800-block Robson Street Permanently Closed to Traffic

Description

On April 20, 2016, City Council approved the permanent closure of the 800-block of Robson Street (between Howe St. and Hornby St.) to all vehicular traffic, turning the roadway into a public plaza. On December 14, 2016 December, city staff presented a proposed design concept to Council.

800 Robson concept drawing

Significance

The decision to close the street to vehicular traffic demonstrates a change in thinking by municipal politicians about the public realm. Creating a vibrant public space creates a destination for tourists and residents and possibly more customers for local businesses and more patrons for the Vancouver Art Gallery. The decision also allows for the revival of the original architectural and social goals for a three-block site: to create the largest public space in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

 

Background

Architect Arthur Erickson and his team designed the street in the 1980s as part of a three-block public space in the middle of the City. The site became Vancouver’s largest downtown public space, offering an unique introspective view of the city. Construction was completed in 1983. However City Council rejected Erickson’s vision of a street free of vehicular traffic, first opening the street to bus traffic and then a few years later allowing all motorized traffic. Wider-than-usual sidewalks were to compensate for the lack of a public plaza. The site includes the Provincial Law Court (Supreme Court and Court of Appeal), the Asia Pacific Centre, UBC, Robson Square with waterfalls and a below-street ice rink, and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

The public consultation process of the Greenest City forums and the Transportation 2040 Plan identified public plazas as one of the top options for encouraging walking. On December 14, 2016, city staff presented a proposed design concept to City Council. The proposed concept is meant to be flexible and adaptable to accommodate the wide range of uses on the site while maintaining passage through the space. The design concept was informed by public feedback.

The project will cost approximately $6.5 million and covers: detailed plaza design and construction; development and implementation of the plaza stewardship strategy; and, improvements to the 700- and 900-blocks of Robson Street as well as Hornby Street. The closure of this block will also require the rerouting of transit from the West End to the downtown’s central Vancouver Public Library and to BC Place.

Construction on the plaza is expected to start in 2017.

Previous Actions

  • 2009: VIVA Vancouver was founded in partnership with business improvement associations, the local transit authority and community groups to create vibrant public spaces by facilitating short-term street closures to create public spaces for walking, lounging and eating. The program was meant to foster a sense of community by creating welcoming public spaces such as parklets, encouraging walking and cycling, and promoting local businesses.
  • The street was first closed in 2010 in order to create a gathering space for pedestrians during the Olympics. The City subsequently shut down traffic on the summer, and installed public art and seating to encourage lingering on the site.
  • December 2, 2010: Council directs staff to continue working on a Downtown Public Space Plan, including the examination of a public square on 800 Robson Street.
  • October 2012 – Council adopts the Transportation 2040 Plan containing a section on walking and public spaces, which specifically speaks to the creation of public plazas and gathering spaces throughout the city, with a focus on 800 Robson Street as a potential public plaza.
  • November 28, 2012: Council directs staff to report no later than July 2013 on impacts, challenges and opportunities for potentially creating a permanent public square on the 800 Robson Street.
  • April 2014: Council approved the Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force’s Final Report, which includes a goal to build community capacity through public, community and cultural space activation, helping increase Vancouverites’ sense of belonging and inclusion.
  • October 2014: Council adopts the Healthy City Strategy which supports greater social connections, increased sense of belonging, opportunities for creativity and active living by creating and enhancing wonderful temporary and permanent public places and spaces.

Sources