The Transit Referendum: On our way to making Vancouver the Greenest City in the World?

By Crista Bartolomeu

Most of us are aware by now that vehicles are a huge source of carbon emissions. Despite trying to reduce my carbon footprint, I sit in traffic daily feeling as if I am negating all my other efforts. I am left wondering how this affecting my health. And can “we” – as a region – do what it takes to become the World’s Greenest City?

vancouver head on

Photo by Evan Leeson

In 2012 the City of Vancouver announced its Greenest City Action Plan to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. This is an ambitious goal, however one way we may aspire to reach this is through the improvement of our local transit system. The Mayors’ Transit and Transportation Plan would mean that 70% of Metro Vancouver residents live within 5 minutes of frequent transit service – a dramatic improvement. With a shift from cars to transit use will contribute to a healthier, more sustainable Vancouver.

Traffic-related contribution to greenhouse gases

 Photo by Jerry Meaden

Photo by Jerry Meaden

Unfortunately Vancouver currently holds top spot as the most congested city in the North America. With an expected population growth of 1 million residents in the next 30 years expected in Vancouver this problem will only get worse (move living). Transportation is the single largest contributor to GHG Emissions, with passenger vehicles being the largest source, with Metro Vancouverites making 3.4 million trips by car each day (David Suzuki).

How the Mayors’ Plan can help with air quality

Vancouver cannot deal with climate change and become more sustainable unless we commit to reducing our reliance on cars. The set of projects in the Mayors’ Plan will make transit a viable option, across the region. Even those who do use transit will benefit, if other drivers are able to shift from cars to transit and  reduce the amount of cars on the road. This has a twofold effect:

  1. less cars equal less emissions, and;
  2. less congestion reduces the amount of time that people who drive their cars are idling in traffic and emitting GHGs.

Additionally, air pollutants like carbon and nitrogen oxides (two gases that are emitted by cars) can be hazardous, causing inflammation in the airways that can lead to lung and heart conditions. Permit me to state the obvious – gases that are so harmful to our planet are harming us as well.

Much action is still needed to address our traffic related emissions. Expanding Metro Vancouver’s transit system across the region is an essential piece. Personally, with the light rail line I will be able to make my commute from Langley to downtown by public transit on a single route. Eliminating just a 32 km per day roundtrip, I will reduce my carbon emissions by 4,800 tonnes per year (APTA).

Why our vote now is important

In order to meet the goal of becoming leaders in tackling climate change we must address our biggest problem- transportation.

Don’t vote yes or no depending on whether you take transit. Vote yes because increased opportunities to reduce GHG emissions will help us all. This referendum will be our legacy on the environment and an example for other North American cities: what we do now dictates future actions to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world.


Crista is studying Health Sciences at SFU, and a Research Assistant at the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility.

This blog was developed as part of a Special Topics in Health Science Health and the Built Environment course in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University, offered as a CityStudio partner course.

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