Globe and Mail)
A cyclist passes vehicles driving along the Dunsmuir Street Viaduct adjacent to the Georgia Street Viaduct in Vancouver, June 25, 2013. (Rafal Gerszak for the Globe and Mail)

Demise of Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts appears certain Add to ...

The drawing from the 1960s is a glimpse of urban hell: huge swaths of cloverleafs, elevated roadways and a freeway slicing through the heart of downtown Vancouver and along the waterfront.

“That was their vision of paradise,” said today’s chief city planner, Brian Jackson, who found the sketch tucked away in an old report.

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Thanks to a tidal wave of angry reaction by community activists and Chinatown and Strathcona residents, whose historic neighbourhoods would have been eviscerated, the freeway was never built. But the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, built in advance of the anticipated freeway construction, remain, carrying tens of thousands of vehicles to and from downtown every day.

Now, their demise looks set too. City council voted unanimously for their demolition, but much planning, land negotiation, public consultation and traffic engineering work has to take place before the viaducts actually come down, Mr. Jackson said Thursday, pegging the date at 2019.

A comprehensive staff report released earlier this week, detailing the many benefits of the viaducts’ destruction and where the traffic would go, seemed to quell serious opposition to the plan.

“Will it leave this city better off? Will it leave our children better off? My answer is ‘yes,’” said Councillor Adriane Carr, who had been lukewarm to the idea because of concerns over the impact on local residents and community gardens.

Before council’s vote Wednesday evening, members heard from more than 30 community representatives and individuals. Most were in favour of getting rid of them, though business groups expressed some concerns over how the process will unfold.

“It’s very important, before things are cooked in the basement somewhere, that the rational and logic of all options are identified to the public, so they can choose,” said Bob Laurie, chair of the Vancouver Board of Trade’s community affairs committee.

Leanor Sali of the Gastown Business Improvement Society worried that removal of the viaducts might funnel more traffic through Chinatown and Gastown. “Water Street was not designed as a freeway,” she told council. “It’s a red-brick road and everything is small scale. … Even the current traffic volumes disrupt our social continuity.”

Charles Gauthier, president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, also expressed caution over how cars and goods will flow into downtown, once the viaducts are demolished. He said transit, pedestrian and bicycle access must be improved as well.

Follow on Twitter: @rodmickleburgh

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