Posted by: VPSN | April 1, 2011

Robson Square – An update, and a question for transit fans

A quick update on the Robson Square expansion — including a good opportunity for weekend fun and a few little hiccups that have emerged in this initiative.

First up – your chance to get a sense for what an expanded square might be like. Construction fencing was recently pulled aside on the street section of the 800-block of Robson (south of the Art Gallery) and the space is now open to pedestrians and cyclists… at least for a little while. 

The weather promises to be sunny this weekend, so if you have the chance we encourage you to take a stroll through the space.  And while you’re there, imagine what it could be like with a summer time market, patio seats, buskers, artists, a small performance to two… and any number of the other things that are enjoyed in good public plazas the world over.  Artist Susan Milley recently did a drawing what the 800-block of Robson Square might look like under these circumstances.  If you’ve got other ideas, please send them our way!

A few other Robson Square-related activities are also happening this weekend.  If you happen to be heading to the 800-block on Saturday around noon… be sure to take a pillow with you — it’s World Pillow Fight Day, which is always a treat!  Then, on Sunday, check out the Arthur Erickson Memorial Lecture with architect Bing Thom.  Thom recently proposed a new performance space on the north lawn of the VAG and has spoken passionately about the value of Robson Square.  This will be a great evening lecture.

And now the hiccups. 

Sadly, we’ve learned that this weekend might be one of the best and only chances that people have to enjoy an expanded Robson Square… at least in the short term. 

As you know, the VPSN has been advocating for the City to take advantage of the current street closure and traffic re-routing.  The Province’s renovation work on Robson Square has facilitated a change in car and transit routing over the past two years.  We see this as a golden opportunity for the City to secure the 800-block for a permanent square.

In fact, City Council has unanimously supported this idea, and passed a motion in December 2010 to create “a major public square at 800 Robson Street to coincide with Vancouver’s 125th Anniversary.”

In the course of proposing some summertime programming on the site, we’ve learned that Translink is quite concerned about any closure of the 800-block.  In particular, they are uneasy with the idea of a continued re-routing of the #5 Robson bus (which used to run along Robson between Denman and Granville, but has been re-routed down Burrard for the past 14 months).  As we understand it, the fear is that continued re-routing of #5 will affect the long-term ‘legibility’ of the overall transit system.

From our perspective, putting buses back on but not cars is an option – though by no means the best.  The idea, in fact, was floated in the original Arthur Erickson design as far back as the 1970s.  However, we feel that this approach compromises the usability of the space for a wide array of programming…. a lesson that is being learned on the newly redesigned Granville Street.  You can exactly yell “bus!” and move a market or patio seating out of the way every 10 minutes.

In any event, we’re trying to learn more about the specific nature of Translink’s concerns and will report back when we do.  In the meantime, we’d be interested in hearing from any transit planners and engineers (or transit users) about this issue.  Are there alternatives that can allow similar or better transit service to be provided in this area?  Is the presence of a public square at the 800-block a true challenge, or can is it possible to come up with some creative solutions?

And if you feel so inclined, consider taking 5 minutes to write a short letter copied to Ian Jarvis, Translink CEO [mailto:ian.jarvis@translink.ca] and Mayor Gregor Robertson [mailto:gregor.robertson@vancouver.ca].  Your letters of support for the closure of the 800-block were part of the reason Council voted to support the idea.  It is still very important to let the City and Translink know that you support this important initiative.

Have a great weekend!

– The VPSN Team

p.s. There was a good article in the Courier today on some new bike infrastructure proposed by the City.  Apparently an underwater bike tunnel is in the works – modelled after the Tsrif Lirpa system found in Finland.  Not as tenable an idea as a good public square – but perhaps more timely, given the day.  You can read the article here.

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