The Vancouver That (Thankfully) Never Was

I can across an interesting post in Gordon Price’s Price Tags‘ archives that looks at a decision Vancouver made in the 1960s, or rather chose NOT to make.

An image of a 1960s rendering of Vancouver's proposed downtown freeway system

There are few singular decisions made in any North American city that have had such a dramatic impact of the future of a city, especially when the decision was not to do something.  This is exactly what happened in the 1960’s, when Project 200—a plan to build a freeway system through downtown—was disbanded.

Colour rendering of Vancouver's unrealized Project 200 (uncovered by Bob Ripponat the Vancouver Planning Department),

While I would love to give of city forefathers credit for their prescience, or for the public outrage at the time being the deciding factor, I can’t. The reason that Vancouver didn’t follow so many other North American cities wasn’t due to civic leadership or even neighborhood opposition, but rather intergovernmental bickering over who would foot the bill.  According to heritage expert John Atkin:

the deciding factor was probably the bickering between the federal and provincial governments over who would pay for the freeway system. “The feds finally said, ‘Forget it. We’re taking our money and going home,'” says Atkin. “So they left, and the whole Project 200 collapsed because of that. They walked away.

Pencil Rendering of Vancouver's unrealized Project 200

What if an agreement had been reached, and the highway had gone ahead?  Downtown—especially Gastown—would have ben a VERY different place, as seen in these renderings.

Another colour rendering of Vancouver's unrealized Project 200 (uncovered by Bob Ripponat the Vancouver Planning Department),

Thankfully, every city council since has affirmed that there will be no new roads to serve traffic coming into the city.  As a result, incoming traffic to the downtown core has dropped by approximately 20% over the past decade. This trend is expected to continue as both population and transit service within Vancouver increase.

Images via Price Tags 20 and illustratedvancouver

Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.
  • StuckinTraffic

    Too bad you don’t face up to the reality that we are an automobile-driven society and that we need the car to get around. You can’t live in Vancouver or you would never have written such a stupid thing. Honestly, we went downtown last weekend from Langley and it was an hour and a half ordeal… a trip that should have taken 20 minutes. The folks who were with me were from America and they thought I was deliberately trying to make their lives miserable by taking them along First Ave. to get out to Hwy 1. How can you be thankful for that?? If Vancouver had a proper freeway system, we would all live (and breath) better and we could spend more time with our friends and families rather than sitting needlessly in traffic because of selfish, ignorant people like you.

    • Sorry you feel that way. But it seems like you are more upset with your personal choices than you are with the fact that Vancouver does’t have a downtown freeway. It would seem the majority of Vancouverites agree with me. There is little talk about building a freeway through downtown’s v these days; rather the city is contemplating removing the viaducts, the remaining vestiges of the aborted freeway plan. and we aren;t the only city. Cities like Seattle and Seoul have successful removed freeways and found traffic to improve. Look up induced traffic if you are skeptical.
      I do indeed live in Vancouver, but actually live in the city, not a far-flung suburb. One of the reasons I chose to move back is that the city didn’t have a freeway cutting through its heart. My wife and I even own a car, but find we get around perfectly fine without it 99% of the time. About the only time we use it is for weekend road trips or picking up large items; Indeed we will be selling it soon as we use it so rarely. We can get everywhere we need to go on transit, or the occasional cab ride. The few time I would like to use a car, I can rent or use of a car sharing service. All of these cost far less that the cost of operating a car; and the money and time my wife and I save more than make up for any additional expenses associated with city living. I have also lived in Phoenix, which was a supposed to be a driver’s dream, you could get anywhere quickly and easily in a car. Too bad there weren’t many places to get to, other than cookie cutter strip malls and sub-divisions. And, because everyone had to drive everywhere, there was always traffic to deal with anyways.
      You talk about breathing better. I would be able to breath better if it weren’t for the unnecessary exhaust caused by people who think cars are the only way to get around. While you are stuck in traffic because of your decision to live a car dependant lifestyle I am spending time with my friends, family and neighbours in one of Vancouver’s many vibrant transit neighbourhoods. We don’t need to spend hours in the car showing visitors around; we can do so on foot and transit. Indeed, some friends from Phoenix just visited us. They enjoyed the fact that they could get around so easily without a car.
      Perhaps next time your American friends come to visit, you should skip coming downtown. After all, you chose to live in Langley for a reason. Why not show your friends why you live there? If you really want to take them downtown, I suggest leaving your car at the nearest park and ride and take the Skytrain in. It’s a quicker and more pleasant trip that allows you to focus on your guests instead of the road and traffic.

  • Adam Fitch

    Awesome rebuttal, Yuri.