Downtown businesses say they can no longer support the summer closure of the 800-block of Robson Street because it is too disruptive for customers and deliveries.
“We’ve always said this is an issue for us,” Charles Gauthier, president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA).
“It seems to be inconveniencing bus riders to make the connections they need to, and it also disconnects them from the prime shopping district.”
The City of Vancouver began closing the 800-block of Robson to cars and buses during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in an attempt to create more pedestrian-friendly spaces in the downtown core. Summer closures of the block, located between the Vancouver Art Gallery and Robson Square, began in 2011.
Past closures have featured whimsical beanbag seating and wooden benches. This year’s winning design, called Porch Parade, is a series of colourful house facades complete with porches.
The DVBIA supports weekend summer closures of Granville Street for Viva Vancouver programming, which includes markets and musical performances. That closure doesn’t affect bus service as much, said Gauthier, because buses can detour along the parallel streets of Howe and Seymour.
The block of Robson Street between Howe and Granville has become increasingly sought after by large retailers such as Old Navy and Nordstrom; rents on Robson Street are the second-highest in Canada. Gauthier is concerned that shoppers travelling to downtown on the No. 5 Robson Street bus will be diverted from that shopping area.
“We can support [something like] a two-day closure for a special event, like the jazz festival, and that’s something that our members see a huge benefit from – it attracts lots of people,” Gauthier said.
“[The Robson Street closure] may be popular … but it really doesn’t drive a lot of extra business for our members.”
That’s not what City of Vancouver staff have been hearing from businesses, said Scott Edwards, manager of street activities. In the city’s survey of 50 business owners, managers and staff around the 800-block of Robson, 73 per cent said there has been no effect on their business, while 23 per cent said the closure has been positive for their business.
The survey showed 74 per cent of businesses supported the closure, while 16 per cent were indifferent, and 66 per cent said the summer closure improved Robson Street as a destination.
The city and TransLink have improved the detoured No. 5 bus route so that it is no longer so circuitous, and have added more overhead electric trolley lines to “minimize delays.”
The DVBIA is also concerned that the 800-block could be closed permanently.
“No decision has been made regarding future seasonal closures or a more permanent closure,” Edwards wrote in a follow-up email to BIV. “Staff continue to gather relevant information and engage stakeholders.”
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