Vancouver city councillors have voted to permanently close Robson Street between Howe and Hornby to traffic, including buses, and turn it into a public plaza.

The 800-block of Robson in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery is closed to traffic during the summer months, with new installations put in each year that usually include seating and tables for people to linger. The block is also a popular spot for food trucks and carts. 

City staff said construction would begin this winter, following a public consultation period, with the space ready for action next spring. 

Prior to the vote at council on Wednesday, staff said the decision would allow them to make better long-term plans to design and animate the space and accommodate the rerouting of buses and traffic. 

"We're doing a sub-optimal job because it's temporary," said Lon LaClaire, the city's transportation director. 

"If this was a permanent plaza, we would design the intersections to manage the traffic more optimally."

According to the city's manager of engineering, Jerry Dobrovolny, at peak times the narrow two-lane street accommodates 400 vehicles, 2,800 pedestrians, 400 buses and three bikes per hour.

Seniors concerned

Scott Ricker, a member of the West End Seniors' Planning Table, voiced his concerns at the meeting about rerouting the No. 5 bus — the only one that services that section of the street. 

"I don't want to be anti-development — I really like the idea," he said. "But I think we're doing a disservice to our residents in the West End if we don't do a better job of finding a way to accommodate their transportation needs."

The staff report released last week includes a proposed change that would reroute that bus along Pender Street starting at Burrard. But Ricker said the proposed route would make it difficult for seniors to get to key services like the library and shops along Granville Street. 

5 bus route robson street

A proposed route for the No. 5 bus after the Robson Street closure takes effect. (City of Vancouver)

Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer told staff she has received several complaints from transit users who say the rerouting of the No. 5 bus during summer closures adds 20 to 25 minutes to their commute. 

Staff said there would be further discussions with seniors and West End residents leading up to the project's implementation.  

As for businesses in the area, city staff said prior consultations had indicated merchants were in favour of the closure because it turned the street into a destination for tourists and residents.  

The closure also has support from the Vancouver Art Gallery.

First closed in 2010

The street was first closed in 2010 in order to create a gathering space for pedestrians during the Olympics. It was later closed in the summer and used for annual public art installations.

In 2012,councillors asked city staff to investigate closing the block permanently.

The staff report notes turning the street into a public plaza is in keeping with architect Arthur Erickson's original design for the Robson Square complex.