Climate Meeting # 16 - Calgary Roads
I met recently with Calgary Roads to discuss climate considerations within the department. The Roads department has made strides when it comes to climate change alongside the other business units in Transportation. There are several different projects and pilots underway that show they are taking positive steps forward. Progress has been slow, but steady. There is also a lot of work still to be done for Roads to be City leaders on climate action.
Transportation accounts for 37% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Calgary. This means how we move is one of the key drivers of our climate impact. The Climate Resiliency Strategy recognizes this with a focus on more sustainable transportation choices. Roads is responsible for operating and maintaining our streets and roads, and they have significant influence over how they are designed as well. Roads’ approach significantly affects whether or not we make progress on GHG reductions.
- Changing priorities:
- Cycling and pedestrian strategies – How we travel has a huge impact on GHG emissions. One crucial step towards a climate-friendly city is to promote and invest in sustainable modes of transportation. Enhancing the safety and accessibility of walking and cycling for all citizens is one of the main objectives for Roads in the Climate Resiliency Strategy. Progress here is slow, but Roads is a key part of both strategies.
- Staff education – Senior Roads staff take part in national industry associations to advance “best practices” in climate action. Dedicated staffing in Roads and Transportation to support environmental leadership has also been in place since 2012. This provides accountability for environmental compliance and climate action within the Transportation Leadership Team.
- Neighbourhood speed limit reduction – While this change is primarily intended to improve safety for Calgary communities, lower and more consistent vehicle speeds have been shown to reduce GHG emissions and noise pollution.
- Other specific projects/initiatives of note:
- Roadside naturalization pilot project – Through this pilot, Roads is changing roadside maintenance practices. They are testing the conversion of landscaping to more drought tolerant native vegetation that sequesters more carbon and provides habitat for vital pollinator populations. This type of landscaping is low maintenance, so it also reduces GHG emissions associated with mowing.
- Vehicle emissions reduction goals – Roads has established performance measures for transit operations specific to carbon reduction. Roads is also developing business cases for energy efficiency from low carbon fuel options.
- Exploring and assessing lower carbon materials – Lower carbon concrete production (CarbonCure) and General Use Limestone lower carbon cement are being piloted to reduce carbon emissions in the very surfaces we build on our streets.
What’s not working?
While we can see that Roads is implementing a number of positive initiatives on climate action, and have the staffing in place to track their goals, progress is slow. Many of the changes are add-ons or tweaks, rather than the systemic reform necessary to change the environmental performance of our streets and roads. Roads also often works at cross purposes with our climate goals because it continues to view our mobility system as a way to move as many automobiles as possible as fast as possible. This perpetuates an over dependence on driving everywhere, which in turn directly contributes to increased GHG emissions from vehicles and from ever-expanding roadways. Shifting more trips to active modes and transit is critical, but Roads is often a barrier in planning these projects because its focus remains on automobiles first. Rather than as an enabler for our walking, cycling, and transit strategies, Roads is still primarily focussed on maintaining the status quo. This is not working well for our environment and our established goals. While some work has been done to modernize Roads’ priorities, a systemic shift that prioritizes sustainability still needs to happen.
The Roads department has demonstrated in specific ways that they are dedicated to shifting their department to address climate change. With 11 Climate Strategy actions specifically for the Roads department, there is still much work to do. Many of these actions are in progress and others have not yet started. We are moving slowly in the right direction, so I look forward to more reports on their achievements that we can celebrate as a city as they ramp up.