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To meet green goals, Vancouver builds up

By September 2, 2010

Enterprise columnist

There are several cities and towns in the U.S. with a green reputation; Davis is certainly one of them. San Francisco, Portland and Seattle are others. Just across the Canadian border is Vancouver, claiming to have Òthe smallest carbon footprint of any major city in North America with the goal of being Òthe greenest city in the world by 2020.Ó

Pretty big talk, especially given San FranciscoÕs efforts, but a visit there to observe what Vancouver is doing certainly bears out the cityÕs commitment to that goal.

Even getting to Vancouver is green: the Horizon Airlines Bombardier Q400 jet is not only painted green, it advertises itself as being 30 to 40 percent more fuel efficient than comparably sized planes, with a corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The airline claims that these jets burn Òless fuel per passenger than an average carÓ and offers on board recycling of newspapers, magazines, cans, cups and bottles.

The airline recently received the ÒRecycler of the YearÓ award from the state of Washington and has pledged to reduce its overall energy and water usage, greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous waste by 3 percent per year.

Getting from the airport to Vancouver is a comfortable 20-minute ride on the ÒSky TrainÓ Ñ a fully automated rapid transit system that consists of 43 miles of track with trains every 3 to 5 minutes during peak hours and carries, on average, nearly 350,000 passengers per weekday. And, perhaps as an example of CanadaÕs commitment to health care, attendants are authorized to provide first aid as a customer service.

The list of green activities undertaken by Vancouver is quite long and includes: conversion of street lights to save 12.2 million kilowatt hours of energy annually; conversion of traffic signals to LED technology to reduce energy usage by 80 percent; designing and installing an asphalt mix made up of 95 percent recycled material; sponsoring neighborhood street gardens in traffic circles; capturing rainwater from the city conference center roof to flush toilets in that building; designing and manufacturing rain barrels for garden irrigation (some refer to Vancouver as ÒRaincouverÓ) and subsidizing 50 percent of the cost of the more than 2,000 barrels that have been sold to city residents; and creation of a ÒFood Action PlanÓ that encourages local food production (the city reached its goal of 2,010 new food producing gardens by 2010), community gardens and farmersÕ markets.

Vancouver also has a ÒGreenest City Action Fund.Ó City leaders have reviewed all city regulations to reduce or eliminate barriers for green projects, and have adopted a green procurement program. The list goes on.

But perhaps the most obvious aspect of VancouverÕs commitment to going green is its density; a tour guide indicated that in some areas, roughly 5,000 people occupy a square kilometer. Vancouver is a vertical city and, unlike most cities where all the tall buildings are offices, VancouverÕs tall buildings are mostly residential.

Increased density has been driven in large part by the transportation system as billions of dollars have been invested in residential and commercial development within a 10-minute walk of transit corridors; resulting in the somewhat stunning statistic that only 40 percent of Vancouver residents who are old enough to drive own a car.

This is not just density for densityÕs sake. Vancouver is pioneering ÒEco-DensityÓ by requiring that all new commercial and multi-family buildings meet energy efficiency standards. In one instance, a new development incorporated a sustainable neighborhood-scale space heating and domestic hot water system in new development.

The cityÕs effort to encourage non-automobile travel and reduce Òvehicle miles traveledÓ is illustrated in the Woodward development in which a city block was converted to a 42-story residence in the downtown area. The building not only houses people very near to jobs, it also includes a full-size grocery store and pharmacy, a health care station, a bakery, a deli, a coffee shop, a gym, several offices and other small businesses and a restaurant.

The difficulty of driving a car in Vancouver is offset by the ease of walking, biking, or taking public transportation and the city funds the development, extension and improvement of these non-auto options. As a result of its Transportation Plan, Vancouver has, since 1997, seen a nearly 50 percent increase in walking, a 180 percent increase in bike trips, a 50 percent increase in transit ridership and a 10 percent decrease in vehicle trips.

The recent addition of a bike lane on one of VancouverÕs bridges resulted in more than a million bicycle trips across that bridge in less than a yearÕs time and a combined pedestrian-bicycle journey to and from work mode share of 41 percent in the downtown area. The city encourages electric vehicles, and there are now more than 10,000 electric bicycles in the greater Vancouver area, supported by a network of charging stations in residential and commercial areas. Vancouver also has two car-sharing companies and provides on- and off-street parking for these vehicles.

At first blush, a 42-story residential/commercial development may seem like a bit much for a small town like Davis, but the concept of Òeco-densityÓ could reasonably assume a 10-story reality if similarly designed and located on a transit corridor.

Ñ John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Thursday of each month. Please send comments to [email protected]

John Mott-Smith

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