Viaducts report makes compelling case for replacement as council moves to vote

This week’s council report on the Dunsmuir and Georgia Viaducts makes such a compelling case for their replacement that some commentators are hoping to be the one who sets off the demolition charges, creating “a spectacular domino-like wave of collapsing concrete and rebar from Beatty to Main.”

There’s no question that council’s decision next Wednesday, after members of the public have had their say, will mark a turning point in the debate over the future of the Viaducts.

If council approves the report, city staff will move forward to prepare legally and from a planning standpoint for replacement of the Viaducts. A decision to seal their fate would come in two years or less.

Despite the report’s careful wording — “the next phase of the work to inform a future decision on the removal of the viaducts” — all of the tasks proposed, including a financial strategy and analysis, build on the very clear benefits to removal set out in the report. (“There are very significant positive outcomes which would flow from this decision.”)

Without those legal agreements and financial analysis, a decision to replace the Viaducts on Wednesday would be a decision “in principle.” Stronger? Maybe, but the work must be done regardless.

What are those benefits? After a year of additional analysis since a report to council last July, city staff have concluded:

“In every city’s evolution there are rare opportunities to take bold city-building steps to advance the city’s goals and liveability or correct a past planning wrong.

“The potential removal of the viaducts provides an opportunity for the City of Vancouver to do both.

“The opportunity presented by the removal of the viaducts includes increased waterfront parkland, opportunities for affordable and subsidized housing on city land, connections between Vancouver’s historic neighbourhoods to False Creek, and restoration of the gap created by the viaducts on Main Street.

“The viaducts removal also eliminates a physical and psychological barrier and erases an urban scar from a rapidly urbanizing part of the city.

“Removal of the viaducts would allow for improved street connectivity which will offer a new balance between mode shares that supports our Transportation 2040 goals and will integrate the development of Northeast False Creek into the fabric of the downtown.”

The strategic analysis of the benefits — 13 percent more park space, improved traffic flow, seven acres of additional space to purse objectives like affordable housing and much more — runs for more than 20 pages.

Time is running out for a decision, given pressure for development around the Viaducts. The cost of removal will go up over time. For all these reasons, Wednesday’s vote marks a turning point.