City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan is pitching a plan to cover over part of the Upper Levels Highway and build a new public park on top.
In an op-ed published in The Province, Buchanan lays out a vision for a new public space that would bridge a community divided by the highway since the 1960s while increasing active transportation options and giving residents more access to green space, reducing highway noise and improving air quality.
“It's time that we start to look at how we can connect both sides versus continuing expanding highways for cars. We need to be focused on what's best for people,” Buchanan said in an interview. “I think it's a very, very intriguing idea and I want us to actually explore it and see what's possible.”
In her vision, Highway 1 is “capped” for one block on either side of Lonsdale Avenue – a space of almost 400,000 square feet. Buchanan said the idea has been floated before but she was inspired to bring it up again after reading about a similar project that has proved to be a smashing success in Tulsa, Okla.
The city is already planning to start consultations on a new east-west greenway along the Upper Levels and so it seemed like a good time to start the discussion, Buchanan said.
“I grew up on (the north) side and so I have that lived experience of running back and forth across the highway,” she said. “For my city, I want to be really focused on active transportation and how we can safely move people.”
The park’s design and amenities would be decided through community consultation, but Buchanan said there is no reason why it couldn’t provide something for everyone.
“Do we want it to be active? Or do we want to have spaces for reflection? I see that it could be both,” she said. “It's been done in other places and I think this is the time.”
Buchanan said she hasn’t broached the subject with her council yet, but she has had preliminary discussions with Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming and Minister of State for Infrastructure and North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma just to see if the concept can be “mutually aligned” with the province’s future plans for Highway 1. The highway belongs to the province. If the plan appears to be viable, Buchanan said she will likely bring a motion to council to direct staff to begin studying the idea in more detail.
There is no back-of-the-envelope estimate as to the cost, but Buchanan said it could only be done with funds coming from both senior levels of government.
“We can get bogged down sometimes on the wrong question. And not that the cost isn't important, but I think we need to do the bigger, higher-level value proposition. What does this save us in terms of health-care costs and in reducing GHG emissions?” she said. “Land is our most expensive commodity and we'd be creating significant park infrastructure for the city.”
Ultimately, Buchanan is holding out optimism.
“Let's really imagine what's possible and let’s get our heads together and let's make it happen,” she said.