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Vancouver has temporarily bailed on its plan to shut down Robson Street in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery for open public space and will be reopening the street Dec. 1.

That follows three months of city consultations on what to do with Block 51, as the art gallery block is called, and considerable uproar among West End residents irate about the loss of a bus going directly along Robson to Granville. They said that forced too many elderly people, who are a big part of the population in the West End, to walk an extra two blocks to get to shopping and medical appointments.

Transportation engineer Jerry Dobrovolny, in a report issued late Friday, said there is strong public support for having the street become part of a permanent public square but also lots of significant other issues that came up during the consultation.

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"We did a lot of 'We love it.' But there were legitimate issues."

He said, since the street has no programming or weather protection on it right now and is almost unused because of the weather, the decision was made to open it up immediately.

It will still be closed during the summer to be used as a public square, as it has been the last two summers. The pedestrian-only street proved popular this summer, when the city had a group of architects and designers come up with an art installation. That consisted of giant blobby pillows, made out of old Canada Place sail material, put out on the street, which prompted people to use them as playthings they could sit, sleep or jump on.

Mr. Dobrovolny's report said there is a lot of work to do to figure out what to do about bus routes, bike routes, programming, and design changes to the street to make it useable as a year-round public space.

He wrote that "a common assumption held by a number of stakeholders is that very few people will use or spend time in the square during the colder, wetter winter and spring months, leaving the square empty for a considerable portion of the year." But staff noticed that squares in other cities, even rainy ones, do manage to function and host activities all winter.

"A more robust examination is required around the use of weather protection, lighting, street bollards, and seasonal events in other cities that have year-round public squares."

In the meantime, he said, the city needs to take a more "incremental" approach to shutting down the street.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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