Climate Change
November 13, 2019

The Netherlands Slowing Highway Speeds to Limit Nitrogen Oxide Emissions

Last week I attended the International Road Safety Symposium that was hosted by UBC’s Integrated Safety and Advanced Mobility Bureau as well as by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. This team brought in practitioners from Australia and the Netherlands, where policy work and research mirrors or is ahead of our local policy. A mix of physicians,  police officers , engineers and consultants presented and debated current issues and trends in road safety and active transportation, providing a very thoughtful discussion on how to make streets and roads safer for all users.

Speaker Dr. Fred Wegman is an emeritus professor of traffic safety at Delft University of Technology and is the individual credited with the development of the “safe systems” approach, “based on the principle that our life and health should not be compromised by our need to travel. No level of death or serious injury is acceptable in our road transport network.”

It was Fred  that described the tremendous gains in the Netherlands where there has been a 49 percent reduction in fatalities/serious injuries with the safe systems approach. He also noted the importance of reducing speed as a basic tenet for safety, and that politically elected officials would not be reducing speed to save lives, but would be doing it for basic sustainability reasons. And tied into a greener, cleaner environment and the future, such speed reductions would be accepted nationally.

We didn’t need to wait long to hear the result of Fred’s prediction. The BBC News has just reported that  in 2020 “the daytime speed limit on Dutch roads is to be cut to 100km/h (62mph) in a bid to tackle a nitrogen oxide pollution crisis” 

This information is still confidential, but the disclosed report suggests that the current speed limit of up to 130 km/h would be allowed only in  the night hours.

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This week the municipal council of the District of North Vancouver voted to prohibit the keeping of pigeons in the District.  Or, more specifically, they voted to prohibit the keeping of pigeons by one resident.

Even that wouldn’t have particularly bothered me, except that the homeowner in question, Kulwant Dulay, happens to live next to the sole person complaining to the District about his pigeons – District council member Betty Forbes.

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How to make an editorial comment in a front-page layout …

Not sure how deliberately The Globe juxtaposed an Andrew Scheer profile with a climate-strike march to make a statement about Scheer on the Environment – but it really doesn’t matter.  Scheer did that on his own.

In Vancouver, he took that day when a hundred thousand marched on climate to announce money for highway expansion.  (Because more lanes means less pollution because that always works.)

And that’s got to be deliberate.

Though the message may be oblique, it’s clear evidence that Scheer discounts climate change whether as a political issue or as reality.  He’s basically doing a Harper 2.0 – similar to Stephen Harper’s Arctic tours when the words ‘climate change’ never passed his lips.  Harper’s message to other decision-makers: don’t take climate change too seriously. I have no intention of doing anything drastic.  You don’t have to either.”

Scheer looks to continue that strategy.  Reality might make a difference in Scheer’s indifference, but not mass marches.

Is he, then, an extinctionist?* – the ultimate pragmatist.

I doubt he’s reached the point where extinction of some kind seems so inevitable that it shapes his policy.  But I think he believes he can afford to be indifferent now.

So Andrew Scheer is an extinctionist-in-making.  Perhaps already made.

 

*What’s an extinctionist?  Here’s my definition:

Leaders and decision-makers who accept extinction – minor or major, local and global – as an acceptable outcome of climate change; and justify it in order to maximize power and benefit.

It’s not that they are so sociopathic they don’t care or will even revel in the apocalyptic.  But they are resigned to the inevitability of the threat and believe we are powerless to do anything consequential about it .  They therefore have to accept when making decisions that will hasten extinction, particularly for immediate benefit, that that’s okay.  Not desired, not expected, but possible.  An acceptable outcome to consider.

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The Vancouver City-wide Plan, which with its $16 million budget to fund three years of conversations and consultations, starts its roll-out this fall.

It aims high: “… to create an integrated strategy that includes a vision for the future city.”  It’s ambitious, addressing every big issue and every good intention that councillors were able to pack in – equity, affordability, reconciliation, climate change.  It’s strategic, proposing to integrate existing plans for infrastructure and transportation, as well as coordinating with Metro, the Province, even UBC and the Parks Board.

 

But one thing it won’t do is inform you of what can ultimately be built on your block.

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One thing is proven without a doubt in this wide-ranging, deep political dive with Gord, Rob, and return guest George Affleck — these guys don’t know their Tolkien.

And while there was no cranky, right-wing guy in Middle Earth, there is a central character whose very rigid way of thinking begins to soften. If that seems to be the case with Affleck, it may be with the benefit of retrospect, especially with an eye to the performance of current council, and specifically in contrast to its predecessor.

That’s because Affleck’s behaviour while serving in opposition to Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver juggernaut was largely the result of him seeing the majority votes walking into the council chamber every day, “knowing exactly what they were going to do”. Idealogical alignment can be like a wall; in the form of a political caucus, it’s a brick wall.

Contrast that with today; by Affleck’s count, there are just two parties in Vancouver Council, the NDP and the BC Liberals (and 1 or 2 predictably dogmatic, even irrelevant votes). So these decisions should be, well, decisive — consistently predictable and relatively quick. But, as he notes, “it’s 100% not working like that.”

Affleck talks about the splintering sound coming from the NPA corner. He talks choo-choo trains. And he talks bike lanes (remember, he’s not anti-bike lanes, just pro-process).

Lastly, Affleck makes a startling admission, perhaps revealing that aforementioned soft spot, one which may represent the rotting core of traditional NPA preservationist ideology — that the current political trend towards framing the decision-making process around community consultation (rather than incorporating and contextualizing it into decision-making) is a great way to give anti-growth, naysay perspectives platform and influence. And that it’s probably incorrect.

He sees it in West Vancouver, in White Rock, in Surrey, and even in PoCo. He sees pragmatism, he sees populism, and it seems he has a pretty clear view of the line to be drawn between the two.

Which leads to some interesting speculation on the nature of political campaigns of our not-too-distant future — those of Kennedy Stewart, the NPA and, yes, Affleck himself.

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In Review: The Quest for Commute Trip Reduction Part – I

In part one of this series, CTR was described as a collection of tactics designed to reduce commute duration and distance, as well as reduce the use of single occupancy vehicles in favour of more sustainable, healthier modes of travel. The primary responsibility for implementing CTR tactics falls on employers (typically ‘large employers’ with over 100 employees). State/provincial and regional governments typically have responsibility for encouraging or legislatively mandating participation by employers, and offering support, incentives, and/or disincentives/penalties. Apart from legislation, governments may also work toward CTR through trip reduction ordinances (TROs), regulations, policies and guidelines that apply not only to large employers, but municipalities, transport authorities, housing developers, building owners, among others.

At the time of this writing, CTR is not mentioned in any B.C. provincial legislation. CTR is not mentioned in Clean BC, despite its potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In Metro Vancouver, no municipalities appear to have adopted ordinances specifically for CTR, however, some plans and programs do support and reflect CTR-related principles, including:

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What is CTR?

Commute Trip Reduction (CTR), a facet of Transportation Demand Management (TDM), is a suite of strategies (i.e. programs/policies) designed primarily to do two things:

  1. Reduce long commute travel distances, and
  2. Encourage and enable alternatives to using a single-occupant vehicle (i.e. more sustainable, healthier travel alternatives such as walking, cycling, taking transit, and carpooling)

The responsibility for implementing CTR strategies falls on employers (typically ‘large employers’ such universities and hospitals), required by some form of government legislation.

Examples of CTR Strategies
  • Encourage cycling, walking, and transit instead of using a personal vehicle
  • Provide transit-oriented incentives such as pass subsidies or reimbursement
  • Provide subsidies or reimbursement for cycling and walking gear
  • Provide on-site cycling storage, and shower/change room facilities
  • Incentives and arrangements for carpooling/vanpooling to-and-from work
  • Allow employees to work full or part-time from home or remote/satellite offices
  • Strategically select or move the office location to a transit hub
  • Provide a Guaranteed ride home service

An example of a large employer recognized as having successfully employed CTR strategies is The Gates Foundation.The Gates Foundation has reduced their “drive-alone” rate from 88 percent to 34 percent by distributing a suite of transit benefits to employees, including free Monorail punch cars and free monthly Zipcar hours. It also disincentivizes parking: The company lot charges a daily rate instead of a monthly rate. The Gates Foudnation is estimated to employ over 1,500 people.

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The wave of electric micro mobility: it’s happening fast here in Canada.

From e-bikes, to e-scooters, to e-boards and segways, increasingly cities in BC and beyond are speaking out about the need to accommodate such emerging technologies, while simultaneously grappling with how to do so.

Written in 1957, BCs Provincial Motor Vehicle Act (MVA), whose initial design was to regulate motor vehicles and their drivers, has proven to be a significant barrier in the creation of a more hospitable environment for these rapidly emerging technologies and their riders.

While e-bikes are now legally able to operate on BC roads (operators must be at least 16 years of age and wearing a helmet, with electric motors capped at 500 watts) how to accommodate users who wish to use different electric technologies — such as e-scooters and e-boards — remains a big question.

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