Opinion » Maxed Out

Climate change: Denial ain't just a river in Africa, Part III



I know, I know. "What, another instalment?" Yes. The last one. Sure, we've all moved on. After all, we have the RMOW's Corporate Plan to wade through. More bafflegab; more consultant-speak. Another hefty plan that may or may not be destined to gather dust.

Partial disclosure: I come by my skepticism honestly. I used to be a planner. Headed a high-level strategic planning department at a leonine Canadian bank. Wrote plenty of great plans choc-a-bloc with great ideas. They became a collection of paperweights because writing plans is a long, long haul from implementing plans. Sayin' it don't make it so, if you will.

But the RMOW's Community Energy & Climate Action Plan (CAP) is an important document. While both God and the devil are in the details, the real value — the only value — of the plan is how well it's implemented and what actual impact it has. So at the risk of glazing everyone's eyes, I reckon it's worth three weeks of my piffle.

The core of the CAP is, or should be, what it offers to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) from vehicle emissions. Over half, 58 per cent, of Whistler's GHG emissions come from passenger and fleet vehicles. Of that total, the split is about 50:50 between residents' tailpipes and those of visitors. Notwithstanding the intensity of emissions has been dropping per capita, largely due to more fuel-efficient vehicles, overall emissions have been increasing because there are more residents, there are a lot more visitors and, maybe, we're doing more driving.

So the challenge comes down to this: Stop driving; drive less; drive more efficiently; drive something cleaner.

Once again, the actions recommended in the CAP fall short of bang-for-the-buck emissions reductions. They want us to cycle more. They want to make parking more difficult and/or expensive. They want to promote non-gasoline vehicles. They want... well, that's about it. So what might be a few bang-for-the-buck ideas?

Big idea #1: This one's the easiest. Success is going to depend on getting people out of individual vehicles. To do that, you have to tilt the convenience of personal cars towards greater inconvenience. The trick is if you make inconvenience too, well, inconvenient, people won't come. We don't want that.

Visitors who fly into Vancouver en route to Whistler have several options to get here: rent a car/limo; catch a shuttle; fly up by float plane or helicopter.

It would seem as though catching a shuttle is a no-brainer. Why? Driving through Vancouver is torture. Notwithstanding its beauty, the Sea to Sky Highway can be a bitch, especially in winter. Whistler is a pedestrian village; people don't need a car once they get here, in fact, it's inconvenient and expensive to have a car and leave it parked while you're here. Rental cars don't have snow tires, so there's a safety issue.

But no one — NO ONE — actively promotes shuttling from YVR to Whistler. On Whistler Blackcomb's website, the first option they offer for people flying in is driving. The second is taking a shuttle but with no encouragement to do so. Tourism Whistler lists shuttles first but, again, offers no compelling reason to take them.

So why not sell the option to those flying in? This seems so easy I can't believe I have to say it. And the cost of it is minimal.

Big idea #2: Intercept drivers before they get here. We're not going to convince anyone from the Lower Mainland or Washington a shuttle option is more convenient than driving their car. But we just might convince daytrippers from there that it's way more convenient to not drive their car into the Village.

How? Satellite parking and efficient shuttles south of town. There's a big parking lot at the turnoff to Whistler Olympic Park. There's open space south of Function. Perfect locations for a park'n'ride.

So what's the convenience that'll pry people out of their cars? Free parking. Fast shuttles. No gridlock at the end of their ski day or on their way up to Creekside or the village.

What's are the drawbacks? It's going to cost money. Maybe some of it can come from RMI funds. Let's see.

It's going to require widening the highway from Function to the village — two lanes, both ways. One lane reserved for busses, park'n'ride shuttles, electric cars (not hybrids) and bikes, with a handsome bike lane on the expanded roadside. Imagine what those daytrippers caught in gridlock going south after skiing will be thinking when they see the park'n'ride shuttles whiz past them.

Big idea #2.1: Notice how I slipped in the electric car and bike lane thing in the last big idea? That just might go a long way toward encouraging more people to bike and more people to choose an electric option. Hell, even a golf cart would help during the warmer months for those little commuter jaunts.

Big idea #3: Lose the lights. Whistler is hamstrung by being a one-road in/one-road out town. There's nothing we can do about through traffic, which is a significant volume of summer traffic. But there is something that can be done to keep traffic moving, especially in winter, especially when people are arriving and most especially, when they're leaving.


They work everywhere else in the world. I can't believe people who can successfully negotiate Vancouver traffic and the Sea to Sky Highway are too stupid to figure them out. Rip out all the traffic lights from Function to — at least — Nesters. Build roundabouts, build a pedestrian overpass at Alta Lake Road.

It'll be expensive and it'll take convincing the Ministry of Transportation to drag themselves kicking and screaming into the 20th century. But the payoff will be huge. Every car that's moving, instead of sitting in gridlock, is emitting fewer GHGs per kilometre/minute. Keep 'em moving.

Other ideas, big and small, such as getting many of the non-industrial tenants out of Function, aren't likely to come to fruition. If we really want to reduce vehicle emissions, we have to go after the big game. Shaming parents into not driving their precious snowflakes to school is a good idea but isn't likely to be that successful.

There's no free lunch. If we want to curb tailpipe emissions, we have to stop thinking we can just cajole people into taking the bus. Notwithstanding calling Whistler Transit a "success," its success is largely driven by the significant numbers of people living here who don't have cars. It's damn inconvenient if you have to travel past the village going either direction. It's annoyingly inconvenient if you have to take it outside peak hours. And TAG: The First Generation and TAG 2.0 isn't going to come up with any ideas for making it much more convenient.

So let's think big.

For Part I and Part II of "Climate Change: Denial ain't just a river in Africa," go to www.piquenewsmagazine.com.


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