Green transit: the local movement

Recently, municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula, and throughout British Columbia, have embarked on public consultations to determine how they will meet their share of GHG reductions in the provincial target. As Patrick Brown reported in the last edition of Island Tides, BC’s Bill 27 requires all municipalities to develop targets, policies and procedures to play their role in meeting the provincial target.

British Columbia is committed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 33% by 2020 against 2007 levels. (I have mentioned before in these pages the problem of constantly shifting ‘base years,’ see box this page.) I attended sessions in Central Saanich and for the Town of Sidney, where I live, designed to gauge public support for various reduction measures. One inevitable conclusion of these sessions is that there is a limited amount any one municipality can do by itself. The best, and only, way to substantially reduce emissions is to develop regional solutions.

The bulk of greenhouse gas emissions in our region is from transportation. While the average contribution from transportation to GHG across Canada is 30%, in the CRD the figure is (depending on sources) 52-60%—excluding emissions from the air travel and ferries. For the Town of Sidney, on road transportation contributes 71% of total emissions.

The reasons for this figure are both due to the good news that there are few emissions from other sources (making transportation figures a higher percentage of the whole) and to the bad news of car dependence. There is no coal-fired, electric power station looming over town as in the community where I used to live. Here, cars and trucks are the main emitters. Other reasons relate to the lack of affordable local housing forcing many who work in Sidney, particularly in health care and other services, to live elsewhere and commute into town.

Looking At The Regional Picture

On the evening of April 6, the Saanich and Gulf Island Greens sponsored a public forum on greening transportation. The range of smart options and local energy devoted to this issue is encouraging.

At the level of the largest geographical spread, Vancouver Island, Judith Sayers, Chair of the Island Corridor Foundation, UVic Law professor, and former Chief of the Hupacasath First Nation, presented what would be possible with an investment in expanding options on the existing rail line corridor. Thanks to Island Corridor Foundation’s enormous effort the entire 290km of rail line, covering 650 hectares of land base, including railway stations and other equipment was transferred from CP Rail and Rail America to the Island Corridor Foundation.

With a reasonable and, in public infrastructure terms, small investment an enhanced rail-line and passenger service from Langford to Victoria could take 280,000 passenger vehicles off the road every year. The Island Corridor Foundation is also working to move more goods from truck and onto the rails. The federal government failed to use the Economic Stimulus Package to invest in rail, but the Island Corridor Foundation is hoping for provincial funds, potentially future federal money and local fundraising. (Donations to the Island Corridor Foundation are tax deductible.)

Light rail is the next level of transit service. Irwin Henderson, President of the Island Transformations Organization (, former chair of Victoria’s Advisory Planning Commission, presented a compelling argument for light rail in the CRD. Erwin presented a comprehensive vision of an electric rapid light rail system serving the Capital Regional District, with lines to Sooke and Langford and up to the ferries and Sidney. The investment in light rail has been shown in city and town alike to pay for itself.

The densification of cities is enhanced as shop-owners and condo developers actually strive to locate alongside light rail, in direct and inverse proportion to how hard they strive to avoid multiple lanes of roadway. Pedestrian friendly, the presence of light rail improves quality of life. The same little light railcar that moves people through city blocks can pick up speed and serve the longer hauls to airport and ferry. All on a far smaller footprint (in carbon and acreage) than the highway option.

The light rail option is also compatible with bus service. Buses in this vision operate along feeder routes, bringing people to their light rail station.

What brings people to their buses? Well, of course improved pedestrian and bicycling options. John Luton, Victoria City Councillor, long time community activist for enhancements to cycling and walking infrastructure, ensured that bicycling was an indispensible part of this vision. Victoria is already the No1 municipality in Canada for bike ridership, but much more could be accomplished with more secure bike lanes, better access to bike parking (especially in Sidney!) and intermodal connections, allowing bikes to be carried easily by bus, train and on future light rail. At the forum, Guy Dauncey, President of the BC Sustainable Energy Association (, brought it all together in the vision of fossil fuel-free transit. He lamented the poor choice in putting $24 million into the unnecessary McTavish Road overpass when so much needs to be done in improving sustainable transit choices.

As in so many areas of greening the economy, the options before us provide jobs, better quality of life, healthier lifestyles, cleaner air and greater efficiency. Clearly citizens in this region ‘get it!’ We need political leadership. We need to have representation that knows that it is not a question of whether we can afford these transit options. We must recognize that we cannot afford not to invest in green transit!

Elizabeth E May, OC is co-author of Global Warming for Dummies and leader of the Green Party of Canada.