Something new for Price Tags: an extended essay by a guest writer – Peter Marriott.

In five parts over five days, leading up to a report that goes before Council on Wednesday, Peter will analyse the issues related to the closing of the 800-block Robson to transit.  (Staff recommends reopening the street on December 1 but continuing work towards “potentially creating a permanent public square on 800-block Robson Street.”)


Circling the Square – Transit on Robson, and Beyond.

Having gone through a consultation exercise, the City is likely to start moving toward permanently closing the 800 block of Robson Street to traffic.

It’s a simple debate, right? Closing the street creates a vibrant public space, and those opposing the closure are the soldiers of motordom, who can’t fathom giving up any space for pedestrians. The closure certainly seems to be a popular idea, and there is a strong desire for a public square in Downtown Vancouver.

But one important question has been completely missing from the equation: Robson is an important transit street. What is to become of the Robson trolleybus?

The Vancouver Public Space Network, the loudest group calling for closing the street, tells us that a “better bus route” and an expanded Robson Square “aren’t mutually exclusive.” Elsewhere, they’ve written that “careful planning” can solve any transit issues that would arise from closing the square.

Unfortunately, though, if we’re not willing to accept a public square that frequent transit can run through, then we have a geometrical problem, and a better bus route is excluded by closing the street. “Careful planning” doesn’t change geometry. And this matters, because if we’re serious about drastically increasing transit ridership (as the City’s Transportation Plan purports to be), then we need to be serious about maintaining an efficient, legible and simple transit network.

The Robson Square saga underscores a bigger problem with transit in Vancouver. The Transportation Plan has a number of walking and cycling actions already in progress, but it largely adopts a “wait and see” approach to achieving its transit goals—in particular, waiting for Translink and the provincial government to build a Broadway Skytrain. The Plan leaves out the very significant role the City plays in determining transit’s speed, reliability and legibility by allocating and prioritizing space for transit.

Vancouver enjoys a broad consensus that transit is a public good. Everyone supports transit – but when transit’s geometry and purpose aren’t well understood, this support proves to be shallow.

The purpose of this post isn’t to argue against the closure of the street per se, but it is to illustrate why the transit question deserves a lot more attention than it has been getting. Neither the City of Vancouver nor the various groups arguing for closing Robson seem to understand what’s at stake for transit here. There’s been no consideration so far for how disrupting transit on Robson Street might affect the City’s ridership goals, no measurement of what the impacts might be, no thought given to how closing Robson Street constrains future transit possibilities, and no thought about how transit might be incorporated into a public square.

No other mode of transportation is so casually dismissed: the buses can just go somewhere else, right?


TOMORROW: Beyond Robson: Connections and Alternatives

* My emphases in bold.