Gas-free vehicle zones? Vancouver debates ambitious response to ‘climate emergency’

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WATCH: The City of Vancouver is considering a number of new policies to promote electric vehicles, including banning gas-powered vehicles from some parts of the city. Catherine Urquhart reports – Apr 25, 2019

Vancouver city councillors are debating an ambitious package of goals, targets and policy changes that, if implemented, could reshape the city in the face of climate change.

The dozens of recommendations were a response to council voting to declare a “climate emergency” back in January.

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Among the recommendations is the creation of “zero emissions zones” that would eventually ban gas-powered vehicles.

The proposal aims to see the city become carbon-neutral by 2050, with 100 per cent of its energy coming from renewable sources before that date in an effort to meet goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.

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Vancouver City council passes transit, climate ’emergency’ motions – Jan 17, 2019

It also calls on city staff to develop a package of 53 accelerated actions, stemming from initiatives the city has already taken, with a report due next year.

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“This council took a really ambitious step in declaring a climate emergency, and I think it’s significant that that was a unanimous decision by council,” Non-Partisan Association (NPA Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung said.

READ MORE: Here’s what a world of net-zero carbon emissions looks like

“This isn’t a partisan issue and it needs to be worked on collaboratively.”

Kirby-Yung said she believes council’s biggest challenge will be translating the city’s ambitious goals into tangible policies that residents can understand in their day-to-day lives.

Six big moves

The core of the plan consists of six “big moves,” each encompassing a variety of specific policy shifts aimed at reducing emissions.

The first big move seeks to see 90 per cent of Vancouver residents living within walking or cycling distance of their daily needs by 2030 — double the 45 per cent who do today.

To get there, the plan envisions creating “more housing choices and essential amenities” throughout the city, along with improved pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and better transit.

Another big move calls for two-thirds of trips in the city to be made by active transportation by 2030, a decade ahead of the city’s original goal, which would shave about 141,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

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The plan calls for major transit investments such as the Broadway subway and B-Lines and pedestrian and cycle paths, coupled with mobility pricing to discourage car traffic at busy times.

A third big move aims to have zero-emission vehicles account for half the kilometres driven in the city by 2030, saving up to 283,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

The plan envisions three tools to meet the goal: expanding electric-vehicle charging stations, implementing parking that favours zero-emissions vehicles and creating zero-emissions zones “that discourage and eventually ban polluting vehicles from specific areas or corridors.”

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It also calls for the city to require “any remaining gas stations to transition to zero emissions charging/fuelling stations between 2030 and 2040.”

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Asked about potential pushback to the move, city general manager of engineering Jerry Dobrovolny acknowledged the plan would take work.

“I think there’s strong recognition that we are in a climate emergency, and I think the public realizes we have to do something. Where it gets different is the specifics and the rate of change. Wherever we’re in a change it’s difficult,” he said.

“What we’ve seen in the couple of decades is we’ve got the lowest carbon emissions per capita of any city in Canada or in the U.S. and we’ve had the fastest growing economy in Canada, so we’ve proven we can do both.”

READ MORE: Richmond may be next city to declare climate emergency

Other big moves would see the city move to zero-emissions heating and hot water systems by 2025, slash emissions embodied in new construction projects, and call for large-scale restoration of shoreline and forest areas.

If the proposal is approved, city staff would have until fall 2020 to report back with a comprehensive implementation and financial plan.

After a marathon debate Wednesday, council referred discussion and voting on the plan to its next meeting on Monday.

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