At the eastern edge of downtown Vancouver, Canada remains the elevated viaducts of a freeway system that never came to be. In the 1960s, after a display of public engagement that has become legend in Vancouver, a proposed expressway was successfully opposed making Vancouver one of the only cities in North America without a major highway running through its core. Two viaduct roadways remain as monuments to this struggle. Now, city planners and the local communities agree; it’s time for them to go.
The viaducts, which move more than 40,000 commuters to and from the downtown core each day, have been criticized for acting as dividers between neighborhoods. In early 2012, a team of structural engineers and urban planners proposed the viaducts be removed and the land used for an at-grade road network that would permit more parkland and mixed-use development in the area. The proposal ensures commuting efficiency, while adding much needed waterfront access to Vancouver’s False Creek Inlet.
The at-grade plan would expand new roads built for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and connect them with existing connector roads into the downtown core. In addition to ensuring that traffic patterns are not hindered, the plan proposes a more direct connection between Chinatown and False Creek, citing the possibility of a new waterfront retail and recreation area for the community. The plan emphasizes contemporary design that is functional for the broader community.
Vancouver’s transportation engineer, Jerry Dobrovolny states that the proposal to remove the viaducts “is one of those big, city-shaping developments that come along only every two or three decades.” Whether or not the city takes full advantage of the city-shaping opportunity remains to be seen, but public consultations are well underway with the majority of city residents seeing the plan as a method of reconnecting communities long divided under the bridges of cement and steel.
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