Vancouver’s viaduct variables

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What shall we do with the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaduct?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. November 11, 2015

Now that the filming of Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool has ended, I guess we can start talking about how awful the Vancouver viaducts are. If you are unfamiliar with these viaducts, they are the two roads that connect Prior Street, Strathcona to Expo Boulevard, Stadium/Downtown. It’s the big concrete bridge that runs alongside the SkyTrain from Chinatown to Rogers Arena.

Built in the 1970s, the viaducts were designed to be an entry point into the urban core of Vancouver. I’ve taken it to and from the city as long as I can remember, and it has never—ever—been a pleasant experience. Now, with the inception of the bike lanes, the viaducts are hazards left, right, and centre. And let’s not forget about it also being a seismic calamity waiting to happen. So when the city council voted to replace the ultra thin, unsettling Hot Wheel tracks with a six-lane, ground-level road that offers neighbouring areas more space for parks, residential, and commerce, I was all in.

But once the viaducts are torn down, what will ultimately take their place will be high rises. Let’s not lie to ourselves, we are running out of room in Vancouver, and building upward seems to be the only feasible solution. While some people have a problem with that initiative, I don’t. Done correctly, buildings can be as beautiful as the waterfront. Buildings can become the ripples of the city, where the waves are the ripples of the ocean; both can be majestic and encapsulating to look upon.

The problem with so many big cities is that their infrastructures end up fencing people from one corner away from people in another corner. Basically, crossing the road becomes a great hassle, so people don’t do it. This creates a divide, which eliminates cross-community engagements. The viaduct truly makes it difficult to traverse. Nevertheless, we should not make the same mistake. The great big cities of the world—London, Paris, and New York—have channels that connect pedestrians, not just vehicles. In Hong Kong, people never have to touch the solid ground; there are walkways connecting to every part of the city, some call it a “pop-up city.” I digress; we shan’t be one of those, albeit it does sound cool to live in such a futuristic metropolis.

Those designing the new roadway systems are assuring us that it is going to be better. I believe them, because honestly, I don’t see how it could be worse. I fear that one day we are going to be like Los Angeles with layers upon layers of highways. With the demolition of the viaducts, I can feel relieved that at least for the moment we are taking a step away from that.

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