In just about every conversation I’ve had about tearing down the Georgia and Dunsmuir Street viaducts over the past two years, proponents of doing away with the overpasses consistently conclude with the same idea: “They are the remnants of a freeway that no one wanted – the last vestige of a project that our civic forefathers had the wisdom to abandon. It’s time to do away with them.”
They deliver the line like a knockout punch, expecting me to stagger backward, waiting for the moment my knees will buckle and I will crumple to the canvas, dazed but enlightened.
This week, as Vancouver city staff shared their vision of what the world will look like in the after-time, there were other arguments. The viaducts have apparently failed to live up to their car-carrying potential. According to the report to council, both are carrying less than half the traffic they were originally designed to accommodate. (I’m guessing as part of a larger freeway system.) They fail to mention that choking off Dunsmuir Street with separated bike lanes and turn restrictions may have prompted some drivers to avoid the route.
The City of Vancouver insists that removing the viaducts will have little impact on the number of cars allowed to flow into the downtown core. Georgia Street would be transformed into a gentle slope down to Pacific Boulevard, which would become a new four-lane “super road” carrying traffic around the north end of False Creek.
No one wants to talk much about what all of this will cost or how it will be paid for. So far, the plan has been ballparked at about $100-million. I’m guessing it’ll go over budget.
All of these points combined may have sealed the deal for people eager to see the overpasses demolished.
I have arrived at an equally obvious but totally contrary conclusion: Let’s finally build that freeway.
Rather than looking at the two stretches of elevated roadway as a mistake or a remnant of a bygone era, let’s think of them as the first link in a new era of transportation in the city. One that allows people who drive cars (and don’t ride bikes) to actually get where they’re going in a reasonable period of time without getting all sweaty and gross or having to be near other people.
Vancouver has always been a leader; now is the time to step up. Nothing could be bolder than bucking the trend of bike lanes and public transit and, instead, embracing single-occupancy vehicles like never before.
What is a “super road,” after all, if not an eight-lane expressway soaring over the bungalows of East Vancouver and the podiums of the downtown core, with auto traffic gliding seamlessly to and from its delicate off-ramps whisking workers into underground parking lots beneath office towers? Or, for those who choose to go further, all the way to a new, twinned and tolled Lions Gate Bridge that would link directly to the upper-levels highway.
Both viaducts would finally carry the traffic they were designed to carry. Especially when they are widened and the sidewalks and bike lanes are eliminated.
Yes, East Vancouver residents may at first resist, but they, too, will eventually embrace the city’s bold new approach. Visionary thinking doesn’t come easily to all.
Looking east, the obvious route is Prior Street, which is already used by thousands of vehicles per day. Imagine a 1st Avenue exit from Highway One that soars over the terracotta tiles of Grandview-Woodlands above Prior Street to connect with the new Georgia-Pacific Super-road.
With the highway above, the people of Strathcona can rest easy, knowing their children won’t have to bring traffic to a grinding halt to get to the park or the community garden. As the climate changes, those children will be comforted in the summertime by the cool shade cast by the overpasses. In the winter they’ll be protected from the rain that comes with increasingly volatile storms.
Finally, with the entire road network elevated, rising sea levels will no longer be a concern.
Mayor Gregor Robertson says a final decision hasn’t been made on the viaducts and that further public consultation is needed before the plan is approved.
The time to act is now.
Just think, 40 years from now you’ll be able to look up at that Georgia-Pacific Super-road and the brand new Robertson-Meggs connector and say to your grandchildren, “You know, that almost didn’t happen.”