Vancouver Viaducts Concept



Vancouver Viaduct Study

Georgia and Dunsmuir Streets

Remove, Retain, Partial Remove





Velo.Urbanism, Barcelona

Velo.Urbanism, the Blog

the Concept (Courtesy of the City of Vancouver)

the Land and Viaducts the Viaducts and the SkyTrain Line  

Article – 2012-06-18



Vancouver is a city where peoples’ expectations are drawn from the sea bounding the city, the mountains at its northern shore, the luscious vegetation, flowers, and trees nurtured by the abundance of rainfall and moderate weather temperatures, the hiking paths within the city and the mountains, the world-class mountain bike trails on the North Shore, the less demanding trails within the city and the neighbouring municipalities, the use of the outdoors whether hiking, kayaking, cycling, jogging, participating in sports, lazing on the beaches or through other endeavours, the quality of the air, and the sense of freeness that mountain ranges encompassing the city and Metro Vancouver brings. A love for the city, an active use of the city, and its liveability makes urban form and transportation a high priority for its residents. This is a city of active resident participation in governmental functioning and planning. It is a city where governmental transparency is important. It is a city that breeds advocacy as an industry.

It is within this context that the opportunity to revisit land use for a neighbourhood area is generating much public attention and suggestions. The lands are in a part of the city bounded by two professional sports complexes, the sea, parkland, Chinatown, and Vancouver style high-density residential areas, served by an above ground, driverless rapid transit system and frequent-service bus routes, within walking distance of another underground rapid transit line and a railway-bus terminal, and crossed by two elevated viaducts providing passage to downtown for cars and cyclists. The lands under these viaducts are unused and not in keeping with the appeal of the city.


With redevelopment along False Creek continuing and moving into this area, the question of the day is whether the lands under the viaduct should be constraint in use by the viaducts crossing above or released for development through the demolition of the viaducts. This decision then opens up the use of lands from the sea into Chinatown and along the sea to the apartment towers in each direction. The landmass under scrutiny is 0.4 km deep and 0.75 km along the sea.






Viaducts are the imagination of engineers and city planners of the 1950s and 1960s as the way to move cars into a city reducing the use of transit and cycling and making walking from home to work or shop unfashionable. There was no consideration given for where the money would come from for these viaducts to maintain or refurbished them with time. Well, now is the time and the funds are not available from existing municipal tax sources. So, cities are actively looking at the future of viaducts and elevated roads within their municipalities. Some are coming down. Now is the time for Vancouverites to revisit their viaducts which were an attempt to bring expressways into the downtown core, an attempt repelled by the residents of the city resulting in a downtown core without an expressway but with two feeder elevated roads.


Street Network

For this neighbourhood the city should seriously consider a “NO NEW STREET” policy. With such a policy there would be more land to develop. Currently, the amount of land set aside for streets can easily be in the 15% range. With the depth of the development lands from arterial roads in the 130 metres range or less, the need for car parking and for servicing residential and commercial buildings can easily be accomplished at an underground level. With such a policy, then on surface requirement for transportation can be reduced to a walking lane and a cycling lane between buildings. Building separation could be lessened to as little as 10 metres, although a 14-metre separation would be more comfortable. A normal road right-of-way requires a minimum of 22 metres. Densification would increase as a direct result of such a policy. The bike lanes could be used for surface needs of emergency and city service vehicles, especially if the lane width is 4.5 metres or more. With this concept, each block would have one underground level that would provide vehicle movement to all buildings. This concept would not require any significant increased in footprint for movement (traffic) lanes as the width of underground lanes serving the car parking lots are wide enough, especially with the low traffic levels in garages. The question can be raised as to why neighbour blocks could not be joined underground with arterial roads running on the surface over the underground driving and parking network.



The viaduct removal concept allows for a fresh look at streetscape design for the 2040’s, rather than continuing with patterns developed 50 years ago. Engineering focus has been on symmetrical designs based on a centre line. As pressure for urban-friendly streets, cycling lanes, tramways, wider sidewalks, retail space on public roadways, and so on developed in the last 20 years, the focus on symmetrical designs held back re-orchestration of streets into ones that were truly people friendly.

Arterial streets with 4 and 6 general traffic lanes plus turning lanes became as much of a barrier to neighbourhoods and local retailing as did viaducts and other above ground structures.


Some cities decided to overcome the limitation of these streets and started to design asymmetrical streets with wide sidewalks, cycling lanes, and tramways on one side of a street separated from car traffic with a fence of trees. In some cases, general traffic lanes were reduced to one lane in each direction, one lane in total, or no lanes.






In some cities buses used tramway lanes, such as in Lyon, France.

In other cities, tramways were used to bring park feelings to the city centrum by surfacing the area between tracks with grass rather than with concrete, asphalt, or stones. Some of the newer implementations of these concepts are in Dijon and Nice, France.



The result of rethinking the design of streets rather than following old designs in some technical manuals was the replacement of car noise with that of people noise filling streets and their shopping areas. Walkability, cycling, and transit all benefited.







Courtesy of the City of Vancouver

Current staff proposal for Pacific Blvd. is for a modified symmetrical, centreline street design. A two-way tramway was placed on the seaside of the roadway with a two-way bike lane on the downtown side. In the concept a road median was lined with trees. From a human perspective this is a wide street, which cuts a swath through the neighbourhood and does not attract movement to the other side.

Humanization would have an off-centreline street design. Humanization would have a wide sidewalk, two-way bike lanes, and two-way tramway grouped on one side of the street with a tree-lined median hiding the minimum number of general traffic lanes that will be needed by 2040 when the price of car fuel is much higher than now. For limiting the width of right of way and narrowing the road barrier for pedestrians, especially children and seniors, on-street car parking would not be the city’s policy for this street.





Off-centreline street designs are more effective schemes by opening up more potential and flexible street uses in the future than a centre-line streetscape. This configuration is frequently used in Europe. Nice, France has a nice example of this design.

For Pacific Blvd. the seaside of the street would be more desirable for the active transportation modes although normally recommendations would be for this group to be placed on the sunny side of the street, a more desirable street side for retailing.

Pacific Blvd. between Cambia Bridge and Granville Bridge is currently an example of the barrier that a centreline design presents to aims of having an energetic community with active retailing. Car traffic and noise limits the desire to be on this street and to do any shopping.






The narrower Davie Street with its bike lanes is more active with sidewalk café while coffee shops on Pacific Blvd. have failed.

A usual discussion is around the placement of bike lanes. On which side of the tramway tracks should they be placed? If on the far or general traffic lanes side of the track, then there would be no interference with pedestrians, especially seniors, at streetcar stops and cycling trip time would be improved.

Maybe for Pacific Blvd. the planning should include separated, two-way bike paths for commuter and for leisure cyclists on each side of the new Pacific Blvd. as the current bike path along the seaside wall is in the floodplains should there be a partial melting of the earth’s major ice sheets. The city recently had an artist paint chromatic blue strips on the Cambia Bridge and on light poles along the bike paths depicting the 5 metres mid-point of estimates for the potential rise in sea level should major ice sheets transform into water.

For the Georgia Street extension, an off-centreline street design would provide the most flexibility for the future when traffic warrants separated bike lanes and possible tramway extension on separated tracks into downtown, which is much more efficient than continuing the proposed streetcar into downtown in mixed traffic on Cordova.



Similarly, an off-centreline street design would provide the most flexibility for the future for Main Street from the railway bridge to the Kingsway and increase bus efficiencies if separated bus lanes and bike lanes were implemented.


On-Street Parking Policy

As mentioned elsewhere in this article, it is time for cities to change their policy for on-street parking for arterial, collector, and local streets. The policy should be to not have on street parking for any of the streets within the city. The city should leave provision of car parking to developers and the private sector, including condo boards as it is a commercial / business activity and not an essential service for a municipality. As can be evidenced in many buildings, car-parking stall remain empty. Sometimes, developers cannot sell all their inventory of car parking spaces in a building.

To effect this, the city would need to update its polices. Condos should be given the possibility of converting and grouping empty parking stalls and offering them to the public for short-term parking only. Vancouver has a number of apartment and combined apartment and commercial buildings where this technique is used. Condos should be able to convert car parking spaces into co-op car spaces and into bicycle parking spaces. Condos should be able to install bike lockers and rent or sell these to tenants. Condo parking garage structures should be permitted in higher density and single home density neighbourhoods to provide long term parking for people living on the street and short term parking for visitors or delivery services. Developers should be allowed when developing townhouse blocks to provide condo car parking lots for the neighbourhood. In concept there should be a condo parking facility in residential neighbourhoods every 400 metres.

Municipalities should also decouple the sale of residential units from the sale of car parking spots. Calgary charges municipal taxes separately for residential units and for car parking spots in a building.

It should be noted that the demand for car parking on Pacific Blvd. for 0.75 kilometre section from B.C. Place to Quebec Street dropped to no demand except for when the stadium or the ice arena had events on once parking meters were installed proving that in this area the demand for car parking is very price sensitive. If free it will be used. If pay parking is in place, then the parking spots are empty.








Cycling Network and Infrastructure Considerations


Without the viaducts and with the possibilities for new land use under and adjacent to the viaducts, the transportation options in this neighbourhood should be enhanced for cycling or combining cycling with transit trips for new residents and workers. Removing the viaducts also brings new possibilities for through-cycling traffic from some of the busiest bike routes in Vancouver.







Opportunities open up for quality, European-style cycling facilities designed to attract motorists to use cycling or combined cycling-transit for their transportation needs and leave their cars at home. Without doubt, the cycling customers for whom the cycling network and infrastructure in this area should be designed for are the current motorists passing though this neighbourhood, people who will become residents here, children, and the seniors.

Cyclists enjoy the experience of cycling on the Dunsmuir Viaduct elevated from the ground below and with a view of the city, while affecting with relative ease a topographical change of 15 metres from the False Creek Flats to the downtown core. They would like to continue this experience and are supportive of a cycling and pedestrian ramp replacing the viaduct. While a 5% grade is proposed, the design should move away from North American thinking to that of Europe, especially the Netherlands were cycle paths on ramps approaching bridges are in the 3% to 4% range, much more appealing to children, parents pulling children trailers, and seniors cycling. Should placement of new residential and commercial buildings provide opportunities, then such a ramp could be built into these structures providing some weather protection for the cyclists, similar in concept to the SkyTrain passing through the VanCity Building on Quebec St and Terminal St.


As with any seaside, off-road bike trail, and multi-use path, an on-road cycling infrastructure is needed as a bypass for more confidant and commuter cyclists when trip time is more important. Off-road bike trails provide an excellent place for people undertaking cycling or wishing to have a relaxing trip. With heavy cycling traffic these paths become less desirable for commuting or shopping trips.





The cycling facilities on Pacific Blvd. need to be designed for commuter cyclists where trip time is paramount. Concepts from Green Wave streets should be part of the design principles for this street. For commuter cycling facilities the width needs to accommodate faster cyclists passing others. Width for two-way, separated bike lane of less than 4.5 metres should not be considered. For one-way separated bike lanes, a minimum width should be 3 metres.

From a network perspective, the proposed bike path on Pacific Blvd. needs to be linked into the street to the west and then down Quebec St to at least 1st Ave. While normally, a recommendation would be for the separated bike lanes to be on the sunny side of the street, in this case the water-side of the street is a better location for the stretch from the Burrard Bridge to 1st Ave.

Courtesy of the City of Vancouver

In the conceptual thinking by the city, a two-way path and a one-way bike lane are envisaged for a grand alley Pacific Blvd connecting with the new Georgia St ramp extension. This is good. Now, what needs to be addressed before these city concepts are enshrined in concrete and difficult to change are the network and infrastructure design parameters for these facilities. In this viaduct removal concept, the Dunsmuir bike bridge is envisaged as the premier entrance to downtown from the east for cyclists. With time and it may be 10 years or so, the cycling traffic on the proposed Dunsmuir bike bridge will exceed its capacity. Pacific and Georgia will be the next route of choice for cyclists. At that time, the Pacific bike facilities will need to have an extension for commuting cycling up the Georgia St ramp and then along it. The catchment area of separated bike lanes in the downtown will be expanded to the west to Smythe St. and the office towers and shopping area within. The envisaged bike lanes on the proposed Georgia St ramp will not do it for increasing commuting cycling to include a significant number of motorists on these roads. In the concept transportation design for the viaduct removal, two-way, separated bike lanes on the east side of Georgia need to be incorporated without any switchbacks and at reasonable grades.

A continued challenge for bike paths on road right-of-ways is the intersection design.

On the Carrall Greenway, the separated bike lanes on the shoulder were brought back next to the traffic lanes at intersections and bike boxes were implemented for assisting cyclists with left turns. A good first step it is. The transition was not early enough for either facilitating safe left turns or for visibility of cyclists at intersections for car drivers. A design principle should be adapted by streetscape designers where cyclists are brought back to road level and next to the curb traffic lane sufficiently back from the intersection so that drivers, who will be making a right turn, will see the cyclists and can bring their vehicles to a safe and comfortable stop from posted speed. Similarly, continuing to the other side of the intersection, the same design principle needs to apply so that drivers preparing for a right turn can see oncoming cyclists with the same parameters for bringing a vehicle to a safe and comfortable stop.



Combined Mobility Considerations – Cycling and Transit

Combined mobility provides an effective opportunity for shifting motorists to commute by active transportation modes.










Europe has shown the success of combined mobility with thousands of bicycles parked at suburban and centrum train stations. In Muenster Germany, a city of 250,00 people, there is a 3,5000 spot underground bike parking station and yet there are still about 10,000 bicycles parked on the railway station property on the surface. In North America, little has been done to emulate this success.

Actually in Calgary, the city has extended combined mobility very successfully to include car and cycling by providing and advertising free parking lots located six or so kilometres from downtown along the river bike trails. These trails are also maintained during the winter for cycling with work crews out by 6:30 am or 7:00 am cleaning off snow.





Feeder network to transit stations

As a Swedish study has shown, a cycling feeder network to transit stations has a catchment area of up to 5 kilometres and can reduce car trips to work by 15% and increase transit-cycling combined mobility by 20%. Such a feeder network reduces the need of community buses in the suburbs and increased the flexibility of leaving the house for work on ones own timetable rather than the rigidity of a bus schedule to the closest transit station, the waiting time at bus stops, and missing buses.


Bike parking at transit stations







Once at the station, there is a need to make cyclists feel comfortable that their bicycles will be in the same state as left upon return later in the day with no vandalism or theft. Facilities need to be there so that flat tires can be easily and comfortable fixed. Rain gear can be left in secure lockers. One can change into work clothes before boarding a train. Oh yes, a coffee can be obtained. The same needs are at the other end of the trip with capacity to leave a second bike overnight.


These concepts apply to the viaduct area as well. With 2 SkyTrain Stations and 2 Canada Line Stations within a few metres to 3 kilometres of the new housing and commercial development in this area as well as bus service, new residents and workers could be enticed to use combined mobility if the facilities are there and to their liking. Within the catchment area there is a combined railway and bus station. The buses operating from this station are intercity including the commuting cities in the Lower Mainland. Long term and commuting parking for bicycles would enhance the use of combined mobility with this location.



In Seville, the local regional bus company provides each bus passenger with a bicycle at its Seville depot for use to get to work and then return in the evening. This is an interesting marketing concept.






Bike share

The provision of bike share can play an important part in enhancing combined mobility options both for current and future residents, hotel guests, and workers in connecting with the transit stations and the railway and bus station.






Writers’ Thoughts for the Next Transportation 2040 Plan

For a more comprehensive discourse on the writer's thoughts.

For this corridor, a faster transit solution would be a tramway from the east satisfying the demand from Eastern Vancouver, the North Shore and the Second Narrows Bridge, Burnaby, and municipalities lying farther east and southeast.


A streetcar solution would address accessing from the south and west of Vancouver, neighbourhoods not within the catchment area of the Canada Line. This streetcar line is envisaged passing through the Olympic Village and connect to the Northern Arm of the Fraser River in the vicinity of the airport via the Arbutus Corridor abandoned railway line.

In the downtown core, Georgia St is the logical choice for a grand allée style of European street bounded with street-level shopping, cafés, and life on the street. From Pacific Blvd. to Stanley Park the life on Georgia St would be supplemented with active retailing on neighbourhood streets crossing Georgia and running parallel, such as Robson St. Burrard Street is also a logical choice for the north-south direction.

Traffic capacity for the Vancouver Viaduct area not only needs to be adequate for current traffic but also traffic generated from new, local residential and commercial buildings envisaged for these lands, the outbuilding of the Olympic Village lands, the False Creek Flats development, the forecasted growth for Eastern Vancouver, and the traffic that will enter the downtown peninsula from the forecasted growth of Metro Vancouver to a populous of 3.4 million plus by 2040. The City of Vancouver’s proposed target transportation mode share split hints at maintaining car volumes at current levels and have all growth traffic volumes provided by transit, cycling, and walking. This strategy does not address the City’s commitment to the Kyoto Accord and reduction of greenhouse gases 6% below the 1990 level. It should be noted that in the downtown area, car traffic has been dropping since 1990.


In the Vancouver Viaduct neighbourhood, basically the population of a town will be added. In the transportation plans for this neighbourhood as presented by staff, it is not evident if car usage growth of potentially 2,500 to 5,000 plus vehicles was included. Discussion in the city’s literature focused on current traffic. (Peak Period….) It is suggested that the transportation planning capacity in the Pacific Blvd. to Powell St corridor needs to be upgraded to absorb the identified peak loading that the Georgia and Pacific solution will not handle and also for transportation growth from population growth in this new neighbourhood to 2040. With this, then motorists will have a choice in using the viaducts and the Powell / Hastings / Cordova corridor.

From the Canada Line and the SkyTrain experiences, it is very evident that to create significant and long lasting transportation mode share shift away from car driving that rapid forms of transit are the answers supported by cycling.

Now, viaduct removal would have greater chance of success if motorists were presented with another alternative for transportation. A tramway solution with separated tracks and traffic signal priority could move 20,000 to 40,000 riders in each direction per hour. A potential alignment could include Powell / Cordova / Hastings streets from the SFU mountain to Stanley Park. Car parking for North Shorers and those who enter the city along 1st Street from Highway #1, the Trans Canada Highway, could be provided at the PNE grounds. One could even imaging continuing this tramway some day into the North Shore by reassigning a curb lane on the Lions Gate Bridge into a double layer tramway or a single tramway track allowing only one direction movement at a time. Alternately, a below water tunnel could effect the same result. Cycling feeder networks to tramway stations could relieve some need for car parking.

As indicated in the consultation material, separated two-way streetcar / tramway tracks on Pacific Blvd. must be included in the strategy. Furthermore, the Georgia St streetscape design should accommodate an extension of this streetcar line into downtown and Stanley Park either on Georgia or on Dunsmuir via Beatty. Robson could be considered as an alternative but may not serve the same commercial building density.

Cycling in Cities - Austin TX
Cycling in Cities - Austin TX

As part of the viaduct strategy, the current SkyTrain alignment along Expo St should be rebuilt and aligned for the long term, including eliminating the track dip and opening up additional lands for park or development. Conceptually, lands above the SkyTrain could be developed for high-rise buildings.












Unless stated otherwise, photographs are the property of the article author(s)
Some images courtesy of the City of Vancouver
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013
©H-JEH (Jack) Becker, Velo., 2013