STRATHCONA SHUDDERS AT THREAT OF NEW HIGHWAY
- Facing three tough options for an essential new road to replace the viaducts and serve the new St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver city hall is willing to risk the “wrath of Strath” by considering a route that clips off 20 percent of Strathcona Park.
- If this route is eventually chosen – and a decision is likely years away – in return Prior Road would be tamed and made into a bikeway, and Strathcona Park possibly compensated with new space elsewhere.
- The other two options either cost $100 million more or are vehemently opposed by Produce Row warehouse distribution giants.
- Whichever route is finally chosen, intense anger and political cost is almost certain.
- Vision Vancouver is dragging its heels on it all until after the 2018 municipal election.
- Strathcona residents are furiously collecting a petition against the sacrifice of its park.
- Cottonwood Gardens has collected $5000 for rebuilding a greenhouse and shed destroyed by fire earlier this summer.
By David Beattie
It is not often that many of us feel pity for bureaucrats and city planners. But on this occasion we might make an exception. A majority of Vancouverites want the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts gone. They make access to downtown fairly simple, but they are huge and ugly and the acres of land beneath them are not much good for anything.
So they are going to go, that is a certainty – unless the Vision Vancouver council majority is voted out of office before work starts and the new majority opts to keep the viaducts. But if they go, how now to get downtown from the east? The western side of the answer is that Pacific Boulevard will plug into Georgia Street between the two stadiums. But how to get onto Pacific Boulevard in the first place? Prior Street remember, currently the main access, is to be virtually closed. A new link is needed from Pacific Boulevard to a road that replaces Prior.
And therein lies the rub. Each of the three options on the drawing board has run into colossal pushback from different quarters. The ultimate decision is sure to infuriate one of the following:
* 6,000 Strathcona residents and others who use Strathcona Park;
* the commercial giants of Produce Row and the entire fruit and vegetable delivery and warehousing ‘community;’
* taxpayers. The option which causes least anguish to identifiable groups costs ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS more than either of the other two. It is also less useful than either of the other two.
Here’s a breakdown of each of the three options on the drawing board for now. See maps please. Starting with the option which affects Strathcona residents the most, the William Street option.
This route runs from Clark, westward along the existing William Street, crosses the rails via a new bridge and then clips off about one-fifth of Strathcona Park, in its south east. It runs through the existing running track, tennis courts and field houses until it plugs into a widened Malkin Avenue. It preserves the Cottonwood Community Gardens. The biggest problem is the noise and pollution from such a large and busy road so close to houses just north of Prior. Engineers say the road would be separated from the remainder of Strathcona Park and residential Strathcona by a major berm and tree or other screening. The cost of this option is between $80 million and $130 million. It crosses the rail tracks at a point they are narrow and thus needs a smaller bridge than at least one other option.
This route comes off Clark at Charles Street and uses Malkin to go west. The downside is losing Cottonwood Gardens to a widened Malkin and upsetting traffic accessing the giant produce distribution warehouses on the south side of Malkin. This is known as “Produce Row.”
“If we put in another 15,000 or 20,000 cars a day down Malkin it would make most of our businesses impossible to run,” Discovery Organics manager Damien Bryan told reporters.
So far the pushback from business seems to have trumped that of residents and insiders say both city politicians and staff prefer the William Street option to this one. On the other hand with a by-election so near, October 14, and the general election set for October 15, 2018, Vision will do all it can to keep the whole affair low-key and stay non-committal.
The estimated cost of this option is between $80m and $130 million, the same as the William Street option. The cost is made up of buying land needed for the road and building the bridge over the rail tracks.
If city politicians cannot endure the wrath of either residents or businesspeople they will sacrifice the pockets of a more faceless mass – taxpayers. Another to suffer slightly under this option is the Vancouver Fire Department, as it involves removal of a training facility. This route comes off of Grant Street and has to cross the rail tracks at a point they are far wider. That is why it is the most expensive, with a price tag of up to $230 million. Overpass structure alone could cost up to $90 million, and acquiring the land is expected to cost between $75 million and $105 million. This makes it at least $35 million more ($90m + $75m = $165m versus $130m) if the lowest sum is realized against the highest in the other two, and at most it is 230m versus $80m – a difference of $150 million.
Another minus of this selection is that National is too close to Terminal Avenue, another arterial.
So what would you do? Is there not a choice to run the road between the Malkin and William options – in other words a compromise that offends Strathcona residents a little and Produce Row businesses a little but still allows the latter to operate. The victim in this option is Cottonwood Community Gardens, which would need to be totally removed, and shaving a little off the southern edge of Strathcona Park. Cottonwood Garden is a gorgeous space to be sure, but is it so wonderful as to suffer extra cost of $100m to $150 million?
I will have to wear a disguise after writing this but, frankly, I think not. Sacrificing Cottonwood is less of a hardship all things considered than severely compromising the warehouses that serve the entire city with daily distribution of fresh produce – or spending nearly a quarter billion on the connector road.
After all, park space somewhere else nearby can be found to allow creation of another community garden. The existing garden is 25 years old and will take time to replace, but its replacement could be bigger and designed differently to act as a more effective buffer between the new east-west connector and Strathcona houses. As it is the removal of the viaducts will result in a new park of 13 acres in that area.
Further, it is rumoured that Fire Hall No.1, at 900 Heatley Avenue, south of Prior, could be available as the beginning block of a new Strathcona community centre. The existing community centre at Keefer and Princess is small and offers limited service. If millions are not spent on the National Avenue option some of that could be used to placate Strathconians with a sparkling new community centre – complete with a pool perhaps – and a replacement for the lost Cottonwood Gardens. So far the parks board, on whose turf the existing gardens lie, has said rather little on the whole affair, leaving it to council to take the heat for an issue proving radioactively controversial.
In early July a fire destroyed a greenhouse and shed at Cottonwood Gardens. Since then a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign had, by late August, raised $5,000 for rebuilding. Here is a link to the Facebook page.
The cinder running track in the south east corner of Strathcona Park is not heavily used, and neither are the tennis courts. It could be possible to establish replacement Cottonwood Gardens right next to the new arterial, to its north, on that land. That would act as yet more of a buffer between the arterial and the Strathcona neighbourhood.
I asked Pete Fry, Vancouver Green Party candidate for the upcoming city by-election October 14, for his take on it all. He said: “We’ve yet to see any detailed planning or even a mitigation strategy for any of the proposed new arterial roads; I won’t have a preference until I see what is actually being proposed.”
He added: “I say this as someone who has been active on this particular issue for several years, there has been too much misinformation, empty promises, and lack of follow through. I do intend to hold the mayor to his July 2012 commitment to traffic calm Prior Street, and address the community’s longstanding safety and access concerns. At that time, the mayor had also committed to fast-tracking a Malkin Street connector. If that second commitment is now off the table, I’d like to see what is being proposed in its stead and why. I have been following at least one promising idea, a “fourth way” through the city work’s yard that I’d also like to see details on.”
Fourth way? Mr Fry’s revelation, made September 1, is breaking news. It appears this would use either Kitchener or Graveley off of Clark and then run behind the Produce Row warehouses, through the National works yards at 701 National, and serve the new St Paul’s Hospital from the south. It could involve shaving off a southern edge of Trillium Park and a portion of Thornton Park.
The major initiatives that are removal of the viaducts and siting of a new mega-hospital clearly have serious implications in many directions – for traffic movement, parkland, physical and mental health of Strathcona residents and potentially hundreds of millions in taxpayers’ dollars. The cat is firmly among the pigeons. I would be very surprised if this does not emerge as a fairly major issue for the election next year. THE CROWS will be watching closely every wingflap of the way.
*The AGM of the Strathcona Residents’ Association is set for 7pm Wednesday September 6. The “Highway From Hell” is on the agenda. The meeting is at the Strathcona Community Centre, at 601 Keefer Street, at Princess.