Election-Transportation Issues

Train Photos, Paul Krueger, La Citta Vita via Flickr CC-BY-2.0

At this point in the election, discussion on the economy, budget and taxes may seem exhaustive. Although these remain important issues, it is often argued in the place of authentic environmental discussion.

“I think that it’s fair to say that the parties have not really understood the urgency of climate change,” said Gideon Forman, climate change and transportation policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation. “The economy is a little subsection of the environment and if we don’t protect the environment we won’t have an economy.” This type of holistic thinking is something that he believes is missing in election discussions.

I think that it’s fair to say that the parties have not really understood the urgency of climate change - Gideon Forman

The transportation sector is intricately linked with the environment, making up to 25 per cent of Canada’s total emissions. Although largely impacting the environment, transportation in terms of alleviating climate change has been overlooked by electoral candidates. Currently, each of the main political parties have promised different amounts of funding towards public transit infrastructure in municipalities across Canada.

“Putting money into public transportation is not a problem,” says Forman. “Surely they should be putting more dollars into public transportation, but it is not the whole solution.” Funding public transportation alone, is just scratching the surface of greenhouse gas reductions according to Forman. He says electoral candidates need to put forward more creative and innovative ideas to get Canadians out of cars and using public and active modes of transportation.

Forman has a few ideas for how to get this done — without costing the federal government large amounts of money. The first is improving cycling infrastructure. The lack of proper cycling infrastructure in many Canadian municipalities deters would-be cyclists from using their bikes. This is due to the safety concerns connected with poor cycling infrastructure. By implementing bike lanes, specifically bike lanes that are separated by posts or dividers from main car lanes, cyclists will feel safer and their numbers will rise.

Public opinion on cycling safety can also be improved through the reduction of speed limits. Forman says that reducing speed limits by 10km/h on some roads will greatly encourage cyclists to use their bikes. Although the federal government is not responsible for setting speed limits, they can certainly put pressure on provinces and municipalities to change local by-laws and place signs to outline theses changes.  Forman said these solutions are a virtuous cycle; when the roads feel safe, more people will choose to ride their bikes and with more people ride their bikes, the roads will feel safer, ultimately increasing the amount of cyclists on the road. 

The economy is a little subsection of the environment and if we don’t protect the environment we won’t have an economy.

In addition to bicycles, another way to discourage the use of cars is to develop pedestrian plazas. Pedestrian plazas are converted street spaces that are able to accommodate large groups of pedestrians by providing an open space to walk and lounge through. Pedestrian plazas have been implemented in various areas of New York City, including Times Square, where it has proven to reduce traffic-related injuries and improve local businesses. Forman says this could be developed in Canadian cities to make them more attractive to pedestrians. It is a win-win solution, improving local economies and encouraging active transportation.

Lastly, Forman suggests that political parties should push for a movement away from trucks as the main mode of freight transportation. Freight trucks produce 12 times more greenhouse gas emissions than freight trains and make drivers feel unsafe on the roads. The switch to freight trains would make transporting freights more fuel efficient thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Increased freight trains would also lead to decreased congestion on Canadian highways. 

The reality is that Canada needs to decarbonize and phase out sources of carbon dioxide. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Canada does not have to be costly. With a little more creativity, imagination and initiative from the federal government, Canada can make huge improvements in public transit and active transport and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Eunize Lao is the Editorial Intern and a third-year Environment and Business student at the University of Waterloo. 

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