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Report calls for city to overhaul existing route connecting East Vancouver, downtown

An artist's rendering of a possible underpass allowing Prior-Venables to connect to downtown Vancouver in place of existing viaducts. City of Vancouver

Vancouver city staff are supporting a controversial plan to keep an existing arterial road as a main route connecting East Vancouver to downtown.

A staff report to be presented to council Tuesday suggests the city overhaul Prior and Venables streets, while adding an underpass at the Burrard Inlet Rail Line crossing once the viaducts are removed.

That plan goes against the recommendation made by a 42-member community panel this spring, which called for a new road that would bypass Prior and Venables and create an overpass crossing at the rail line.

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Residents who live along Prior and Venables — already a high-traffic road that currently connects to the viaducts — say the new plan walks back years of promises from the city.

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“The city has made it very clear, they’ve made commitments in the past to downgrade Prior and we want them to follow through,” Penny Crawford with the Strathcona Residents’ Association said.

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The panel had recommended the so-called “National-Charles” route, which would border the north side of the new St. Paul’s Hospital, snake south on Thornton Street before heading east on National Avenue and connecting to Charles Street at Clark Drive.

The Prior-Venables option was considered, but ultimately placed a distant second to National-Charles in voting.

The panel acknowledged the National-Charles route was the most expensive option at roughly $400 million. It also noted higher complexity and construction time, and a potential for more accidents at a proposed “S” curve on Thornton Street.

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But the panel said choosing Prior-Venables could erode trust with the community, after previous promises by the city to downgrade that route to a local street once the viaducts come down.

READ MORE: City of Vancouver reveals plan for removal of viaducts, new park in northeast False Creek

“Me and my three kids, we’re crossing Prior back and forth each way (three or four times a week), so we’re really feeling like we’re going to be quite affected by this decision,” said Oron Frenkel, who helps maintain the nearby Strathcona Community Garden.

The Prior-Venables option was found to cost roughly $280 million less than the proposed National-Charles route.

In its report, the city notes the Prior-Venables option was opposed by the Strathcona Residents’ Association and Grandview-Woodland Area Council.

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But staff goes on to say the plan is supported by various stakeholders and businesses, including the Port of Vancouver, CN Rail, the British Columbia Trucking Association and TransLink.

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Residents say the city is prioritizing those interests over its own constituents.

“Sixty-eight percent of the panel voted against the Prior-Venables option,” Tom Cummins said. “If you’re going to engage in the democratic process and ignore an overwhelming majority, you may as well throw out the whole panel.”

Efforts continue to calm street

City staff said five years of study and engagement proved unable to find a successful alternative to retaining Prior-Venables as an arterial route.

But the report still recommends ways to overhaul the street in a way that will reduce vehicle speeds and promote more cycling and walking connections.

“By achieving the transportation targets in the Climate Emergency Response, staff anticipate lower vehicle volumes on all streets across the city,” the report further suggests.

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An artist's rendering of a revamped Prior-Venables that would connect to downtown Vancouver in place of existing viaducts. City of Vancouver
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An artist's rendering of a revamped Prior-Venables that would connect to downtown Vancouver in place of existing viaducts. City of Vancouver
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An artist's rendering of a possible underpass allowing Prior-Venables to connect to downtown Vancouver in place of existing viaducts. City of Vancouver

Staff is also recommending a pilot program that would test the feasibility of lowering the speed limit on Prior-Venables to 30 km/h, with one lane in each direction.

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If proven successful, those standards would remain and potentially be adopted by other roads within the city, staff says. The underpass, meanwhile, would enhance safety while allowing rail service to expand.

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Crawford says the city’s efforts to both calm the street and turn it into the main connector between two popular sides of the city will be difficult to balance, if not impossible.

“We’re looking for more than the vague calming measures outlined in this report,” she said. “We want meaningful, permanent calming measures put in place to restore Prior to a residential street and make it safe for everyone.”

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Staff notes in the report that lowering speed limits on Prior-Venables could lead vehicles to use neighbouring streets as shortcuts.

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The city declined to comment on a matter that is set to be voted on by council, referring requests for comment to elected officials.

Calls to city councillors were not returned Sunday.

—With files from Kristen Robinson and Simon Little

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