Robson Street block to stay car-free this fall as Vancouver studies potential permanent plaza
The 800 block of Robson Street will remain closed to vehicles until the end of this year, the City of Vancouver announced today (August 29).
The site will continue to be used as a pedestrian plaza this fall, as city staff look into the possibility of a permanent closure of the block between Hornby and Howe Streets.
Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a news release the area has been a “hub of activity” during the past two summers.
"We have an opportunity to create an important new public plaza in the centre of the Downtown and have a timely opportunity to consider this option,” he said.
In December 2010, Vancouver city council approved a motion directing staff to look into the creation of a major public square at 800 Robson Street. Staff are expected to report back to council on the issue later this fall.
“This year we have that opportunity to keep it closed until December, and staff can study and monitor and talk to stakeholders and figure out if it makes sense beyond the summer closures to do it on a permanent basis,” Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer told the Straight by phone.
According to the city, staff will discuss a potential permanent closure of the block with stakeholders including the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and TransLink.
Charles Gauthier, the executive director of the DVBIA, expressed disappointment that his organization hasn’t yet been approached by the city on its long-term plan for the pedestrian plaza.
“It’s kind of putting the cart before the horse without having any kind of consultation with our organization or with the member businesses about impacts, good and bad,” he said in a phone interview.
Gauthier said the DVBIA’s position on street closures is that they should be temporary and “actively programmed.”
“From our side of the fence, our position’s quite clear, that temporary closures have to be activated with some kind of events,” he said.
“Not to have anything happening at all and just having it closed and not funding it in terms of activation is not in line with what our position is right now.”
Reimer noted staff had to make a decision about whether to keep the block closed before the bus schedules were printed for this fall. She said staff are currently developing a consultation plan.
Drew Snider, a spokesperson for TransLink, said the No. 5 and N6 buses will continue to be re-routed via Burrard and Pender Streets while the block remains closed this fall.
The idea of an expanded pedestrian plaza at Robson Square has been supported by organizations including the Vancouver Public Space Network, which circulated a petition last summer calling for the 800 block of Robson to remain closed to vehicles.
Reimer noted that council passed the direction in December 2010 for staff to examine a potential permanent plaza on Robson as part of a broader downtown public spaces plan.
“Part of the issue is we have public spaces dotted around downtown but no coherent plan,” said Reimer. “You can’t get a public plaza map.”
NPA councillor George Affleck said he supports open spaces, but wants to see a report on any potential effects of the block closure on Robson Street and other downtown businesses. Council's direction on the plaza in 2010 was the result of an amendment to a motion moved by former NPA councillor Suzanne Anton.
“It seems like it’s been quite a success, and hopefully we can continue that kind of success to kind of open the space for walking,” Affleck told the Straight.
“I’d like to see a report on the impact and hear from the BIA about the impact of this, whether it’s negative or positive.”
The street outside the Vancouver Art Gallery has recently featured the “Pop Rocks” display as part of the VIVA Vancouver summer streets program. That installation is expected to remain in place through September if weather permits.
Reimer said city council will make a decision on the potential permanent closure of the block by late November or early December.