Tomorrow, along with two colleagues, I’m bringing a report to the Capital Regional District Parks and Environment Committee to ask the CRD board to follow Vancouver and other cities around the world and declare a climate emergency. We’d like the CRD to take a leadership role in achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Making climate emergency declarations is easy. Taking climate action is hard.

Two examples are top of mind from the past week. Here’s the first: As part of Council’s Climate Leadership Plan, the City is building an all ages and abilities bike network and associated pedestrian improvements to give people an easy, safe and convenient alternative to the car. This will help reduce the city’s GHG emissions by 18% over the next two decades.

The city has engaged in detailed consultation on the design of the next corridor, a two way separated cycle track coming off of the Johnson Street bridge, running along Wharf St and through to Humboldt St. Part of the design work – to increase safety for people walking and biking – requires the removal of a tree that was planted in the middle of the road at the Humboldt and Government intersection.

I love that tree! A few years ago, the City along with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Viatec and a local company, Limbic Media, adorned the tree with lights that moved to the sounds of the city. We called it the innovation tree. We closed down the street, had a party, hired a band and danced in the street while the lights in the tree danced to the music

As part of the design consideration of the intersection at Humboldt and Government,  our staff team considered the following issues: vehicle turning movements, traffic impacts, pedestrian safety and amenity, parking considerations, cost of design and impacts to rebuilding curbs and sidewalks, right of way and property constraints, underground infrastructure location, safety and sight lines, public realm, aesthetics, bike lane design requirements, tourism impacts, public requests, business concerns, bus and logistic vehicle requirements, emergency vehicle requirements, planning and downtown design standards.

Screenshot 2019-01-23 21.50.56
Intersection re-design at Humboldt and Government Streets.

Staff presented the design to Council, and discussed tree impacts and trade offs when they sought Council’s approval. Here is the public staff report to Council from May 2018. It was always clear that this tree would be difficult to avoid due to the limited right of way at this location, and the volume of foot and motor vehicle traffic. In May, Council made the difficult decision of approving the design and removing the tree.

The trade off is the removal of the tree, for improved pedestrian and cycling safety, a new public plaza in the inner harbour, and two new trees planted in the plaza. But the real trade of is increased safety and connectivity for people of all ages and abilities who will now be able to get safely from the Johnson Street bridge all the way to Vancouver Street. This means that more people will have the option of traveling safely without a car.

A maple tree sequesters 400 pounds of CO2 over 25 years. A typical passenger car emits 4.6 metric tonnes (10,141 pounds) of CO2 per year. Taking one car off the road is 635 times more effective in reducing green house gases than saving a single tree.

This decision is what courageous climate action looks like. And it’s especially difficult when our long-term decisions seem counter-intuitive to our residents in the present. But it’s necessary if we are serious about significantly reducing our green house gas emissions. We also are making significant commitments in our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan to protect and enhance the urban forest (blog post to come!)

The second example: Last Thursday night at a Council meeting, a proposal came forward for an existing two-story building at Belmont and Haultain to have a story added to it and an increase in the number of rental units from two to five, all of which were to be two and three bedroom units. Because there is retail on the ground floor and the addition of new residential units, the City’s policy required 14 parking spots. It is impossible to get 14 spots on the site at the same time as retaining the building. The applicant was applying to vary the parking requirement from 14 spots to three.

To make up for the shortage of parking, she offered to purchase a car-share car to be parked at the building, buy all the tenants life-time car-share memberships, give a $100 car share gift certificate to each of the units, and give each of the tenants $400 towards the purchase of a bicycle. Yes, really!

Fifteen neighbours came and spoke against the project. While some had concerns about the design and massing of the building, most of the concerns related to the parking variance and how it would impact their parking on their street and in the village centre. It was clear in listening to them how much they love their neighbourhood. This made it extra difficult for me to move the motion to support the proposal and to speak in favour.

When it comes to climate action, this is an ideal project. It is a project for the future. It preserves an existing building. It’s rental housing with the significant provision of sustainable transportation amenities so tenants won’t have to have a car. The building is also right on a future corridor of the all ages and abilities cycling network. And on a bus route. It doesn’t need 14 parking spots.

Council didn’t support the project and referred it back to the developer to work with the applicant and staff. What kind of signal are we sending about how serious we are about taking climate action?

Our job as municipal leaders is so very difficult when it comes to climate change. We need to listen sincerely and we need to explain ourselves clearly. And then we need to have the courage to make decisions that may not be understood today, in the interests of ensuring that our community has a safe, resilient and sustainable tomorrow.

Read the full Emergency Climate Declaration report here.

 

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