City of Vancouver staff have outlined their support and drafted plans for the most economical and practical route option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road project — the direct, straight route along Prior Street and Venables Street.
Next week, city council will consider staff’s recommendations to approve the option of improving the existing Prior/Venables route, including the construction of road underpass beneath the Burrard Inlet railway (BIR) line at Glen Drive.
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This four-lane improvement project would stretch from Gore Avenue — the current eastern end of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts — to Clark Drive, leading up to Commercial Drive. On the western end, it would connect with the new Pacific Boulevard that replaces the viaducts.
Grade separating the railway crossing is deemed necessary, as growing freight traffic to the port has meant more frequent freight trains on the BIR since 2017.
The frequent movement of long trains across the grade crossing on Venables Street has “reduced the reliability of transit service and emergency response, and increased the number of vehicles shortcutting on residential streets using the overpass at Hastings Street. Pedestrians and cyclists have also been observed climbing over stopped train cars due to long delays.”
City staff have noted this could be performed in conjunction with Canadian National (CN) plan to double-track the BIR over a four-km-long stretch from Powell Street near the port to Nanaimo Street on the Grandview Cut.
In fact, the municipal government believes the estimated $125-million project cost could be entirely covered by the Port of Vancouver and CN as they are “the prime beneficiaries of the project.”
Both entities could also seek federal and provincial infrastructure funding to help cover some of the costs, and precedent has been set with this approach with other railway grade-separation projects in the region.
An underpass for the BIR at Venables Street is strongly preferred by city staff as it is deemed to be “more comfortable and accessible” for pedestrians and cyclists, and would allow for better access to the industrial area. It could potentially allow for improved connections to Strathcona Park and the Adanac Bikeway.
The Prior/Venables route is supported by the Port of Vancouver, CN, TransLink, BC Trucking Association, and Providence Healthcare, which is building the new $1.9-billion St. Paul’s Hospital at the western end of the route.
Both the Port and CN have also noted that there must be an eventual full grade-separation of all remaining at-grade railway crossings along the BIR from Powell Street to the Grandview Cut.
Furthermore, the Prior/Venables route option was also the second preference of the city’s community panel, which had a strong preference for an indirect, detour route along National Avenue, Thornton Street, and Charles Street, which necessitates two 90-degree turns, the relocation of city-owned facilities, and a 620-metre-long viaduct bridge over the railway.
City staff emphasized that this option was highly unfeasible in terms of cost, technical feasibility, and functionality. It carries the highest construction cost in excess of $400 million, there are safety and performance concerns with the routing, and it would also impact the new hospital and local businesses significantly.
The potential project partners — the entities that would cover the construction costs — do not support this detour route.
“At this time, we recommend that Prior/Venables Street remain an arterial because our transportation analysis suggests it is needed to provide effective access to the local neighbourhood, industrial businesses in the Flats, downtown and in the future the proposed new St. Paul’s Hospital,” reads the report
“By replacing the highway-like Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts with a more complete and urbanized street, lower vehicle speeds are anticipated and would contribute to improving safety on Prior Street. Entering the neighbourhood from downtown Vancouver and Northeast False Creek, Prior Street west of Jackson / Malkin Avenue could be animated with store fronts and the proposed new St. Paul’s Hospital, bringing many more people walking and cycling, and crossing at new signalized intersections.”
Additionally, city staff acknowledge that “many residents” in the Strathcona neighbourhood have been calling for the downgrading and calming of Prior Street and Venables Street, but this approach on the existing arterial route is not supported.
However, city staff have indicated they are willing to support and implement a pilot project that turns the existing route into a collector road. The pilot would examine the performance of one traffic lane in each direction, all-day curbside parking, and temporary curb bulges to enhance pedestrian crossings. A 30 km/h speed limit would also be in place near Strathcona Park.
City staff note Prior Street is currently a two-lane street 84% of the time, and only in peak periods does the curbside lanes, with parking restrictions, open to provide more capacity.
“It is at these times when the arterial network as a whole is the most congested, and when most traffic short-cutting in neighbourhoods occurs,” the report continues.
Some of the pilot elements are also envisioned for the permanent “great street” design of the Prior/Venables project, including improvements to walkability and park access, and enhancements to the public realm.
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