Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Let's encourage alternatives to cars

Prince Rupert could become the greenest port city in North America but we've got a long way to go. Last september city council signed on to the BC Climate Action Charter, an agreement between BC municipalities and the BC government to commit to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG's).

So how do we get there? One of the cheapest and easiest ways to lower GHG's is to make alternatives to automobiles more attractive. Prince Rupert's compact size has a lot going in its favour because it makes walking and cycling much more practical. But a town's layout can also inhibit alternatives. Rupert has a lot of hills, which means that people who might considering cycling don't bother.

If Prince Rupert had a designated bicycle path along the waterfront, where it is relatively flat it would go a long way towards encouraging cycling. When cycling is perceived as easier and safer more people are willing to try it.

Our town's compact size also makes people drive more responsibly. I'm impressed by the courtesy and safety of Prince Rupert's drivers. This city is relatively safe for cyclists and pedestrians, especially compared to bigger places like Prince George and Vancouver.

We can't change our topography or the weather so that probably puts a limit to how many people are into travelling by bicycle, but it should be less of a factor for walking. The city ought to make walking more attractive and convenient. Besides lowering GHG's, walking and cycling make a city safer and quieter and the more people that do it the better the general fitness of our population.

We could start by requiring that all new developments and subdivisions have sidewalks on both sides of the road. Over the longer term, sidewalks could be widened and put on both sides of all of our streets. I admit I enjoy walking on the irregular surfaces of some of the city's older sidewalks but I imagine it makes it very difficult for seniors to walk without the risk of falling.

lThe new winding sidewalk on the north side of George Hills Way has made walking a more positive experience for local pedestrians and given people walking their dogs a bit more leeway as well. It would make a difference to tourists coming off the cruise ships if there was a sidewalk on the other side of third Ave. east of McBride.

Street lighting could be improved, making walking and cycling after dark easier and safer. Perhaps the city can get a grant to help defray the cost of installing more energy efficient and maintenance free LED type streetlights.

We could narrow some of our residential streets and put in traffic circles to slow car traffic making residential areas quieter, safer and more attractive for walking. Just like on 4th Ave. E. Even without the view walking along 4th Ave. is much more pleasant than walking on 5th Ave. because of the lighter traffic.

As for that other alternative to cars - a city bus, utlized to capacity, can take the place of up to forty automobiles. The city ought to do a survey in order to find out how we could make taking the bus more convenient and attractive. Our compact size and higher per-capita density is one of the main reasons that our bus system works so well here. Our bus system is great but it could be made even better if we could find out how to increase ridership. A good public survey could tell us whether extended hours, extended routes, or some other factor could significantly increase bus ridership.

City businesses could support alternatives to cars by rewarding employees for not using company parking spaces. There are probably many more things that our businesses and municipality could do to foster alternatives to cars. And they would eventually pay off in a greener healthier city.

If anyone else has ideas about how we could encourage alternatives to cars please step forward. Write letters to the editor, go to city council meetings and speak up. Join a climate action group. If you would like to use the buses but don't, let us know why. The city might be able to do something about it.

Prince Rupert could become the greenest port. It wouldn't cost a lot. All it would take is good planning and the active encouragement of alternatives to burning fossil fuels.

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