Opinion » Editorial

Breathing issues


The canary in the Whistler resort is starting to choke and wheeze. The metaphor for the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) could also be used for the province of B.C. Yes, we are in trouble, as evidenced recently by snaking lines of traffic as Crankworx wrapped up and visitors streamed out of Whistler.

Whistler's GHG emissions have steadily been increasing in the last two years, largely due to the increase in passenger vehicles — an increase of 1.2 per cent in 2014 and a further four per cent in 2015.

Mention has been made that between 30 and 50 per cent of those emissions are generated by locals' vehicles. And mention also has been made that the increase can't necessarily be blamed on the increased number of visitors.

On an average day, the resort's population — estimated at 10,000 — triples to 30,000. That's double the estimated workforce of 15,000 here in Whistler. And yes, we have a large influx of staff from Pemberton and Squamish because of the housing crisis, which is another issue altogether. And yet the likely suggestion will be for locals to take the bus, to bike or do anything that doesn't require them to use their cars. As with the free transit on Saturdays — but only until 8 p.m. and only for one more Saturday — we will be encouraged to hop on the bus every chance we get.

And we should. And many of us would welcome this. But let's be realistic. Right now it takes 75 minutes for a resident who takes the bus to travel from Emerald to Function. That's without any delays. And if there's traffic congestion, what then? The bus, like the passenger vehicle, will crawl along. No one will spend two hours or more on a bus each day in Whistler to get to and from work.

It can take up to 20 minutes to drive from Function to Creekside anytime after 3:30 p.m. on any day near a weekend. It's not that we are driving more, but driving for longer periods everywhere we go. Buses included.

How about bus lanes? Granted, they would have to be constructed — but with Renaissance on the horizon, shouldn't we be exploring the options now? Would bus lanes help — in conjunction with additional fast-buses that pick up and drop off only at the highway stops — to get people out of their cars? Do we need more stops along the highway? And then would we be more inclined to, perhaps, park in a residential area then hop on a shuttle bus that comes every 20 minutes for trips into the village or to Function or up to Emerald? That could also solve the parking issue in the village: As it is now, if you don't get to the free parking lots early, you are out of luck. And once we hit the Renaissance construction phase, two free parking lots will be reclaimed.

In August, the Community Energy and Climate Action Plan that was endorsed by the Resort Municipality of Whistler council recommended expanded mass transportation, an increased use of electric vehicles and a renewed efficiency of home and commercial energy. Sadly, even if all the measures are undertaken and followed, officials figure our targets wouldn't even be met until 2022 or 2023.

Coupled with this, last week's BC Climate Action Plan made no progress on the carbon tax, the rate of which has been frozen since 2011. The projected emissions for 2050 for B.C are just about off the chart with no further controls. Judging by that, we may well get help from the province, but we won't hold our breath. The solution largely rests locally.

As for arguments that could be made citing the cost of rebuilding roads or intersections or accommodating more buses, it should not be an issue. It seems to be only in North America that transit routinely must be justified as a money-making business. It shouldn't be. It is a necessity, and it is dire now not only because we are failing, but because we will continue to fail unless we take immediate action.

As one local put it, "there's not a lot of time left with stabilizing the biosphere."

We are sitting in our cars waiting for lights to change and for traffic to funnel into one lane as we hope the congestion will ease on every weekend during summer. We drive around for parking spots and endlessly idle. Is this the Whistler we want? What are the solutions in the works? What is the talk? What can we realistically accomplish?

We would love to hear from locals as to how we can solve this.

We need much more than a breath of fresh air.