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A cyclist rides alongside the Dunsmuir Street viaduct on Expo Blvd on August 6, 2015. JENNIFER GAUTHIER/METRO
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This article was published originally on MetroNews Vancouver on August 6, 2015.

Bye bye, viaducts: Vancouver planners discuss what happens after the tear down

By Emily Jackson, MetroNews Vancouver, August 6, 2015, www.metronews.ca

Planners outlined their arguments for tearing down the elevated roadways leading to the downtown core at an SFU City Conversations public meeting on Thursday.

Wrecking balls are in the future for Vancouver’s Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts if city planners get their way and secure council’s approval in September – and they seem to have tentative support from the public.

Planners outlined their arguments for tearing down the elevated roadways leading to the downtown core at an SFU City Conversations public meeting on Thursday, where a standing room only crowd applauded plans to demolish the 44-year-old concrete structures.

The city’s logic is that the viaducts are more expensive to maintain than at-grade roadways, create a physical and psychological barrier between East Van neighbourhoods and False Creek, and could collapse in even a moderate earthquake, downtown planner Holly Sovdi said.

But the support, albeit from a skewed sample of people who are tapped in to civic issues and can attend daytime meetings, wasn’t unconditional. Treating the teardown like a foregone conclusion, attendees turned their attention – and worries – to details about costs, future road networks and what will happen once all that land is freed up.

Planners didn’t have a lot of answers. They haven’t done much detailed planning, Sovdi said, because they don’t yet have council’s official approval and don’t want to get too far ahead of themselves.

Planners could not answer how much the project will cost or exactly who will get the land that’s freed up by the removal. Concord Pacific, the Aquilinis, PavCo and the city are all landowners in the area and could stand to gain a windfall in the form of space to develop parks or housing or commercial space.

“There’s a lot of work to do in terms of land exchange. We’re just not there yet,” Sovdi said.

The planners do, however, believe an at-grade road network can absorb the vehicles that currently use the viaducts. The new route will take drivers an additional one to three minutes, planner Devan Fitch said. The extra time and the addition of safe bike routes and walking paths could encourage people to hop out of their cars altogether, he said.

Former city planner Brent Toderian spoke at the meeting and lauded Vancouver for following the direction of cities such as Madrid, Portland and San Francisco, which all experienced revived public spaces after tearing down freeways.

But he cautioned the city about replacing the vertical barriers with a too-wide roadway or excessive high-rise development. “I’m concerned about replacing a wall of viaducts with a wall of towers,” he said.

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