Vancouver City Council recently voted to remove the elevated highway-like viaducts that have been cutting off its Chinatown and Strathcona neighbourhoods with the rest of downtown Vancouver and False Creek.
Of course, this is a fantastic development for Vancouver, continuing a long history of progressive, people-oriented urban planning.
The removal of these viaducts will improve the surrounding area, making it safer and less hostile to pedestrians. And no, it won’t mean downtown Vancouver will not be inundated with cars. People who chose to drive downtown will find other options, and (hopefully), the money gained from unlocked development opportunities will go directly to transit funding.
As you may know, I visited Vancouver and the Lower Mainland this past summer. I had the opportunity to explore the spaces under — and over — the viaducts.
I was pleased to discover there was a bi-directional bike lane running the length of Vancouver’s viaducts. Approaching the viaducts from Main Street, the elevated roadway and its bike lane quickly climbs uphill, becoming suspended above the city. The feeling of biking the viaduct lanes was thrilling – high above the streets, the viaducts runs over many intersections, curving around the often-renamed Rogers Arena, and depositing cyclists to Yaletown at the base of Vancouver’s downtown core.
I’ve explored car-style, human scale infrastructure on this blog before, where I described the thrilling experience of biking Halifax’s similar highway-to-nowhere Cogswell interchange, and Montreal’s Rosemont Flyover. Car-style infrastructure at a human scale, I wrote, offers a change in the rhythm of a city and a truly unique urban experience. That is, if it doesn’t define the urban form, and if adequate space for pedestrians is provided.
So, like many urbanists, I celebrate the taking down of Vancouver’s viaducts – ugly barriers that favour cars over humans, preventing vital urban life from thriving.
But I also lament their loss. We praise the Denmark’s cycling highways while we take down our own in Canada.
Imagine what the debate would be like in Toronto if there was a bike lane on the Gardiner Expressway!