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Eco-conscious commuting (page 2) - Canadian Geographic

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magazine / jun12

June 2012 issue


Page:  1 2

Clean commute   (Page 2 of 2)

Canada’s largest cities are paving the way for more eco-conscious commuting choices

By Fraser Los

A train station for Calgary’s CTrain. Roughly half of Calgary’s downtown workers take transit to work. (photo: dan_prat/istockphoto)

Idea: Vancouver’s greenways network

Click to view full map Vancouver’s extensive network boasts 85 kilometres of greenways and will eventually total 140 kilometres, ensuring that people anywhere in the city are no more than a 25-minute walk or a 10-minute bike ride from a greenway. (Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic) If you walk or bike along the famous Stanley Park Seawall, a popular stretch on Vancouver’s 20-kilometre Seaside Route, you’ll understand why greenways are becoming the city’s claim to fame. Offering easy public access to city parks, nature reserves, cultural and historic features as well as busy downtown neighbourhoods and retail hot spots, greenways keep Vancouverites (and legions of tourists) in touch with the city’s stunning natural surroundings. They can range from rustic park trails to dedicated bike lanes on city streets, but they share one characteristic: a focus on “active” forms of transportation, such as walking or cycling. Vancouver’s extensive network boasts 85 kilometres of greenways and will eventually total 140 kilometres, ensuring that people anywhere in the city are no more than a 25-minute walk or a 10-minute bike ride from a greenway.

Although the plans had been on the table for many years, they received a huge boost in 2009, when Mayor Gregor Robertson announced intentions to make Vancouver the world’s greenest urban centre by 2020. Among the many initiatives laid out in Vancouver 2020: A Bright Green Future, the city’s action plan for attaining that audacious ambition, is a commitment to non-car forms of transportation — a target of more than 50 percent of all future trips in the city by foot, bicycle or public transit.

The key to achieving that goal, says Dale Bracewell, Vancouver’s manager of active transportation, is to make greenways safe, convenient, accessible and functional. “We’re building these for all people, for all age groups and abilities,” he says. That means engaging everyone along the route during the public consultation process, from school groups to seniors, to ensure that greenways are designed for everyone’s benefit.


For Vancouver’s upcoming Comox-Helmcken Greenway project, to be built later this year if approved, the city is working with the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility — a research team that strives to enhance seniors’ physical wellbeing through active lifestyles — to find out how the project will influence older adults living in the area. In surveys conducted throughout the neighbourhood’s community centres and other meeting spots, the older adults approached were unanimous in requesting more park benches, and many wanted community gardens and public artwork on display — anything to brighten up their stroll. The research team will conduct a second survey after the greenway is complete to learn how the changes are affecting people in the area in terms of increased activity and also in less tangible ways, such as perceptions of the neighbourhood and quality of life.

Status The Comox-Helmcken Greenway is the third and final phase of construction for the Central Valley Greenway, a 25-kilometre stretch that links downtown Vancouver with the surrounding communities of New Westminster and Burnaby. The new section will be a short but key artery, cutting right through downtown and connecting Stanley Park to False Creek, on the southern edge of the city’s commercial district. The Central Valley Greenway serves as a strategic travel route, linking neighbourhood centres with multiple transit stations and bus routes and connecting with other greenways and bike routes throughout the region.

Although not many urban centres can match Vancouver’s natural spaces, other Canadian cities are starting to latch on to the greenway concept. Toronto, for instance, is currently improving bike trails in the Don Valley watershed, creating a network in the heart of the city’s ravine system with strategic connections to roads heading into the downtown core.

Idea: LRTs in Calgary, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo and Hamilton

Calgary’s light-rail transit (LRT) system is one of the continent’s busiest, carrying more than 270,000 passengers every weekday. But the CTrain is known for an even more impressive fact: it’s the first and only LRT in North America to run on 100 percent renewable energy.

Click to view full map The CTrain carries 600 people per trip. Without the CTrain system, downtown Calgary would see an additional 74,000 vehicles every day. (Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic) Powered by 60 turbines from TransAlta’s Castle River wind farm near Pincher Creek, in southern Alberta, the CTrain’s aptly named “Ride the Wind” initiative has eliminated more than 325,000 tonnes of CO² emissions since the program began in 2001. “That’s like decreasing the number of private vehicle trips on Calgary’s streets by more than eight million every year,” says Theresa Schroder, Calgary Transit’s communications strategist.

LRTs are best suited for busy urban thoroughfares that are too densely populated for city buses but perhaps not quite busy enough for the huge expense of a subway system. Calgary fits the bill perfectly. Even though the city is spread out and was originally built for the car, explains Schroder, roughly half the downtown workers now take transit to work. If they all decided to drive, she says, it would be traffic chaos — an extra 74,000 vehicles in the downtown core every day. Trains alleviate these bottlenecks effectively because they can carry a large number of passengers — the CTrain carries 600 people per trip — and unlike buses and city streetcars, they are separated from other traffic and not slowed down by it.

LRTs are not just about sustainability and convenient transit options. They also satisfy the bottom line. As part of its consideration for an LRT in Hamilton, Metrolinx reviewed the experiences of several cities around the world. The agency’s 2010 study found that property values can be as much as six percent higher for vacant residential land close to LRT stations and 14 percent higher for vacant commercial properties. Reliable and fast transit encourages businesses to expand in the downtown core, and the LRT stations act as hubs for future growth and development.

Status With Calgary setting an example, other Canadian cities are looking to build LRT systems to unclog busy arteries the sustainable way. In June 2011, Waterloo Regional Council approved a light-rail link between Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, three closely linked cities southwest of Toronto that are connected by a very congested main road. Urban planners hope that a light-rail line, scheduled to be completed by 2017, will transform the Waterloo region by controlling urban sprawl and supporting downtown revitalization.

For Ottawa City Council, which recently approved plans for an LRT tunnel through the city’s downtown (construction begins in early 2013), the benefits will not be confined just to easing congestion. By limiting car usage, an LRT will reclaim densely packed downtown spaces for pedestrians and cyclists and promote healthier lifestyles. To take advantage of that scenario, Ottawa is planning to invest in artwork gleaned from nearby communities for permanent display in transit stations. It’s just part of a larger effort by the capital, described as “arguably the largest and most important public project in its history,” to ensure that the city’s downtown transforms alongside its transit system.

Idea: Montréal — bike city

Click to view full map In addition to its network of bike paths accessible year-round, Montréal plans to double its 400-kilometre network of bike lanes within seven years and to create five times the number of bicycle parking spots. (Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic) Take a stroll along Montréal’s Boulevard de Maisonneuve on a cold January day, and you might wonder who’d be hardy enough to cycle along this popular strip in winter. But since the city started clearing snow from this busy cycling thoroughfare, winter ridership has taken off. In 2007, Montréal completed a flagship bike path along the boulevard, about 3.5 kilometres of separated lanes that take pedal-powered commuters east-west through the heart of downtown and the wealthy Westmount neighbourhood. Known today as the Claire Morissette path, named after the late Montréal cycling advocate who passed away in 2007, the bike lane is one of the first to be open year-round — a section of the city’s Réseau blanc (“white network”) that will one day total up to 63 kilometres of bicycle paths maintained for winter cycling.

It’s part of a larger effort to increase active forms of transportation and to decrease automobile use. With the release of Reinvent Montréal in 2008, an ambitious transportation plan that outlines a host of sustainable transportation initiatives, the city made a strong commitment to reinforce its image as the “most bike-friendly” urban centre in North America.

In addition to its white network, Montréal plans to double its 400-kilometre network of bike lanes within seven years and to create five times the number of bicycle parking spots. To further integrate bicycles with its transportation system, the city is also adding more bike racks on city buses and taxis and plans to build indoor spaces near busy transit stops, where hundreds of bicycles could be parked. These bicycle stations would offer a variety of services for cyclists, such as lockers, repair shops and toilets.

One of the most innovative projects in the city’s transportation plan, and certainly the most well known, was the creation of a system of self-serve bicycles for rental at key locations. BIXI Montréal, launched in 2009, offers residents and tourists the chance to rent more than 5,000 bikes from over 400 stations throughout the city.

Status BIXI Montréal’s success is based on its automated payment structure. With an easy touch-screen interface at stations throughout the city and online credit card payments for year-long memberships, regular users can ride any bikes in Montréal for 30 minutes or less with no additional fees. They can also get up-to-date stats on how many bikes are available at each station by visiting the BIXI website.

The concept is catching on beyond Montréal. BIXI has now spread to other cities, including Ottawa, Toronto, London (England) and, most recently, New York City, which will eventually have the largest bike-sharing system on the continent, with 10,000 bikes and 600 stations.

Toronto-based writer Fraser Los is the communications manager at Evergreen, a national environmental charity which is hosting MOVE: The Transportation Expo this summer.

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Comments on this article

I very very like this article much. Pollution in my country is very high. People need to start taking action and stop polluting the air. Thank you very much for the information

Submitted by Hundi on Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Good article with solid information. I know of many classes in different high schools where I live who are using this article for in class examples or projects. I appreciate the people who have taken the time to put this article together to share with the world and help create awareness.

Submitted by Bud on Tuesday, June 10, 2014

excellent article.

Submitted by Susan Hay on Friday, June 01, 2012

Strange that Edmonton's LRT did not get an mention in article

Submitted by D McQueen on Monday, May 28, 2012

thankyou for a truly great article.we have given up our car as we donot need it everyday in retirement and joined grandriver carshare which works out just fine for us. we use grandriver transit and our bicycles to get around.we also love to walk. we are both supporters of the new lrt which was mentioned in this article. we also live in what is now referred to as the downtown core.

Submitted by kevin young on Monday, May 28, 2012

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