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Report from Viaducts meeting

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Hello neighbours,

The City staff’s presentation of their proposals for the viaducts on July 30th was an important one for the community.
We are grateful for the very large and very engaged attendance at this special meeting.

Below is a report of the meeting for those of you who missed it or wanted a reminder of some of the points raised.

The next SRA meeting will be on Wednesday, September 2nd at 7:15PM. We will be sending out another announcement and agenda about a week prior to that. If you have any items or announcements to add to it please send them in by August 24th.
Stay tuned, there's obviously a lot more coming.

Enjoy the summer!

SRA Executive Council - Elana, Gordon, Rick, Chris and Roberta
SRA Prior Street Committee - Graham, Pete, Judy and Dick

Special SRA Community Meeting
July 30, 2015 at the Strathcona Community Centre

City Presentation on “Viaducts (North East False Creek-NEFC) and Flats E/W Aterial (False Creek Flats-FCF) Update”

Attendance: 61 people had RSVPd, but attendance at the beginning of the meeting was 104, with more arriving later and not including 7 media representatives and 9 City staff
Presenters: Gerry Dobrovolny, Acting Head of City Engineering; Tom Wanklin, Senior Planner DTES and FCF; Kevin McNaney, Ass’t Dir. Planning; Holly Sovdi and Catherine O’Neil, NECF Planners; Devan Fitch and Jesse Weibe, NEFC Transportation Engineers, and Cory Dobson, FCF Planner.

Elana Zysblat brought the meeting to order. She thanked everyone for attending and introduced Graham Elvidge, a member of the SRA's Prior Street Committee.

Graham first asked that people be respectful of our guests and keep their questions short and to the point. He then asked if there was any objection to the presence of media. The City asked that their actual presentation slides not be filmed, since it had not yet been presented to City Council. After some discussion and objections of the media reps present and some of the audience, the decision was to allow filming of all but the actual slides the City showed.

Graham then listed some of the questions and concerns that the SRA has had in the many years of discussions with the City leading up to this meeting. He stated that the SRA was not opposed to the project but wanted specific issues addressed. He listed three objectives from this meeting:

  1. To ensure the City commits to a new arterial route through The Flats, removing arterial traffic from Prior Street in any Viaducts / Flats plans.
  2. To determine a means of holding the City to their responses and commitments.
  3. To base our future actions on the City’s responses and commitments.

He then turned it over to the City representatives from the Engineering and Planning departments, False Creek Flats Team, Viaducts Team.

Gerry Dobrovolny introduced the reps from the City and remained the main spokesperson for the City throughout. He stated that he was aware that there has been a certain distrust in relations with the City but he assured the audience that the SRA's persistent attention to traffic calming has had an effect and is now seen entirely consistent with City’s direction to planners. Grandview-Woodlands residents have been pushing for a greenway on Prior/Venables throughout and the SRA’s aggressive lobbying has helped in this. Similarly Cottonwood Gardens’ lobbying has helped planners defend that space. He hoped that the plans they would be presenting now, though not yet approved, would please both groups by showing their concerns had been heard.

The regular presentation they have done for other groups focused on the viaduct removal, but this one would also include a spotlight on traffic and its affect on Prior. Since the organizers have asked for enough time for questions, he stated that the presentation might be a little rushed, but to hold questions until the end.

Dobrovolny said one of the City's rationales for replacing the viaducts with an at-grade road is that it will be far less vulnerable to earthquake damage than an elevated roadway, and would cost less to achieve than seismically upgrading the viaducts.

He noted that the proposed traffic plans have also been altered by the recent St. Paul's announcement of moving that hospital onto the Flats. The new hospital doesn't want an eastern ambulance approach route that could be blocked by trains at an at-grade crossing.

Proposed Changes
The PowerPoint presentation was text and jargon heavy, which made it difficult to record. Bearing in mind that these were proposals and not plans, the main points were:

  1. This is what will be presented to City Council in the Fall
  2. There are two parts to the plan- one to the east and one to the west.
  3. The funding for both is not yet in place and will take quite a bit of work to get the partnerships in line.
  4. Viaducts are not simply being removed, but also replaced by a new at-grade route. Alternate routes will be developed so traffic will not be increased in neighboring communities.
  5. Planning has been looking at Prior, Malkin and National as alternative routes for the east-west traffic east of Main. Malkin is the preferred route, followed by National.
  6. Prior has too many engineering problems to be a serious contender. It is also seen as best through traffic for bikes and pedestrians, local access only for vehicles
  7. The plan is to create an alternate route which will not interfere with existing businesses and communities, and increase the livability of existing and planned new area.
  8. In anticipation that the rail lines will become busier and for increased safety, they plan to replace all rail crossings at grade with an overpass on main vehicular thoroughfares and underpasses for bicycle and pedestrian routes.
  9. The removal of the viaducts will create a windfall of land, which can provide safe and convenient traffic routing as well as space for housing, parks and other amenities.
  10. The direction from the City is to create routes which will accommodate existing traffic without encouraging more, and encourage alternate modes of transport - bus, cycle, and pedestrian- through intelligent design.
  11. The new route, west of Main, called “New” Pacific, will have 6 lanes, all 6 open during rush hours and then down to 4 with street parking at other times.
  12. Their studies have shown that this will accommodate 100% of existing traffic, but alternate routes and transportation options would reduce that by 10%

Q: This is a very good presentation but you have always said that the full plan could only be completed with federal money and this doesn't seem to have changed. So we could potentially have only part of this done- the removal of the viaducts- and then all the rest waits?
A: That's true, we are proposing will require some federal money to do much of the work after removing the viaducts, or even in removing the viaducts. The full plan will require a number of financial partners at the federal, provincial and commercial levels, as well as community. We are pushing for these partnerships but we do have them yet. Nor do we know what changes to our proposals those partners may require.

Q: What happens to Prior, what does the rail line on Prior still allow access to the south if the Malkin option
A: We haven't decided how access would be arranged but the current plan considers restricting the Prior crossing to bikes and pedestrians, or allowing cars/buses but without through access to downtown at Main.

Q: Are Cottonwood Gardens going to be protected?
A: Yes we have heard loud and clear that the gardens have to be protected

Q: All 3 options Malkin, National and Prior come to Clark at T intersection, which seems to be somewhat inconvenient
A: If traffic was just dumped on/off at Clark that might be a problem. But we are building a network of roads, the same capacity but with many alternate connections. The emphasis in planning is to not increase road capacity, but to increase alternate traffic

Q: You describe two different projects, (east and west of Main) with two sets of funding and partners. My question is, how can you do one without the other?
A: They can be done separately and, more importantly, the political and funding dynamics make it necessary at the moment. But since the one project will be to handle existing traffic, not increase it, we think this is doable

Q: Is this true even with increased housing and the hospital traffic?
A: Yes because other measures we take at the same time will increase transit and alternate traffic options.

Q: Who are the partners on the Pacific bypass replacing the viaduct?
A: He mentioned a long list of neighborhood and business associations, developers, federal and provincial departments, all of whom are in the negotiations

Q: How did Cottonwood become central?
A: There has been a general instruction from the City to emphasize food production, which is why the gardens, and the produce row businesses have been taken into consideration and we are looking at increasing possibilities.

Q: What are you doing about pedestrian traffic north south, and are you encouraging commuter traffic by replacing the viaducts with a 4/6 lane alternative?
A: To the first, we are planning to include safe and attractive pedestrian access through, over and under any impediments. We have focused the presentation on traffic but we have not forgotten north/south foot access or pedestrian traffic in general. The second presumes we are increasing access through new roads, but our policy and planning focus is to provide just the traffic access required by current needs but provide alternatives which will reduce that need over time

Q: Have you examined keeping the viaducts? It seems that you could repair and upgrade the viaduct for the same money as taking it down, and it separates traffic above from pedestrians below.
A: Taking the viaducts down won't be as expensive as fixing it, and removing it makes land available to generate revenue for the costs of removing and replacing the viaducts

Q: Asked about traffic capacity versus speed. The higher capacity means that the intersection will be quite wide and traffic will be quite fast.

Q: Have you considered a T intersection at Malkin or National and Main or Quebec?
A: At Malkin the route will be straight through and making it a T would create terrible constriction. At National there is already one.

Q: So is the policy really to maintain capacity, rather than merely to avoid increasing it?
A: The traffic exists and will go into neighborhoods (Gastown Chinatown) if we don't provide it a safe option. We won't be able to take the traffic out of the neighborhood and put it in another. We can move it to the periphery so that it is less intrusive

Q: The one thing you don't address is air quality. Not increasing but not decreasing traffic sustains an unhealthy neighborhood.
A: Metro Vancouver has emphasized a healthy city initiative, and has a number of policies and projects in the short and long term to green the city. We have to work with what we have and this can't happen overnight.

Q: Can you discuss what developers will gain from this?
A: We have received no proposals because Council has not approved any plans which the proposals would be based on. We are talking to developers who own land we would need to create the new traffic flow. The city plans a diverse livable community in any proposals which we receive.

Q: What provisions have you made for affordable housing.
A: We are in discussion with BC Housing and developers, but the developers want to maximize market housing for profit, and the city makes money from market housing which can be reinvested in amenities and housing. There is a balance to be struck and we can't strike that balance until we all have an approved plan.

Q: Why should we support the removal of the viaduct when you can't commit to building a workable traffic alternative?
A: You should make your decision on whether you want either part to be approved for its own benefits. Completion of the west side of Main will not cause additional traffic on Prior.
to create the possibility, not because we've promised the reality. We can't. What we can do is show that we are ready and have prioritized the Malkin alternative. We agree that the two should be linked, and they may yet be, but this is what we are doing now.

Q: Will the #22 bus continue to run on Prior Street?
A: Dobrovolny said that since transit policy is that buses follow arterials, the #22 will probably go on the new road rather than stay on Prior. He went on to say that transit in the area could be worked on to address ridership needs.

The meeting ends at 9 PM, with the City staff remaining to answer questions and the media remaining to do interviews.

We thank the Strathcona Community Centre for being so helpful in accommodating the growing crowd with last minute room changes and the equipment we needed to make the meeting work.