November 15 2012

Making Changes at the Core: Transforming Vancouver, Canada’s Viaduct System

Pedestrians walk across the concrete field that lies underneath the viaducts.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 two elevated viaducts run parallel 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.

The Illustrative Plan designed by Vancouver's structural engineers and city planners depicts what the area would look like if the viaducts were removed.How do commuter freeways change the environment of your city? Can communities be reconnected without disrupting commuter arteries?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Courtney McLaughlin

Courtney McLaughlin holds an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. An avid traveler, her interests are public space modification in Canadian cities and sustainable urban planning. As an aspiring landscape architect, Courtney is particularly fascinated by the interplay of landscape architecture, public space, and urban power structures. During her time writing for The Grid, Courtney reported on urban developments in Vancouver, a city frequently named one of the world’s “most liveable” urban locations. Her blog posts explored how this title has been maintained through sustainable and accessible urban design decisions that pride themselves on community engagement.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 15th, 2012 at 4:33 pm and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Engineering, Environmental Design, Infrastructure, Land Use, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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