City staff are recommending that the 800 block of Robson Street be reopened to traffic this winter, as Vancouver continues to study the potential for turning the downtown stretch into a permanent public square.
In a report going before the city’s planning, transportation and environment committee next week, staff recommend that the block be reopened on December 1, 2012, and that a seasonal closure for next summer be prepared.
“The key decision is whether it should reopen December 1st,” Vancouver’s transportation director Jerry Dobrovolny told the Straight by phone. “And then it’s committing that we would report back to council, and that we would do that work through the next number of months.”
Dobrovolny said the seasonal closure of the block during the last two summers has been “very successful”.
“We’re hoping that by being able to mitigate some of the impacts that we’ve seen with the seasonal closure, that it would then position it that we would take it to council for a decision about a permanent closure,” he noted. “But at this point, we’re not recommending the permanent closure, because those impacts haven’t been resolved yet.”
The city recently completed an online survey and held two public meetings on the future of the Robson Street stretch between Hornby and Howe Streets known as Block 51.
Out of over 2,100 online surveys completed, 64 percent of respondents indicated they want the 800 block of Robson to function as a permanent public space, while 17 percent preferred a summertime public space, and 19 percent wanted to see only occasional closures of the street to traffic for special events.
However, issues raised during a series of stakeholder meetings included concerns from West End seniors and other residents with the current route of the No. 5 Robson bus, which they said no longer provides a direct line between the West End and Granville Street.
Dobrovolny noted the city is working with TransLink to review the routing of the No. 5 bus, as part of a broader look at the downtown transit network.
“The old bus service along Robson Street didn’t provide very good access into Yaletown and whole new communities down towards False Creek,” he said.
“We’ve been working with TransLink to see how we can re-think the bus routes in the downtown peninsula. And so while the rerouting was certainly not as good as what was there, both TransLink and the city feel there’s a great opportunity to improve what was there and have even better service.”
Other concerns raised during consultations with stakeholders, such as local business improvement associations, included concerns about access through the downtown with the closure of the block to traffic.
Staff are recommending that the engineering and planning departments develop a broader strategy and implementation plan for the block, including looking at how to mitigate the impacts of the seasonal summer closure, and at the potential programming options and costs if the city moves toward a permanent closure.
As part of the VIVA Vancouver program, seating installations were installed in the 800 block during the summers of 2011 and 2012. The cost of programming the space with seating over an eight-week period is approximately $50,000, in addition to $5,000 for monitoring, according to the staff report.
The report also notes some street modifications will need to be considered if the block is eventually converted into a year-round public square, and indicates further study is needed of potential weather protection and lighting for the space.
The issue will go before the city’s standing committee on planning, transportation and environment next Wednesday (November 28).