The growing population of a city affects many aspects of daily life, such as transportation. By the year 2020, “the city of Edmonton’s population is expected to grow from 616,000 [in 1996] to 829,000 people”1; 1. 17 million in the region surrounding Edmonton2. To avoid traffic and a poor infrastructure, the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) has been written with changes the city will make to satisfy our future needs. But as promising as it seems, does it satisfy Mother Nature’s needs?
The main purpose of the TMP is to “establish a framework for how the City of Edmonton will address its future transportation needs to the year 2020. “3 Based on the theory that due to an increased population and changed demographic (“significantly larger proportion of seniors… [smaller] school-aged portion”4), there will be more decentralised travel patterns, which means “more and longer trips. “5 Due to the larger population, vehicle emission levels will be higher, but not by much due to improvements in vehicle design.
To account for all this, the TMP will: “manage traffic congestion”7, “provide a wider range of travel options [such as public transit]”8, keep community impacts of the TMP low, keep the infrastructure in good shape, “support efforts and behaviours which limit environmental impacts”9, and keep up with and adapt to changing conditions. 10 One of the main points the TMP recognises is changes to arterial roads; free flow roads which lead vehicles either out of or into the city.
Selective improvements to the arterial roadway network will be made for cross-town movement of people and goods, with additions to the network for new growth, which will call for heavy construction. All this will basically keep traffic congestion to a minimum, but does not really help the environment in any way. The TMP does, however, encourage the use of public transit. By having various methods of travel, private cars are ultimately used less, reducing pollution, since public transit is more efficient.
The city’s goals for public transit can be summed up as “basic service at reasonable cost. 11 Public transit will have a greater range and accessibility, since goals such as the Edmonton Transit’s fleet will be completely converted to low floor buses by 2008 will be accomplished. Public transit will also have a bigger capacity. By having a bigger capacity, more people are transported while emitting the same amount of emission levels, therefore reducing the amount of emitted emission levels per person. New concepts such as High Speed Transit (HST) will also be adopted, modelled after other successful cities (in HST’s case, Ottawa-Carlton’s “Transitway”).
The effects of the TMP (according to the TMP itself) are also very impressive, as congestion during the morning rush hours will decrease by 47%. Congestion within the Inner Ring Loop will also decrease by 46%, while congestion on the primary highway network (used for goods movement) will decrease by 40%. Due to overall decreased congestion, it makes sense that less accidents will occur, which have the potential to release fumes into the environment, especially concerning accidents with transport trucks.
Vehicle emission levels will be modestly higher, which is very impressive considering the increased population. Greenhouse gas emissions will not be cut to levels mandated by the Kyoto agreement, but travel alternatives will be in place, while community impacts will be kept to a minimum, and the river valley and other natural areas will be left unharmed. 12 The cost of the TMP will be around $2 billion more than if the plan were not followed. If the plan were not to be followed, the city would end up paying around $7. billion in the transportation sector, but since the plan will be followed, it estimates that $8. 8 billion to $9. 3 billion will be pumped into transportation. Of this amount, $6. 5 billion will be covered by things such as “property taxes, transit fares, provincial grants and developer contributions. “13; this makes up for 70% to 75% of the estimated cost. The implementation of this plan should involve the input of citizens of Edmonton, especially since they are taxpayers and fund the better half of the project. Since they are stakeholders, their concerns should be acknowledged.
Such concerns (regarding the environment) would revolve around the fact that although the plan does realise the problem of pollution and keeps it to a minimum, it does not lower it. Although the plan has not been fully implemented yet, there are already disputes, dealing with the extension of the LRT to the south side (Heritage Mall; soon to be an office complex) and not to the west (West Edmonton Mall)14. West Edmonton Mall receives many more people than Heritage Mall, and if the LRT were to be extended there, the total emission levels per capita would drastically decrease.
A solution to the problem would be to simply start the planning process over for the West Side. Although it seems simple, changing plans mid-stream costs money and time, something we all need. 15 The introduction of electric cars would reduce emissions drastically. Over the course of 19 years (until 2020), electric cars could be well established. A prime example would be that of California, which has just recently mandated electric cars, in an effort to follow its clean air laws. 16 Other cities, such as “Massachusetts, New York and Vermont… ave adopted California’s clean air laws. ” The mandate requires automakers to sell electric cars within the state by 2003. In addition to the electric cars sold, 2% of all vehicles must be hybrid vehicles (gasoline-electric or diesel-electric vehicles) and another 6% of all vehicles must be “certified low-emission vehicles. “17 Although sales of electric vehicles are sluggish when compared to those of regular vehicles, if executed and encouraged properly, electric cars could take off with great success.
Edmonton could also take a step in lowering pollution by adopting California’s clean air laws, or encouraging the use of electric and hybrid cars through law, or hype. Major problems with this solution are basically the difficulty of encouraging an extremely new technology. In the industry, car manufacturers will eventually move to electric cars, but not until prices drop. Electric cars also need to be recharged every night, something which may put off the consumer, although there are refill stations, but they must first be built, and to be built, there has to be an installed userbase of electric car owners.
For hearing troubled stakeholders, focus groups must be conducted. With focus groups, stakeholders (or anyone really) with complaints can voice their opinions without the need for protests, and issues can be calmly resolved. 18 Focus groups also show that the government (in this case) cares about its citizens, and wants to know how they feel; this helps with the government’s reputation. Focus groups, however, can also be quite costly: a single two-day session can cost as much as $11,64019 U. S.
This seems like a high price to pay for opinions, but in the end, it would be well worth it. The most promising solution in regard to the role the law can play would be to enforce stricter laws against vehicle emission outputs, possibly against the use of older vehicles which, generally, have a high output of emissions compared to that of modern day vehicles. In Mexico City, “[the] government has decided to target vehicles older than 1980 for removal”20 since there is a great need to reduce CO levels, and vehicles contribute to 97% of the total output.
Of all the vehicles, older vehicles represent 26%, and 40% of all vehicle emissions. 21 Such a law could be adopted here in Edmonton, or Alberta. Although Edmonton probably doesn’t have as many older vehicles, they are still in abundance, and probably do contribute greatly to the problem in relation to how many of them are frequently being used. Such a law would be difficult to pass, especially when comparing Edmonton, a clean, well developed city, to Mexico City – landfill of the Americas.
Comparisons would also be made to states such as Washington, which has recently exempted older vehicles from emission inspections, since older vehicles are most of the time collected and not driven so much[ARF1]. 22 For Edmonton, the TMP is the way to go until 2020, since it does keep the environment in mind, and does not inflict supplementary damage. Edmonton is a relatively clean city, and until 2020, will stay that way. But in the long run, if we continue to act as we do today, having to go outside in a radiation suit with gas mask will become a harsh reality.
That is why we must act now to combat pollution, through law, or simple personal decisions, such as wishing to recycle or not. Until antimatter-matter reactions can efficiently fuel our cars23, or until human teleportation becomes a reality24, measures such as using low emissions vehicles, and listening to others, must be taken to resolve our differences, and ultimately come up with solutions to relegate the problem of pollution. Most of us do not see the gravity of the situation, but we must look ahead and act now, before we are exiled to an impending doom.