Copenhagen is walking the walk when it comes to becoming a green city, says Fred Bass
CityCaucus.com welcomes former COPE City Councillor Fred Bass as a guest editorialist...
Unfortunately, the Mayor and City Council of Vancouver are not showing the vision and courage it takes to even follow in the footsteps of the city of Copenhagen.
Earlier this year, Copenhagen’s Director of Planning, Niels Torslov, visited Vancouver and described how a truly world-class city sets its course. It first asks the question, “What kind of a city do we want?” For the people of Copenhagen, the answer came back, “a city that is humanizing, healthy, livable, clean, safe, and makes minimal contribution to global warming.” Copenhagen plans to become the “Eco-Metropolis of the world.” But instead of just expressing the wish to become the greenest city in the world as Vancouver has recently done, Copenhagen has been doing its homework.
Copenhagen tracks what it knows is important. In 1998, it knew in what locations its cyclists received 569 serious injuries and set a ten-year goal to cut that annual number in half. Through a comprehensive program of traffic redesign and enforcement, Copenhagen reached 230 injuries, a reduction of 60%, after just seven years
But even more spectacular is that city’s commitment to cycling. In 2004, 36% of all trips to work or to school were by bicycle (and another 23% traveled on foot). Their cycling goal for 2015 is to climb from 36% to 50%. Meanwhile, Vancouver sputters along in 2006 at 4% commuting by bike. It is unlikely that Vancouver will even reach its goal of 10% commuting by bike by 2010.
Why are we so far behind? In transportation planning, we plod along one isolated project at a time without looking at the overall picture, without relating one project to another, without tying transportation to the kind of city we want, without setting goals for the city to meet and without measuring progress towards those goals.
It’s time to start doing it right. Transportation is not about building facilities. It’s about walking, cycling, using transit, driving cars — behaviour that is served by facilities and behaviour that is desired by many and opposed by a few.
The City of Vancouver’s reports on the Burrard Bridge fail because they are not framed in an overall transportation plan that calls for measured changes in transportation behaviour and measured investment to support those changes. Nowhere in these reports is there mention of how this project will contribute to Council’s goal of 10% cycling by 2010. Nowhere in these reports is there a specific, measurable goal for reduction of serious injuries on the Burrard Bridge. Nor does Vancouver offer any of the quantitative estimates of the benefits to health, productivity, noise control and greenhouse gas production that Copenhagen uses in its transportation planning. These reports do not set basic parameters for the project: minimum duration and criteria for success or failure.
Vancouver’s plan to dedicate one lane of the Burrard Bridge to bicycles is really about how the Mayor, Council and senior staff can get away at the lowest political cost with a bicycle facility that will least offend the drivers of the 80% of the vehicles on the Burrard Bridge that have only one passenger. This inefficient use of valuable road space needs to be confronted, not accommodated.
If Vancouver wants to be in the same league as the greenest cities in the world, it is time for Mayor and Council to tell staff that a report that fails to specify measurable goals for transportation behaviour is no longer acceptable. In the 1980’s Vancouver was brave enough to take a strong stand on smoking in public places. Torslov, Copenhagen’s planning director, says politicians know that investing in cycling pays off big dividends. It is cheap. It produces positive and visible results quickly. And, most telling, it builds pride in the city
Vancouver needs to have the courage of its stated convictions. When the Artic ice is melting faster than any of the climate scientists’ reports predicted, when cheap oil is vanishing and when the economy is in tatters, we need to have politicians who can see beyond the next election and policies that will lead to the where the world is going, not actions that offer the least challenge to the status quo.
It is time for Mayor and Council to think outside the bridge and go for the payoffs — money, health, safety, transportation leadership, livability, tourism, and sustainability.
Dr Fred Bass is a cyclist, preventive medicine physician and former City Councillor