“Mr. Robertson, tear down this viaduct!”

Did everyone get my Reagan/Family Guy reference in the title? It refers to Ronald Reagan, as he stood in front of the Brandenberg Gate on June 12, 1987, telling Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, thus ending the USSR’s hopeless communist experiment. Family Guy enthusiasts will know that he had a nap afterwards. Really, though, it has absolutely nothing to do with this article. But it sounds kinda cool, right? Except that, more or less, I’m exactly like Ronald Reagan and, more or less, Gregor Robertson is like Mikhail Gorbachev. I rest my case.

Moving on…

Yesterday (Sunday, October 31), up-and-coming “newspaper” the Globe and Mail launched  “a new weekly series where we ask a notable Vancouverite for their One Big Idea to make Vancouver a better place.” I can tell that you’re just dying to know which idea they lead with. Was it legalizing marijuana? Intravenous coffee? Ziplines everywhere? A penthouse-to-homeless-switcheroo-lottery? No. Not even close. Professor Anthony Perl, Director of the Urban Studies Program at Simon Fraser University, wants to demolish the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts.

Officially, the Daily Gumboot is a non-partisan entity representing fair and balanced journalism in and around the Twitterverse. Unofficially, Kurt Heinrich has already started quiety removing pieces of the viaduct and is using them to build a stadium for his homeless soccer team.

Needless to say, we love conversation and collaboration here at the Gumboot, and here are some points – and counterpoints – to Professor Perl’s One Big Idea.

TEAR DOWN THE VIADUCTS!

Be inspired by the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project.

See, following the Korean War, some jackass misguided Western engineers thought it

From a freeway to a national park in just a few years.

would be a great idea to pave over the river that, for hundreds of years, had run through Seoul on its way to the ocean. Fun fact, the site on which to build Seoul was actually chosen because of the river. Anyway, they thought a freeway would be of better use for the city. Kinda like Vancouver’s city planners thought about the viaducts when they were built in the 1970s (they were also built in 1915, too). Well, the Cheonyggyecheon Restoration Project is going fairly spectacularly – the freeway has been torn up, the water is flowing faster and cleaner than it has for decades, and the river has been turned into a national park – one that is also adding much needed aesthetic and eco-friendly value to the city’s community. Well played, Seoul.

Speaking of aesthetics, giant concrete pillars and slabs don’t look pretty. Also, the highways-in-the-sky obstruct views from homes and, quite literally, divide and obscure the communities of Chinatown, Strathcona and False Creek. Furthermore, it will cost – literally – butt-loads of cash for seismic upgrades to the two structures. Finally, how the viaducts – with their freeway feel – turn suddenly into a semi-residential route along Prior Street is fairly ridiculous and incongruent to our city’s needs.

Case closed. Demolish the viaducts!

KEEP THE VIADUCTS!

A study from The Recent Findings Institute shows that people do not like change. Hey, the viaducts have been around for years and they work just fine. Also, how the heck are we supposed to get around a semi-street-level Skytrain track once the viaducts are removed?! The Skytrain currently goes under the viaducts for a reason. Also, the idea that removing the concrete remnants of a freeway that was never built will make the False-Creek-to-Strathcona community more vibrant might be a good one, but the idea will hardly make these neighbourhoods more accessible to people with barriers to million dollar homes. Housing prices will soar and the neighbourhoods will transform in a way that marginalizes everyone from ironically-affluent hipsters to third generation Chinese-Canadian familes to people who live in the only housing units that they can afford.

Finally, traffic use along Hastings and Pender Streets and Pacific Avenue will skyrocket. Perpetual gridlock will follow shortly after. Especially after bike lanes are added everywhere. Besides, according to the Metro, the viaducts have at least 50 years of being two of Vancouver’s most important traffic arteries left in ‘em. After all, we need clear, direct channels from a kind of random, residential-ish road into downtown Vancouver.

Case closed. The viaducts stay!

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

So there it is. Or, really, there they are. What’s your position on this One Big Idea? For the record, whatever you think about demolishing the viaducts is cool with us – just be sure that you’re part of the conversation.

Tune in and connect by following this link at 1pm.

And, hey, while you’re discussing ideas that are siilar and different to yours, be sure to have fun with it!

5 thoughts on ““Mr. Robertson, tear down this viaduct!”

  1. Wow. Great article and links. Although I love the image of Kurt surreptitiously chipping away at the viaducts, and I mean I really love that image, I’m not entirely convinced. On the G+M forum, Perl seemed pretty dismissive of worries about traffic congestion, without really addressing what alternatives were going to replace the viaducts – it’s not like they are proposing to do this hand-in-hand with light rail or something like that. Sure, we survived the Olympics, but my impression is that we did so in part because people were happy to be rammed like sardines into buses and skytrains for a couple of weeks. I doubt that would be easy to sell as the future of transportation.

  2. Thanks, Julian. Sometimes, I nearly explode from my conflicting internal dialogue. So it’s good to get it out and on to a screen every now and then.

    It’s interesting, because that’s exactly what all the detractors said about the Cheonggyecheon project – that “traffic would get backed up and clog the streets, of which there are far, far fewer.” To this the lead engineer said, “traffic is like a gas, it will go wherever it can and wherever it needs to.” I paraphrased that, of course. Does it apply to Vancouver and the Viaducts? I’m not sure it does or it can. But taking a superhighway and not replacing what was taken with any new roads and, according to the film and the City of Seoul, having no real traffic snarls to speak of, well, that is a pretty powerful statement on its own.

  3. The “traffic is like a gas” analogy must break down sometimes, or else there would never be any traffic congestion. Presumably it depends on the volume of traffic using a given route, and the excess capacity in alternative routes. Has anyone seriously looked at this with respect to the viaducts (apart from the Olympic experiment)?

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