August 26, 2015

For Discussion: Building Freeways for a Better Vancouver

Here’s something to keep you commenting while I’m away, based on a  response that Guest, PT’s best balloon-pricker, placed on this post from the Daily Scot: Gentle Density in Portland:

If you zoom out on the Portland map, the continuous line of larger buildings (retail commercial, presumably) on those east–west “smaller” arterials is quite striking.

By comparison, Vancouver has much smaller pockets of retail strips, even along the arterials, and generally not parallel to each other for great length. i.e. Main Street, Cambie Village, and South Granville may be on the same latitude, but Oak is devoid of a commercial strip, and only Main Street’s commercial zone extends any great length.

Dare I say that these east-west Portland streets can afford to remain small because of the existence of the I-84 freeway, so long-distance travellers from the east will not need to traverse the neighbourhood on surface streets. i.e. these roads do not “need” to be stroads because of the existence of the freeway, so they can remain smaller and more neighbourly.



Click to enlarge.


Scot and others decry the heavy traffic on our old streetcar arterials like Main, or the lack of pedestrianized streets like Robson, or the concern about the Viaducts coming down without lessening the impact on Prior.  And the counter argument is that none of that is possible because those streets have to perform the contradictory functions of local street and through arterial, both for car traffic and transit.

In other words, they have to be stroads.

So is Guest’s implication right: would Vancouver have more options if we had built a freeway like I-84 to handle the through traffic so that now we could create more local mixed-use streets like Division?

This is not just an academic exercise.  The Citizens Assembly in Grandview has called for a tunnel under their neighbourhood to handle the volumes currently on East 1st.  If, in a reorganization of TransLink, the Major Road Network was turned over to the Province, then the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure could, for instance, come up with a plan like this:

  • Absorb the median to the east of Nanaimo to widen East 1st
  • Build underpasses under the cross arterials
  • Dig a tunnel from Victoria to Clark
  • Redesign a route across the False Creek Flats to serve downtown and the new hospital.

Voila, a de-facto freeway to handle the cross-city traffic that would connect to and from  Highway 1.

Arterials like Hastings and Prior could then become neighbourhood service streets, narrowed and densified to create more livable, bikeable, mixed-use environments.



Click to enlarge.


And once they’ve got the boring machine going, how about other connectors to the south and north?  Then Main, Cambie, Fraser and others could be our new Division Streets.

So maybe we should build that freeway that never was. After all, we’re not funding new transit.

Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on


  1. No that would not work. The evidence is Los Angeles. That city once had many hundreds of miles of streetcar arterials that were commercially vibrant. With the advent of the ubiquitous freeways the vibrancy of those boulevards was compromised entirely. They became mere feeder roads to the freeways serving distant jobs and shopping destinations. I am often critical of our city, but the strategy of slowly turning stroads into boulevards, a feature of the 2040 plan, is a good one.

  2. “Arterials like Hastings and Prior could then become neighbourhood service streets, narrowed and densified to create more livable, bikeable, mixed-use environments.”

    Except, they wouldn’t really, would they? The government would just build a freeway and accept the expanded capacity as a victory for motordom. Even after the construction of the Canada Line, we saw that Cambie Street wasn’t reduced in auto capacity in any way – even though, rightfully, it could have and should have been. Cambie Village could already be narrowed for auto traffic, with more walking space and bike lanes. Unfortunately pulling back motordom isn’t that easy – and certainly isn’t achieved by expanding motordom elsewhere.

    No, I would say that Portland has those streets because early planners in Portland designed them at a certain width and they were never widened. Planners in both Vancouver and Portland designed the width of those streets in most cases long before freeways were being built into the core of cities. I highly doubt that you can draw a comparison between the width of those east-west roads and the I-84, though perhaps their usage is affected by the highway being there.

    1. Agree. I am struck by the historic building separation from one side of the street to the other on South Main for example. 90 feet is massive. Does anyone know why early planners needed so much room for the streetcar in this instance?

    2. As for width affecting speed, Prior forces a check of assumptions. You’d think it would be far too narrow for excessive speeds, yet the urge to speed on it is apparently impossible to moderate. I always drive it at 50 kph and from the behaviour of the drivers around me you’d think I had stopped my car entirely. And since the police never put speed patrols there, I guess they don’t think the urge can be moderated either.

      Yet on that nice wide stretch of South Main, speeds are lower than they are on Prior.

  3. I feel like grabbing the popcorn and seeing how this all plays out over the next couple of decades. A million people are moving here. At the current rate of property and rent prices, it wouldn’t surprise me if people have to pay $4000/month for a 1 bedroom. At a certain point, driving does become the cheaper option. It’s like saying, “Oh, I work full-time at Chapters on Granville and Broadway, I’ll just buy a house nearby for my family in Shaughnessy.” You simply just cannot afford it. Now, project out, and Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond will be priced as high as current Shaughnessy.

    Portland has a lot of freeways, especially for its size. I think a lot of people down there do a reverse freeway commute out to business parks in the suburbs. Their downtown doesn’t feel very big (employment-wise). And, we talked about it before in a different thread, but I think that the cheap cost of housing has kept Portland neighbourhoods vibrant. That’s changing now as Portland is starting to get expensive and those neighbourhoods are dealing with gentrification. Families who have bookstore jobs that pay just $40-50k can still afford a house. Imagine what Vancouver neighbourhoods would feel like if lower-ish income families could buy a house?

    I’ll be down there next week on vacation. If anyone has any suggestions on things to see, please pass them along.

    1. Yeah, and the traffic in Portland, freeway and non-freeway through neighbourhoods, is just horrendous. You ought to see the huge traffic jams on the freeways of people coming in from the suburbs (like Vancouver, WA) and going home again in the evening. Portland has some fabulous housing stock that they aren’t tearing down and some great little pocket neighbourhoods, but they haven’t solved all the problems of modern cities.

  4. Unfortunate that this rare objective post was spoiled with a contemptuous postscript, but it is good that the question was raised. I’ve often wondered it myself, living as I do in a neighbourhood that might not exist if the freeway had been built and where stopping it is regarded as a historical win even as we struggle with Prior/Venables traffic.

    There is, however, something about your model of tunnels and overpasses that bothers me in an earthquake/tsunami zone. It is perhaps a shame that the amounts of housing necessary for a surface road and buffer zone were not sacrificed while property values were low enough to make it feasible. Now those same houses sit on Knight Street.

    But maybe it wouldn’t really help, just bring more volume to local arterials. In evaluating that, I suspect that the analysis would be enhanced with the widening of the lens still further to include other cities, say, Seattle. There, my limited experience tells me a lot of people do still live along very busy arterials despite the existence of a city-highway network.

    But if we’re really to examine history with the sole intent of avoiding what would become the onslaught of motordom, the thing that should have been done differently is the location of downtown.

    By the way, I recently came across this about how motordom gained its upper hand in the first place. I’m not sure it’s accurate, but the bulk of it sounds plausible enough.

    1. Oh, the conspiracy of the automobile industry is well documented. Not only did they change the culture of walking in order to have cars dominate, they also bought up the tram companies and then shut them down which forced people to have to buy their product.
      I’m sure, now that we’re in the post peak-car era, that they’re still at it, interfering with politics for their own gain. You wonder if they’re behind the think tanks that are working against the will of the people in regards to transportation and mobility.

    2. I don’t get the angst over Prior/Venables traffic. They have been arterials for the better part of a century. That they carry significant traffic didn’t exactly creep up on anyone suddenly. Bizarre. It’s like moving to a house along Oak Street and getting upset that you can’t have a quiet conversation in your front yard due to noise.

  5. I have studied Vancouver, Portland and other cities in considerable depth, including the nearby city of Detroit (near to me). It’s important for people to understand that the decline of Detroit as a once vibrant city actually began with the construction of crosstown freeways in the 1950s. This was followed later on with racial unrest and the loss of jobs, but the freeways were very bad for Detroit. When people talk about adding freeways they frequently focus on the imagined advantages of connecting one location with another, without considering that nobody wants to live near a freeway. Basically you are going to be trashing a swath of land 1/4 mile wide on each side of the freeway, if you bring it across Vancouver.

    It’s useful to keep in mind that the shape of a sound wave coming from a freeway is not a rapidly dissipating sphere, like you get from a point source; rather, it’s a cylinder which dissipates exponentially slower as it sweeps across the landscape. Anyone who wants to build an urban freeway should be required to live next to one for a year. You will find you are living in a wasteland, where the air is polluted, sleeping is more difficult and your freeway itself becomes a hostile barrier to pedestrian movement.

    Vancouverites would do well to recall the comprehensive surveys the great Walter Hardwick initiated to learn what the public actually wanted. His work unambiguously showed that people in your community felt local walkability and neighborhood identity were far more important than rapid crosstown movement. Freeways do not improve walkability. Hardwick repeated this process and got the same results. I seriously doubt this has changed.

    Learn from the experience of your own West End! When prostitution and street crime became increasingly problematic, there were several initiatives that reversed this trend, one of which was traffic flow adjustments that impeded access to the Lions Gate Bridge traffic artery. Easy freeway access turned out to facilitate street crime. Reducing it made the West End more livable.

    Finally, before you sacrifice 1/2 mile wide swath of your beautiful city to automobile access, why don’t you people strive instead to do something innovative about mass transit? The goal should not be to destroy your city just to improve automobile access; rather the goal should be to leave the automobile on the dustheap of history. Show us the way to a better future instead of stupidly repeating costly mistakes that others have already made!

    1. Post
      1. That’s a blinkered and disrespectful view of the public’s vote, which was its considered response to a blinkered and disrespectful campaign for more money (which is not the same as voting against more transit).

        Mr. Walsh’s insights are useful, but it is unfortunate that the same people who can do good analysis always think they are also the best positioned to prescribe.

        Motordom by default vs Automobiles on the dungheap of history are not the only two options, nor is shepherding people like cattle onto mass transit a laudable goal. But this blog seems to prefer to polarize rather than to find a generally satisfactory compromise path. It’s a shame, because it would be so easy, and when it comes right down to it, that IS what we pay “experts” the bug bucks for.

        1. Perhaps if you go back and reread my post more carefully you will note that I am not prescribing a particular solution; to the contrary I am exposing rather obvious flaws in the suggestion that freeways are the answer, and instead I recommend your community go back to the drawing board. I think we both agree that the people of Vancouver are creative enough to find a better solution. Learn from the mistakes others have made! One thing Portland, Oakland and San Francisco have in common is that they paid to remove crosstown freeways and are better off for it.

          Vancouver spent roughly two decades trying to build crosstown freeways before the freeway protests got so much attention that the entire elected municipal government got thrown out on its tail in 1972. So even if you are going to disregard the hard won lessons learned by the failures of other communities, at least learn your own local history and don’t be so eager to undo some of the things that make Vancouver a great city. The lack of crosstown freeways is one thing that makes Vancouver better.

          1. I need to run. I am merely encouraging people to challenge their assumptions. Obviously my pithy comment about abandoning the car as a default option is mean to be a thought provoking statement, not a prescription. You are of course free to take your car to a junkyard today and abandon it there but I think most people would catch on that this is not what I meant. The basic question is are you going to change your city to accommodate more cars, or are you capable of finding a better solution, whatever that may be?

            It’s actually peculiar that this has not been better attended to. I thought Vancouver was supposed to be like living in a resort, yet resorts don’t require the patrons to get around in cars. ( hint: this comment is not meant to be taken at face value either).

            Seriously, are these limited options really the best you people can do.

      2. We resoundingly voted no to a very complicated and regional tax dedicated to a convoluted package of transit and other items, including a bridge promising a toll, a subway that would dead-end in a wealthy inner suburb, buses, a tiny passenger ferry, some light-rail and over 2,000 km of cycle paths, with the small-print going into tests regarding road-pricing, etc., all to be run by an unaccountable authority that fired its CEO during the voting period.

        All through the campaign the proponents were promising reform saying TransLink needs to be ‘fixed’. Was anyone, anyone, surprised with the outcome? No.

        1. You can support it or not, whatever, but to call a 0.5% increase in the PST _complicated_ is laughable. It might not have been desired, but it definitely was not complicated. It was very simple.

          1. Come on, Andrew. You know very well how the No camp elucidated the facts and nothing but the facts. The one half of one per cent was going to eat all the children, cause the next megathrust earthquake, and make the chocolate supply disappear.

            Oh the humanity.

          2. Immediately following being proposed the tax had to be explained, eventually an exception was made for car dealers, so residential geographic location would not benefit any Metro residents that purchased vehicles beyond the proposed tax zone.

            The Retail Council of Canada.

            “One of our concerns is that the basket of goods and services be identical, so you don’t have to figure out which tax to charge. That appears to have been addressed,” Wilson said. “The separate line appears to have been addressed, i.e. that it would be a separate line on the receipt.”

            However, Wilson said there were still many questions that the Finance and Transportation ministries have yet to answer. One of the biggest unknowns is how the tax will work with online sales. …

            Retail Council of Canada.

            “One of our concerns is that the basket of goods and services be identical, so you don’t have to figure out which tax to charge. That appears to have been addressed,” Wilson said. “The separate line appears to have been addressed, i.e. that it would be a separate line on the receipt.”

            However, Wilson said there were still many questions that the Finance and Transportation ministries have yet to answer. One of the biggest unknowns is how the tax will work with online sales.

            … restaurant owners are still concerned about the additional tax on liquor. (Food is exempt from the current 7% PST, but liquor is taxed at 10%; if the regional sales tax is approved, the PST rate on liquor would rise to 10.5%) …”

      3. Post
        1. And no funding for roads too. Don’t forget that TransLink and the municipalities are responsible for the vast majority of roads in the region. $750 million in the referendum was for roads. So there is no money to build any of this “freeway” in Vancouver.

          Anyway, it would be really expensive and add really little capacity for cars anyway.

          The SkyTrain system can be expanded both west from VCC Clark and East from Waterfront station by station if need be when money is available. A choice between a tunnel for cars at say $200 million which maybe will move around 1000 more people per hour (assuming the connecting roads can even handle the traffic) or a $200 extention one station of the Millenium Line, which can move 25,000 people per hour per direction is pretty obvious. Transit is a much better invest.

          Plus, the vast majority of younger people are using transit, not driving. It makes no sense to build roads instead of transit.

          1. Are the vast majority of young people taking transit because they want to, or because they can’t afford the alternative in our insanely priced housing market?

            I also note that miles driven in the USA hot an all time high over the last 12 months.
            So maybe it’s “not different this time” but merely once again rebounding from the effect of an economic shock on vehicle miles.

            1. Read the link you post. “When the FHWA data are adjusted for population, the month that posted peak number of miles driven is June 2005. On that basis, miles driven in February are still about 5.7% below the peak.”

              One of the main reasons why prices are higher in the City of Vancouver is people want to live where they are not forced to drive as they can walk, cycle and use transit. Or even when they chose to drive, the drive is much shorter and takes less time. They are willing to pay more to live in these locations and they have more money to spend on housing, thus increasing prices.

              And, in newer developments near transit where people have to buy parking separately, many are choosing not to buy the parking leaving empty parking spaces.

        2. It is precisely the yoke of regional planning that I believe citizens were casting off in the referendum vote. This is an unsought, unresponsive, and unloved empire that has grown up in the cracks of accountable elected government like an invasive species in a pond: it has to be eradicated lest it take over.

          I once found a little book in a used bookstore called “government by experts” that I thought would be a joke or parody of some sort that turned out to be a perfectly serious thesis that everyone would be better off if they just ceded any decisions-making ability they had and subjugated themselves to government by experts. That is what regional transportation planning is, and a people who are accustomed to being citizens, not just subjects, are not liking it.

          It really is fascinating how little the regional planning mindset cares about citizen quality of life – it simply doesn’t have to. As a result, its analysis is flawed because the advance of motordom is based upon citizens gaining certain amenities while others, that used to support the different way of life, disappeared. Just as the shopping cart altered grocery shopping, causing the layers of services that used to enable grocery selection and transportation to fall away, so too have other services disappeared that used to enable people to – for example – purchase materials for home renovation without a car.

          Regional planning mindset simply stuffs all the errands that people currently do by car onto mass transit, and scoffs at them if they feel they cannot manage without their car. That scoffing came to its logical conclusion with the referendum – the people scoffed back.

          As I said on the McArthurGlen thread, if planners want people to shop there by transit or bike, some services would be needed to make that practical. The same is true of the entire pantheon of economic activities that people now undertake by car, including the transport of relatives to seek medical care, for example. Pre-motordom, you may recall that doctors did housecalls, perhaps by carriage, or as one of just a few cars on the road. If you want to reverse motordom, it stands to reason you have to reverse the service level to what it had to be when people were constrained to living their lives by transit or on foot. Instead, the regional/mass transit planning mindset demonizes everyone who drives, regardless of whether they are out for a joyride or driving dad to the doctor.

          The failure of regional planning to respect individuals and their needs enough to do good analysis about how best to influence a rational transportation system has spawned its logical outcome. To spit on the “no” vote only affirms that the people voted in their best interests, and that the regional planning mindset acts in its own.

          1. 95% of the land area of British Columbia is not suitable for agriculture. The regional planning movement in your region was in part a response to the failure to protect you limited agricultural land base, which was being gobbled up by suburban sprawl. Interestingly enough it was one of your first regional planners, Harry Lash, who introduced into your metro area the goal of livability. He was an advocate for community involvement at a time when the municipal government was leveling neighborhoods and discussed lacing homeowners from Strathcona. I get it that you may not like the way regional planning has been pursued recently. If that’s the case perhaps you should get more involved in it?

          2. Karin, your Art of Complaining sophistry indicates you have not been so sophisticated to bother reading the Metro’s regional plan. It’s online and has many chapters. Yes, there’s one on roads.

          3. MB, has everyone who comments here read the plan?

            Robert, what would change about regional planning if I got more involved? And in what way is my current level of involvement inadequate?

            1. Karin, I am not sure what particular special talents you would bring if you were to become a regional planner, but you do seem bright, hard working and committed to advancing the well being of your community, all of which would probably make you an excellent planner.

              Yes it’s true that at the regional and the municipal levels planning in your region has pursue different agendas, and sometimes this has inflamed fierce public opposition that has also benefitted your community. The effort to stop the casino expansion at BC Place comes to mind, for instance.

              The thing is, planners have also done a great deal to improve Vancouver and they are not necessarily the enemy. They have a tough job balancing competing interests. If these issues are a driving passion for you, then getting more directly involved might enable you to work towards improving your community while attaining more results for your effort.

              Good Luck!

            2. Robert, I think you might have misunderstood my question. Your advice was not that I should BECOME a planner, but that I as a citizen should be more involved. We cannot all be planners, because nothing else would get done and there would be nothing to plan FOR. So what I wanted to know was how, if I were to donate even more of my time to the regional planning process that you are defending, that process would change. It was, in a sense, a no-win question, because I already know and this conversation is demonstrating that it would not, and cannot, change. Thousands of us could dedicate our whole lives to it in a voluntary capacity, reading the millions of pages of documents and studies that we pay experts to produce and providing earnest feedback to them, and it would not change.

              Hence the plebiscite outcome.

          4. Karin, you have made one-note generalizations about regional planning and planners, and now have admitted to not reading the regional plan. Therefore one can conclude you know not a stitch about them or the complex work they do, or the results they produce after months (or even years) of public consultation, information gathering and analyses.

            This follows an incredibly naïve commentary berating experts, something I challenge you to make toward your family doctor or the plumber when you have a burst pipe. Somehow I think you will keep your opinion to yourself around them.

          5. Oh, is this just a forum FOR planners to talk ABOUT citizens? Sorry, I thought it was FOR citizens to talk WITH planners ABOUT planning. It’s funny though, I have encountered doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, dentists, and, yes, plumbers who can bear critical scrutiny of their field from their clients.
            MB, I hope you’ll keep up your gatekeeping and ensure that EVERYONE who participates has at least read the plan.

            1. I don’t think any planner would hesitate to discuss the merits/pitfalls of regional planning with you Karin…if the intent was to have a discussion. But you’re not here to discuss WITH planners (as witnessed by your confrontational approach to Dr. Walsh’s comments and your editorial on the supposed failings of regional planning), you’re here to advocate YOUR position (which in many cases isn’t terribly well informed) and to put anyone who disagrees with you on the defensive.

              “this blog seems to prefer to polarize rather than to find a generally satisfactory compromise path.”
              As I’m sure you’re aware, compromise involves both parties understanding the other’s position, respecting it even if they disagree, and both being willing to shift their own position somewhat. If you’re seeking compromise (through blog comments?), you may want to re-evaluate your own approach and at least try to respect commenters who offer opposing views.

              “It’s a shame, because it would be so easy, and when it comes right down to it, that IS what we pay “experts” the big bucks for.”
              Dr. Walsh, with some planning expertise, offered some insightful comments and was immediately beaten down for “prescribing” solutions. You than offer up an editorial on the failings of regional planning that broadly labels regional planners (who do the planning) as an “invasive species to be eradicated”, offering your own “prescribed” solution. What part of this looks ‘easy’ to you?

        3. I’ve quite enjoyed your many articles about motordom. I wonder if the name motordoom might be even more apt? In all seriousness, Vancouver once had an extensive network of street cars that were powered by hydroelectric generated electricity. This seems like such an excellent and sustainable solution and it raises the question of whether a return to such an approach could again be feasible?

          1. No. Walking, cycling and buses better options now for short trips than streetcars that are much less expensive. In the future small automated electric taxis or buses will be better.

            For longer trips, streetcars are too slow. Grade separated rapid transit better option that will actual get people out of their cars.

        1. Bingo. Hello East 2nd Ave, for example. Never will happen, though – Vancouverites are more addicted to single detached homes than even Surrey or Langley now.

    2. Just a note that the noise on “stroads” is also very loud.
      Just look at Granville and Oak and you’ll see that many of the houses are enclosed by 2 storey tall hedges to block out the noise.

      1. Guest, hedges do little to alleviate noise. They are purely psychological or aesthetic. What you need is solid mass, like those lovely 1,000 km of tall concrete sound attenuation barriers that line Calgary’s major “trails” otherwise considered super-arterials or near-freeways. Wouldn’t that be a delight on East First?

          1. Dense vegetation does help, but minimally when in the form of hedges. It is better to have large-canopied trees in urban areas to counter air pollution and decrease the urban heat island effect. With respect to sound attenuation, nothing does it better than solid mass like masonry, except removing the source.

    3. Racial issues in Detroit and other American cities made freeways the enabler of white flight. That did not really happen in Canada.

      1. This is largely the accepted view Bob, but its really the ultimate chicken and egg problem.

        In my view white flight is overemphasized as a factor in suburban sprawl. Many US cities like Portland did not experience white flight to anything like the same extent as detroit. The difference seems to be the number of freeway miles built per capita. Portland built about half as many per capita as Detroit. It seems that the more freeways that were built in a metro area, the more the centre lost value. This is common sense. Huge increases in serviceable residential land would obviously put downward pressure on average land value. This also affects Canadian cities. Housing prices in central Montreal dropped in measure with the provision of freeways there as well. What i am saying is that it was not so much white flight that drove the middle class from the center of many US metro areas, as the flight of any people who had enough money to grab a piece of these new greener pastures, pastures subsidized with tax dollars gathered mostly from people living in less green pastures.

        See my article on this for more.

        1. It should also be noted that racist federal housing policies did a great deal to polarize Detroit and other communities. The U.S. Government guaranteed housing loans that paid for white families to relocate out of Detroit but did not allow Black families the same access to housing loans. Indeed Black families have frequently had to pay more to get less in terms of housing.

          1. I think you are speaking of redlining Robert, where certain neighbourhoods, at the time or soon to be black, were off limits for finance. Meanwhile no such restrictions on new suburban areas. However i don’t know of a case where the federal government required an ethnicity or color test to get financing.

            1. I may be mistaken but I had thought that there was a double bind at work in which real estate agents were biased and the Federal government enacted policies that made it harder to sell if you were in a red lined area, simply because this land was depressed in value. This probably is less of a concern to folks in Vancouver, but the problems in Detroit as I understand them have multiple causes at all levels of Governments: local state and Federal.

              1. The segregation was “de facto”, meaning never explicit in policy but many things conspiring to produce a segregated result in practice.

      2. There was an interesting Space Syntax based analysis of the decline of Detroit that showed that people began leaving due to the freeways and especially the lands adjacent to them a full decade before the racial tensions erupted in destructive riots. The authors of this study are Conrad Kickert and Sophia Psarra. I am not at present able to find a link, but Google scholar is frequently an excellent search engine for finding this sort of document.

  6. “The Citizens Assembly in Grandview has called for a tunnel under their neighbourhood to handle the volumes currently on East 1st” Really??? Nothing about this was presented at the workshop I went to early in the summer. I can’t believe that this was really a consensus position.

      1. Classic Vancouver. Decide to live near an arterial that has been busy for the better part of a century and then complain endlessly about it. Parking on 1st Ave. Jesus christ. God forbid anyone be able to get anywhere ever.

        1. What of it? Just because it’s there doesn’t mean its good. First Avenue’s car prioritization makes passage across it inconvenient or dangerous by foot or by bike in many locations. First Avenue has no bus service, meaning that it has all of the negatives of an arterial without any of the positives. First Avenue spills a tremendous amount of traffic through the middle of Commercial Drive, reducing the value of that location.

          Frankly, I don’t see what benefit Vancouver gets out of First Avenue.

  7. I suppose that the Portland example and the Vancouver examples represent the following:

    Portland – 2 extremes on the spectrum – freeway (high capacity extreme) and small neighbourhood arterials (lower capacity extreme)

    Vancouver – multiple stroads – distribution of road capacity (moderate capacity all around)

    On the traffic side of things, the Portland example could lead to traffic tie ups if the freeway is jammed (i.e. accident, etc.) while the Vancouver example provides multiple alternate routes in the event of an accident (traffic redistributes).

    On the built form, planning side of things, how much does traffic on a stroad impact the development on those streets?

    In Vancouver we are seeing more and more development on the arterials (due to zoning), but zoning is also still the main determining factor on whether or not the buildings have streetfront retail (and how “neighbourly” they might end up being) or a manicured garden out front (Cambie midrises, Oak Street townhouses).

    1. I can’t speak about Portland traffic, but in Vancouver, we had one metal plate shutdown the North shore. Look what happens when the Skytrain breaks down for a few hours or an accident in the Massey tunnel. Our transportation infrastructure is so fragile, it’s hanging by a thread. Critcal Mass used to cause chaos just by riding bicycles. Imagine coordinated protests blocking a few bridges simultaneously, or god-forbid a terrorist attack. Imagine a million more people here. Then imagine an earthquake.

      1. which is exactly the point that Guest was trying to make: that bottlenecks like the Lions Gate Bridge or a freeway are prone to failure.

  8. A trenched freeway would not be nearly as damaging as an elevated freeway. A trenched freeway would provide a good sound barrier, and surface streets would not be adversely affected the way they are by elevated structures.

    If we’re not going to get busy building good mass transit, then the alternative is to build freeways. Do something for chrissakes because the afternoon rush is getting ridiculous.

    1. Logan, surely you jest. I give you two km of Glenmore Trail in Calgary, 11 sunken lanes of pure joy and bliss growling and roaring away. There are even bas relief images on the 10m concrete walls and hundreds of millions of debt not even close to being paid off. Personally I’d like to see such follies flooded and stocked with fish and a community built at its edges. Call it Little Geneva.

      1. I’ll give everyone else the facts about Glenmore Trail as you’ve obviously never driven on it. 11 sunken lanes? Try 6 (3 in each direction) with some exit ramps in places. It should be 10 lanes or more but bad planning in the past prevents that from happening. Yeah, there are fish on the walls thanks to a ridiculous 1% arts policy that we get foisted on us by the city administration who claimed everyone else was doing it.

        Initially city administration wanted to do this project on the cheap and downgrade its capacity. Thankfully citizens revolted and demanded that it be built right. The result is a road that can handle much more capacity than before. Unfortunately, the refusal of planners in the past to plan for how people actually live their lives as prevented this project from being perfect.

        Where are you getting that this project resulted in hundreds of millions of debt? The entire project only cost $110 million and the city had the funding to pay for it as they had screwed around taking action for over 30 years. Why do planners such as yourself continually lie to the public about road projects? You always grossly inflate the cost of freeway projects while vastly understating the cost and overemphasizing the benefits of transit projects. We non-planner peons are not stupid. We have the ability to find project plans, costs, etc. that are buried on city websites and to decode the social engineering nonsense in them. Personally I’d like to see planners elected so we know upfront what their true intentions are. As with the transit referendum in Vancouver, most of the quality of life killing projects urban planners propose would be soundly defeated.

        1. They can’t help it. It’s a clique much like Scientology. They have an overwhelming and Rockwellian nostalgia for toy model villages because they grew up with them in school. They like their train sets. Now they’re grown ups the buildings are bigger, the edges are just pastoral meadows and farmland. They passed a few exams, so now they can design whole towns. They live in a bubble and we must too.

    2. The freeways that began the depopulation of Detroit were sunken, trenches freeways. Don’t kid yourselves; nobody wants to live near a freeway, trenched or otherwise.

  9. The construction of semi-underground roadways in many areas would benefit all. Imagine if most of 1st Ave were partially underground, from Rupert to Clark. The vast majority of the traffic is just passing through to the city, or the freeway. Putting it at a lower level and covering large areas with park and recreational space, even building on parts, would be a massive benefit for the neighbourhood. Less congestion and less pollution, less fuel burned.

    The same would be extraordinary in the stretch of Marine Drive between Cambie and Granville. Most traffic is either heading to and from; Richmond, the airport or the Oak Street Bridge. Just covering a trench with the through traffic below could re-create the needed commercial community of Marpole. The endless crawling traffic along 70th from Granville to Cambie destroy the street, as well as the connecting streets. Moving it underground would enable the whole area to improve. The success of Marine Gateway will bring much more traffic, a plan to reconfigure the roads in the area is a ‘no brainer’.

    1. Eric. Capped roadways are enormously expensive. The one for Seattle that I worked on was 500 million for just 1000 meters. A big part of the cost is to ventilate the tunnel if something explodes in the confined space.

      1. That’s why I wrote ‘semi-underground’, as opposed to completely.

        How long can an underpass be before it needs to be vented, half a block? Think Paris along by the river.

        1. Eric invoked the idea of roadways by the river. I presented counter-examples.

          He didn’t advocate for capped roadways; you misunderstood him.

          1. It is you that misunderstands. The location is irrelevant. The idea is submerged roadways and not necessarily completely covered. (Think Autoroute Ville Marie, Montréal, Centre Ville)

          2. Oh, sorry about that. When you mentioned the specific example in Paris, I mistakenly thought about the specific example in Paris. My bad.

            So… how much are you willing to raise taxes in order to pay for these submerged roadways?

            1. I’d go up a couple of points without taking a breath. The reduction in pollution from the congestion would be worth it alone, just as it is over the Port Mann now.

              If we want drivers on board we must offer them more than just a new Patullo with a toll.

              There’s one, the Ronda Litoral, under the centre of old Barcelona too.

            1. Anyone that owns a vehicle with an internal combustion engine will tell you that there although there is some pollution from even the most efficient engine, there is none when the engine is switched off. Any vehicle reaches its destination quicker on a road like the Ronda Litoral, than one puttering along between the many stop/start intersections above. This is not difficult to understand. Above the Ronda Litoral are parks, bicycle stands, flower selling shops and people walking, as well as bus routes and stops. Below, traffic is moving smoothly and reaching its destination faster and switching off sooner. Google it on ‘street view’.

      2. Eric railed recently against a pipsqueak transit tax like it would halt the rotation of the Earth. On the other hand, we would need a major tax increase probably approaching double digits to fund his buried road(s) idea.

        Let me guess: On that he would be silent.

        1. The transit tax losers need to realize that they lost, quite profoundly badly too, because the plan was pathetic, the sales team clumsy and comedic while also pleading embarrassing desperation, ie. they were begging, and the transit authority is dysfunctional, as glaringly witnessed by the coup against their CEO mid campaign and the subsequent firings of a raft of top level, long standing, operatives in head office. One half of one percent didn’t factor into anyone’s budget considerations. Voting No was instinctive.

          It will now have to be the provincial government that makes the important decisions on smoothing the flow of traffic into and out of the bottlenecks to the north shore, along 1st and south down Knight and Oak. They will also have to seriously consider extending the Sky Train that stops in Surrey and in Richmond.

  10. By the way, I have finally figured out how to avoid the loss of column width for replies as a section of the conversation progresses. Instead of clicking on Reply to the bottom comment, click on Reply to the parent question above it. Your comment will slot in below the last comment, and will be the same width as the comment to which you are responding.

  11. Karin might not need to waste her time. The way things operate around here don’t often allow any nay sayers a chance. Another reason that when given the chance, the voters took it.

    City Hall Watch:
    ” October 30, 2012 by urbanizta
    (Updated Nov 1) On Halloween day, October 31, 2012, just one week to the day after the document was made public, City Council adopted Vancouver’s Draft Transportation 2040 Plan. (Council heard the staff report Tuesday morning, the speakers from the public in the afternoon, then voted the next day.) Vision Vancouver voted as a single block, against opposition. The staff report and draft plan, 123 pages combined, were released on October 24, 2012, just three working days before it went to council (and report contents have changed significantly since the June draft). (Did anyone notice the report was dated Oct 17? Why did City Hall hold it back until just before the meeting?) Did anyone notice that the first staff speaker was the City’s general manager for planning and development (i.e., land use), followed by the general manager for engineering services (i.e., transportation)? Media and therefore the public have focused on bike lanes and car traffic, but most people have missed an important point: Transportation 2040 is as much about land use changes (i.e., densification and construction) as it is about transportation …
    This plan will override existing community plans and current planning underway. Also, what about timing? Is it possible that City Hall is not telling us honestly that they plan to increase density first by allowing dramatic increases in construction along “potential” future transit improvement routes, but the actual improvements in transit could be decades away, if ever? …”.

    1. Fortunately, future councils are not bound by the decisions and policies of previous councils as it would be totally anti-democratic. This allows, as it should be, the council to best reflect the concerns of people currently living and voting in the city. To think that policies that not all of the people currently living in the city had a chance to comment on or vote for politicians who supported those policies should dictate city decisions forever is ridiculous. People change and thinking changes. Policies must adjust.

  12. @ Eric “Anyone that owns a vehicle with an internal combustion engine will tell you that there although there is some pollution from even the most efficient engine, there is none when the engine is switched off. Any vehicle reaches its destination quicker on a road like the Ronda Litoral, than one puttering along between the many stop/start intersections above. This is not difficult to understand. Above the Ronda Litoral are parks, bicycle stands, flower selling shops and people walking, as well as bus routes and stops. Below, traffic is moving smoothly and reaching its destination faster and switching off sooner.”

    You are speaking here of a single vehicle, which will likely pollute less when it moves at a steady speed with no stops and starts. But that isn’t really the point, is it? The issue is traffic, not a single vehicle. When they move without stopping due to congestion, more of them tend to join the party. Then they move more slowly again. You have an expensive road, and the same crowding you had at the start. But with debt.

    Looking at your example, the Ronda Litoral, there is a speed limit of 80 km/hr or 100 km/hr, depending on the section. But reports document that during rush hour travel speeds drop to as low as 20 km/hr. Perhaps not as smooth and fast as you think. And lots of references to the congestion problems on that route, and plans to widen it.

    One study (en espanol) here:álisis_datos_RACC%20Trafico%2080km.pdf?sequence=4

    1. The question really is whether cities are going to pretend that vehicles don’t exist, build no more infrastructure for them and hope, or wait, until they just go away, or whether they are going to accept that they exist and accommodate them for everyones’ benefit.

      Those municipalities that refuse to accommodate vehicles and vainly attempt to simply staunch the flow of traffic, will have to consequently accept congestion and resulting pollution as a result.

      The Ronda Litoral is just one example of innovation that works for all. Wikipedia may well point out that at times the traffic is down to 20kmh. So what. The road was sunken and partially covered allowing for parks and recreation areas that were previously just a highway, much like Knight or Oak streets, or 1st Avenue in Vancouver. The covering of parts of the Ronda allowed the population of Barcelona to connect with the old city of Barcelonetta and with the seaside. It’s a choice. In this case it was a good one. Barcelona is one of the top cities in the world in many respects from design, art, finance, culture, tourism and, of course, history. Its implementation of modern technologies, for transportation also, has led to Barcelona being designated one of the worlds’ ‘Smart Cities’. No wonder it’s busy.

Welcome to VWPT

Big news! Price Tags has morphed into Viewpoint Vancouver — taking a fresh look at the history and future of our region. Subscribe now and join the conversation.

Join 7,122 other subscribers

Support VWPT

Make a one-time donation, or check our Patreon page for stylish coffee mugs, private city tours, and more. Thank you for helping shape this place we love.

Popular Articles

See All

All Articles

VWPT Podcast