Vancouver’s three municipal political parties were highlighting their green credentials last night, supporting initiatives to increase the use of bicycles and public transit at the expense of motor vehicle owners in an effort to appeal to urban voters concerned about climate change.
Candidates from the three parties—COPE, NPA, and Vision Vancouver—squared off over their green initiatives at a debate last night hosted by Think City at the Vancouver Public Library.
“We’re all in favor of better public transit and better taxi service, better ways of getting people out of their car,” said NPA candidate Michael Geller.
Agreement seemed to be the rule of the evening. COPE and Vision Vancouver candidates, Ellen Woodsworth and Geoff Meggs, came out in favour of replacing a lane of traffic on the Burrard Street Bridge to make room for bicycle and foot traffic.
The proposal is likely to increase congestion on a roadway that already causes major problems for commuters. “If you take one lane away, it’s certainly going to create automobile traffic issues,” said NPA spokesman Michael Meneer.
NPA candidate Michael Geller did not explicitly endorse the idea of closing a lane of traffic, but stressed the need to improve access for pedestrians and cyclists wishing to cross the bridge.
None of the candidates showed much support for the Gateway Program, which is a provincial government initiative to improve traditional transit infrastructure in Metro Vancouver by expanding some of the roads and bridges, due to worries that better roads would lead to more pollution.
“I completely oppose [the Gateway Project],” said Cope candidate Ellen Woodsworth. “It’s bringing more cars into the city, more pollution.”
Geller said he would only support the plan as a means to improve public transit and commercial trade. “I do not support it if all it’s going to do is bring more cars into the city.”
Only one part of the Gateway Project, the expansion of the TransCanada Highway, would run through the city of Vancouver.
Policies that serve to increase traffic congestion may, however, lead to an increase, rather than a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. A Transport Canada study conducted between 2002 and 2006 found that when traffic in the city of Vancouver is slowed by 70 per cent, an extra 98.3 million liters of fuel is wasted. This represents 242 791 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
Vancouver city planners have a history of making roadways less accessible to motorists. The idea is to make people use alternative modes of transportation, as well as encourage housing developments downtown. The city has been fairly successful in reducing the number of cars entering the city centre on a daily basis.
“I think that was the whole idea for years, they didn’t want people driving downtown. They just didn’t improve the roads,” said Vancouver resident Sylvia Polsky.
“I don’t think [government] should be forcing citizens to ride a bike,” said Geller. “I also think the government shouldn’t be forcing people to walk, but I think we should be designing our city so that people in fact want to walk more and feel safer when they walk… You do have to design the city to accommodate all groups of people.”