Count the cars to determine how green is QuebecCanada
The (Montreal) Gazette
Province talks a good game on greenhouse gas, but expands roads.
The David Suzuki Foundation and Climate Action Network Canada saluted Quebec this month for having set North America's strongest target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions: The Charest government says it aims to cut them by 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Yet the two groups also accused the province of incoherence: Quebec's encouragement of car use, they noted, will make this goal hard to reach.
This is the two-faced approach to climate change: saying one thing that's saintly and doing quite another. Montreal city hall is dutifully following the Quebec government's dubious example. Last week, only days after the environmental groups' comments, Mayor Gerald Tremblay gave a timelydemonstrationof thetechnique when he announced changes to his ambitious plan to revamp the Bonaventure expressway.
The plan's saintly face is its stated purpose: In addition to making the expressway a "prestigious entrance" to the city from the South Shore, the plan would make bus travel from the South Shore easier and faster. We tend to assume that more use of public transit means less car use and thus less emission of greenhouse gases.
The original plan nonetheless had many controversial aspects, and the changes that Tremblay and Societe du Havre head Isabelle Hudon announced last Thursday go a long way toward fixing them. These improvements include:
-¦Cutting by more than half the 1,900 South Shore buses that originally were to leave the expressway for little Dalhousie St. and roar every day past a new residential area. Three streets (two of which have few residents) would now divvy up this bus traffic.
¦ Changing the buses' route
-to bypass an impressive heritage building, the New City Gas complex, previously threatened.
-¦ Abandoning the idea of reserving the future median strip of the expressway (where it becomes University St.) for office and condo towers. No one would have wanted to work or live amid the traffic. These welcome changes, adding to the plan's saintly sheen, reflect the recommendations of the Office de consultation publique de Montreal. But here's the problem: The assumption that more buses will mean fewer cars is false. The expressway today has six lanes; the plan calls for eight. As well, the diversion of the 1,900 buses to other streets would ease congestion and allow for still more cars.
So, yes, more South Shore residents might take buses under the plan, but even more people could take cars. Use of both modes of transport will be necessary under today's wild development of the Montreal region, an anarchic condition the Charest government has in effect encouraged through highway construction and its failure to get a land-use plan for the metropolitan region. Statistics contained in the Societe de l'assurance automobile du Quebec's annual report, made public this month, cast astonishing light on the car-usage trend that inspires the Bonaventure expressway's expansion and many other road projects.
You might think that all the publicity over cars' impact on climate change would have reduced the demand for cars. On the contrary, the number of cars and SUVs in the Monteregie region, which includes the South Shore, rose by 2.5 per cent in 2009 -precisely twice that region's rate of population growth. More revealing: The Monteregie had 12 per cent more cars and SUVs last year than in 2004, the Charest government's first full year in power. That's the ongoing trend that Montreal is trying to accommodate by widening the Bonaventure expressway. The $141-million project, 75 per cent of which would be paid for by Montrealers, is essentially a glorified doormat for off-island commuters who pay no Montreal taxes. But I don't want to pick on the South Shore. The same phenomenon flourishes everywhere. Despite getting a metro, Laval's rate of vehicle growth last year exceeded the Monteregie's. So did the North Shore's. That explains why Quebec is extending two highways in those areas. If you want to know where Quebec is headed on climate change, don't let yourself be dazzled by the province's saintly alliances with several provinces and U.S. states to impose cap-and-trade measures. Keep your eye on road transport, the source of most of the metropolitan region's gas emissions.
That's the test of our seriousness.
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