Council has approved plans to replace the viaducts with a ground-level street network (source: City of Vancouver)
Council has approved plans to replace the viaducts with a ground-level street network (image source: City of Vancouver)

The big news this week was the decision of the Vancouver City Council to remove their clunky viaduct.  Like the Dominion Road Flyover the viaducts are a legacy fragment of a wider scale scheme that was never realised. To this day the viaducts remain an asterisk for one of the only North American cities to resist the widescale incursion of motorways into the city centre. Here’s how Emily Jackson at Metro News covered the story, “Vancouver council votes to tear down Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts“.

Despite opposition from the Non-Partisan Association and the Green Party, Vision Vancouver councillors narrowly won a 5-4 vote to tear down the 44-year-old elevated roadways, the start of a freeway system that was never completed. It will go down as one of the most important, if not the largest, infrastructure decision this council has made.

“We’re at the edge of a really exciting opportunity,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said, calling the viaducts “a relic of a failed transportation policy.”

Robertson said demolition “is yes to more parks, it’s yes to affordable housing, it’s yes to walkable neighbourhoods, it’s yes to being a city that learns from its past.”

For the Highways to Boulevard enthusiasts, here is a YouTube video of Peter Park describing the trend of cities removing highway and replacing them with public space or surface level boulevards. Park was the chief planner in Milwaukee when a large motorway was torn down under the leadership of Mayor John Norquist. Park, now an expert on the subject of freeways in urban areas, makes an interesting point that no freeway removal project has ever been regretted or reinstated.
Angie Schmitt. “How Is Houston’s Big Bus Network Redesign Working Out?“, StreetsBlog. Another interesting story from the States worth following has been the implementation of Houston’s new bus network. Like Auckland’s New Network, the Houston network has been rationalised with a grid-like structure allowing more frequent services along key corridors. While its too early to draw conclusions the results show a strong growth in weekend and off-peak travel, though weekday ridership has dropped off in the short term.
Weekend ridership is already up significantly — that makes sense because one of the objectives of the redesign was to boost weekend and night service. But total bus ridership is down somewhat, compared to last year.
It will take a few years for people to incorporate the new network into their travel habits, and [Jarrett] Walker says the numbers so far are consistent with the trajectory he expects: a 20 percent ridership gain compared to the previous network. It will be interesting to see.

Dr Vox, “How our housing choices make adult friendships more difficult“, Vox. This story from Vox matches my experience as an immigrant in Auckland where making friends is challenging in our dull, mostly people less suburbs.

Point being, each of us living in our own separate nuclear-family castles, with our own little faux-estate lawns, getting in a car to go anywhere, never seeing friends unless we make an effort to schedule it — there’s nothing fated or inevitable about it.

Why should it require explicit scheduling to see a friend who lives “within striking distance”? Why shouldn’t proximity do some of the work? That answer, for many Americans, is that anywhere beyond a few blocks away might as well be miles; it all requires a car. We do not encounter one another in cars. We grind along together anonymously, often in misery.

I read a study many years ago that I have thought about many times since, though hours of effort have failed to track it down. The gist was this: The key ingredient for the formation of friendships is repeated spontaneous contact. That’s why we make friends in college: because we are, by virtue of where we live and our daily activities, forced into regular contact with the same people. It is the natural soil out of which friendship grows.

Jennifer Miller, “Growing families that stay put“, New York Times. Related. A story from New York showing how young families are foregoing more affordable and spacious housing for lifestyles that enable richer social connections.

It’s common practice in New York for families to move for the sake of the children: Parents angle to buy or rent in a more desirable school district, head for cheaper apartments in the outer boroughs or flee these parts altogether in search of suburban backyards and better schools.

Then there are the families who stay put — sometimes under less than ideal real estate circumstances — because of close-knit neighborhood relationships, especially those forged among children. These parents are willing to make significant sacrifices in space and living expenses to preserve the uber-local community their families have formed with others in nearby blocks or even inside the same building.

Joe Cortright, “The True Costs of Driving“, The Atlantic.

Car owners don’t come close to covering the price of maintaining the roads they use.

The [US PIRG] report documents that the amount that road users pay through gas taxes now accounts for less than half of what’s spent to maintain and expand the road system. The resulting shortfall is made up from other sources of tax revenue at the state and local levels, generated by drivers and non-drivers alike. This subsidizing of car ownership costs the typical household about $1,100 per year—over and above the costs of gas taxes, tolls, and other user fees.

There are good reasons to believe that the methodology of “Who Pays for Roads?” if anything considerably understates the subsidies to private vehicle operation. It doesn’t examine the hidden subsidies associated with the free public provision of on-street parking, or the costs imposed by nearly universal off-street parking requirements, which drive up the price of commercial and residential development. It also ignores the indirect costs that come to auto and non-auto users alike from the increased travel times and travel distances that result from subsidized auto-oriented sprawl. And it also doesn’t look at how the subsidies for new capacity in some places undermine the viability of older communities.

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  1. The Vic Park Flyover is not as bad as many of these overseas examples. With Aucklands famous changeable weather it provides cover from the rain for people using the park and a strip of shade for those wanting to be out of our ozone hole sun. Would be great to see it turned into a proper bike path and perhaps even markets.

    1. I agree the Victoria Park viaduct isn’t as bad as the American examples, but it is ugly, noisy, and cuts the park in half. Yes it can provide shelter from rain and sun, but trees can do that too. The markets have a home across the road, and there is already a bike path directly below the viaduct. The traffic volume over the park is too large to just remove the whole thing like Vancouver is doing, so for me the best option would be to bury the southbound traffic underground like the northbound is. Maybe that’s a job for the future when the second harbour crossing tunnels get built?

      Dominion Road is a great opportunity where bringing a flyover back to street level like this would tidy an area up. That and the Lower Hobson Street flyover.

    1. Why is benefiting apartment constructors a bad thing?, people need dwellings to live in, and they are very good at getting big public realm payoffs from development in Vancouver. Surely the best way to fund it; better than further taxing existing residents, no?

  2. Vancouver Greens wanted developers to help pay for the viaducts’ demolition claiming they were going to benefit from their removal. Apartments are planned for part of the site.

  3. Watch this space re Dominion Road flyover – apparently officers from several departments of Council lead by the Auckland Design Office have been beavering away behind the scenes investigating the feasibility of demolishing the above-ground elements of the interchange (the rest can be simply buried) and quality redevelopment of 2-3 hectares of surplus land. Albert-Eden and Waitemata Local Boards (whose boundary runs right through the middle of the interchange) have been advised to expect a detailed update in about 3 weeks, including a proposal on initial planning steps that will be required.

  4. Although the viaduct’s demolition is not yet a done deal, the province through PAVCO ( which owns BC Place and a large chunk of land around it- that would be needed for the alternative surface roading ). Is still not on board , and given that Christie Clarks’s liberal party ( as opposed to the national Canadian liberals ) is fairly much opposed to the plan, it will be interesting to see what eventually happens, , the provincial govt was blamed by many for the failure of the local translink tax increase referndum…

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