Block 51 : Where’s the Transit?

November 2, 2012

I am a member from Transport Action British Columbia, an organization which has already addressed its concerns about the streets closure impacts on transit users, and more generally on the blatant lack of consideration for surface transit by the current city-council [1].

Those concerns have also being raised by other organization as mentioned by Kathy Roczkowskyj on the Stephen’ress blog:

“The closure of Robson is inconvenient for all transit users but is a real burden for seniors and disabled individuals. A number of organizations (BC Coalition of Disabled People, West End Seniors Network, etc.) sent letters to the Mayor and Council opposing the closure but their concerns have not moved the Mayor. In fact, even though the closure is supposed to be “temporary”, it was extended into the fall by the Mayor even though there is nothing going on on that block now. I attended a forum on October 26th at Gordon Neighbourhood House where the vast majority of the participants opposed the closure due to the difficulties they now had going to doctor’s appointments, etc. City staff who were present could not explain why the closure was continuing through the fall except to say that the Mayor had ordered it. And the City staffer present who was in favour of the closure’s main reason for the permanent closure was that they had discovered that the architect’s original plan from the 1970s for that area included a pedestrian walkway. What kind of reason is that??”

Kathy is right, an original plan is not a good reason [6], and even less relevant when the reading of the original intend is not correct![5]

On October 15th and October 17, It was a so called “public consultation” on block 51 – that includes Robson square- which could have confirmed the Kathy feeling. Transport action BC, has expressed its concerns on it as below:

October 31, 2012
To: Mayor Robertson and Vancouver City Council
Re: Consultation on the permanent closure of Robson Street between Hornby and Howe

Transport Action BC is concerned with the way the city has organized two “public consultations”, held on the evening of October 15th and 17th. Topics of these consultations included the permanent closure of Robson Street between Howe and Hornby, a proposal involving significant impacts on the transit network viability and attractiveness:

Far to expose and address the different issues induced by such a proposal, the consultations focused only on the pedestrian experience of the space and largely ignored the impacts on the public transit network.

Furthermore, we have been surprised that:

* The public consultations were advertised as events titled “block 51”, a legal lot description name, which, could have been too esoteric to attract people beyond the already civically engaged circles.

* We were asked to share personal information with a private corporation, Eventbrite, for the simple purpose of attending a public consultation

* A public consultation was advertised as “sold-out”, but at the evening events, roughly two thirds of the seats were empty.

* The public consultations appeared to be co-organized by an advocacy group, Vancouver Public Space network (VPSN), which has already a well-established and publicly known opinion on the use of Robson square.

* They were no visible City of Vancouver staff available, with whom the public could have shared their concerns on the present and future use of the Robson square area.

Though the October 15 and 17th events brought a valuable contribution to the vision of our public spaces, we take issue at having the city calling them “public consultations”, when we believe they were not. We urge you to revisit the public consultation process for the Robson square area:

* with a format which can engage a large number of citizens, representative of the diversity of the city, and allow them to register their concerns;

* and have this consultation organized by groups which are neither stakeholder, nor can be suspected of pre-conceived opinion on desired use of Robson square.

We recommend that the public consultation should include information of how other cities have successfully dealt with the transit/pedestrian dilemma in the organization of their public realm.

We also would like to point out that urban experience and accessibility are two keys and correlated elements of a vibrant city and one shouldn’t take precedence over the other. Beyond Robson square, we remark that the public demand for more pedestrian friendly streets coincides mainly with historic Vancouver transit routes and we suggest that the city should initiate a reflection on how both the transit and pedestrian experience can be improved in a public space which we ultimately need to share.


Patrick Rault – VP Transport Action Britisch Columbia

CC: Charles Gauthier – Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association; TransLink Board of Directors; Andrew Pask Vancouver Public Space Network

Councillor Andrea Reimer was seeming so embarrassed by how rigged was the consultation, that she feels the need to assert that “it is not a done deal[7],…ah!

“Consultation” on October 15th: Picture taken during the panel debate with Bing Thom. The public had no opportunity to ask questions, just quietly listen. If you have not been alerted by Twitter or other similar medium, soon enough, there is little chance you could have attended this “consultation” which was “sold-out” – credit photo City Of Vancouver

It is worth to stress here that Transport action BC has no formed opinion on the future of Robson square. Numerous of its members seem to support the concept of pedestrian priority squares and streets, as outlined in the Vancouver Transport 2040 plan; and this on a public realm much more extended than Robson square; pedestrian priority being not equal to pedestrian only. But, this organization believes that ad hoc rerouting of bus routes, leading to a dysfunctional Transit network, this, to apparently fit an ideological agenda, is not an acceptable way to move forward. A definitive decision on Robson square can’t be done without assurance that the transit issue can be addressed in a satisfactory manner:

As of today, it is not the case

Rerouting is an option, not the only one, and not necessarily the one offering the best compromise [2][3]

Possibly in a damage control operation, a released city survey, on November 1st, has this opening page:

A Note on Transit and 800-block Robson Street

The #5 Robson bus is an important transit route connecting the downtown and West End and people to key downtown destinations, such as transit hubs, the library, shopping and theatres. TransLink and the City recognize that an accessible, convenient, reliable and understandable transit route is what makes the # 5 Robson bus function well.  The current re-routing for the #5 Robson bus is challenging for many and regardless of Council’s decision on creating a permanent public space on 800-block Robson Street, TransLink is currently planning an improved re-routing to the #5 Robson bus.  TransLink will be conducting a service review of their entire downtown network that may help guide improved bus routes.  TransLink will work in partnership with the City on both the service review and the short-term re-routing improvements for the #5 Robson bus.

Beside noticing that the note’s author didn’t find relevant to include the VAG and the provincial Court House as Key downtown destination (sic), this note raises questions:

  • If TransLink is currently planning an “improved” re-routing to the #5 Robson bus, what is so secret to this improvement it can’t be shared with the public?
  • How Translink can plan an “improvment” without input of the public? …It could be a significant departure of their usual practice

Incidentally, it happens that Transport Action BC met with Translink representatives on October 4th in New Westminster. There, the question of “improved” bus route has been raised, and the then given Translink answer seems to contradict what the survey states and this for good reasons:

Translink will wait for the introduction of the Compass card to collect meaningful statistic on trip origin/destination, before considering route alignment change

No doubt that the city survey will find the public overwhelming supporting a very mysterious bus rerouting: here a typical question the public is asked (Answer choice is either A, B or C)

Based on your answers from the previous questions about what you would like to be doing, tell us how you think 800-block Robson Street needs to function in the future?

A.  As a permanent public space: 
     i. Vehicle free every day year-round

    ii. A flexible pedestrian space offering several ways for people to interact and enjoy a plaza space
   iii. An improved permanent re-routing of #5 Robson bus

B. As a summertime public space: 
     i. Vehicle free every day in the summertime
    ii. An inviting pedestrian space offering unique seasonal opportunities to enjoy the sun

   iii. An improved re-routing of #5 Robson bus during the summer

C. As an occasional special event space:
     i. Vehicles on the street every day year-round
    ii. Street occasionally closed to cars and buses for special events
   iii. An improved #5 Robson bus detour during special events


…Such a survey is beyond ludicrous and certainly doesn’t worth the trouble.

Whatever one own preference for the future of Robson square, one should feel embarrassed by the adamant lack of openness and transparency offered by the current “consultation” process, which is clearly nothing less than a masquerade:

Gratuitous attack on the Vancouver Transit network- credit photo (4)

[1] In term of transit, the only legacy of the Robertson’s administration, so far, has been policies having as consequence to reduce transit lane efficiencies, when not outright barring buses to use them (Granville)

[2] Example of how European cities routinely deal with pedestrian and transit: Transit as part of the urban fabric

[3] Price tags is “celebrating” two very relevant examples, very relevant because showing Transit has been integrated in the project in a smart way leading eventually to great space without compromising accessibility: That is a very significant departure from the Vancouver approach… and can explain why project like it move with less angst there

[4] twitter user REALTOR Blair Smith

[5] See our historical series on it.

[6] “Finding a good reason” was the object of the consultation held on October 15th and 17th.

[7] Verbatim of Andrea Reimer intervention at the Block51 event, a look forward, October 17th, 2012


7 Responses to “Block 51 : Where’s the Transit?”

  1. Roger Kemble Says:

    . . . to apparently fit an ideological agenda, is not an acceptable way to move forward.

    Errrrrr . . . ummmm . . . who’s being ideological?

  2. Voony Says:

    Roger, if you believe that the current decision to keep Robson street closed is not done on ideological ground, I will be more that happy to hear about the rational able to justify the inconvenience endured daily by the transit users !

    That could apply also to law abiding cyclist… but it gives rather a rational for the later to break the law so far I can see, and I certainly don’t blame them.

  3. Roger Kemble Says:


    You really shouldn’t post doctored photos, photo-shopped to support your shaky assumptions. It colours all your other stuff, some of which may be worth a look.

    Your obsession with shiny trinkets belies a more mature approach to city watching.

    Oh and BTW whisper to Madame Roczkowskyj that there is a better way to get her brood to its medical attention: east along Robson to Burrard, turn right, and a few blocks up the road is Saint Paul’s and all the medical attention they need after a hard days waiting.

    There’s no need to venture across Robson at VAG even if its still open!

    Now get a good night’s sleep and try looking at the town thru the other end of the telescope!

  4. Rico Says:

    Another good post, personally when possible I prefer my pedestrian spaces to be large vehicle free….that said pedestrian spaces can still be nice with transit and screwing up transit for limited gain in the pedestrian realm does not make sense. To me Granville makes a better pedestrian only realm than the one block segment of Robson due solely to length. But really these are just minor quibbles, good post…..Oh and I guess Roger is considering Vancouver trolley buses as shiny trinkets…..

  5. Roger Kemble Says:

    Oh and just one other thing Voony I suggest you acquaint Madame Roczkowskyj with Handydart.

    Handydart is a very convenient on call surface TX service especially designed for OAP’s.

    Madame R need only schedule 24 hours head for her brood to be shepherded to where ever they wish even if Robson @ 51 is closed.

    I hope the VAG block, total north and south, is redesigned into a dignified ceremonial centre: a cultural focus that the city so sadly lacks . . .

  6. Voony Says:

    not sure which potos you are talking Roger, but if you click on the first one, it sends you right on the City of Vancouver Flikr stream.

    You look to choose the destination for other, I am not sure they will agree with you.
    Also, it seems you have no idea of how much cost Handydart to the taxpayer, and seems to seriously downplay the inconvenience of not be able to do impulsive trip.

    Fully agree with Rico, especially:
    “screwing up transit for limited gain in the pedestrian realm does not make sense”

    That is the point, and good compromise can be achieved without “screwing transit”, as illustrated in this post:

  7. […] was embarassingly biaised to the point of ludicrousness [4]. After a “privatized” consultation process organized by the VPSN [9], on behalf of the city in October 2012, leaving no doubt on the intention […]

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