City council approves $125-million False Creek Flats road on Prior-Venables

Oct 3 2019, 5:01 pm

The first major step of a years-long process of selecting an option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road project came to a close on Wednesday afternoon when Vancouver city council selected the route option running through Prior Street and Venables Street.

Council voted in an 8-2 vote to follow the recommendations of city staff of moving forward on the next steps required to improve Prior/Venables, over other route options, including a city community panel’s preference for a route on National Avenue, Thornton Street, and Charles Street.

The largest component of the $125-million project would be a road underpass beneath the Burrard Inlet Railway (BIR) serving the Port of Vancouver.

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Proposed improvements of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Artistic rendering of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

While city staff recommended the Prior/Venables option to a four-traffic-lane arterial standard, councillors also opted to engage in city staff’s alternative interim option of engaging in a pilot project that downgrades the route to a collector road.

To achieve this, there will be traffic-calming measures, including two traffic lanes (one lane in each direction), curbside parking, temporary curb bulges, and a 30 km/hr speed limit near Strathcona Park,

The performance of this temporary collector road design will be monitored, with the street changes possibly in place by early 2020.

City staff note Prior Street is currently a two-lane road 84% of the time, and only in peak periods does the curbside lanes, with parking restrictions, open to provide more capacity.

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Artistic rendering of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

But a permanent collector road would deviate from the original project objectives of an east-west arterial road that successfully diverts traffic away from Prior/Venables, which was a promise the municipal government made to Strathcona residents when city staff began engaging on the arterial road project.

Councillor Rebecca Bligh, who joined councillor Colleen Hardwick in voting against the route recommendation, explained that the Prior/Venables option does not deviate far from the status quo.

“I know a lot of people who would love to ride a bike to work, and absolutely rely on a car because they are a trade worker or some part of their livelihood relies on a car. I have to argue that we’re pushing for electric vehicles, but they use the same infrastructure as combustion engine vehicles — roads,” said Bligh.

“I have not seen any significant plan to redirect traffic from the viaduct and off from Prior, I think traffic is going to snarl. I think it will slow traffic, but it will not reduce it.”

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Artistic rendering of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Artistic rendering of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

Currently, traffic from the easternmost end of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts directly feeds into Prior/Venables.

The viaducts will eventually be demolished as part of the Northeast False Creek Plan, but there is no definitive timeline. As well, the redesigned and extended Pacific Boulevard arterial is designed to feed traffic directly into the Prior/Venables route.

“I haven’t heard something that puts my mind at ease that this is the best decision at this particular time. It is years away before anything fundamentally changes around the viaducts,” she continued.

There was an urgency for the city to inform Providence Healthcare of its route preference, as it directly affects the design of the $1.9-billion new St. Paul’s Hospital at the western end of the route.

But a final decision is dependent on the city’s potential project partners; the Port of Vancouver and CN Rail both support the Prior/Venables option as an arterial route, and the city wants both entities and the senior governments to fund the entirety of the project’s construction cost.

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Estimated cost of Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

Both the Port and CN previously noted that there must be an eventual full grade-separation of all remaining at-grade railway crossings along the BIR (BIR) from Powell Street to the Grandview Cut.

CN also plans to double track the BIR through the area to meet the growing freight traffic demand at the port, necessitating a fully-grade separated solution for both the railway and the roads in the area.

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Artistic rendering of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

While the community panel had a strong preference for the National/Thornton/Charles route option, it was deemed highly unfeasible over its cost in excess of $400 million. There were also safety and performance concerns with the routing, which was a detour that took two 90-degree turns, requires the relocation of city-owned facilities, and a 620-metre long viaduct bridge over the railway. It also had immense impacts to the new hospital and local businesses.