Last month Vancouver City Council decided to proceed with a second series of studies that would concern the future of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts [The Province]. The current viaducts, installed in 1972, serve as passage for tens of thousands of vehicles (and bikes) into the downtown core from False Creek, Chinatown, and East Vancouver. The City’s vision is to modernize transportation and traffic flow, but they’re just not sure how to go about doing so just yet.
Vancouver’s actually had viaducts in place, in that area, for close to 100 years so I thought it may be worth looking at their history to see where we might go in the future.
On July 1st, 1915, the first Georgia viaduct opened for streetcar use. It extended over the CPR’s Beatty Street yard and it was named the “Hart McHarg” bridge after a World War I hero. Apparently the viaduct was so poorly constructed that within a few years of it going up, chunks began to fall on, endangering pedestrians below.
It wasn’t until 1963 that, under the leadership of Bill Rathie (the first mayor of Vancouver that was actually born in the city), a 20-year program was drawn up that would involve redevelopment, transportation solutions, low-cost housing, and a downtown revitalization. A new Georgia viaduct was thought up for cars to allow easier access to downtown.
But the replacement viaduct in the 1960’s and into the 1970’s was also part of a larger plan. There was a movement to build a freeway system right into and through downtown Vancouver. Can you imagine Highway 1 ploughing right through East Vancouver, Strathcona, and Chinatown? This was the grand idea and it was thought that the viaducts would nicely connect the freeway to the city’s centre.
Before the freeway plans were solid, buildings were being razed in anticipation. This included the Hogan’s Alley community, which was bulldozed to make room for the new Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts. Buildings on the East side were reduced to rubble and wiped off the city map — and this is where residents stepped in. Strathcona community activists created much opposition to the grand plan and ended up saving their corner of the city.
Now, forty years later, the issue has been raised again. So far I’ve heard both opposition and support for getting rid of the Dunsmuir and Georgia overpasses. For example, during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics the viaducts were closed to public traffic. Some felt it was a blessing while others found it terribly inconvenient and had to find alternate routes to get around.
From The Tyee: “The demolition and removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts could begin in as little as five years, opening a wide swath of virgin land to public space and development — and forming the eastern core of Vancouver’s new 21st-century downtown.”
“Bev Davies, a punk rock photographer who fought against the original freeway (in particular, the plan to bore a tunnel beneath Burrard Inlet) wants the viaducts gone because more than 40,000 cars pass her front door every day at Princess and Prior streets.”
From Councillor Geoff Meegs: “For the next year residents will be invited to put their ideas forward in an “ideas fair” and international and local experts will make their own recommendations. The project also opens the door to planning of the False Creek Flats, the last major area slated for development in the city core.”
From The Georgia Straight: “Public consultation over the coming months will come in the form of an “ideas fair”, an expert panel of local and international experts, and a series of public discussions and consultations.”
At this point, residents and concerned citizens will be able to voice their opinions at these “ideas fairs” and learn more about proposed plans over the course of the latest year-long study.
Please note that reference material was found thanks to the research of the late, great, historian Chuck Davis.