Unlike most other major cities, Vancouver doesnt have any streets that are permanently closed to non-emergency vehicle traffic. Within Canada alone, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, St. Johns, Quebec City, Halifax and Calgary all have central downtown areas put aside for pedestrians only, and theres now a drive underway to keep drivers away from the 800 block of Robson Street.
The Robson Square area between Hornby and Howe has been closed to traffic for nearly two years due to construction projects, the Olympics and now a city VIVA Vancouver initiative that recently installed a temporary artificial park.
On Sept. 5, the street is set to reopen again, and an online petition has been launched by the Vancouver Public Space Network asking Mayor Gregor Robertson and TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis to consider keeping it closed for good.
Its been closed for so long and people have really warmed up to the idea, said the groups chair, Adam Vasilevich. Its been a busy spot since the Olympics and has become a great gathering space, so we feel now is the time to push the idea of keeping vehicles out. I think people consider it the heart of downtown, so its unfortunate that we are bringing vehicles right though the middle of it.
A total of 1,785 votes had been submitted by the Couriers print deadline. Only 39 people voted in favour of seeing vehicles back again.
We want to make sure city council understands that people are serious about the subject, said Vasilevich. I believe it was in December of 2010 that city council was first talking about it, and we were hoping way back then that they would jump on the idea. I dont know what happened but they kind of delayed that and now it looks like they wont be looking at it again until next year.
NPA city councillor and mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton agreed.
Personally, I love the idea, said Anton. I brought a motion to council several months ago to consider keeping it permanently closed. Unfortunately, council didnt go along with that. What I wanted to do was do a public consultation and find out whether its a good idea. We should have done that in advance of the reconstruction because you dont want to waste a lot of money rebuilding a road, then have a consultation and then say oh, now were going to tear up the road. Its ridiculous.
But Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs noted many West End residents are anxious for the return of the No. 5 direct line down Robson Street.
Theres a huge hunger for more public space, theres no question about it, but this is a vital link to the West End, Meggs said. Council has received a lot of letters from seniors and others in the West End who had their bus route significantly rerouted, often far out of their way, to get around Robson when it was closed. The city also doesnt have the power to simply order it closed without consultation with the province of B.C., which owns Robson Square, and TransLink, which runs the route across it.