Vancouver group launches petition calling for car-free Robson Street block
A local organization is hoping to gather public support for expanding downtown Vancouver’s Robson Square.
The Vancouver Public Space Network began collecting signatures last Sunday (August 14) on a petition calling for the 800 block of Robson Street to remain closed to traffic.
The block between Howe and Hornby streets has been closed for over a year and a half during the Olympics, provincial renovations to the square, and the city's summertime VIVA Vancouver program. However, the block is scheduled to re-open to bus and car traffic following the Labour Day weekend.
Andrew Pask, the director of the Vancouver Public Space Network, said the organization has collected what he estimates are hundreds of signatures on a petition to keep the block pedestrian-only.
“We’re hopeful that we can still keep the issue alive and remind the city that this is a fantastic public space,” said Pask in a phone interview.
He described the area as the “ground zero” for civic gatherings, and noted the block has a history of being the major meeting point for a range of activities and events.
“The sort of gathering and celebration activities that took place during the Olympics, I guess that was sort of the hallmark of the space as use in that regard,” he said.
“If you’re going to have a protest, typically you’ll gather in that space,” he added. “If you’re going to sit there and have an impromptu performance…the space works really well for that.”
Non-Partisan Association councillor Suzanne Anton introduced a motion late last year calling for city staff to consult with interested parties to consider the feasibility of creating a major public square, with a permanent closure of the 800 block of Robson Street.
City council approved a revised motion that directed staff to look into the creation of a major public square at 800 Robson Street as part of a broader “Downtown Public Spaces Plan”.
Anton envisions the square emulating public spaces in major European cities.
“I can see just see it filled with chairs and people and cafés and I just have this real image of how it could be one of Vancouver’s really spectacular public spaces,” she told the Straight by phone.
Anton said she would like to see consultation on the idea of an expanded square, given that the street is part of TransLink’s number five bus route along Robson Street.
“It has a very inconvenient detour right now,” she noted, adding that “if that could be improved, I think it takes away that annoyance, because it is annoying to the users of that bus.”
Coalition of Progressive Electors councillor Ellen Woodsworth also supports the idea of an expanded public square in the area.
“I love the local public plazas, the animation of public spaces that happens in South America or in Europe or in many other places in the world, and I think the Vancouver Public Space Network has done a good job in drawing this to our attention, and I think that we need to proceed and make sure that it happens as soon as possible,” she told the Straight by phone.
But Vision Vancouver councillor Heather Deal said while she supports the idea of an expanded Robson Square, it won’t be an option for the city for this fall.
She said the city will look at the potential closure of the 800 block of Robson as part of a broader transportation plan, and that a full public consultation process will be launched on the issue with stakeholders including TransLink.
"We’re very clear that we think it’s a great idea, but it’s not just something we can do without wrapping it in the larger context," she told the Straight by phone.
“At this point the city has agreed to open it back up for traffic after the VIVA Vancouver event,” she added.
“Council has passed a motion expressing our interest in exploring the opportunity to close it in the long-term…but it can’t happen at this point in time. We haven’t gone through the process yet.”
TransLink spokesman Drew Snider confirmed that end-to-end transit service on Robson Street will be restored after the Picnurbia project in Robson Square closes on September 5.
“The thing to remember here is that putting the number five…back on that end-to-end route on Robson provides better transit connections for people in the West End to get to events downtown, to get to north/south bus routes, all three of the sky train lines as well - rather than the circuitous route that it has been taking so far, which was going along Seymour and then Pender and up Burrard,” he said.
Pask acknowledged that while there are “issues that need to be resolved” regarding the closure of the block, he said the idea enjoys a high level of support in the community.
“The actual support for it I think is at such a level that it more than justifies the creation of an expanded square,” he said.
The group plans to continue collecting signatures on the petition on their website and at future events.