Clean commute (Page 2 of 2)
Canada’s largest cities are paving the way for more eco-conscious commuting choices
By Fraser Los
|A train station for Calgary’s CTrain. Roughly half of Calgary’s downtown workers take transit to work. (photo: dan_prat/istockphoto)
Idea: Vancouver’s greenways network
If you walk or bike along the famous Stanley Park Seawall,
a popular stretch on Vancouver’s 20-kilometre Seaside
Route, you’ll understand why greenways are becoming the
city’s claim to fame. Offering easy public access to city
parks, nature reserves, cultural and historic features as well
as busy downtown neighbourhoods and retail hot spots,
greenways keep Vancouverites (and legions of tourists) in
touch with the city’s stunning natural surroundings. They
can range from rustic park trails to dedicated bike lanes on city streets, but they share one characteristic: a focus on
“active” forms of transportation, such as walking or cycling.
Vancouver’s extensive network boasts 85 kilometres of
greenways and will eventually total 140 kilometres, ensuring
that people anywhere in the city are no more than a 25-minute
walk or a 10-minute bike ride from a greenway.
Although the plans had been on the table for many years,
they received a huge boost in 2009, when Mayor Gregor
Robertson announced intentions to make Vancouver the
world’s greenest urban centre by 2020. Among the many
initiatives laid out in Vancouver 2020: A Bright Green
Future, the city’s action plan for attaining that audacious
ambition, is a commitment to non-car forms of transportation
— a target of more than 50 percent of all future trips
in the city by foot, bicycle or public transit.
The key to achieving that goal, says Dale Bracewell,
Vancouver’s manager of active transportation, is to make
greenways safe, convenient, accessible and functional.
“We’re building these for all people, for all age groups and
abilities,” he says. That means engaging everyone along the
route during the public consultation process, from school
groups to seniors, to ensure that greenways are designed for
For Vancouver’s upcoming Comox-Helmcken Greenway
project, to be built later this year if approved, the city is
working with the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility — a
research team that strives to enhance seniors’ physical wellbeing
through active lifestyles — to find out how the project
will influence older adults living in the area. In surveys
conducted throughout the neighbourhood’s community
centres and other meeting spots, the older adults approached
were unanimous in requesting more park benches, and
many wanted community gardens and public artwork on
display — anything to brighten up their stroll. The research
team will conduct a second survey after the greenway is
complete to learn how the changes are affecting people in
the area in terms of increased activity and also in less
tangible ways, such as perceptions of the neighbourhood
and quality of life.
Status The Comox-Helmcken Greenway is the third and
final phase of construction for the Central Valley Greenway,
a 25-kilometre stretch that links downtown Vancouver with
the surrounding communities of New Westminster and
Burnaby. The new section will be a short but key artery,
cutting right through downtown and connecting Stanley Park to False Creek, on the southern edge of the city’s commercial
district. The Central Valley Greenway serves as a
strategic travel route, linking neighbourhood centres with
multiple transit stations and bus routes and connecting with other greenways and bike routes throughout the region.
Although not many urban centres can match Vancouver’s
natural spaces, other Canadian cities are starting to latch
on to the greenway concept. Toronto, for instance, is currently
improving bike trails in the Don Valley watershed,
creating a network in the heart of the city’s ravine system
with strategic connections to roads heading into the downtown
Idea: LRTs in Calgary, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo and Hamilton
Calgary’s light-rail transit (LRT) system is one of the continent’s
busiest, carrying more than 270,000 passengers
every weekday. But the CTrain is known for an even more
impressive fact: it’s the first and only LRT in North America
to run on 100 percent renewable energy.
Powered by 60 turbines from TransAlta’s Castle River
wind farm near Pincher Creek, in southern Alberta, the
CTrain’s aptly named “Ride the Wind” initiative has eliminated more than 325,000 tonnes of COČ emissions
since the program began in 2001. “That’s like decreasing
the number of private vehicle trips on Calgary’s streets by
more than eight million every year,” says Theresa Schroder,
Calgary Transit’s communications strategist.
LRTs are best suited for busy urban thoroughfares that
are too densely populated for city buses but perhaps not
quite busy enough for the huge expense of a subway system.
Calgary fits the bill perfectly. Even though the city is spread
out and was originally built for the car, explains Schroder,
roughly half the downtown workers now take transit to
work. If they all decided to drive, she says, it would be traffic
chaos — an extra 74,000 vehicles in the downtown core
every day. Trains alleviate these bottlenecks effectively
because they can carry a large number of passengers — the
CTrain carries 600 people per trip — and unlike buses and
city streetcars, they are separated from other traffic and not
slowed down by it.
LRTs are not just about sustainability and convenient
transit options. They also satisfy the bottom line. As part of
its consideration for an LRT in Hamilton, Metrolinx
reviewed the experiences of several cities around the world.
The agency’s 2010 study found that property values can be as much as six percent higher for vacant residential land
close to LRT stations and 14 percent higher for vacant commercial
properties. Reliable and fast transit encourages
businesses to expand in the downtown core, and the LRT
stations act as hubs for future growth and development.
Status With Calgary setting an example, other Canadian
cities are looking to build LRT systems to unclog busy
arteries the sustainable way. In June 2011, Waterloo
Regional Council approved a light-rail link between
Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, three closely linked
cities southwest of Toronto that are connected by a very
congested main road. Urban planners hope that a light-rail
line, scheduled to be completed by 2017, will transform the
Waterloo region by controlling urban sprawl and supporting
For Ottawa City Council, which recently approved plans
for an LRT tunnel through the city’s downtown (construction
begins in early 2013), the benefits will not be confined
just to easing congestion. By limiting car usage, an LRT will
reclaim densely packed downtown spaces for pedestrians
and cyclists and promote healthier lifestyles. To take advantage
of that scenario, Ottawa is planning to invest in artwork
gleaned from nearby communities for permanent display in transit stations. It’s just part of a larger effort by the capital,
described as “arguably the largest and most important
public project in its history,” to ensure that the city’s downtown
transforms alongside its transit system.
Idea: Montréal — bike city
Take a stroll along Montréal’s Boulevard de Maisonneuve
on a cold January day, and you might wonder who’d be
hardy enough to cycle along this popular strip in winter.
But since the city started clearing snow from this busy
cycling thoroughfare, winter ridership has taken off. In
2007, Montréal completed a flagship bike path along the
boulevard, about 3.5 kilometres of separated lanes that take
pedal-powered commuters east-west through the heart of
downtown and the wealthy Westmount neighbourhood.
Known today as the Claire Morissette path, named after the
late Montréal cycling advocate who passed away in 2007, the bike lane is one of the first to be open year-round — a
section of the city’s Réseau blanc (“white network”) that will
one day total up to 63 kilometres of bicycle paths maintained
for winter cycling.
It’s part of a larger effort to increase active forms of
transportation and to decrease automobile use. With the
release of Reinvent Montréal in 2008, an ambitious
transportation plan that outlines a host of sustainable
transportation initiatives, the city made a strong commitment
to reinforce its image as the “most bike-friendly”
urban centre in North America.
In addition to its white network, Montréal plans to
double its 400-kilometre network of bike lanes within
seven years and to create five times the number of bicycle
parking spots. To further integrate bicycles with its transportation
system, the city is also adding more bike racks on
city buses and taxis and plans to build indoor spaces near
busy transit stops, where hundreds of bicycles could be
parked. These bicycle stations would offer a variety of services
for cyclists, such as lockers, repair shops and toilets.
One of the most innovative projects in the city’s transportation
plan, and certainly the most well known, was the
creation of a system of self-serve bicycles for rental at key locations. BIXI Montréal, launched in 2009, offers residents
and tourists the chance to rent more than 5,000 bikes from
over 400 stations throughout the city.
Status BIXI Montréal’s success is based on its automated
payment structure. With an easy touch-screen interface at
stations throughout the city and online credit card payments
for year-long memberships, regular users can ride any bikes
in Montréal for 30 minutes or less with no additional fees.
They can also get up-to-date stats on how many bikes are
available at each station by visiting the BIXI website.
The concept is catching on beyond Montréal. BIXI has
now spread to other cities, including Ottawa, Toronto,
London (England) and, most recently, New York City,
which will eventually have the largest bike-sharing system
on the continent, with 10,000 bikes and 600 stations.
Toronto-based writer Fraser Los is the communications manager
at Evergreen, a national environmental charity which is
hosting MOVE: The Transportation Expo this summer.