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Thinking green transportation


The transportation hierarchy
The transportation hierarchy

Gary Archibald, Weather Broadcaster, The Weather Network

April 3, 2013 — Do you have green envy? Carbon guilt? It’s a quandary!

Riding a bike is better for the environment, but not everyone can commute that way
Riding a bike is better for the environment, but not everyone can commute that way

There is a hierarchy to the concept of green transportation; it’s a simple ideal. 

Think of an upside down pyramid, like in the picture above. It demonstrates the “green mandate” of commuter transportation. We must all try to reduce our carbon footprint, and the more citizens at the pedestrian level, the better for all of us.

Most would agree that automobile-generated fumes can be toxic. Experts suggest that if more North Americans walked to and from work and school – on a daily basis, whenever the weather and circumstance permit it – the benefits would be paradigm shifting.

Imagine the improvements that more exercise and fresh air can have on a population.

A healthy mind and a healthy body can yield a healthy and productive community.

Take a look at a large city like Vancouver B.C., which, per capita, has a higher-than-average health index compared to other, similarly-sized North American cities. Vancouverites love the outdoors, but a couch potato or a person who owns a Humvee to drive one kilometre to work is simply exercising his or her right to be inactive while burning through their pockets and our oil reserves.

Some choose to walk to get in shape or bike to stay fit, but they still have the right to buy a gas guzzling truck or sports car.

Despite certain “penalties” in taxes and higher fuel costs, if you can afford it, you can do it.

But should you?

We can’t walk all the time, and many people have a need to drive a larger–sized vehicle -- but therein lies the transport industry’s challenge to make industrial use vehicles more fuel-efficient.

I am caught in this dilemma too. I love a fine sports car, but I’m intrigued by more efficient offerings like the Subaru BRZ/Scion FRS sports coupes.

Let's take a look at the rest of the transportation hierarchy. 

Cars can be bad for the environment but for many, they're a necessity
Cars can be bad for the environment but for many, they're a necessity

Biking is a solid option. It offers a great health kickback too – but there are inherent dangers on the open road, like other cars. 

I am all for public transit, but I think many of our big cities need to ramp up modernization and be innovative in their city planning. Why don’t we have super trains like the ones in Japan, Europe and China? 

Imagine taking a train ride from say, Toronto to Ottawa in 90 minutes or so. The technology is there, and it has been for some time.

Taxis are an expensive option for transit. They’re usually used for short trips within the city. They’re vital if you need to get somewhere fast or need to get home safe, granted. But public transit is a better, greener option overall. 

Commuting is very much a Canadian pastime, largely due to Canada’s enormous land mass.

We traverse the land, but our true connection to the soil, water, vegetation is superficial. We rarely stop to think about the thousands of kilograms of CO2 that we produce annually by doing what we do.

And I haven’t forgotten about the current state of economic affairs.

We live in a resource-rich country that has helped make Canada an industrially wealthy nation. I applaud the progressive, economic growth seen in Alberta, which has led the way in oil production. The oil sands have elevated the standard of living for many, although there are environmental concerns.

One could question the health standards of a periodically smog-polluted city like Toronto. The 401 highway, per capita, is the busiest in North America – I drive it at least 5 days a week.

My commute is a long round trip. My carbon print is perhaps higher than the average person despite driving a relatively fuel efficient car but it’s not a hybrid, nor a fully electric vehicle.

Why not you ask? I don’t have a good answer. 

I am left torn. I should be doing more, but I am evolving, becoming more self-aware and more balanced in my views.

I would bike to work – but it’s 96 km one way. I’m considering a hybrid vehicle for my next car purchase. I also have my eye on the sporty looking Honda CRZ hybrid my neighbour hops into every day.

I can always bike in and around town. Good exercise and a breath of fresh air creates a fine spring season recipe.

If only public transportation were an option for me but that would take approximately two and a half hours, one way.

I love where I live for my family and for me, but I admit that more sacrifices have to be made.

The germ of green thinking, though, is alive and well. I’m hopeful for the future fruit we can all share. 

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