GVO-FutureVanPt2-Koguro-4.jpg
Credit: Flickr / Koguro

Rent-a-bikes in Lyon, France

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Part Two: City


Johanna’s family didn’t own a car, she explained, as we walked down the street, but they were members of the city-wide Go Zero Travel Club, which gave them access to all the local transport options they needed, via a smart card and a monthly bill.

“Let’s take the ZENN,” she said, waving her smart card at a cute little Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle with seating for two to unlock it. “It’s limited to 50 k, but that’s fine for our needs, since nobody goes faster than 40 in the city anyway. It’s almost free, as well—the total bill for our e-bikes and the Go Zero Travel Club comes to less than $20 a month. And to think that before we sold our last carbon car, we were paying $100 a week. Good riddance to that!”


 


The future is here! Learn more about zero- and low-emission city transportation options already on the move.





Zenn and the Art of Electric Car Maintenance. Read more about electric cars here.




Bixi Bikes are here... er, there! In April 2009, Montreal will launch a public bike system based on Paris' Vélib’ system. Watch how it works and why it's so popular.




Can't imagine modern bus stops and speedy travel? See how Bus Rapid Transit gives buses priority in congested city centres.


 


Pulling away, the first thing I noticed was that the streets of Vancouver were full of bicycles—far more than I’d been used to in 2008. At least half had electric drives, enabling their riders to sail up the hills, and all the roads had good wide bike lanes on either side, marked off from the regular road and paved with a distinct material. When we came to the lights, I saw that the bikes had 10 seconds precedence before any car could cross. As well as regular bikes, there were bikes with trailers, bikes with child-carriers, tricycles, tandems—you name it—and their behaviour was quite different from what I’d been used to. There was no rushing, and no sense that they had to compete with the traffic. There was an almost lazy ambience, with some cyclists drinking coffee or even holding hands. For the electric bikes, I could see that there were recharging posts all over the place—wherever there was bike parking—and that many of the bikes had a distinct design.

“What are those?” I asked Johanna.

“Oh, those are the Bixi Bikes, that people rent by the hour,” she replied. “They’re designed like that to make them safe against stealing, since none of the parts are interchangeable. I think Vancouver took the idea from Paris.”

I was impressed.

“What about the buses—has that system changed?” I asked. There were clearly a lot of buses on the road.

“They’re free. That’s the fundamental difference. We pay for them in our city taxes, and most people think it’s a great improvement. It’s only out-of-towners who have to pay a per-use fee; they don’t have smart cards. It’s the same for the SkyTrain and the Light Rail Transit routes that run along the Fraser Valley.”

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to a large tubular structure in the centre of the road.

“That’s our Bus Rapid Transit loading tube. Vancouver took the idea from Curitiba in Brazil. It makes loading easier, especially if you’ve got a wheel chair or children in a push-chair. The rapid buses have their own dedicated lanes and priority at the traffic lights, so once they were introduced, most commuters abandoned their cars. Especially when road pricing was introduced on top of the carbon tax.”

“Road pricing?”

“Yes,” Johanna said. “Five bucks every time a vehicle such as ours crosses the Green Line into downtown Vancouver.”

“The road toll applies to electric vehicles, too?” [pagebreak]




Guy Dauncey's

“My Journey to 2030”

in five parts:


Part 1: Home

Part 2: City

Part 3: Farms

Part 4: Economy

Part 5: History 

“Yes,” she said, “and rightly so. It used to apply only to gas vehicles, as a way to drive down carbon emissions, but when people discovered how cheap it was to run an electric vehicle, and how easy it was to roll into a service station if you needed a replacement battery, the market went crazy. The planners quickly realized that congestion would soon be worse than ever, even if the air was clean, so once the electric vehicles hit a certain high, they included all vehicles, except bicycles and buses. That’s how we paid for all the new bike lanes and can afford to make the transit free. It all comes from the road tolls.”

I was even more impressed. Vancouver seemed to have it sorted—and the city I was seeing in 2030 was such an amazing place. The neighbourhoods all had car-free pedestrian centres with street markets, musicians and sidewalk cafés, and everywhere you looked there was the evidence of what had clearly been a great summer crop of tomatoes, beans, artichokes, sunflowers, herbs, fruit trees, nut trees and every other kind of food. You could tell this was a fundamentally happy city from the smiles on people’s faces, the people lingering to chat, and the general vibe on the street.

“What about winter?” I asked. It was November, but it still seemed like summer.

“Oh, it certainly rains—does it rain! We have more rain than ever before, and it comes like no one’s business. Utter downpours. That’s climate change for you—they say there’s little chance of things returning to normal for 100 years. It’s cost the city an enormous amount to retrofit all the storm drains for the increased flow. We’re getting what used to be a 100-year storm event almost every year, if that tells you anything.”

Finally, I had to ask the question that had been on my mind. “And the sea level? What about that? How do things look here in Vancouver?”

Johanna’s face changed. The happy gaiety she’d been showing disappeared, and a whole other expression appeared.

“Come,” she said. “I’ll show you.”

We drove over the Fraser towards Richmond and the airport, and as we crossed the bridge I could see that there was a massive works operation happening all along the banks of the Fraser.

“What’s happening?” I asked.


 


The Rising Sea and the Lower Mainland


This clip from Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth takes a look at what could be the fate of many coastal cities, including Vancouver.


“It’s the new sea wall. We’ve got to prepare for what could be a two-metre sea level rise. Unbelievable cost. If we don’t, they say we’ll lose huge areas of the Lower Mainland by the end of the century. Richmond, Surrey, Tsawassen, Delta, the riverside lands all the way up to Hope—they are all at risk. And it’s not just the sea wall. Vancouver is still a centre for what little remains of the global shipping industry, and every company that’s still shipping by sea is having to raise its riverside infrastructure by two metres as well.”

“But I thought you said most people were Zero Carbon.”

“Yes, that’s true,” she said. “The province is a founder member of the Go Zero Group of Nations. We were the fifth to get there, after Sweden, Britain, Costa Rica and Austria. But globally, there’s a lot of nations that have a long way still to go. Take India, for instance—they’re only half way there. And China has only reached 75 percent. On top of which, the world’s climate is controlled by the carbon loading of the past century, so we’re still in danger of a two-metre sea-level rise.”

“You mean all this effort might be for nothing?”

“Absolutely not, don’t ever think that! If we and most other industrial nations had not embraced the Go Zero goal so solidly back in 2010, we’d have been looking not just at a future 25 metres sea-level rise, but basically the end of all existence—humans, bears, fish, the works,” she emphasized. “There’s not much life on this planet that can withstand a temperature rise of 6 degrees Celsius, which is where we were heading. As things stand, it looks as if we may be able to hold the rise to 2° C, and then start a decline—but only because we’ve worked so hard to eliminate our carbon emissions.

“You must be tired, however, after that bike accident and all this chatter,” Johanna said. “How about we return home, and I’ll cook you a lovely supper. Are you free to stay overnight? If you are, I’d love to take you up the valley, and show you what’s happening in the farmland.”

I expressed content with the idea, and that night I shared a delicious meal of home-harvested food with Johanna’s family, before a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow would be another adventure.

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