Make Robson Street traffic free between Burrard and Granville, says planning expert

The future of Robson Square has become an increasing hot topic at city hall since a councillor brought forward a motion to reopen the block to traffic.

UBC prof says the problem with Robson Square is that it's too small

A lunchtime crowd gathers at Robson Square on a sunny weekday afternoon. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

A Vancouver councillor's motion to re-open Robson Square to traffic may have failed, but a University of British Columbia professor says the move may be the conversation starter needed to make vital changes.

Lawrence Frank, a professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC, believes the plaza, should not be reopened to traffic — and should instead be extended to three city blocks.

"It needs to connect over to Granville to the east and it needs to connect over Burrard to the west," he said.

Frank added he believes Robson Square could be the beginning of the downtown core's first real pedestrian corridor.

Vancouver city councillor Melissa De Genova thinks Robson Square would be better used if it were to be reopened for buses, taxis, and cyclists. (CBC)

At a Vancouver council meeting Tuesday, Councillor Melissa De Genova brought forward a motion to reopen the square to traffic, arguing it had been a failure and had not lived up to family-friendly gathering it was intended to be when traffic barriers were put up there two years ago.

De Genova's notice of motion was found to be out of order for procedural reasons.

She also voiced concerns about unlicensed marijuana vendors that often set up in the plaza. 

"I've received emails from people who say considering the recent illegal activity...they won't be taking their children down there," she said.

Lawrence Frank is a professor in sustainable transport in the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia. (CBC)

Frank thinks the reason Robson Square hasn't turned out to be the destination it was meant to be is because it's too small.

That could be fixed by connecting the pedestrian area through to Granville Street and Burrard Street, because he says increased foot traffic can often decrease undesired activity.

"The fact that there happens to be some marijuana vendors there right now is inconsequential. They can be anywhere and do the same thing. They chose that spot. It's central," he said.

Frank also doesn't believe closing additional blocks of Robson Street would have a noticeable impact on traffic.

It could, however, benefit shops.

"Pedestrians spend money. That's good for retailers, very good for business," said Frank.

And unlike a lot of other major cities, downtown Vancouver doesn't have a central walking route that's completely car free.

The city has dedicated a lot of resources to serving cyclists in the city, and Frank thinks it's time pedestrians got that same treatment.

The way of the future

Frank believes it would be a step backward to reopen Robson Square to vehicle traffic given that many young people are moving away from car ownership and car-sharing is popular too.

Despite Tuesday's setback, De Genova said said she will continue to try to push her motion forward to allow buses and cyclists through the area again.