To create a realistic pathway to a low-carbon regional transportation system, science—not activism—needs to lead the way forward.
IT HAD LONG BEEN MY UNDERSTANDING that cycling—all on its own—would become a significant part of the solution for reducing local transportation emissions. However, when I used the Capital Regional District’s most recent comprehensive travel survey to estimate the relative amount of work done by each form of transportation at the regional level, I was flabbergasted to find that cycling accounts for such a tiny share: 1.5 percent in 2011.
The amount of work done by each transportation mode can only be compared when you consider the total distance travelled each day by CRD residents using each type of transport. Replacing the work done by fossil-fuelled automobiles is essential if we’re going to reduce emissions. But how much of that work can be replaced by humans exerting themselves by cycling or walking instead of driving?
More than is currently the case in our region, no doubt. But when we consider how to shift enough of the work done by automobiles to more energy efficient modes of transportation, like walking, cycling, and transit, the magnitude of the challenge facing us becomes clear. There has to be a huge shift in how people move around, quickly. Why time is such a critical part of the equation should be obvious, and the Trudeau government’s announcement late last year of a mid-century emissions goal establishes the rate of descent for making reductions. The perplexing question is: What do we shift to?
Cycling and walking are part of the solution, but there needs to be a massive shift of the work done by cars to public transit. If other places that have already made this change are any indication of what Victoria will choose to do, the role of cycling and walking will largely be for making the first short leg of a trip made by public transit. While we’re seeing local governments create isolated pockets of inordinately expensive improvements for cycling, there’s little evidence that the region is on the verge of making sensible (let alone massive) investments in public transit.
I pointed this out in the last edition in “Mayor Helps’ 1.5 percent solution,” which was subtitled, “Local government’s response to reducing transportation emissions may be wishful thinking. Or foolish.”
New two-way protected cycling corridor in Downtown Victoria
Responding at a local level to the existential threat posed by climate change, rising sea level and ocean acidification—all caused by carbon emissions—will be a transformative, Herculean task that requires constant, difficult conversation about the path we should be on. If we Earthlings don’t do this work—including the conversations—we’re cooked.
What is the task facing us? According to the CRD, 55 percent of emissions generated in the region come from fossil-fuelled vehicles. Unless there is a significant and quick decline in their use, the planet will be at increasing risk of runaway warming. We simply can’t take a long-term approach to this shift. How rapidly do we need to act?
The Trudeau government’s overall emissions goal is to lower them by 80 percent (compared with 2005 levels) by 2050. As yet, no targets have been set for individual economic sectors, but it’s reasonable to assume that the transportation sector’s contribution would have to be on the order of 80 percent, give or take a few percentage points. To be on the most gradual descent that would get Canada to that goal, transportation emissions, and those from other sectors, would need to be reduced by about 34 percent over the next 12 years.
Canada’s mid-century emissions target, announced in late 2016, means an overall emissions reduction of 34 percent by 2030—12 years from now.
To put that time frame into perspective, consider that the City of Victoria started the process to replace the Johnson Street Bridge in 2008. It will, hopefully, open for traffic in 2018, ten years later. The amount of time left before 2030 is only a little longer than the City of Victoria needed to build a 156-metre-long bridge.
What would this rapid transformation mean for drivers of fossil-fuelled cars in Victoria? Collectively, over the next 12 years, we will have to either drive 34 percent less distance each day, get new vehicles that use, on average, 34 percent less fuel, shift 34 percent of our travel to non-fossil-fuel modes of transportation, or employ a strategy that combines some or all of these.
What is the CRD’s plan for responding to the goals announced by the Trudeau government in late 2016? In its already-outdated 2014 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), the CRD noted: “Long-term transportation planning efforts and investments are therefore needed to help reduce GHG emissions and adapt to a changing climate—both requirements are fundamental principles to all of the themes elaborated in this RTP