Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for April 15th, 2011

More on the Viaducts

with 10 comments

When it came to illustrating the last blog post I did on this subject, I was surprised by how few images I had of them. I set out yesterday to correct that – on a cold and blustery day, that later produced snow: in April! Moreover, much of what I produced I realized today I could probably have got from Google Streetsview (I like the shadow of the camera on this one!).

I think it is worthwhile spending some time on looking at what is there now, since much of the discussion is bound to revolve around how much of the existing structures can be retained. I will once again express my own preference for starting with a clean sheet. Far too much space in this part of town is devoted to moving – and parking – cars. Partly that reflects its recent history – it was after all a race track.  And just as the Westwood track in Coquitlam had to make way for better uses, so did this one. It also seems to me a bit overly nostalgic to think that False creek can be brought back and the old Georgia Viaduct recreated.

Model elevated railway

Model of one of the old NYC elevated railways as originally constructed. All were long ago removed due to the noise and gloom cast by the structures which ran down the middle of the avenues.

I stated that I thought the viaducts ugly and despite what looks like a recent attempt to clean them I retain that view. The High Line in Manhattan is quite a different object and has been much better absorbed into its environs over the years.

Unlike the old passenger elevated railways this one was not over the street. It runs midblock, and is considerably narrower than either Dunsmuir or Georgia. The structure is quite a bit neater – nothing like as brutal as raw concrete.

Former elevated right of way

The High Line - my photo

Neither of the present viaducts straddle the streets either – which accounts for the way that even though they are elevated the combination of the two means that large swathes of land are devoted to roadway.

Google satellite view

Google satellite view

I tried counting the number of lanes of moving and parked cars north to south across this area – I make it 14 at some points. That is a significant take – and quite out of scale for the needs of the area. The whole philosophy that I would like to see applied (and not just here but what better place to start) is to reduce the amount of space available to the single occupant vehicle.


The land that is not roads is not used for very much. Most of it is either paved or decidedly ramshackle.


Perhaps the most imaginative use is the Skateboard park, though that is badly in need of refurbishment. It suffers because it was the first: other similar areas nearby have signs banning skateboarding. Will this need to be accommodated elsewhere – or has that already happened?

Skateboard Park - my photo

Skateboard Park - my photo

It is indeed about the only place under the viaducts that is not used for storing vehicles. And yes the cops do need somewhere to store their trucks. Though this does seem to be less than fully utilized.

VPD Viaduct lot - my photo

VPD Viaduct lot - my photo

This image, looking south towards false Creek from Union/Expo demonstrates that the lowered SkyTrain structure is much more effective as a barrier than the viaducts. Relocation of the tracks is going to have to be part of the discussion

The barrier effect

The barrier effect - my photo

To get underneath the viaducts, the SkyTrain structure touches ground level. If the viaducts were removed, would the Sky Train be relocated? Could Vancouver cope without the combined Expo and Millennium Line services between Science World and Stadium while work was undertaken? Or would it be possible to keep a one track shuttle working while the other track was moved. At least Stadium has three platforms to allow greater flexibility.

Ground level SkyTrain track

Ground level SkyTrain track

As far as I am aware Van City at Science World station is the only example of a building that utilizes the airspace above the SkyTrain right of way (although there is a new development in New Westminster that has put a canopy over the tracks).

This type of development used to be greatly appealing. The development of Canary Wharf in London was designed around relocating the Docklands Light Railway, which was otherwise mostly on redundant arched structures abandoned by conventional and dock railways. There was an iconic image of a train coming out of the middle of a building, which was supposed to symbolize the new dynamic future of Docklands. Of course, I can’t find that right now.

If the viaducts get taken down, the SkyTrain will remain – or might even get relocated, and there ought to be more opportunities for buildings on stilts like this around the elevated structure. Or even the bit at ground level.

VanCity at Science World Station

VanCity at Science World Station - my photo

And of course the development community is already very active in the area.

Aquilini Development proposal

Aquilini is proposing three residential towers with an FSR of 4.3, in addition to the already approved 22 storey office tower, in the immediate vicinity of Rogers Arena. And there is the controversial development proposal around BC Place  which includes a massive casino development to help pay for the new roof which Vancouver Council has now rejected.

BC Place support system for the new retractable roof

UPDATED April 19 at 6PM


For the sake of completeness here is a very recent image from Roland Talango of the view on the top of the Dunsmuir Viaduct

Written by Stephen Rees

April 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm