Vancouver council votes to calm Prior Street while building underpass at rail line

Strathcona residents protest against a plan to make Prior Street the permanent future arterial into downtown Vancouver on Sept. 30, 2019. Andrew Hewins

Vancouver city council has voted to have it both ways when it comes to a contentious and high-traffic road through the city’s Strathcona neighbourhood.

Council on Wednesday debated a number of staff recommendations on the future of Prior Street, the narrow road that connects to the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts from East Vancouver and is used as an arterial route.

Councillors voted to support the construction of an underpass at the Burrard Inlet Rail Line, allowing the road to continue feeding area traffic into downtown once the viaducts are removed and the new St. Paul’s Hospital is built.

Click to play video: 'Prior street residents rally against city plans' Prior street residents rally against city plans
Prior street residents rally against city plans – Sep 30, 2019

But council also backed staff’s suggestion to downgrade Prior to a collector street with a 30 km/h speed limit alongside Strathcona Park.

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A suggested pilot project to reduce traffic flows on Prior and the connected Venables Street by reducing the road to two lanes of traffic full-time was also given the green light.

Currently, the road is opened up to four lanes during high-volume periods, with parking allowed on the street roughly 85 per cent of the time. The pilot project would allow street parking 24 hours a day.

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

The underpass is meant to bypass a major traffic bottlneck that has appeared regularly at the rail line, which was reactivated by CN Rail in 2017.

Construction of the underpass will come at no cost to the city, staff confirmed, with the $125-million price tag likely being handed off to CN, the Port of Vancouver and the federal government.

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung introduced an amendment asking council to work with CN and the Port of Vancouver to “mitigate and combat health and environmental impacts” from an anticipated increase in rail activity on the line, which the underpass is also meant to allow.

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City of Vancouver goes against recommendation for new False Creek arterial – Sep 29, 2019

The votes came after several speakers, including members of the Strathcona Residents’ Association, urged the city to calm Prior, which had been promised by previous councils.

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The number of speakers bumped the agenda item from Tuesday’s regular council meeting to Wednesday.

The original staff report recommended transforming Prior Street into the main arterial route between East Vancouver and downtown, along with widened walking and cycling paths to allow different kinds of transportation to use the route.

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

The report suggested those upgrades and the city’s emissions targets would lower vehicle traffic in the area.

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.

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

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

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In its report, the city noted 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.

READ MORE: Panel recommends route for future major road connecting East Vancouver, downtown

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

Coun. Pete Fry had earlier suggested the calming measures approved by the city, which were ultimately brought forward by Vancouver’s chief engineer as an option to council.

— With files from Simon Little

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