‘Follow through’: Strathcona residents say city backtracking on promise to calm Prior Street

Click to play video: 'Prior street residents rally against city plans'
Prior street residents rally against city plans
WATCH: Residents of Vancouver's Prior street rallied today in opposition to the city's plan to make their street a major arterial to replace the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts after they're torn down. Grace Ke reports. – Sep 30, 2019

Residents of Vancouver’s Strathcona Neighbourhood took to the streets Monday morning to say they feel betrayed by a proposal to keep a high-traffic street through their community.

At issue is the future of Prior Street, the busy but narrow arterial that feeds the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts from East Vancouver.

“The sidewalks are only about a metre wide and there’s no buffer between the sidewalk and traffic,” said resident Kate Walker, one of dozens of protesters who came out to protest during morning rush hour.

“If you’re a mother pushing a stroller down the street, you can’t even pass another person on the sidewalk without potentially being brushed by a bus or a speeding car.”

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City of Vancouver. City of Vancouver

Vancouver city council is slated to vote Tuesday on a staff report that will finalize what road feeds the bulk of area traffic into the city’s core when the viaducts are removed and the new St. Paul’s Hospital is built.

The report recommends keeping Prior Street as the arterial with major upgrades.

A community panel convened in April overwhelmingly rejected Prior, which is fronted by residential properties, and proposed an alternate route along National and Charles streets.

WATCH (April 22): Community panel proposes new road through False Creek Flats

Click to play video: 'Community panel proposes new road through False Creek Flats'
Community panel proposes new road through False Creek Flats

The so-called National-Charles route was heavily preferred by residents

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Strathcona Residents Association director Penny Crawford said the city has pledged on multiple occasions in the past to calm Prior Street, and is now going back on its word.

“It’s probably been going on since Expo 86 when they started using this street as an arterial. Prior street is a very narrow street, it’s 12 metres. A typical arterial is 30 metres wide,” she said.

“What we’re asking for is very simply, follow through on the commitments that have already been made.”

WATCH (June 5, 2017): Vancouver unveils plan for viaduct removal, new park

Click to play video: 'Vancouver unveils plan for viaduct removal, new park'
Vancouver unveils plan for viaduct removal, new park

According to the city, four-lane Prior Street currently moves an estimated 25,000 vehicles per day, the same number as six-lane Hastings Street to the north does.

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The proposed upgrades to Prior Street would include an underpass at the Burrard Inlet Rail Line, which has become a traffic bottleneck since CN Rail reactivated it in 2017.

That underpass work, estimated to cost $125 million, would likely be funded by CN, the Port of Vancouver and the federal government, significantly reducing the cost of the Prior Street option.

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

The National-Charles route preferred by residents would cost more than $400 million, according to the report, and does not have funding support from potential partners, which staff said could leave the city on the hook for the entire project.

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

It also said the plan is supported by various stakeholders and businesses, including the Port of Vancouver, CN Rail, the British Columbia Trucking Association and TransLink.

Vancouver Green Councillor Pete Fry made no bones about his opposition to the proposal, saying he originally got into politics as a community activist after his friend was struck by a vehicle on Prior Street.

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“The previous council on two occasions affirmed a commitment to calming Prior, what we’re looking for is seeing prior downgraded to a local collector street, as it was supposed to be,” said Fry.

READ MORE: It’s official — St. Paul’s is on the move in Vancouver

Fry suggested that if council couldn’t support the more expensive arterial route along National Street, perhaps the city could both build the underpass but calm Prior Street as well.

He pointed to an alternate consideration in the staff report, which could see a 30 kilometre per hour speed limit imposed on Prior Street where it borders Strathcona Park, curb bulges added, and a reduction to one lane.

“Maybe we just don’t need an arterial at all is kind of the compromise that everybody can get behind,” he said.

With files from Sean Boynton

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