Vélo Canada Bikes: The Case for a National Cycling Strategy

Kid and dad on bike

I was in Ottawa recently as a representative of the South Island Prosperity Partnership which had been shortlisted for an Infrastructure Canada Smart Cities Challenge prize. Coincidentally, and luckily, one day earlier, also in Ottawa, was the third annual National Bike Summit. I’m so glad I was able to attend. Even as an already strong proponent of cycling there’s always more to learn.

Every year in Ottawa, Vélo Canada Bikes convenes municipal leaders, cycling advocates, policy makers, academics and industry. The purpose is to keep cycling on the national agenda and to keep the pressure on the federal government (and all federal parties in an election year) to develop a National Cycling Strategy.

Vélo Canada Bikes is asking the federal government to work with provincial and territorial governments, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Assembly of First Nations and additional stakeholders to develop a coordinated, evidence-based action plan tailored to maximizing current and future investments in cycling by all levels of government.

Elements of a National Cycling Strategy would include a national level forum to consult, share and develop best practices, a dedicated federal infrastructure fund, setting evidence-based and achievable five- and 10-year transportation mode share targets, and having Statistics Canada collect data on cycling prevalence and cycling safety.

Why is cycling capturing national attention and why now?

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, provided the opening address and made strong connections between walking and cycling and positive health outcomes. She noted that only 3% of children who live within five minutes of school cycle to school. She talked about the importance of starting with kids and education in schools to create positive health outcomes and life-long bike riders.

From Health Canada to the Canadian Institute for Health Research, to health researchers interested in implementation science, to doctors themselves, Tam noted that the health benefits of active transportation are becoming more widely recognized, especially in light of the rise of anxiety, depression and screen-addiction in young people and social isolation for seniors.

Another reason to push for a National Cycling Strategy is because there are more people biking in Canada now than there were two decades ago. Yvonne Vanderlin from the Centre for Active Transportation in Toronto presented data from the 1996 through to the 2016 census. She showed that in some places across the country, even in places with tough winters like Montréal, cycling had almost doubled in that period. In Victoria, our increase has been 34%. (The neighbourhood of Fairfield in Victoria is Canada’s second highest “cycling neighbourhood” in Canada with just over 18% of people cycling to work.) With more people riding bikes across the country there’s a need for more education, more dedicated cycling infrastructure and a national strategy to guide this.

There’s also a strong climate argument for a National Cycling Strategy. While riding a bike is an obvious way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, bikes aren’t getting as much attention as electric cars when it comes to transportation emissions reductions. Anders Swanson the Chair of Vélo Canada Bikes made the poignant point that Zero Emissions Vehicle strategies are entirely focused on cars. He pointed out the obvious – that bikes are also zero emissions vehicles. The federal government (and the BC government too) are offering $6000 incentives to people trading in their gas-powered cars for electric cars but there is no financial incentive for those who might be ready to ditch a car altogether if they could switch to an electric bike.

Finally, as Victoria’s own Todd Litman from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute told the national crowd, there are the economic benefits benefits of cycling, and these are often overlooked. He began with a Victoria example where we’ve spent approximately $6 million to build two kilometres of bike lanes (and to improve conditions for pedestrians). He noted all the criticism we’ve received for spending this money for such a short distance. But then look how many people that money is moving! He noted that for $6 million we move an average of 2000 commuters on a daily basis (combined daily average of Fort and Pandora lanes). He contrasted this with the Province’s recent announcement of a highway to Sooke, population 13,000. He pointed out that the Province is spending $85 million to move 13,000 people. If you look at dollars spent per commuter moved, dedicated cycling infrastructure makes strong fiscal sense.

Litman also pointed out the benefits to a family’s bottom line of moving to a car-free life. This doesn’t mean not driving a car (car shares like B.C.’s Modo are available when you need a car, or truck, or van) it just means not owning one. Since giving up their car years ago his family has saved approximately $5000 per year. They are paying for their children’s university education with the savings.

He also noted that cycling is good for local business. When you fill up a car, the profits from the gas purchase go elsewhere. With the money saved by not filling up a tank with gas, this is money in people’s pockets that will more likely be spent at local businesses where the money stays in the community. His overall point was that you don’t need to be an environmentalist or a cycling advocate to see the merits of his argument – cycling has a solid economic bottom line.

In just a short morning at the conference I was convinced once again that we need a National Cycling Strategy.  With a federal election coming up, I will be advocating to ensure that this makes its way into the platforms of all federal parties.

P.S. I was honoured at an evening reception with a national award for Canadian Cycling Advocate of the Year, 2019.

Canada bikes award.jpeg
Photo credit: Yvonne Bambrick/Vélo Canada Bikes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oilsands Trip – A Tale of Two Paradigms

Last Friday I spent the day touring the oilsands, specifically Cenovus’ Foster Creek site. I was warmly received and treated with generosity and open-heartedness by Calgary City Councillor Jeff Davison, Canada Action representatives, and leaders at Cenovus Energy. I was truly moved by the people I met and what I saw and also by the fact that a day-long dialogue with perfect strangers can deepen understanding and strengthen human connection.

What I am left with from my visit, is that while there is only one earth, one climate, and one shared future for the planet, there are two different energy paradigms in Canada right now.

There is the paradigm I visited on Friday. In this paradigm, there is no end to oil and gas extraction in sight. I asked the VP of Cenovus point blank, “What are your plans to transition away from fossil fuels and to renewable energy?” He said, “We have no plans to do that; that is not the business we are in.” I appreciated the forthrightness and honesty of his answer.

In this paradigm, there is a spirit of continuous improvement in the process of oil and gas extraction. They told me that the industry is transitioning away from strip mines – which are a common perception of the oil sands: landscapes destroyed, water contaminated, large tailings ponds – to steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD pictured above). They said this involves a much smaller footprint, less deforestation, and less energy consumption to produce oil.

The VP of Cenovus shared that their engineers and scientists are working to further reduce their steam to oil ratio, or SOR. Natural gas is used to produce steam which thins the oil and makes it pumpable. The less steam needed, the less natural gas needed, the less energy used to get the oil out. They showed me a commercial scale pilot project that they have underway to learn more.

They explained how that in developing the plant they had studied wildlife movements to learn where wildlife bridges need to be built and – where possible – they work around sensitive wildlife habitat. They said they have detailed restoration plans. They also showed me examples of how water is reused, methane is captured and reused, each camp building has its own sewage treatment system and all the water is reused. There are lots of closed-loop systems.

And, I live in a different paradigm. In this paradigm we are moving towards 100% renewable energy by 2050 at the latest, and we don’t see a long-term future for the use of fossil fuels. This is where I believe we need to get to. We’ve created a Climate Leadership Plan as a guide. We are working hard to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels through taking a sustainable, forward-looking approach to buildings, transportation and waste.

In this paradigm, we’ve declared a Climate Emergency both locally and regionally and have urged the Province to do so as well. The IPCC report  released last October has galvanized us to faster action for 2030 and we’re working with our residents and businesses to develop a Climate Champions program to support energy transformation in homes, schools and businesses.

We have accelerated implementation of the BC Step Code for buildings and we’re also proposing to remove the need for rezonings for passive house, net zero energy buildings.

We’ve put a significant price on carbon for corporate air travel and are working on carbon accounting for all municipal operations in order to make visible and reduce our carbon consumption. Our local airline, Harbour Air, is making investments to be 100% electric and aims to fly passengers between Victoria and Vancouver with electric engines beginning in 2021 or 2022.

We are proposing bold moves like making it free for everyone in the region to ride the bus and fully electrifying the transit fleet by 2030. We’re looking ahead 30 years and building a safe and connected bike network now, despite constant loud public backlash (but with lots of quiet support).

We’ve reduced the use of single-use plastic bags and we are working towards reducing other single use items. We generate electricity from our landfill waste and are developing plans to increase energy generation from waste. Our sewage treatment plant is under construction; we’ll be using energy generated from the treatment process to fuel the treatment process itself. And the dried biosolids produced will be used as a heat source to replace fossil fuels at cement kilns.

When the Chief Operating Officer of Canada Action asked me on Friday how we bridge these two paradigms, I whipped out Leo Bascaglia’s book, Living, Loving and Learning  from my knapsack and said, “One bridge is love.” Or if not exactly love, the surprise and delight of connecting, human to human, with people who have very different points of view. That’s what I felt on Friday. And it was such a refreshing reprieve from how differences of opinion are expressed on social media.

There are two things that the two paradigms have in common. One is a barrel of oil – we use the oil that they produce. The other is human creativity and innovation.

Twenty percent of emissions from a barrel of oil come from producing it. Eighty percent come from combusting it. We all have work to do together. We need to reduce carbon pollution by reducing the combustion of fossil fuels. And as oil is in almost everything – cell phones, tires, pens, etc. – if we want to get off oil any time soon, we need unprecedented energy and materials innovation, everywhere, in all fields, at once. This will help to create viable energy and materials alternatives and it’s the pathway to low-carbon prosperity and to ensuring that no one is left behind in the transition.

This is where another of Canada’s amazing natural resources comes into play – our human capital. I saw it in the facility that I toured; there were bright creative workers who were innovating and striving for continuous improvement. And I see it in Victoria’s and British Columbia’s tech sector. And in our colleges and universities. And in the responses to Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge. I see it in individual homes and businesses. We need to continue to mine Canada’s human capital and put it to work to its full potential.

After the wonderful visit, I’m still firmly rooted in my paradigm. I need to stay here as there’s so much work to do in order to make systemic and transformational changes as a city and region. These changes will make it easier and more convenient for people to make a shift to low-carbon living.

And I also know for sure that standing at the edges of our paradigms throwing stones across the divide is not a good way forward. Genuine listening and an appreciation of other points of view are important to building understanding. That’s what I experienced in Alberta last week. I’m really happy I went.

P.S. They have bikes to go from building to building in the camp. I thought people would get a kick out of the fact that I was able to find the bicycles, even in the middle of the oil sands! This is me and Calgary Coucillor Jeff Davison.

oilsands bicycles

 

 

 

Youth Climate Strikers Launch Meatless Monday Campaign

Screenshot 2019-04-29 07.52.52.png

April 29 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Victoria, B.C. – Youth striking for climate are launching a Meatless Monday Campaign this evening at 5:30pm at a Meatless Monday Potluck at the CRD community room. They are urging residents of the capital region to give up meat one day a week in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Like so many youth across the country, I am deeply concerned about my future, and what will happen if we don’t start to act more urgently on climate change,” said Emma-Jane Burian from Our Earth, Our Future. “I worry about the impact that not meeting our Paris targets will cause. For as we see from scientists, we have only 10 to 11 years to turn this ship around.”

Having a Meatless Monday every week for a year reduces an individual’s carbon footprint by 416 pounds. The youth have calculated that if our whole region (413,406 residents as of 2018) stopped eating meat on Mondays, we’d did reduce our carbon footprint by 171,976,896 pounds. That is equivalent to reducing 78,007 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

“Since most governments aren’t taking climate change seriously, we need to lower the carbon footprint one small step at a time,” said 12-year-old Rebecca Wolf Gage, one of the key leads in the region’s climate strikes.

Although big changes are required from all levels of government, individuals can do so much to help curb climate change. The inspiration for Meatless Mondays comes from helping to empower citizens to join the youth in creating the change they wish to see.

They hope that by showing that there are so many solutions that have great benefits more people will be motivated to take the action that is so desperately needed in our country and the world. They believe Meatless Monday is a great way for us all to make a relatively small change in our lives, that will make big positive ripples in our world.

– 30 –

Media Contacts
Emma-Jane Burian, Our Earth, Our Future, 778-967-4696
Lisa Helps, Victoria Mayor, 250-661-2708

 

Federal Budget 2019: Good For Cities

 

 

It was my pleasure to welcome the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, the Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to Victoria recently where he toured the City’s Public Works yard as well as a BC Transit “smart bus”, and gave an update on Budget 2019, in particular what’s in it for cities.

Since Confederation in 1867, the funding formula for cities has changed very little. For every tax dollar that Canadians pay, approximately $0.92 goes to the provincial and federal governments and only $0.08 goes to local governments. This despite the fact that about 70% of public infrastructure in Canada is within the jurisdiction of cities. And cities are responsible for approximately 50% of greenhouse gases generated in the country. In addition, cities are faced with poverty, mental health, addictions and homelessness with little to no resources to deal with these pressing economic and social issues.

While this federal budget does not address all of these challenges, it gives an important nod – and some significant resources – to the ability of local governments to solve local problems locally.

Federal commitments in Budget 2019 on affordable housing, transitioning to a green economy, and skills training align closely with Victoria City Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and with the Capital Regional District’s recently adopted Strategic Plan as well.

Municipal leaders know, as do our federal counterparts, that taking action on those issues is crucial to ensuring that Canada’s cities are liveable, healthy, and competitive in the global economy.

I’m proud that the Capital Regional District’s Regional Housing First Program was profiled in Federal Budget 2019 (see page 31). I note this because the program is a quintessential example of local innovation and leadership supported by – but not dictated by – federal and provincial funding.

The Regional Housing First Program was designed by and for our communities here in the region. Thankfully, the federal funding for the program is helping us to make transformative progress on eliminating homelessness and providing safe, affordable, and supported housing.

The federal commitment of $30 million was made in May 2018 (to match provincial and regional commitments of $30 million each) and already we have opened Millstream Ridge in Langford. It’s a 132 unit building run by the Capital Regional Housing Corporation and it includes 30 units which rent at $375 per month.

This kind of thinking – federal support for local innovation – is why I was pleased to see the Federal government use Budget 2019 to transfer $2.2 billion in Federal Gas Tax funding to municipalities and First Nations. It charts a path toward a modernized federal-municipal relationship that gets more done for Canadians. Permanently growing this core funding stream would directly empower municipalities to deliver on national objectives.

This gas tax measure, which will see an additional $3.5 million flow to the City of Victoria – and $21 million flow to the region – is a great way of allocating federal funds directly to local governments where they are coupled with local expertise to address short-term infrastructure priorities in communities across Canada. This funding allows projects to get underway now without grant applications and federal or provincial approvals.

In recent years, the City of Victoria used Gas Tax funds in several crucial ways. We’re building a 32km bike network for people of all ages and abilities and we’re also working to complete a harbour pathway. We updated our storm drain system. And we installed LED street lights throughout the city. This last investment is saving us approximately $200,000 per year in hydro costs which we are reinvesting to fund other essential energy and GHG reduction initiatives in the city.

These gas tax investments have also made Victoria a more dynamic and enjoyable place to live by increasing infrastructure for health and well-being. And, since addressing climate change is a shared priority of the City of Victoria and the federal government, it is no coincidence that our Gas Tax-funded projects all improved Victoria’s resilience to climate change and reduced carbon pollution.

In addition to being good for health and well-being and good for the climate, local investments in capital infrastructure are good for the economy. For example, last week the CRD adopted its 2019 budget. Included in the budget are $382 million dollars worth of capital improvements – sewer, water, housing, parks, trails and more. This investment is expected to generate 814 new jobs in the region and 1121 new jobs across British Columbia.

Cities are creative, innovative places that hold some of the solutions to the challenges faced by federal and provincial governments, most notably climate change. Investments like the ones announced in Budget 2019 will help the federal government to deliver on its climate mandate by enabling cities to have a strong voice and to take strong action in shaping our own infrastructure priorities. Cities and metro regions are key to the federal government meeting its Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement; they are behind and we can help. Cities are here as allies and partners.

I look forward to inviting Minister Duclos and other federal ministers back to Victoria in the future.  And I look forward to showing them how we’re continuing to take local action and improve our communities by using the funds announced for local governments in Budget 2019.

 

 

What is Carbon Neutrality? Offsets and Counting Emissions

Guest Post – Ann Baird, District of Highlands Councillor

s-frog-farm
Regenerative forms of agriculture are a key way to sequester carbon and offset emissions.

Who counts greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs)? What emissions are counted? What are carbon offsets?

On Feb 13th, 2019, the CRD made a Climate Emergency Declaration and has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. What does this mean? These are the questions that will be explored in the coming months. It is expected that many local governments will also make Climate Emergency Declarations and commit to carbon neutrality in 11 years.

The question of who counts what Green House Gasses (GHGs) has been one that the District of Highlands has explored in quite a bit of detail. In 2017, the District submitted a resolution to UBCM that was endorsed by BC municipalities. The resolution asked the province of BC to report more comprehensively on municipal community GHGs. Here is a short memo with an update on that process and what we learned.

In summary, our communities only count about half of the GHGs we are responsible for. Obviously, we need to count them all if we hope to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Historically, the Province has been inconsistent in counting GHGs from large sources such as aviation, embodied carbon (emissions produced in the production of all of our material goods), food and agriculture, and deforestation in our communities (due to logging, or land clearing for development). Thankfully, some municipalities are beginning to count these with Saanich and Victoria leading the way.

The basic challenge is that we have to be consistent with how we define where our emissions come from and who is ultimately responsible for counting them. Do we count the GHGs emitted in our community or in another community for a product that we consume that was manufactured somewhere else? Cars are a good example. Historically we have only counted the fuel burned that we use and not the fuel used to mine the materials and manufacture the car.

We have also completely avoided aviation. Who counts these emissions? The community who manufactures the aircraft, or the community that has the airport, or the person who chooses to fly and the community where they live? As you can see it’s complicated, but still far simpler in reality than doing ones income taxes. It’s just important to decide up front who counts what and be consistent.

Offsets are an important piece of the whole carbon neutrality conversation. Will we allow carbon offsets to be used to offset items like aviation and if so what kind of offsets will truly achieve the intent of reducing emissions. Protecting an existing forest is said to not be a good offset as the forest already exists. In order for an offset to qualify it must take carbon out of the atmosphere and lock it up (sequester it) in some very long term or even permanent way. A few examples of good offsets could be:

  1. Planting a new forest could achieve this, but not if it will be logged in 50 years. A food forest would be an excellent way to produce food and sequester carbon.
  2. Creating wetlands are another excellent carbon offset while potentially also achieving other important benefits like storm water management and water filtration.
  3. A third offset is regenerative forms of agriculture. Industrial agriculture based on tilling the soils, use of fertilizers and pesticides, and monocultures are enormous sources of GHGs. But, agriculture can be done very differently to sequester large amounts of organics (carbon) in the soil. Other obvious benefits to regenerative agricultural methods include food crops that are more resilient to extreme weather events, they use less water, prevent soil erosion, produce a higher quality organic food, and support important natural habitat simultaneously to food production. This is a clear example of something called Low Carbon Resilience or LCR for short.
  4. A fourth type of offset could be the use building materials that sequester carbon literally in the structures we build. Materials that lock up carbon are wood, cellulose insulation, fungal insulation, hempcrete buildings, types of plasters, straw bales, and even carbon absorbing high tech products. A good book exploring this topic is The New Carbon Architecture by Bruce King.
  5. A fifth type of offset is something that can be scaled up everywhere from backyard gardens, to community parks, and to forest ecosystems. It’s called biochar. The creation of high quality charcoal produced in a very particular way can be added to the soil where it essentially locks of the carbon for a very long time. Other benefits include a much higher level of soil health, plant health, and water retention all of which are again an example of LCR where local resilience is increased as a byproduct of sequestering carbon.

With any offsets program we need to consider, decide upon, and implement three major items:

  1. A method to allocate amount of carbon emitted with activities. There should be an offset required for all of the carbon intensive activities.
  2. An offset price per tonne. Note that this is a very different tool/price than a carbon fee or tax. Also, unlike carbon taxes or fees, I’m pretty sure that this offset is in the jurisdiction of local governments, whereas carbon taxes are provincial/federal.
  3. A way of vetting the quality of offsets to meet our requirements.

Obviously, if we keep burning fossil fuels at the same rate and then rely on offsets, we will make no progress. The science is extremely clear in that we need to reduce total carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and create a fully zero-carbon civilization by 2050. The science goes on to say that in addition to this we must also sequester enormous amount of carbon.

My understanding is that carbon neutral means total c carbon emissions less carbon offsets, balances out to zero. Zero carbon means near zero carbon emissions without relying on offsets.

In summary we must count all of our emissions and reduce them all to zero in a very short period of time with extremely limited reliance on offsets. High quality offsets can only be relied on for a very short period of time as we transition rapidly to carbon neutrality by 2030 and ZERO carbon by 2050. We are going to have to change everything including: energy sources and how much we use, agriculture and what we eat, transportation including aviation, consumption of material goods, and how we work and play. Even more importantly, we will simply not be able to do some things. We have entered a time of rapid and exciting change with incredible opportunity to build a better world.

Some useful links:

Cherry Trees, Urban Forest Management and Climate Change: The Facts

Cherry Blossom Trees.jpg

It is both dangerous to public dialogue and frustrating for everyone when one city councillor’s explosive opinion is taken as fact. The fact is that there is no plan to systematically remove cherry trees, never to plant another in the city. The cherry blossom trees are part of our charm as a city and are a welcome and delightful sign of spring to locals and visitors alike. In addition, they are a key part of our cultural heritage, a symbol of our strong connection with the Japanese community as well as with Victoria’s Twin City, Morioka Japan. Next year is the 35th anniversary of our twinning. I had been planning to propose the first annual Victoria Hanami Festival to mark the occasion.

Cherry trees have long been a high-profile part of the local urban forest and City Parks Staff believe they may continue to thrive in locations with appropriate conditions. Ornamental flowering cherry trees require a moderate to high available water requirement during the growing season. With climate change modelling showing drier, warmer summers, staff expect that they will not be a good species for all of the locations where they presently are growing. Staff continue to plant some cherry varieties where they may do well. These areas typically have good soils and more available water during the summer.  In 2017, the City planted 20 ornamental flowering cherries and 20 ornamental flowering plums as part of our tree planting program.

In response to the recent inquiries and media attention relating to the City’s management of the urban forest, it is important to share the wider context in which staff make decisions about which trees to plant where in light of the changing climate.

The effects of climate change over the past several years are being seen in many areas of the city.  Our staff have observed this, and in particular the professionals who oversee the urban forest have raised concerns about the impact of hotter, drier summers, strong winter storms, introduced insects, and the resilience of urban trees.

Over the past four years, staff have conveyed to Council necessary updates in operational practices intended to mitigate against risks and effectively steward the living assets under our care. Last week, Council asked our Director of Parks, Thomas Soulliere some specific questions about the additional investment in urban forest management and potential outcomes, including loss of ornamental trees.

During this exchange, Soulliere attempted to convey the staff experiences to-date regarding the importance of tree inspections, which are key to monitoring tree vitality and also to protecting the public (individuals and property) from trees in declining health. While the focus of his responses was the overall approach to implementing the approved City Plan, it seems as though some of his comments may have been interpreted to suggest that an entirely new direction was being contemplated. It is not.

To be clear, the City only removes trees on public property if:

  1. There is evidence the tree is causing significant damage or is endangering the
  2. The tree is dead or dying
  3. The tree is required to be removed to accommodate another approved initiative (ie. land-use change, infrastructure upgrade)

When trees must be removed, the approach to replanting always considers finding the most appropriate tree for a given location. For at least the past 15 years, staff have had to look at alternative species when planting or replacing trees. Gone are the days when a tree is replaced automatically with the same species that was removed.

Tree planting is a big investment and selecting a species that will establish and grow with good vitality in the location is an important, and at times challenging decision. Staff consider all of the restrictions of the site: physical space, soil volumes, overhead or underground services, soil quality, site exposure, expected available water, site levels of wind and sun, and aesthetics play a part in tree selection for a given location. Staff typically first consider the existing tree varieties on the boulevards, however, the street tree varieties have been changing and evolving on many streets for years.

If staff reached a point where their professional recommendation included an option to phase-out any of the iconic species of trees in the municipality, Council would certainly be engaged in a dialogue in advance.

What Council is doing is finally making a significant annual investment – $850,000 per year starting this year – in the Urban Forest Masterplan. The plan was adopted by Council in 2013 and never properly resourced. As as result of the investments, this year and in the coming years, staff will be able to take better care of trees on public land, plant more trees, plan for the future, and also turn more attention to retaining trees on private land, which account for two thirds of the urban forest canopy. This is a legacy we will leave for future generations.

Natural Assets and Infrastructure Services: Why Trees Matter

With and Without Trees
Source unknown.

In a heat wave in Montreal in the summer of 2018, more than 50 people died. Most of the people who died were isolated, vulnerable and living alone. But there was another key link among some of the deaths. According to Global News, “Public health also found most of the victims also lived in ‘heat islands,’ which are spots in a city that are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas because of human activity and development.”

As clearly depicted in the image above, trees and other natural assets provide key services to cities. They cool heat islands and the people who live there. And, according to Jeff Speck in Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, they also take in car exhaust before it hits the stratosphere and they absorb heavy rainfall, taking pressure off stormwater systems.1

The small town of Gibsons, British Columbia, was the first local government in Canada to start to measure and account for the value of their natural assets and the infrastructure services they provide. Their pioneering Eco-Asset Strategy is well worth a read. As provincial government expectations and Public Sector Accounting Board reporting requirements pushed all local governments towards asset management, Gibsons took it one step further.

Here’s what they say in their groundbreaking report, Advancing Municipal Natural Asset Management:

“Our foreshore area provides protection from storm surges and sea level rise. Our creeks, ditches and wetlands help us effectively manage stormwater. A naturally occurring aquifer located beneath Gibsons stores and filters drinking water so pure it meets health standards without chemical treatment.

“The value of these natural assets is clear to us now, but before the Town recognized their economic significance we were – in hindsight – at risk of making decisions without all the facts … Our planning, investment and reporting decisions and practices were narrower and more limited than was desirable.

“Today, for example, we have the numbers and evidence to show that it is smarter and cheaper, by orders of magnitude, to invest in maintaining and expanding green infrastructure, such as forests, urban parks and stormwater ponds, than to design, build and manage engineered stormwater infrastructure.”

As noted in the video below, which celebrates Gibsons Real Estate Foundation of BC award, “by actively working with nature’s power, local governments can save money, reduce risk and increase resilience to climate change.”

Please watch this two minute video on the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative.

We have some work to do in Victoria. And we need to start with trees, which are the most significant natural assets in Victoria (within municipal jurisdiction). According to a recent staff report to City Council, Victoria has made limited progress over the last four years to implement the 2013 Urban Forest Master Plan. The City currently cares for over 40,000 trees on public property. Staff told us that:

“Despite the efforts of staff required to make that progress, it is important to recognize the challenges presented by the recent increase in pressure on staff capacity. In the past few years, operational demands associated with supporting Victoria’s unprecedented growth have resulted in reduced capacity to plan and process the recommended actions in the pro-active manner necessary. The total annual City investment in tree care and management is approximately $1.7 million.

“Staff acknowledge Council’s sense of urgency regarding climate action. With increased investment and focus, the City can more effectively address the challenges highlighted by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its special report on the impacts of global warming. In regards to the role of the urban forest, Victoria has the necessary strategic direction; however, to respond to this call for action staff recommend an updated approach, as envisioned in the Urban Forest Masterplan, in pursuit of the goals identified for the long-term benefit of citizens.” (Read the full staff report and detailed deliverables here pgs 42-44)

The new approach is going to require bold action and it’s going to cost money. But because of the work of Gibsons and elsewhere, we know this is money well spent. As Jeff Speck, Walkable Cities author cited above, points out, “Because they have such a powerful impact on walkability, street trees have been associated with significant improvements in both property values and retail viability. Since this enhancement translates directly into increased local tax revenue, it could be considered financially irresponsible to not invest heavily in trees.”.2

Staff recommend restructuring the Parks division to establish a dedicated team focused on the management and enhancement of the urban forest. This will enable staff to take better care of trees on public land, plant more trees, plan for the future, and also turn more attention to retaining trees on private land, which account for two thirds of the urban forest canopy.

How will we fund the roughly $1.8 million per year to do this? In 2013, Council determined it needed to make more immediate investments in capital infrastructure than had been previously anticipated. We instituted a time-limited 1.25% tax increase per year for three years to invest in infrastructure. That ended in 2015.

Now we need to do the same with trees. A 1.25% “Urban Forest Levy” tax increase each year for five years, will enable staff to accelerate the implementation of the Urban Forest Masterplan. This will meet the demands of our passionate and forward-looking residents who have been coming to Council, meeting after meeting, to ask for bold action on the urban forest. And, it will allow the city to continue to make efforts on climate change, the greatest crisis facing us.

Care passionately about trees and want to get involved? Check out the Trees Matter Network.

 

2030 is the New 2050 – Climate Emergency Declaration, and How Hard it is to Lead

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.

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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.

 

Smart Mobility Manifesto and Our Transportation Future

smart mobility manifesto.png

Last week I posted a story to Twitter about Oslo becoming a car-free city centre this year. There were some typical social media responses: “I think you should move to Oslo. You would like it there. I have a car not a bike.”

But there were also many thoughtful comments:

We need better public transportation systems for this to happen. More bus routes, timely buses, and it needs to be much more affordable.

“Lisa, what about providing access for EV vehicles? What about advocating for a Light Rail transit system that gives easy access to the downtown core for people who live in communities further afield?

Ok, but let’s improve bus service so I or my daughter or other women or men don’t have to walk in the dark 90 minutes before a 7 am shift to get to essential services at Vic General Hospital via bus. Does Oslo have rapid transit in place? For those of us raising or who’ve raised children (myself 4), I couldn’t just hop on a bike and drive in 4 directions then head to work. Let’s have some common sense solutions for all!

Yes, let’s!

Right now, in our region, there is an unprecedented opportunity to solve the transportation issues now and for the future. It’s an exciting time, with the Capital Regional District, the Province, local governments and the private sector all coming together to address transportation in the region in a meaningful and comprehensive way.

The South Island Prosperity Project, on behalf of its 10 municipal members, has been short listed for a $10 million Smart Cities Challenge prize from the federal government. This is a big deal. There were 200 applications and our region is among the 20 shortlisted. The focus of the Smart South Island Plan is to use data, technology and innovative approaches to improve transportation convenience, affordability and sustainability for residents of the region. We’re committed to this whether we win or not. And we need your help.

Do you believe in affordable, easy and convenient transportation? Do you believe in transportation options for the entire region? Do you believe in creating a better world for future generations? Please sign the Smart Mobility Manifesto. And please don’t stop there. Please take this short survey (less than five minutes!) and share your transportation needs and priorities.

It is transformation that is required in our transportation system in the region, not tinkering. I am often accused of waging a “war on the car;” and certainly those sentiments were shared in response to my Oslo post. I generally reject military metaphors, but if we’re doing anything, it’s waging a war for the future where all modes of transportation can work, together.

We need to act as if it’s wartime and mobilize extraordinary willpower and resources to combat climate change, the greatest challenge of our time. And with transportation accounting for 50% of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, a smart mobility future is one we need to create. What’s best of all, is that study after study shows that changing the way we move to a multi-modal transportation network, is more affordable, convenient and makes us happier and healthier at the same time.

For people interested in the City of Victoria’s transportation future specifically, please join us for the launch of “Go Victoria, Our Mobility Future.” It’s a free and exciting event at the Victoria Conference Centre on Thursday January 24th doors at 6pm, event at 7pm. Space is limited; please RSVP here.

 

 

Do we really love our children well? #climatestrike

Anyone concerned about the climate and looking for hope and inspiration has probably already seen this video. It’s Greta Thunberg, the Swedish girl speaking to the UN at the most recent Climate Conference in Poland. Since September, she has been walking out of class each Friday to draw attention to the climate crisis and the fact that adults, who should know better, are not taking the kind of action that a crisis demands. She has inspired other children around the world to strike with her.

She tells those gathered at the UN, “You say you love your children above all else and yet you are stealing their future in front of their eyes … Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope … We have come to let you know that change is coming whether you like it or not.”

When people tell her that she should be in school, studying to be a climate scientist to develop solutions she says, “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.”

Her call to action has resonated around the world including here on Vancouver Island. A group of local students, organized by 12-year-old Rebecca Wolf Gage, spent the first Friday of December on a climate strike on the steps of the BC Legislature. They will strike the first Friday of every month to get us adults to pay attention and take action.

They have my attention. On Friday January 4th – not even a school day! – they organized a day-long education session for themselves to learn more about climate change and the actions they can take. Their program included guests from UVic Earth and Ocean Sciences, MLAs, and community organizers. I was lucky enough to join them.

ClimateStrikers1

I was so inspired to spend time with such a motivated, knowledgeable, and organized group of  young people from all over southern Vancouver Island. I brought them each a copy of the City’s Climate Leadership Plan and walked them through it. We spent the most time on page 17 (pictured below) where we went through the impact of each climate action.

They were enthusiastic to know that the biggest impact comes from reducing car use and converting to walking, cycling and transit. Fully 18% of emissions will be reduced if we make half our trips by walking and cycling and a quarter of our trips by transit. Why did they like this? Because they can take direct action! They will leave removing oil tanks and insulating their homes (also big emissions reduction impacts) to their parents.

Climate Leadership Plan Wedge

To help us bring our Climate Leadership Plan to life and to harness their energy, I invited them – for the first hour of their strike each month – to come to City Hall and meet with me. They said yes! We’ll work together to determine which actions they’d like to focus on in the coming month and how I can support them. I’ll be sure to report out what they come up with. We laughed together as I said to them, “I can see the headlines now, ‘Mayor encourages kids to skip school.'”

I hope the headlines will read, “Mayor encourages adults to listen to these kids.” “Mayor encourages all of us to take bold action.” Because that’s what’s necessary to ensure that when these kids are our age they look back at us, adults worldwide, and say, “They really did mean it when they said, ‘I love you.'”