It was Eric Doherty that started it all in this article by Jennifer Saltman in the Province. In the summer more than 250 government leaders who are affiliated with the Climate Caucus sent an open letter stating that Covid related economic recovery monies should not be used for expanding highways and airports but fr supporting transit service, walking and biking.
In Canada after oil and gas industries it is transportation that is the largest source of greenhouse gas emsisons. In British Columbia transportation produces 37 percent of emissions. Mr. Doherty representing the Better Transit Alliance in Victoria sees Covid recovery as an opportunity to reinforce transit which is suffering with lower ridership in this phase of the pandemic.
There are a few changes already evident from the pandemic. The first is that there is a clear adaptation to working at home. Mario Canseco’s work shows that 73 percent of Canadians expect to continue some kind of work at home, while 63 percent think that business travel and meetings are gone,with internet applications like Zoom replacing those trips.
The second change is that there has been an increase in physical activity as one of Mr. Canseco’s latest polls with Research.co indicates. Two-thirds of people in this province say they are walking more despite living at home, and 26 percent of all people are running or jogging more.
But if more people are working from home, and as in the case of London
England only 25 percent of workers have come back to work in the downtown because of Covid concerns, what shifts can be made?
George Monbiot in The Guardian perceives this time in pandemic mode as an opportunity to rethink our “traditional” view of transport, something echoed by London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Realizing that a return to the “new normal” meant more vehicles coming into central London and less people using the transit system because of virus concerns,the mayor immediately cordoned swathes of streets for walking and biking. The metro area of Manchester has done the same, moving to creating 1,800 miles of protected walking and cycling routes.
It is, as Mr. Monbiot puts it, the recognition of a “structural failure” in how we roads and highways. Even switching to electric cars (now touted as the only new car for sale by 2035 in California) won’t eliminate pollution. I have already written about the microscopic particles from tires and the hazard of brake dust which along with road surface wear ” “directly contribute to well over half of particle pollution from road transport.No legislation is currently in place specifically to limit or reduce [these] particles.”
Each vehicle when made embodies the same carbon emissions as driving a vehicle for 150,000 kilometers. Electric vehicles also require lithium and copper elements which are strip mined, causing damage to the environment. Lastly if every internal combustion engine car is simply replaced with an electric vehicle the congestion of our cities will continue, with vehicles still dominating and restricting movement of walking, biking and transit.
It was Paris’ Mayor Anne Hildalgo that has been talking about the “15 Minute City” where every residence is just a fifteen minute walk away from schools, shops and services in their neighbourhood. I have described the potential return of the corner store in Canada, as well as the ‘popsicle test”. That describes the shape of the popsicle when you can send a kid for a popsicle to the corner store and they return to the house with the popsicle not completely melted. It talks about allowing this commercial usage which is now existing non-conforming in the neighbourhoods they exist in to be zoned as belonging to a neighbourhood and being welcomed, as a vital service mitigating local area food deserts.
We have the opportunity to make a generational shift to supporting walking, cycling and public transit over vehicular, and to reimagine our neighbourhoods to be inclusive of the variety of uses that residents need, not exclusive.
As Mr. Monbiot concludes “This, I believe, is the radical shift that all towns and cities need. It would transform our sense of belonging, our community life, our health and our prospects of local employment, while greatly reducing pollution, noise and danger. Transport has always been about much more than transport. The way we travel helps to determine the way we live. And at the moment, locked in our metal boxes, we do not live well.”