No, not the Robson of the last two decades.  More like the Robson that emerged in the late ’70s and ’80s, just after the completion of Robson Square, when it re-emerged as the pedestrian commuter street between the West End and the CBD.
Something similar is happening on Dunsmuir.

No, not the old Dunsmuir prior to the Olympics, when it was a one-way arterial with four lanes of fast-moving vehicles on synchronized signaling from the viaduct to Burrard. The Dunsmuir that emerged after the opening of the separated cycle track in 2010 is taking on a distinct character from block to block.  It feels, even with all the traffic, as a predominantly pedestrian street and cycle arterial – quieter, safer, more eccentric.
It’s the preferred feeder for the ‘academic quarter’  – from BCIT at Seymour to VCC at Hamilton, with ESL colleges, the SFU complex and the Vancouver Film School populating the blocks to the north with thousands of students of no visible majority.
It has three SkyTrain stations blocks apart.  There are corporate office buildings and civic institutions like the Queen E.  There is a cathedral and the country’s most profitable mall.  There are restaurants and bars, from Ramon joints to the Railway Club (back again!).

It is a street still creating an identity, with an even more energetic future to come (the Art Gallery at Cambie, the redevelopment of the post office at Homer, a connection to False Creek when the viaduct comes down).  It will become even more Robson-like as the residents in the eastern towers and offices populate that end of the street, and more businesses open to serve them.
My favourite intersection is at Granville, anchored by the elegant old BC Electric showroom, now incorporated into The Hudson.  The pacing of people, vehicles, bikes and buses is an urban gavotte, a choreographic rhythm of traffic signals.  And with downtown’s biggest gym nearby, the people watching is pretty good too.

There is a lesson here.  If a separated cycle track and the removal of a vehicle lane with parking was going to kill the economics of a street, Dunsmuir should be dead by now.
In particular, the St Regis Hotel, having lost its curbside access, should be suffering. That does not appear to be the case.  Indeed, it can only profit more from the changes that are occurring as a consequence of the Dunsmuir cycle track.
In which case, the owner, a prominent businessman named Rob MacDonald – he who led the vilifying campaign against separated bike lanes, and even spent close to a million dollars backing the NPA in the fight – should perhaps offer a full-throated apology, or at least a recognition that the apocalyptic op-ed that he penned back in 2011 – “Downtown bike routes are a disaster” – was maybe a tad overstated.
And that Dunsmuir is turning out way better than anyone really expected. Thanks to a bike lane.


  1. Some astute observations, Gord, and a most appropriate retrospective commentary concerning the hyperbole that was a failed attempt at rallying opposition to the bike lanes. That concentration of post-secondary education in the area bisectied by Dunsmuir has created a remarkable energy in that sector of the downtown.

  2. Yeah, Dunsmuir is a good street now. Before it was pretty well irrelevant to me. Now there are many places I stop at.

  3. Robson is actually becoming a bit tired. It needs a new shot of energy and I can’t think of anything better than to remove all MV traffic. It was an early success in the evolution of our downtown, at least in part because traffic was light and slow. It could be a leader again.
    That would set the stage for Dunsmuir to do the same thing when the viaduct comes down. Add Water (and stir?) and you’d have a pedestrian network that would begin to resemble the least pedestrianized European cities. But it would be a start.

    1. Such a success? Removing cars from Granville turned it from a vibrant theatre and restaurant row to the sketchy, dirty drinking strip it is today. One of TEAM’s rare failures.

      1. Removing cars caused that change? Or it was going to happen anyway due to some other trigger? It’s not like the blocks of Granville that still permit car traffic are markedly different – and the blocks North of Georgia are subjectively quite pleasant.

      2. Removing cars caused a decline to a street? That’s irrational. Removing the people and pulling them underground into Pacific Centre did that. Finally, with the help of very good transit and some good zoning policies for residential and more office and retail, there seems to be enough people to populate both Granville on the surface and PC under.

    2. A bit tired. More like a lot tired. The cramped narrow sidewalks with broke asphalt are an embarrassment. Many other cities make such streets car free decades ago. Lets get moving.

  4. Sorry, but that’s grasping at straws to back your biases. All of the benefits you mention were there before the cycle track, so it’s really just status quo. Certainly no new and exciting businesses or attractions have opened there, look to Alberni Street for that.

    1. The things that were not there before the cycle track:
      The cycle track – human scale and speed and quieter.
      One less car lane – quieter and safer to cross – less air pollution.
      Pop-up summer seating at Cathedral Square.
      Several new urban/trendy/popular restaurants – it used to struggle for such east of Granville.
      A few more patio tables alongside the cycle track where it is now a more enjoyable place to sit.
      Mobi stations for easy access.

      1. Trendy restaurants? Like White Spot?
        Regardless three of your five are related specifically to the city’s bike program, and not private sector/organic additions.

        1. Oh yeah, White Spot too. I forgot about that one while thinking only about trendy/urban/popular. Try taking a walk or a ride and looking for yourself.

      2. While all those may be true, I’d still say Dunsmuir is the least interesting E-W pedestrian street in that part of the city.
        I honestly can’t think of a single retail location on Dunsmuir that I’d deviate off my daily commute/walk down Pender to get to.

        1. But would you deviate off Dunsmuir to get to Pender? Pender still struggles while Dunsmuir has seen a noticeable improvement.

        2. Sure, why wouldn’t I? Pender has fairly interesting things along almost its entirety all the way from Burrard to Gore. The worst block for street life is probably the one between Beatty and Cambie with the parkade on one side, and social housing on the other. Not much going on there, but the rest is reasonably busy and street facing.
          Noticable improvement on Dunsmuir from lifeless doen’t mean much.
          The vacancies in store fronts have also been noticeably decreasing on Pender. The few remaining are mostly bulldozer bait.

        3. “Noticable improvement on Dunsmuir from lifeless doen’t mean much.”
          Sure it does. It proves that cycle tracks can be associated with business improvement and increasing vitality.
          To be fair to this particular discussion, you can’t include Pender east of Beatty. And don’t forget “Pizza Alley” as a very depressing block with regular business failures.

        4. And yet a 10 floor office building just finished being built there with a large space facing the street.
          There’s also Cartems and several small businesses that have been there for several years. The last vacancy in that “pizza alley” block also just filled in.

  5. Interesting. I work a block from Dunsmuir and Granville and, as a pedestrian, do not notice that Dunsmuir is so different. It still feels unfriendly to me.

  6. Hard to compare Dunsmuir and Robson.
    Robson is a “high street” shopping street.
    I see Dunsmuir as providing services (restaurants, etc.) to the students and other customers in the area.
    That reflects 2 vastly different customer bases.
    Observations could also be a reflection in the decline in bricks and mortar based discretionary shopping (i.e. empty Robson storefronts) versus the necessities of daily consumption (coffee and lunch).
    Couple of other observations:
    – at its western end, Dunsmuir is one of Vancouver’s only “streetwall office canyons” in the blocks from Howe to Burrard, so that’s unlikely to become highly desirable for pedestrian loitering, but Pacific Center forms a terminus node. Cadillac Fairview will be recladding the Canaccord Tower at Dunsmuir & Granville, too.
    – at its eastern end, the Main Post office redevelopment will cease to have its “back” on the street, and Oxford Properties’ addition to the Dunsmuir side of 401 West Georgia for Amazon’s expansion offices will add even more workers to the area.
    – further down the timeline, the 2 office blocks on the northern end of the Larwill Park (VAG?) site will add more workers, as will the redevelopment of the Bay Parkade site and the repurposing of Salvation Army (?) heritage hostel site on Dunsmuir.
    – as with the eastern end of Robson Street, the street grid, with short blocks punctuated by alleys, does not necessarily make for a good uninterrupted strolling street like the long blocks west of Burrard.

  7. Dunsmuir east of Homer has no retail at all and to the west there’s a lot of gaps that interrupt retail flow. The retail that does exist is of a fairly low rent offer, the type that happens on any long commercial ribbon; pita places and personal services. And there is a fare amount of turn-over. Hardly, a successful retail street. Certainly not a regional, district or even local level shopping destination.

    There’s no proof that the bike lines are hampering its’ success, but this is far from a good example one would use to try to convince a retail developer that bikes and retail don’t mix. It would be a poor example for most.

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