Canadian city planners to tame downtown infrastructure 'white elephants'

VANCOUVER -- It was a mid-century effort to launch Vancouver into the modern age -- an elevated roadway made up of tonnes of concrete cutting through the city's shiny downtown core to serve the almighty automobile.

See Full Article

The failed attempt ultimately became a saving grace.

After the colossal Georgia Viaduct was built in 1972, a grassroots uproar stopped the construction of what would have been a multi-lane expressway.

The City of Vancouver voted last month to tear down the twinned bridge while discussion continues over construction of a new street network below it.

Other Canadian cities are also contending with their own white elephants of infrastructure -- vestiges of the freeway-building craze in vogue during the 1960s and '70s that inspired public uprisings.

"It's not overstating it to say that it was citizen protest against the plans for those expressways that had a lot to do with the salvation of Canadian inner cities," said Christopher Leo, professor emeritus of urban planning at the University of Winnipeg.

"We have every reason to be really grateful. The fact that we still have viable downtowns has a great deal to do with the cancellation of those schemes."

Leo said the particular brand of planning logic originated in the United States as part of a Cold War project aimed at protecting America from the Soviet threat by extending a reliable transportation network across the country.

"Part of the idea of it was that you wanted to build overpasses high enough that you could run tanks under them," he said, though that initial reasoning served less of an impetus in the Canadian experience."

Across the country sits another such example from the era -- the Cogswell Interchange in Halifax, built in the post-war suburban boom of the late 1960s. The so-called Road to Nowhere consists of a swath of interlinking overpasses and roadways occupying about 6.5 hectares of prime ocean-side real estate.

It was to have linked up to Harbour Drive, a proposed six-lane expressway wrapping around the city's idyllic waterfront. Protests over the demolition of 150 historic properties quickly put a stop to the project, but not before the sprawling concrete behemoth was built.

"For 40 years, the interchange has stood as a remnant of a bygone era of thinking and, in many ways, an albatross around the city's neck," wrote a Halifax-based planning and design firm in a report commissioned by the city.

Urban-planning academic and former Vancouver politician Gordon Price described how the freeway fetish that characterized the mid-century saw transportation logic initially intended to link municipalities together mistakenly applied within city limits.

He said the move threatened the urban fabric of downtown cores.

"You actually have to destroy the idea of the city in order to do it, because cities are deliberately designed to be areas of interaction and congestion," Price said.

"That's the point of them. People come together to trade, to interact, to exchange, whether it's goods or money or DNA."

The wrong-headed planning approach was never ultimately killed, he said, but died off through "suffocation" as the federal and provincial governments gradually backed out of funding commitments.

Toronto's oft-maligned Gardiner Expressway is another example of a curtailed Canadian freeway project. However, its marginal usefulness in managing some traffic has turned it into what Leo described as "a really big and knotty political problem that nobody seems to know the answer to."

Vancouver's former chief planner Brent Toderian used the term "almost scandalous" to describe the lengthy debate over the Gardiner's future, adding the public money spent on the issue amounts to failure.

"It's a political decision," he said. "It's essentially incontrovertible city-making evidence running up against politics."

Toderian said that as cities such as Vancouver and Halifax re-imagine their downtown spaces, they face "possibly the most powerful city-making moments in the Canadian urban landscape."

"These opportunities are too important to squander with even an average result," he said, citing Montreal's Bonaventure Expressway as another example that amounts to a white elephant of infrastructure from the past.

"It starts with tearing them down," he said.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Firm says trees obstructing vision at Humboldt Broncos crash intersection

    Canada News CTV News
    REGINA -- A consulting firm says sight lines are a safety concern at the rural intersection where the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash happened. A 70-page safety review done for the Saskatchewan government says a stand of trees, mostly on private property, obstructs the view of drivers approaching from the south and east -- the same directions the bus and semi-trailer were coming from when they collided. Source
  • The staggering scale of France's battle against terror, by the numbers

    World News CBC News
    Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday. Source
  • Rumble strips, lights among changes coming to Humboldt Broncos bus crash intersection

    Canada News CBC News
    The Saskatchewan government is promising to install rumble strips, lights, signs and road markers at the site where the Humboldt Broncos bus collided with a transport truck. The changes planned for the intersection of Highways 35 and 355 also include removal of trees, limiting nearby access roads, and the relocation of the roadside Broncos memorial. Source
  • LIVE UPDATES: Accused in murders of Calgary woman and her daughter testifies in own defence

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY -- A man accused of killing a Calgary woman and her daughter took the stand in his own defence at his first-degree murder trial on Wednesday. Edward Downey, who is 48, has pleaded not guilty in the deaths of Sara Baillie and her five-year-old daughter Taliyah Marsman. Source
  • Trudeau names four new senators — including a failed Liberal candidate

    Canada News CBC News
    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's push to reconstitute the Senate and stack its benches with Independent senators continued apace today as he named four more people to the Senate — filling all the remaining vacancies in the Red Chamber. Source
  • B.C. court upholds extradition of pair accused of 'honour killing' in India

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER - A court has upheld the extradition of two British Columbia residents accused of hiring assailants to murder their relative in India because she married a poor rickshaw driver. The B.C. Court of Appeal has denied Malkit Kaur Sidhu and Surjit Singh Badesha's request for a stay of proceedings and a judicial review. Source
  • Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen gets 3 years in prison

    World News CBC News
    Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, has been sentenced to three years in prison for crimes including campaign finance violations and lying to Congress. Cohen apologized for his actions and told U.S. District Judge William Pauley III that "blind loyalty" to Trump led him to "cover up his dirty deeds. Source
  • Sexual assault victims of ex-ski coach Bertrand Charest sue Alpine Canada

    Canada News CBC News
    Three sexual assault victims of former ski coach Bertrand Charest are suing Alpine Canada, alleging the sports federation turned a blind eye to signs of wrongdoing. The three women are former Canadian skiers Genevieve Simard, Gail Kelly and Anna Prchal, who were all minors at the time of the offences for which Charest was convicted. Source
  • NDP wants RCMP to probe allegation Ford's office asked OPP for 'camper-type vehicle'

    Canada News CBC News
    NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is calling on the RCMP to investigate an allegation that Ontario Premier Doug Ford's office asked the provincial police force to buy him a specialized "camper-type vehicle." The alleged request is detailed in a Dec. Source
  • Former NDP MP Svend Robinson 'very seriously considering' federal run in 2019

    Canada News CBC News
    Former NDP MP Svend Robinson says he is "very seriously considering" a return to federal politics, noting that his former party is facing challenging times. Robinson, 66, represented the Vancouver-area riding of Burnaby for 25 years. He left politics in 2004 after he admitted stealing a diamond ring from an auction, saying he was under too much strain at the time. Source