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Circling the Square (4)

November 27, 2012

PART 4 of the extended essay by a guest writer, Peter Marriott, on the question of transit on Robson Street. 

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.

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Future Possibilities

The City mentions that Translink will be conducting a “service review” of the Downtown core, once again suggesting that “careful planning” will give us a better bus route if Robson Square is closed. But, in fact, a service review that focuses on building transit’s ridership is likely to find that Robson Square is an even more important transit route than it is today. Rather than “helping guide improved bus routes,” closing the street to transit actually means closing the door to possible improvements.

An immediate improvement to the #5 line, for instance, would extend it to Waterfront Station and route via Granville both ways instead of making a one‑way loop on Richards.

This requires no new trolley wire or other infrastructure, but it would require a commitment from the City to provide more consistent transit service on Granville (the reason the #5 has been routed via Richards is that when Granville is closed, all other southbound services are rerouted to Howe, but the turn from Howe to Robson is impossible. Because Granville is closed so often, Translink decided in 2011 to route the #5 via Richards at all times).

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But the real gap (and opportunity) in Downtown Vancouver is that Yaletown and Downtown South are severely underserved. Keeping Robson Square open to transit allows for transit service on Robson and Davie to be extended east to provide continuous service along the entire length of their respective streets, creating a downtown transit network that provides direct and convenient connections between downtown communities and the broader transit network.

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A transit network like this could support a better pedestrian environment and better public spaces, too. A decision to prioritize transit along with walking and cycling could lead to the development of a transit‑accessible greenway all along Robson, as the City once considered. Better transit service to the east side of downtown could go a long way toward redeveloping Larwill Park as a public square.

These are my concepts only, but the broader point is this: a review of transit service in Downtown Vancouver that actually attempted to increase ridership, legibility and accessibility would likely find that Robson Street needs a two‑way, frequent, continuous transit service. In fact, I don’t see a plausible way for any other line to effectively serve the east end of Robson, which currently has only one‑way loop service from the #17 line. Closing off the possibility of transit service through Robson Square permanently limits future options to build Downtown transit ridership.

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TOMORROW: Conceptualizing and Understanding Transit

* Bold emphases mine.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2012 12:59 pm

    There was a downtown transit review a few years back now, and I tried my hand at a redesign. I don’t find the current bus arrangement very satisfactory because the buses are slow and because it requires transfers for relatively short trips like the West End into Gastown and Yaletown. I tried to come up with a circulator that covered Denman, Davie, Yaletown, Chinatown, Gastown, Downtown and Robson but never came up with a reasonable route. It is very difficult trying to respect the one way roads and avoiding difficult corners. The best I came up with was a Cambie Street connection exactly the one above even though that also does not cover Gastown and Chinatown.

    I certainly agree that Robson, Davie and Denman are the best routes for a downtown bus as those areas have the most pedestrian traffic. Robson Square could be tested with just bus traffic to see if it did perform more as a pedestrian area. Just filling in the sunken plaza on the North side of Robson would dramatically alter this space. Unfortunately the redesign of the old Eaton’s building isn’t very inspiring. The white block surrounded by ramps to parking was not a good urban building, but at least it had some style and it provided some contrast with the interminable array of glass boxes. The redesign should improve the street frontage but it is very dull.

  2. Richard Campbell permalink
    November 27, 2012 1:51 pm

    Now this is rather stretching it to be honest. It would be great if people could approach this with an open mind. There are many other possible ways to improve transit service that don’t involve Robson at all.

    One bus route would be Abbot, Pacific, Davie. Great access to the Expo Line and Canada Line.

    Robson made sense as a streetcar route back in 1929 when Robson connected directly to the old Cambie Bridge. Now that Nelson and Smithe connect directly with the bridge, they make more sense as the main transit routes. It would connect directly to the Canada Line, 99b and the future UBC Line.

    Georgia Street is a great transit street. It connects well with the Canada and Expo Lines, the library, the main shopping on Robson, etc.

    Lets study all the alternatives including routes and transit priority measures instead of deciding what are the best routes downtown based on what made sense 80 years ago.

    Regarding transit and pedestrian zones. In order for transit to be comparable with pedestrians, it must be run at very low speeds, probably 20kph max, even slower in many cases. On Granville, bus drivers are always honking at peds to get them out of the way. This does not create a great pedestrian environment. At these speeds, transit is neither time or cost effective. It is faster to walk for most trips. If Robson was the only through street, it would make sense. When there are parallel streets that are better connected to the city and the region where buses can operate faster and more efficiently, it makes sense to use them instead.

    • d.p. permalink
      November 27, 2012 9:35 pm

      Abbot, Pacific, Davie.

      Okay, now I’m convinced that while you have no ill will toward transit, you simply do not understand it.

      Circumferential transit doesn’t work. People don’t need to skirt around the edge of everywhere. They need to get to and through the corridors with the greatest concentrations of destinations and connection points. High-speed waterfront parkways through the wastelands below viaducts and stadiums simply do not offer this.

      • Richard Campbell permalink
        November 28, 2012 9:57 am

        You obviously have not been along Abbot or Pacific in decades. Abbot, north of Pacific has turned into an vibrant street. Pacific south of Cambie is lined with shops and housing. There is also the Roundhouse community centre and many other destinations along Pacific and the route goes by both Canada Line and Expo stations. It is obviously a good choice for a transit route.

      • d.p. permalink
        November 28, 2012 4:20 pm

        I never said that there was nothing or no one along Abbot or Expo/Pacific (though that would be a hyper-accurate description of a central kilometre of your proposed route).

        But inasmuch as your route skirts the edge of everywhere, with a peripheral connection to the Expo line and anywhere else pedestrians want to end up, it continues to reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the movement patterns that transit aims to serve.

        Downtown is lucky enough to have a grid, and clearly delineated activity corridors. The ability to move east-west and north-south along that grid is what enables people to get from everywhere to everywhere without resorting to their cars.

        The Robson #5, in traversing the central meridian of that grid, is arguably one of the most valuable assets that Vancouver transit has.

        You keep asking us to “rethink”, but you refuse to “rethink” the roadblock you wish to throw up in front of that vital asset. I have yet to understand your motivation.

      • mike0123 permalink
        November 28, 2012 7:00 pm

        The problem with running the 5 all the way down Robson is the poor connection to the Expo line – the extra 350-m walk. It has to turn north somewhere and the two possibilities are Burrard and Granville.

        The downtown loop can’t just have just four streets and have good rapid transit connections.

        There are already frequent routes on Granville. The 6 doesn’t need to branch from it if it meets the Canada line at Yaletown and the Expo line at Stadium instead. This allows the 6 to be create a gridded network perpendicular to most other routes and rapid transit.

      • d.p. permalink
        November 28, 2012 7:28 pm

        You can achieve the best gridded effect by keeping the 5 on Robson all the way to Beatty, and putting the 6 up Beatty as well.

        I’d be more supportive of the way these offer a front-door access to Stadium station; unlike Pacific/Expo/Abbott, Beatty isn’t detached from the rest of the grid.

      • mike0123 permalink
        November 28, 2012 7:31 pm

        Beatty doesn’t connect to Davie. Cambie does. That’s why the best choice is Cambie.

      • d.p. permalink
        November 29, 2012 2:10 am

        Indeed, and Cambie would be fine for the 6.

        In fact, you could run the 5 to the end of Robson and loop it around on Beatty and Cambie to connect to Skytrain and then to through-route with the 6.

        But running on Pacific to Abbott — beneath the bowels of BC Place — would be utterly missing the point of central-urban service.

      • mike0123 permalink
        November 29, 2012 3:23 pm

        I imagine the community shuttle route would continue to run on Beach/Pacific/Expo to Main Station or further. The below-the-escarpment route will become more important with more development in North False Creek. It should connect at to the Canada line at Yaletown on Pacific and the Expo line at Main (and at Stadium one way given the current street layout).

    • Tessa permalink
      November 28, 2012 1:03 pm

      I disagree about Georgia Street. Georgia is one of the most unreliable transit corridors in the city, especially during rush hour, and it can take sometimes three minutes simplyo travel the three blocks from burrard to granville. When I took the 240 regularly I got off and walked that distance and usually beat the bus there. It’s really horrendous.

      And while Georgia is two blocks off of Robson, the area is dense enough to justify it. Adding all the Georgia will overload that corridor. What’s more, it wouldn’t help with Denman commuters, and it’s a big inconvenience for people who are travelling between, say, kitsilano and a store on Robson.

      Robson is the transit street because it has the destinations. It’s where you get off the bus and don’t have to walk anywhere. It’s where people WANT to be, and more than 9000 people take it each day. The #5 bus has to work somehow – that’s the point here.

      • Anne permalink
        November 28, 2012 2:10 pm

        Yes that is how I see it too Tessa: Robson is the transit street because it has the destinations. More than 9000 people would take it if the route wasn’t constantly screwed up.

  3. mike0123 permalink
    November 27, 2012 2:28 pm

    The Expo line runs under Dunsmuir, 350 m from Robson. That’s a long and inconvenient transfer. It is possible to get lower transfer distances to the Expo line by putting a looped Robson/Cambie/Davie bus on Pender between Burrard or Granville and Cambie. The Canada line transfer is also very short through the Waterfront south entrance. And if the diversion is at Burrard instead of Granville, you get to close Robson at Robson Square.

    Cambie already has trolley wires in one direction to Nelson as it is the route of the looped and confusing 17. Putting in two way trolley wires also enables a more legible 17 routing on Cambie/Pender.

  4. November 27, 2012 5:59 pm

    Gord – could you fill us in about Peter Marriott and his bona vides? While I don’t necessarily have any particular issues with his commentary, I don’t really know anything about him and his qualifications. Thank you.

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