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New West residents rally to save the Front Street Parkade

UBC School of Architecture offers to help pretty up the parkade

The University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture is offering to help New Westminster come up with ideas for prettying up the Front Street parkade.

Supporters of the Front Street parkade held a rally on Sunday to show their support for the structure. The city plans to demolish the western portion of the parkade this year and create a pedestrian-friendly mews on Front Street.

Bill Pechet, a lecturer at the school of architecture, has written a letter on behalf of himself and some UBC colleagues, to urge the city to “take a respite” from allowing the demolition and let them show the city how the structure could be another feather in the cap for New Westminster.

“We would encourage council to reconsider the opportunities to repurpose the structure for collective public use and would gladly offer our services to create a special research studio within our school, in the fall of 2015, to present ideas for various ways it can be re-imagined,” he stated in the letter. “There are many successful re-purposed spaces in major metropolitan areas which combine the roles of parking and other infrastructure with public amenity spaces.”

Pechet suggested the money that the city’s budgeted for the demolition could go toward the generation of public events, greening strategies and sound amelioration component for the truck and train routes below.

On Monday night, a number of parkade supporters appeared before council to ask the city to reconsider its plan to demolish the western side of the parkade.

Diane Butler, president of the New Westminster Downtown Residents’ Association, said the group supported a resolution to ask council not to axe the structure.

“Don’t be in a rush,” she said. “Take your time, make sure you make the right decision for all the new people that are going to be coming to this community and for future generations.”

New Westminster resident Brad Cavanagh was the lone delegation at Monday’s meeting, urging city council to stick with its plans to revitalize Front Street and demolish the portion of the parkade west of Sixth Street.

“Putting a park on top of the parkade doesn’t solve any of the problems that are caused by the parkade,” he said. “Underneath Front Street, it’s dark and dismal, and it smells. And it’s polluted.”

Cavanagh said Fraser Health has deemed Front Street to be one of the most polluted streets in the Lower Mainland. He supports the city’s plans to build a mews along the street that includes a pedestrian walkway with trees, instead of the existing grey, dismal and dark tunnel.

“Do we want to be promoting businesses in New Westminster? I think we do. Do we want to have parks in New Westminster? I would say yes,” he said. “New Westminster needs more parks, but do we do it at the expense of having the most polluted street in the Lower Mainland? Do we do it at the expense of the fine businesses there trying to stay in business down there? I don’t think so.”

Cavanagh said parkade supporters have been coming up with some “great plans” for Front Street, but they should have been raised during the consultation process that occurred in 2011 and 2012. Although a decision has been made to take down the western side of the parkade, he thinks there’s a possibility to incorporate some of those ideas into the eastern portion of the parkade.

New Westminster resident Roland Guasparini said it’s incorrect to suggest that people on Front Street are regularly breathing in the worst air in the Lower Mainland. He said air quality monitoring that was done under the parkade was placed directly under the parkade deck in a spot where it was getting a “direct hit” from the stacks from diesel trucks.

Jerry Johnson, a licensed engineer in Canada and a certified bridge instructor in Washington State, said “facts don’t seem to matter so much” where the Front Street parkade is concerned.

“Contrary to the city’s narrative, he said the parkade isn’t dilapidated,” said the New Westminster resident. “There are no deteriorating areas in the decks where you can see  down to the deck below. In fact, I haven’t come across any evidence of widespread structural issues whatsoever.”

While “council does not want to revisit this issue,” Johnson said it’s not too late for council to ask questions about the factual accuracy of some of the facts and figures used when making a decision to demolish part of the parkade.

“I am a professional telling you there are serious flaws in some of the engineering information you have used to make this important decision. You don’t necessarily need to believe me, but if you investigate it on your own, I can lead you to the questions that I would like to see asked,” he said. “I’d like to see us embrace a vision that embraces facts ... because facts do matter.”

Johnson also raised concerns about the city’s plan to create a mews “on the shoulder of a major truck highway” that sees 150 trucks pass by each hour.

Downtown resident Douglas Whicker said the group believes the city can save and rehabilitate the parkade and put in noise barriers to address issues on Front Street for a lot less money than it’s planning to spend on the project.

“We are not asking the city to create a park,” he said. “All we are asking  the city to defer the demolition of a valuable asset so that productive repurposing options can be considered.”

According to Whicker, demolishing the west side of the parkade will daylight one of the busiest truck routes in Metro Vancouver and will have impacts on noise levels for people living on Columbia Street. Whicker said he’s attempted to get reports about noise testing from the city but has been unsuccessful, which makes him believe the city has made its decision without a thorough study of the noise impact of tearing down the parkade.

Based on his 30 years experience as an acoustical consultant, Whicker suspects there will be “negligible” drop in sound at ground level of Front Street. He estimates noise will go up by five to 10 decibels for people living in the vicinity of the parkade.

“The level will still be too high to have a conversation without shouting when the semi-trailers are going by. It will be too high for Antique Alley customers to want to sit out on a patio table in front of a restaurant or coffee shop. I can also tell you that the acoustic oasis that exists on top of the parkade deck will disappear and the shielding benefit derived from the parkade will be lost on both the Trapp+Holrook project and the two most east towers of the Larco project once it is built,” he said. “Proper modelling needs to be carried out.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote said he respects people’s opinions, but he’s always viewed the parkade as a barrier that separates the downtown from the waterfront.

“There is no doubt that moving forward with the partial deconstruction of the parkade is going to cost public money to move forward with that, but I think the reality is the lifecycle cost of maintaining the parkade is going to be greater,” he said. “Most of the money for this project is to maintain the existing part of the parkade.”

According to the city, the project is estimated to cost $11.25 million, which includes deconstruction of the western part of the parkade ($3.85 million), rehabilitation of the eastern part ($5.2 million), the creation of the Front Street Mews ($2 million) and a mural ($200,000). Staff will have more accurate numbers once tenders have been received next month.