A health sciences expert says cities aren’t designed to handle significant increases in congestion unless a large portion of the economy shifts to more permanent work-from-home arrangements, in a May 7, 2020 story. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Experts warn of increasing car use, loss of transit routes post-crisis

Traffic congestion could get worse

VANCOUVER — Getting around Stanley Park since the pandemic struck is a new experience for Tom Green.

Roads that weave through the urban forest in Vancouver have been closed to traffic, making space for residents to get fresh air at a physical distance.

“It’s become a cycling and walking paradise and you can hear the birds better,” said the climate solutions policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation.

Mobility data released by Apple suggests enormous declines in personal transportation since COVID-19 began its spread in Canada.

Users of the company’s Maps app made 80 per cent fewer requests for directions on transit between Jan. 13 and May 4 across the country. Requests from drivers dropped 42 per cent, while walkers dropped 40 per cent during the same period.

It’s a shift that one expert says places communities at a crossroads. There’s an opportunity to encourage healthier forms of transportation after the crisis subsides but there’s also a lot at stake, said Meghan Winters, an associate professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in nearby Burnaby.

“I think the biggest challenge that will face our cities is that we’re not going to recover in terms of transit,” Winters said.

Data from post-lockdown China suggests more people are driving, she said.

In Canada, already cash-strapped transit agencies are facing sharp revenue declines and with a new public aversion to shared spaces that could extend into the long-term.

The Toronto Transit Commission has temporarily laid off 1,200 employees amid an 85 per cent drop in ridership. In Metro Vancouver, TransLink says it is losing around $75 million each month due to reductions in ridership and lost fuel tax revenue.

Service cuts are manageable in neighbourhoods where alternate routes are available but there’s a question about equity if some routes are cut permanently. Not everyone can drive and people with disabilities, teens and seniors could lose vital links to groceries and medical appointments, Winters said.

Cities aren’t designed to handle significant increases in congestion unless a large portion of the economy shifts to more permanent work-from-home arrangements, she said.

But there’s also an opportunity as more people bike and walk on roads without traffic in many places. People who don’t normally cycle have been able try it out in a safer way and could continue riding under the right conditions, she said.

“If there’s one silver lining here, it’s that we’ve been in a place that isn’t as car-centric, that doesn’t have that same congestion, pollution, noise, stressors. And people have been out in their communities noticing different things, hearing different things, feeling safer on their streets,” Winters said.

But it will take a co-ordinated effort for cities to hold onto that change, she said.

“They’ll have to invest in ensuring that walking and cycling continue to feel like safe activities for people.”

In the short-term, police in several jurisdictions said they’ve seen a large drop in road accidents during the pandemic, but also more dangerous driving on the open roads.

“We’re definitely seeing lighter volumes of traffic at all hours of the day throughout the entire city,” said Sgt. Jason Kraft of the Toronto Police Service.

At the same time, between March 23 and April 27, stunt driving charges in the city rose almost 10 times to 220 compared with the 32 over the same period last year. Speeding tickets rose to 5,900 from 5,500, Kraft said.

“Drivers are choosing to double and sometimes triple the posted speed limit,” he said. “Our public roads are not your personal race track.”

Since March 21, Edmonton police have seen about 100 incidents of people driving at least 50 kilometres an hour over the speed limit. The highest was a motorist driving 214 km/h in a 100 km/h zone, spokeswoman Cheryl Voordenhout said.

By the end of March, Edmonton had recorded a 30 per cent decrease in traffic volume, while there was a 30 per cent increase in speeding of more than 20 kilometres per hour over the limit, Voordenhout said.

Environmentalists are watching how reduced flights and traffic will affect global emissions.

Official figures won’t be available for some time, but estimates suggest that global emissions still haven’t dropped enough to meet commitments in the Paris Agreement on climate change, Green said.

Globally, models suggest an annual decline of about six to eight per cent in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. Emissions would have to come down by the same rate every year in order to meet the targets, he said.

“While it’s a drop in emissions right now, the remaining emissions are still very, very high and of course the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is what’s built up over decades,” he said, noting last month was the hottest April on record.

“So we haven’t solved the climate crisis this way.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2020.

CoronavirusTransit

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Front-line hospital workers have walked off the job at the Rimbey Hospital, and across the province. Photo Submitted
Front-line health care workers on strike across the province, including Rimbey Hospital

The strike is due to cut of 11,000 health care jobs in the province, according to AUPE

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

Ma & Paws Pet Supplies. Facebook/ Ma & Paws Pet Supplies.
Rimbey residents petition for dog park

Request for approval of dog park will be brought up at Tuesday Oct. 27 Town Council meeting.

Cases in Ponoka (East Ponoka County) as of Oct. 27. (alberta.ca)
Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 at three Ponoka businesses

Town ‘strongly encouraging’ residents to wear non-medical masks in public

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. The Alberta government is hoping to get more Albertans employed by moving to limit the number and type of temporary foreign workers it allows into the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta to limit temporary foreign worker program to save jobs for Albertans

Temporary foreign workers already in the province won’t be affected

(Emily Jaycox/Bashaw Star)
Wreath laying ceremony held in Manfred, Alta.

Ceremony marks 64th anniversary of Hungarian revolution, honours settlers

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Most Read