Walking and Biking
Governments reveal their true priorities by their spending decisions, and that means next week’s federal budget will be an important test of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, Environmental Defence climate specialist Dale Marshall wrote last week in a Hill Times op ed [subs req’d].
“While the government continues with consultations and policy development of the framework, the upcoming federal budget must be used to take another big step forward on climate action in Canada,” Marshall noted. “Equally important as the amount of money the budget allocates is that the funding be systematically applied in the right places and the right ways to edge the country towards the clean economy we need. Investing in high-carbon projects and other activities that will systematically increase carbon emissions will make it all but impossible to achieve Canada’s climate targets.”
Marshall suggested several ways the budget can “reinforce and amplify” the framework adopted by the federal government and 11 provinces and territories last December. Dollars are needed for renewable energy deployment, smart grid development, off-diesel programs for Indigenous and other remote communities, and a national building retrofit program. Regulatory support for a clean fuel standard, a zero-emission vehicle strategy, and a zero net-energy building code will need funding, too.
And “the federal government needs to ensure that public money is spent only on infrastructure projects that put Canada on track to phase out the use of fossil fuels by mid-century,” Marshall writes. “Environmental Defence and business, academic, and environmental advocates have been urging the federal government to undertake a full life-cycle analysis of all proposed projects to determine their expected greenhouse gas emissions. The project proposal that can best meet the goal of the infrastructure while minimizing carbon emissions should be privileged over others that would lead to higher emissions.”
Just as important as the investments the federal budget makes will be the ones it leaves out. “With one hand, governments take revenue from polluters based on how much carbon they emit, and with the other they give money back to those same polluters in the form of subsidies,” he writes—$3.3-billion per year, by recent estimates. “Federal subsidies at least need to be eliminated by 2020,” he writes, “and this budget can begin that process.”
Late last month, in a post on Policy Options, Équiterre Government Relations Director Annie Bérubé pointed to Canada’s “tailpipe problem”—the 24 million cars and trucks that produced 23% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2014, and have accounted for three-quarters of the growth in energy-related emissions since 1990.
“If we’re going to achieve our climate goals and do our fair share to ensure the planet continues to be a safe place to live, we need to turn this trend around,” Bérubé wrote. “Around the world, a mobility revolution is gathering momentum. And Canada is wisely getting in on the action, with policies and investments that open the door wider for zero-carbon transportation.
“But if we are not ambitious in our plans, and deliberate about their implementation, we will miss out on opportunities to be industrial and environmental leaders.”
She pointed to local transit investments, vehicle fuel efficiency regulations, encouragement for electric vehicles and biking, and the growing trend toward shared mobility as “a path to a healthier planet, cleaner air in our cities, and economies that work efficiently.”
A reliance on cars is built into the way city streets are built, and a different approach could be the key to making communities more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, consultant Mikael Colville-Andersen told a late February workshop at the Ontario Good Roads Association conference in Toronto.
“Design played a big role in cementing the dominance of cars in our reshaped cities by specifying wider—and faster—turning radiuses, ring roads, multi-lane arterial roads, and even expressways built right through old neighbourhoods,” Resilience.org reports. “The predictable result, Colville-Andersen says, is that most urban dwellers do not feel safe biking on city streets.
Just as predictably, “biking rates go up rapidly as soon as a usable network of safe infrastructure is established.”
Colville-Andersen, a Canadian now based in Denmark, says there’s no point urging people to ride their bikes to improve their own health or protect the environment. In Copenhagen, where more than half of commuters are regular bike riders, “repeated polls have found that most people choose to bike simply because that’s the quickest and most convenient way to get around,” Resilience notes. “And that’s no accident—it reflects a 40-year-old prioritizing of active transportation, with the goal of making walking and biking safe and convenient, while making driving less convenient.”
The article contrasts typical city street designs of the last 60 years—in which cars get the straightest line from origin to destination, and all other modes are less convenient—with an approach that favours pedestrians, bikes, and transit. “All the campaigns in the world mean nothing if you don’t do this,” Colville-Andersen said.
“Cartoonish in its simplicity, it nevertheless summarizes what many people experience daily,” Resilience writes, referring to two schematics the urban designer presented during his talk.
In conventional city design, “bike networks are disjointed snippets of little use to commuters on bike. Sidewalks and other walking routes also include frequent jogs to accommodate motorways. Bus routes have continuous runs but often wind around cities wasting their occupants’ time—while car and truck routes are made as straight and fast as feasible.”
In “best practice” cities like Copenhagen, by contrast, “bike routes and walking routes are made as convenient and efficient as possible, with public transit routes next in priority. Meanwhile many jogs, detours, narrow lanes, and other traffic calming designs intentionally slow motor traffic. This not only makes biking and walking much safer in those inevitable intersections, but also gives drivers daily incentives to stop using their costly and slow cars.”
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has put the finishing touches on the longest rails-to-trails project in the United States, with a 47.5-mile extension to the Katy Trail that creates a continuous hiking and biking path from Kansas City to St. Louis.
“You’ll be able to go 287 miles on an incredible asset,” he told the Kansas City Star during a December 10 ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“The new section of the trail follows the corridor of the old Rock Island Railroad for 47.5 miles from Pleasant Hill to Windsor, where a junction connects to the rest of the Katy Trail State Park,” EcoWatch reports, citing Nixon’s office.
For the vice-president of the Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce, the trail is a bridge to smaller communities. “We’re off the beaten path as far as highways go,” Tyler Month told a local radio station, “so this attracts a different group of organizations and individuals to our town that would not have otherwise come here.”
EcoWatch’s Lorraine Chow writes that “the scenic and mostly flat trail follows Lewis and Clark’s path along the Missouri River. The nearly 300-mile, uninterrupted trail features plenty of nature, Missouri River bluffs, and picturesque communities along the way. Horseback riding is also allowed on a 35-mile section of the trail.”
Rapid urbanization, combined with the need to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to the impacts of climate change, will be two of the most serious challenges facing cities over the next two decades, Ottawa City Councillor Tobi Nussbaum argues in a Huffington Post article to mark the end of the United Nations Habitat conference in Quito, Ecuador.
“As a former diplomat, I have had the opportunity to experience cities around the world with drastically varying conditions—large and small, rich and poor, coastal and landlocked, peaceful and violent,” Nussbaum writes. “Yet, despite these differences, I have seen cities across this spectrum successfully preparing for continued population growth while increasing climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.”
He adds that “if pursued effectively, such approaches can work to improve economic opportunities, social equity, and health outcomes for citizens—priorities that all cities work to achieve.”
Nussbaum urges cities to invest in a broad network of dedicated transit corridors, provide “robust walking and cycling infrastructure”, encourage affordable, mid-rise housing, and curb sprawl by planning urban growth “to build up, not out”. The six other elements of his 10-part formula include flexible, mixed-use zoning, support for renewable energy production and energy efficiency, accessible public green spaces, climate-minded infrastructure, ambitious waste reduction targets, and local food production.
“While the actions provided here are far from exhaustive, they illustrate the kind of steps that are needed to avoid hand-wringing when UN-HABITAT meets again in 20 years,” he writes. Until then, “the responsibility lies with me and my fellow municipal leaders across the globe to demonstrate the required political courage to act.”
Meanwhile, the New Urban Agenda released at the Quito conference is receiving a mixed reaction, with urban researchers saying it fails to reflect the need for immediate, wide-ranging action.
“What is abundantly clear is that the [United Nations Sustainable Development Goals] and the Paris Agreement on climate will be won or lost in cities. We have just 14 years to make historic progress on these agreements,” said urban ecologist Timon McPhearson of the New School in New York.
“There are one billion poor, many of whom live in the one million slums and informal settlements existing in 100,000 cities,” he told a media briefing. “The planet has already moved beyond critical planetary boundaries related to climate, biodiversity, land use, and fertilizer use. Yet urgency is entirely absent in the New Urban Agenda.”
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) companies like Uber and Lyft may hold the solution to transit agencies’ efforts to satisfy customers over the first and last mile or kilometre of their trips that may not be easy to serve well with conventional transit routes.
“The explosive popularity of Uber has certainly prompted policy-makers to consider the prospect of joining forces with ride-sharing companies as a means of providing more coordinated options in areas not well served by transit,” notes Canadian urbanism site Spacing. Some U.S. cities have already set up service or payment partnerships with Uber. And earlier this year, a report by the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre suggested integrating transit and ride-, car-, and bike-sharing services through the Presto payment card already available to regular transit users.
Correspondent John Lorinc reviews a couple of MaaS models from Europe and lists some of the questions that would have to be answered before applying them in a metropolitan area like Toronto. “The emergence of such entities depends, to a significant degree, on whether transit agencies (or any of the other mobility operators for that matter) would be prepared (or directed) to sell monthly passes or fares on a wholesale basis to re-sellers,” he writes. “That’s clearly a policy decision with financial consequences and trade-offs.”
More broadly, “there’s no question that allowing this kind of player into the mobility market would introduce a new dynamic, and one that is potentially disruptive for dominant transit operators,” Lorinc adds. “Policy-makers need to ensure that if they move towards allowing MaaS companies to gain access to the market, they’re not inadvertently creating private sector monopolies or oligopolies, as is now the case with the telecom industry.”
But MaaS could still be the mobility option that encourages drivers to use their cars less. “If residents can simply subscribe to a monthly package that gives them easy (and bulk discounted) access to a range of shared mobility services that extends across the complete chain of their travel needs, they’ll have an incentive to use the shared options more. And therefore their private vehicles less.”
A ‘cash for clunkers’ program and a compromise on phasing out natural gas heating are among the details of Ontario’s $8.3-billion Five-Year Climate Action Plan, revealed by the Toronto Star in advance of its official release in the provincial legislature this morning.
Contrary to speculation that the province would mandate a phaseout of natural gas for home heating, the plan contains a broader mandate requiring all new homes to be “net-zero carbon” by 2030, the Star wrote. “That means newly-constructed houses can be heated using natural gas, though builders will have to offset that by finding other efficiencies to reduce their carbon footprint.”
New commercial buildings and new homes with garages will also be required to have 50-amp., 240-volt electric vehicle charging outlets. Up to $1,000 in incentives will be offered to homeowners who retrofit charging outlets in existing homes. Together with the extension of a $14,000 rebate on the purchase of electric cars and the ‘clunkers’ rebate on retiring older vehicles, the incentives are meant to drive sales of zero-emission vehicles to about 14,000 new cars—or 5% of annual sales—by 2020. The province is also negotiating with Ottawa to drop the 13% HST on electric cars, the Star reports, but opted against mandatory sales quotas that would have penalized manufacturers that failed to move enough EVs off their lots.
The province expects to spend between $500 and $600 million over the next five years supporting homeowners “to retrofit and update their homes to make them more energy efficient, including the installation of high-tech Wi-Fi EcoBee and Nest thermostats,” the Star’s Robert Benzie adds. Other parts of the plan include a new “home energy rating and disclosure program” that will become mandatory for houses that are put up for sale, $150 to $225 million for mandatory expansion of municipal cycling infrastructure, and 50 million trees that will be planted to offset carbon emissions.”
“When my grandchildren ask me what we did to help our planet, I want to be proud of what we accomplished,” Premier Kathleen Wynne wrote in her introduction to the package.
However, another big part of the provincial strategy may be on shakier ground, some experts contend.
One way for builders achieve ‘carbon neutrality’ in those new gas-heated homes is to top into the Western Climate Initiative carbon emissions trading system that Ontario plans to join in 2018. California and Quebec are already members of the WCI. The approach “is touted as economically efficient,” the Globe and Mail writes, “because it reduces compliance costs by allocating capital to those companies that get the most bang for the buck in terms of greenhouse gas reductions.”
Economist David Sawyer told the paper that emissions trading would allow Ontario to achieve its target of reducing carbon emissions by 15% from 1990 levels by 2020 with “a negligible impact on provincial GDP.” A “go-it-alone strategy,” on the other hand, “would shave nearly half a point off the Ontario economy” by the end of the decade, Sawyer cautioned.
However, three lawyers on the University of Toronto’s Environmental Finance Advisory Committee say those plans may be frustrated by poor implementation.