Courier's Thomas blasts viaducts plan

Post by Mike Klassen in


under the viaducts
Under the viaduct: is a Vision donor driving talk of demolition?

The Vancouver Courier's very good writer Sandra Thomas ably fills the paper's opinion page, and in today's paper she pulls no punches. Her op/ed titled Demolishing the viaducts benefits who exactly? explores the topic of tearing down the Georgia Viaducts, which has been promoted by Mayor "Geoff" Meggs. Thomas says the discussion has triggered the cynic within her, and she wonders aloud if the developer who stands to gain the most from the structure's removal, Concord Pacific, might be influencing the proceedings.

...if the proposal to permanently close the viaducts gets the go ahead, it will make Meggs' longtime goal of developing the land underneath one step closer. When that happens some developer (read Concord Pacific) is going to make a pile of money. Concord Pacific, which already owns much of the property near the Georgia Viaduct, and its subsidiary Pacific Place Developments Corp., donated $119,750 to Vision's 2005 and 2008 campaigns. That number doesn't include the money Concord gave Vision as a lead sponsor of the party's February 2009 fundraiser.

There is no suggestion that Concord Pacific does anything but good work in Vancouver's downtown core by Thomas. What she appears to take issue with is the anecdotal arguments being made for the thoroughfare's destruction. She says that Meggs' case was made by the lack of disruption caused by their closure to the public during the Olympic Games.

Meggs insists the high number of people finding other ways to get in and out of the city during the Olympics is proof the viaducts can be removed with little or no problem for commuters. And the city will likely hire someone in April to study just that.

More accurately, the Viaducts were used during the Games, but just not by you and me. The Olympic fleet of buses had many of their units parked there during February, and whenever the Prime Minister or members of the Olympic Family entered or exited GM Place, their limos drove along the viaducts.

No one has really bothered to analyze the gridlock experienced along Keefer and Pender streets in Chinatown, which we've heard was considerable as commuters who still wanted to get downtown chose this route.

Can we re-think northeast False Creek and the Concord properties without the viaducts? Sure, we can. But, Thomas argues, don't count them as expendable.

Urbanists and city staff I've spoken with are also to a person dismissive of Meggs' proposal. Skytrain's route under and beside the roads also make this a very complicated initiative. What about building under, over and around the structures? Can we not adapt to the existing urban geography? And what about the impact on Chinatown and the Strathcona neighbourhood? To date they have not been a part of Mayor Meggs' brainstorm.

What irks the most about Meggs' proposal is that it smacks of the easy, populist politics that mark Vision Vancouver's term in office. Any urban planner will tell you that it's easy to develop a brownfield site like the land beneath the viaducts. Real leadership, and real planning for Vancouver's future involves making tough decisions such as increasing the zoning on a little 3-storey walk-up to several times the density. That requires real vision, and the ability to negotiate with the public to understand what their needs are for the long term.

Vision Vancouver are, in a word, wimps. The viaduct idea is symbolic of this. They haven't got the courage to make a truly controversial decision without hiding under a blanket. If any of our readers can prove to me otherwise, I'm all ears.

Kudos to Sandra Thomas for asking questions about this topic for her readers to consider. Importantly, it opens up the debate about whether we want our city government to be building a city for the future, or just tearing old stuff down.


Actually proposals to tear the viaducts down have been dangled in front of Strathcona residents by planners under at least three successive city councils usually with the promise that Prior street will be calmed.
And Keefer and Pender continue to be gridlocked through Chinatown, viaducts or no viaducts.

Doesn't building a $300,000 bike lane on a viaduct you hope to tear down seem a bit weird?

Not only could that money have been spent on other things, but now Meggs has another group with a vested interest in keeping the viaduct up: Cyclists!

Won't happen. Keefer and Pender were choked during Olympics and overall vehicle traffic was way down.

Beautiful reporting. Finally, are we going to see the 4th estate doing it's job? Something's not necessarily right just because 'green' Vision says it is.

I disagree that it may not make sense to tear down the viaducts. It's simply a question of where does the downtown start. It would be far better for a cohesive urban community if it truly started @ Main Street. But, what are the costs / benefits?

Putting an Viaduct infill option on the table would be very welcome. Where is the City Planning Commission? They have a responsibility to see that all options are aired & to facilitate public consultation & discussion. Where is the Planning Department? This & other TEAM initiated mechanism which have served the City well are being ignored by Vision. Why?

A proper public discussion on this subject would be useful, in fact essential. In the absence of the above, who's going to lead it? By the way, where's the NPA?

Tearing down the viaducts will only lead to traffic spilling into other streets...this goes contrary to what Vision plans of making the core more pedestrian friendly and above all friendly to cyclists.

Every city has layers to its transportation networks. With public transit we have commuter rail, subways/elevated rail, light rail, streetcars, and buses (albeit, Vancouver has merged commuter rail with subway/elevated rail, known as SkyTrain...the WCE is quite insignificant as commuter rail).

In addition with roads there are many layers from freeways, to bypasses, to road arteries, and then neighbourhood side streets. The Georgia viaducts are a quick bypass in Downtown, and eliminates much traffic from the suburbs from city streets. In addition, it is used by many trucks. Many, many cities around the world have bypasses into their cores.

It takes creativity and imagination to re-think what we can do with the viaducts instead of simply choosing the easy way of demolition. As it is it may be a psychological barrier, but what has the City exactly done to reduce this?

Vancouver is a city that lacks a layered transportation system that European and Asian cities have. While Vision folks may aspire to become cities like Europe, they often ignore that these cities like Copenhagen also have arteries (and even freeways) to take away traffic from city streets...

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