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The Globe and Mail

Vancouver viaducts get no help from council

A cyclist passes vehicles driving along the Dunsmuir Street Viaduct adjacent to the Georgia Street Viaduct in Vancouver, June 25, 2013.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver city council has voted unanimously in favour of giving staff a green light to begin serious preparations for the demolition of the city's twin viaducts and an end to the only vestiges of a once-planned freeway, which would have sliced through historic neighbourhoods on its way downtown.

"City-building used to be ribbon-cutting and now it's dynamiting, I guess," quipped Councillor Geoff Meggs, the main political force behind the historic decision.

The lengthy motion approved by council early Wednesday evening earmarks $2.4 million over the next two years to enable city planners and engineers to conduct necessary land negotiations, engage in extensive public consultation, and precisely pin down the impact that taking down the well-used Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts will have on city traffic to and from the downtown core.

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A comprehensive report presented to council earlier this week said viaduct traffic would be re-routed in the future along a re-aligned Pacific Boulevard, which would then funnel vehicles onto an lengthened Georgia Street. Engineers predicted a traffic decrease of 10 per cent along Prior and Venable Streets, the two, predominantly-residential, eastside thoroughfares that currently carry the bulk of cars and truck using the elevated structures.

Destruction of the viaducts would reconnect Gastown, Chinatown and Strathcona to False Creek, and open up new land for parks and housings, the report said.

Adriane Carr, the lone Green Party member on the Vision-dominated council, said she has come around in the past several months to supporting the decision to get rid of the viaducts. "Will it leave this city better off? Will it leave our children better off? My answer is 'yes'."

Before the vote, council heard from more than 30 community members, with the vast majority endorsing the proposal. Many of them represented community and business organizations affected by the viaducts' future removal.

One concern brought up by several speakers was the potential of commuters using neighbourhoods like Chinatown and Gastown as a route through the city, once the viaducts were gone.

"Water Street, as you know, was not designed as a freeway, it's a redbrick road and everything is small scale…and even the current traffic volumes disrupt our social continuity," said Leanor Sali, who spoke on behalf of the Gastown Business Improvement Society

Ms. Sali did say, however, that her organization supports a plan to take down the viaduct and would work with the city on implementing the project.

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Likewise, Bob Laurie, the chair of the community affairs committee of the Vancouver Board of Trade, said his organization is also in favour of the plan, but added the city should focus on increasing the public's input in the process.

"Use the next two years, with this study and planning, to reintegrate the public process in this city," he said. "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. As opposed to coming into these chambers and the deal is done…I think democracy demands a more open and transparent process."

The current timeline suggest the viaducts will not come down until sometime in 2018.

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