Transportation and Land Use Planner Eric Doherty in The Observer has written a thoughtful piece that drills down on the “Climate Emergency”. Earlier this month Canada endorsed the global “Green New Deal” which aims to halve greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in eleven years.
There are two main causes of GHG in Canada~transportation and the oil & gas industries. Doherty makes a convincing argument that transportation, “the second largest source of GHG pollution in Canada, must not be ignored.”
We must be politically prudent in having the discussion about the impact of vehicle pollution on climate change. And that will require a complete shift at the federal and provincial levels in terms of what is funded and why, and ensuring that link between GHGs and vehicle use is recognized in effective policy to mitigate climate change. We simply need to stop building roads.
The biggest driver of increased GHG pollution in transportation has been government spending on road and highway expansion in and near urban areas. Governments understand full well that expanding highways results in more traffic and climate pollution. The 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (the federal-provincial climate agreement) already commits the federal and provincial governments to shift spending away from things that increase carbon pollution, such as urban highways and airport expansion, to low-carbon transportation including public transit, walking and cycling. However, both federal and provincial governments are largely ignoring this commitment.”
With transportation increasing GHG pollution by 43 percent between 1990 and 2017, public spending on highways increase air pollution. Commuting leads to health problems and isolation.
Doherty identifies several ways to mitigate the transportation GHG impacts.
Firstly electric trains and buses can provide connectivity to small towns. Existing rail services can be overhauled and converted to electric power, which Doherty notes most everyone else has already done. This conversion could also employ workers in the traditional oil & gas industries.
Transportation equity for rural areas and for seniors, First Nations and low income people must also be paramount. These are populations of people travelling to medical appointments, education opportunities and to good and services that simply have little available public transportation options that are accessible and affordable. Providing transportation alternatives also lessens traffic congestion and creates more cohesive rural communities.
Doherty states: ” Efforts to reduce climate pollution from transportation have the potential to make our communities safer, more just, and more prosperous. These improvements can largely be paid for by re-allocating funds from destructive projects and fossil fuel subsidies.
Already vehicle ownership in Quebec has declined by 20 percent in five years among men between 16 and 20 years old. While policy may still be pushing for highway expansion, the younger demographic’s choices suggest that more convenient public transit, wider and comfortable sidewalks and truly protected bike lanes are more usable and appropriate.
“Car traffic quickly expands to fill expanded road space in urban areas, but traffic contracts just as quickly when road space is no longer available to motor vehicles. When you make a car lane into a bus lane, a protected bike lane or more space for pedestrians, car traffic disappears.”
As Doherty bluntly concludes : “The Green New Deal can make our cities and towns healthier, more just and prosperous, and happier places to live. The other choice is to stay on the expressway to extinction we are on.”