Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘Robson Street

Conflicted Space? Robson Square, Viva Vancouver and the #5 Robson Bus

with 11 comments

There was a lunchtime “conversation” at SFU downtown today.  As the meeting’s page is listed as an “upcoming event” and will thus move shortly, I am taking the liberty of copying its content here

Pop rocks on Robson

For two years, the block of Robson St. in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery has been closed to traffic during the summer, becoming the popular Viva Vancouver pedestrian space. A consequence is that the #5 Robson bus is rerouted by three blocks. Few realize that this seemingly minor change is said to affect much of the downtown transit network. Some people want to close Robson Square year round. Must we choose between efficient public transit and enjoyable public space, or Is there a way to accommodate both?

Starting the conversation are Lon LaClaire, Manager of Strategic Transportation Planning for the City of Vancouver, Brian Mills, TransLink’s Director of Service and Infrastructure Planning and Simon Jay of the Vancouver Public Space Network.

Corduroy Road (formerly Robson St)

Lon LaClaire talked about the Transport 2040 plan and its targets, which will require a reallocation of road space from cars to walking, cycling and transit. Transit trips have  to double (or is that the share of the market has to double?) to reach goal. In the process of revising the City’s plan the importance of the public realm emerged from the discussion about improving the economy. It was noticeable, I thought, in his illustrations that the population of the West End has not changed nearly as much as the growth in Yaletown, Gastown and SE False Creek. He stressed that the current review of downtown transit was not just about the #5 but better service to these newly grown areas. Bus routes 5/6 are pretty much the same as the original streetcar routes.

Brain Mills stressed that Translink’s mandate went beyond transit – though as he spoke he put up a slide showing a graphic of a diesel bus on the #5 route. He said that transit was an extension of walking and went through the process of the Downtown Service Review. It will not be until early next year that they will be ready to evaluate alternative networks and he stated that they will be consulting the public at that time. [I do not think anybody was listening when he said that.]

He listed what they had heard so far from their consultations to date

  • bus service to the Roundhouse area
  • a Robson route that serves the whole street end to end: incorporating east from Granville to the stadiums
  • Service linking Yaletown and Gastown
  • Transit priority measures to improve reliability
  • Minimise detours
  • Improve service for major events (concerts and games at the stadiums)

The #5 route is in the top ten for boardings and productivity: 3.3 m a year, or 3,200 boardings per day per direction

Clarification from Adam Hyslop at Translink

The 3,200 value Brian Mills mentioned actually refers to the number of riders travelling through the 800 Block Robson on the #5 on a daily basis in each direction. The total boardings on the #5 are closer to 10,000/day on weekdays, as indicated in this pdf file  2012_BSPR_Route_5 from the 2013 Bus Service Performance Review.

Simon Jay read his presentation. He cited Gil Penalosa – and the importance of designing for those aged 8 and 80 if everyone was to be served properly – and the Where’s The Square competition. He stated that a survey showed that 60% of respondents supported ‘closing’ the 800 block of Robson to traffic, and he showed pictures of Picnurbia, Pop Rocks and Corduroy Road

Rerouting the #5 had caused confusion and introduced delays and difficulties for users. He saw that the future of the route was an opportunity not a threat. It was possible in many places for transit and pedestrians to share the same space while closing the street to other vehicles.

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 2.55.45 PM

The room was almost full by this time and most of the speakers identified themselves as seniors and residents of the West End. They were nearly all apoplectic about the rerouting of the #5

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 2.58.10 PM

The majority of speakers wanted to voice their displeasure about the reroute which had imposed delay and inconvenience. they stressed that only people with limited mobility, who have difficulty coping with the gradients of the streets involved and the necessity of being close to their destination when they got off the bus could appreciate how bad the situation had been. They pointed out that the VSPN illustrations of what a shared space would look like had no seniors illustrated in them.

E40LFR 2129 Robson at Granville 2007_0827

I regret that I was sitting behind Voony when he raised three points which I could not hear. He has added them in the comments section with some additional commentary. I have copied and pasted them here.

1) cities are built around the transportation network and not the opposite way –
the Robson-Denman-Davie transit has been here since 1890~, when the west-end was pretty much still a forest, and has been resilient to all changes: people organized their life around it.

In fact it IS the motor of the change, and still is, see for example the latest West End Community Plan organized around the “West End” loop: Robson-Denman-Davie recognized as the “lifeline” of the West End.

There has been much more change around the downtown buses in their first 100 years, than in the last 20.

That was to relativize the need to overhaul the whole network

(2) You can’t single out a destination (e.g. the Art Gallery). In downtown, people come from anywhere and go to everywhere…so it is important to have a simple, legible network (route along corridor), a point the latest Downtown Service Review recognizes
I have mentioned that those principles were already stated in the 1975 downtown bus review, ( see here for a summary and the full copy. I should have mentioned Jarret Walker’s ‘Geometry of Transit’, but forgot it)

(3) That leads to the shared space concept to accomodate all that:
Granville doesn’t work well as a shared space, and we have to undertand why:
One explanation is there is 1000s buses on Granville/day creating a wall of buses

[I could not resist a bit of editing]

It was pointed out that it ought to be possible to reconfigure the public realm around Robson Square and to make increased use of both the plaza on Georgia Street as well as the lower level “down where the skating rink is”.

Skating at Robson Square

One older lady stated: “The number of times I need to visit Victoria’s Secret is very limited” . She has taken pictures of the 800 block during its closure and seldom has seen more than 30 people at a time there.

“Do you really need to close this block?”

“Couldn’t you just put the bean bags somewhere else?”

“You do not need one big Public Square but several smaller spaces.”

There was one senior, male, from the West End who pointed out to his peers that the concerns should also address matters pertinent to their children and grandchildren.

@vpsn slide of 800 block of Robson with buses and pedestrians. Would TransLink go for this? #sfups
Brent Granby

I put my hand up, of course. I felt I should stress that the meeting was not part of Translink’s route consultation, nor were any decisions imminent. I also pointed out that the detour of the #5 was actually determined by the trolley overhead. Someone else noted the absence of a just one switch which could have made a huge difference. I noted that Translink has electric hybrid buses as well as trolleybuses, but no-one seemed to have considered putting poles on them. It is not impossible to have a duo mode bus which could switch between wires and its own power without the operator leaving the driving seat. I also said that other cities have transit running through pedestrian areas. Given that the service frequency of the #5 is 7 minutes at best, it should not be difficult to come up with a design that allows for buses in a public realm.

It is also the case that everywhere else seems to manage to have pedestrian only streets as well as bus only lanes. Only Vancouver seems incapable of organizing these. Gil Penalosa’s talks show how 8 year olds were able to design public spaces where cars,  pedestrians, buses and cycles all had their own space. Can’t we?

UPDATE 3 April 2014

You can now see the results of the Translink’s work on redesign of the bus routes in Downtown and comment on them.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Robson Street Closure

with 16 comments

5 Downtown/Robson stays on current route

This is my second attempt at posting about the continued closure of Robson Street between Hornby and Howe. Originally the closure was supposed to be temporary, ending on Labour Day, but has now been extended. My first effort was to have been linked to my pictures of the Viva Vancouver “Pop Rocks” which are posted as a set on flickr. I must admit I got a bit frustrated with the WordPress layout, which did not seem to work the way I wanted it to. I also began to realize that the issues are more complex.

The closure applies to cyclists as well as motorized traffic – but enough cyclists seem to ignore that to create conflict.

Trying to get those two images side by side instead of on top of each other was where I got stuck last time. I also began to realize that this opens a whole new can of worms. Originally I just wanted to celebrate the closure of the street to cars – which happens a lot everywhere else around the world but hardly at all in Vancouver. Not only that but Charles Gauthier of the DVBIA was already pontificating – he is very predictable in his opposition to such ideas – and I felt that there needed to be some response.

This morning, I got a copy of a letter from Transport Action British Columbia that has been sent to the City Council. As I have said here before, I am a member of that organization. I am reproducing the letter here as I think it deserves a wider audience. It raises the issue of how this street closure impacts transit users – which is why I chose the Translink notice as the top picture on this post. Instead of using Granville Street – the main artery and linear exchange for transit in downtown – Route #5 now goes via Burrard Street.

Transport Action British Columbia is NOT against street closures to traffic (like the DVBIA seems to be, on principle) but rather how street closures need to be carefully examined when they impact transit users. Cities are also much better places when they give priority to pedestrians – as the City of Vancouver’s Transport Plan has long recognized but has not implemented very effectively. Some of our pedestrian places – Robson Square and Jack Poole Plaza ( Google doesn’t label it) do not work very well at all. So my initial enthusiasm for this particular closure is waning rapidly.

September 4, 2012

Vancouver City Council

Mayor Robertson and Councillors:

Re: Permanent Closure of Robson Street Between Hornby and Howe

Transport Action BC is concerned with the City’s decision to extend the Robson Street closure between Howe and Hornby Streets for an extended trial that is seems intended to become permanent. The closure has serious implications for transit users that must be considered.

The bus re-route around the closure is circuitous, particularly for those on Robson wishing to use the Canada Line or southbound buses on Granville Mall. TransLink schedules five to seven minutes travel time from Robson & Burrard to Pender & Granville. Transit users wishing to travel south then spend more time getting back to Robson Street. Thus, transit riders are penalised over ten minutes for every one-way trip compared to the direct route on Robson. Walking to Granville Street from Burrard & Robson is quicker for transit connections but this is unattractive for seniors or those with mobility aids, and even less attractive in the wetter, colder months. Additionally, the re-route forces an additional transfer on those who wish to board the Canada Line at City Centre Station.

The net effect of the closure from a transit customer’s perspective is highly unfavourable. Anyone with a choice between transit and driving will find driving relatively more direct and attractive while those without access to a car are taken needlessly out of their way and forced to make additional transfers.

Creating active, pedestrian plazas is laudable. However, it is ironic that in a city aiming to be “green”, the two streets chosen for long-term “activations” are major transit corridors. By routinely diverting transit from these streets the City is reducing the legibility, directness and overall attractiveness of transit. Meanwhile, no effort is spared in providing on-street parking on other streets where corner bulges and wider sidewalks could make permanent improvements in walking conditions throughout the city. Existing plazas, such as those at Robson Square, the Art Gallery and Main Library function far below their potential, presenting off-street opportunities for improving pedestrian amenities.

We suggest that the City take a more holistic view of its transportation priorities before making a final decision on permanently closing the 800 block of Robson to transit. Such considerations must also figure prominently in Viva Vancouver’s seasonal closures.

Buses will play a major role in Vancouver long into the future. It is time surface transit received more respect from City Hall.

CC: Councillor A. Carr; Charles Gauthier – Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association; TransLink Board of Directors


Frederick Jelfs,
Secretary – Transport Action British Columbia


There is now a nice video by Spacing Magazine – they have it on their blog and so does Gordon Price. But I thought I should embed it here – just becuase I can. Worth seeing in HD and fullscreen if you can

Written by Stephen Rees

September 5, 2012 at 9:28 am