12 Dec Ofer Eitan Declare: LETTER: It shouldn’t be so hard to use active transportatio
I rode my bicycle to the mall today. It wasn’t easy. I tried to take shortcuts but I met obstacles everywhere — not just heavy traffic, but parking lots and laneways barricaded off with high fencing, barbed wire and steep human-made banks with concrete on top.
It’s ironic because bicycles, like all of us during the pandemic, should be agile and able to pivot to the best way forward. They could if it wasn’t for the way the environments of our towns and cities are designed and maintained.
All over the world, people’s ways of getting around have changed this year as we try to avoid close contact with strangers and simultaneously enjoy outdoor activities. This has meant that active transportation — wheeling, walking, cycling and so on — is growing in popularity. Even here in St. John’s, a city supposedly difficult for cycling, there have been far more people on bicycles than usual and the pedestrian mall, despite some growing pains — especially regarding wheelchair accessibility — was one of the great successes of this difficult year.
Meanwhile, recent letters to the Telegram describe how time is running out for Newfoundland and Labrador oil and gas. Prospects for a full recovery are bleak, and the world is moving rapidly towards renewable energy and active transportation.
One of the most significant things we can do about climate change as individuals is to avoid making short trips by personal vehicle.
Transportation is huge in the transition away from oil and gas. Newfoundland and Labrador author and expert on fossil fuels and environmental policy Angela Carter spoke about the need for this transition recently in an interview with CBC Radio host Ted Blades. Her voice broke as she described how members of her own family have done well in the oil industry and yet “we have to wind this sector down if we want stability for future generations.” And she’s right. Both because the industry is less and less viable and because we need to reduce our C02 emissions.
Emissions from our oil and gas and transportation sectors accounted for 61 per cent of our provincial total for 2017. In 2016, 17 per cent of the total was produced by people driving cars, light trucks and motorcycles. Shockingly, between 2009 and 2016, our household transportation emissions increased by 40.9 per cent.
One of the most significant things we can do about climate change as individuals is to avoid making short trips by personal vehicle. In many parts of the province, it’s almost essential to have a car, but 59 per cent of people in St. John’s commute distances of less than five kilometres and all over the province many children live within walking or biking distance of school but are driven there. Most of us could easily use active transportation instead.
We need to change our culture around personal transportation but to do that we also need to be able to move around safely and comfortably. We need clear sidewalks year-round and networks of well-designed and accessible bike lanes and multipurpose trails. These are a matter of basic equity for people who can’t drive or don’t have a vehicle but the rest of us need to change our ways, too.
Promoting active transportation would be beneficial for everyone since research shows over and over that it brings huge savings in health-care costs, road maintenance and infrastructure, and the expense of vehicle ownership. People who use it regularly have also been found to be both healthier and happier. Walkable, cycleable, accessible communities also attract new business and investment.
As individuals, there’s only so much we can do about climate change, but we can change our culture and lifestyles. We need our governments and communities to support these changes by developing safe, accessible routes for active transportation and maintaining them year round.
The Kelly’s Brook trail is the first project to come out of the St. John’s Bike Master Plan. The Winter 2021 City Guide envisions it as “inclusive, safe and welcoming for all types of trail users.” It’s a vital first stage in enabling people of all ages and abilities to get around without driving. Transitioning away from fossil fuels and responding to climate change will be hard in many ways, but it shouldn’t be so hard to bike to the mall.