26 April 2011

Just in Time for Earth Day: Report Urges Shift from Freeways to Transit

Written by Eric Doherty

Shifting spending from freeways to transit will not only reduce BC’s greenhouse gas emissions, but lead to healthier, safer communities for all British Columbians. This is the conclusion of a new study which I co-authored with Patrick Condon, Kari Dow, Marc Lee and Gordon Price.

Transportation Transformation: Building Complete Communities and a Zero-Emission Transportation System in BC, co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Wilderness Committee, sets out key strategies for urban, suburban and rural areas that will improve transportation and quality of life at the same time.

“Instead of allocating billions of precious tax dollars on wider roads and bigger bridges, like we’re doing now, we need to build a province-wide zero-carbon public transportation system,” says co-author Patrick Condon, UBC chair in Landscape and Livable Environments and a leading figure in sustainable design.

The study proposes an annual investment of $2 billion over the next ten years, much of it re-allocated from roadway expansion, with the goal of creating a zero-emission transportation system by 2040. As we point out, “Spending public funds on highway expansion and low carbon transportation is analogous to applying a car’s accelerator and brake at the same time.” The likely result, whether for a car or society, is a breakdown.

In our report, we argue that investments in electric public transit need to lead land use changes to create complete communities. Changes in transportation systems can be made quickly, while land use changes often take longer and are largely determined by transportation spending decisions. You can’t create true transit oriented development without good transit service.

To get to zero emissions, the study envisions a province of “complete communities” – in which residents do not have to travel far to meet their day-to-day needs. Instead, they would be able to walk, bike or use electric public transit for most trips, and use shared electric vehicles. Complete communities have a mix of housing types (including affordable options), decent jobs, public services, parks and other public spaces, and commercial districts with restaurants, offices and retail outlets. The exact mix of transportation modes will depend on whether a community is urban, suburban or rural.

Economist Marc Lee, a co-author of the study, points out that transportation of people and goods accounts for about 40 per cent of BC’s greenhouse gas emissions. He proposes that transforming transportation is the logical next step in BC’s climate action agenda.

“If we think of the carbon tax as the stick, then a new transportation system is the carrot,” says Lee. “Many British Columbians who live in suburban and rural areas resent paying the carbon tax, and with good reason: they’ve been penalized for driving, but they aren’t provided with any alternatives. And that’s what we’re laying out here: an effective, doable alternative.”

Ben West, the Wilderness Committee’s lead climate campaigner, is not waiting long to translate this new report into action. He is helping a youth group to organize an Earth Day Parade, concert and info fair this Friday, April 22 – a central message of this event is the need to shift transportation spending from roads to transit. The Earth Day Parade starts at 11am at the Broadway and Commercial SkyTrain station.

Other groups are not waiting either. Lower Mainland Council of Canadians chapters have teamed up with StopThePave.org for an Earth Day Mass Direct Action to stop freeway expansion and shift funding to transit. The action starts at 2pm at the Annieville Supermarket in North Delta, 10996 River Road, Delta. People can go to both events: at the end of the Earth Day Parade a group bicycle ride will leave for the Delta action. People who want to stay at the concert and info fair longer can take free buses directly to the action, starting at about 2pm. More details can be found at StopThePave.org.

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