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This article was published 14/11/2017 (1041 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Premier Brian Pallister recently unveiled the made-in-Manitoba "Climate and Green Plan," a strategy to reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions and battle climate change.
The central component of the proposed policy is a $25-per-tonne tax on carbon emissions, typically generated from burning fossil fuels.
The plan has been presented as a work in progress, with details to be finalized in the coming months. How the government spends the projected $260 million raised each year by the carbon tax will be a critical piece to realizing the plan’s projected emissions reductions.
With almost two-thirds of Manitobans living in Winnipeg’s metropolitan area, targeted, forward-looking investment in the city’s urban infrastructure represents a significant opportunity to make bold moves that leverage those dollars to reduce our carbon footprint, grow the economy and build a more competitive and progressive city.
Establishing a modern, urban public transportation system is one of these key opportunities with multi-faceted benefits.
Investing half of the $260-million annual carbon tax revenues into Winnipeg Transit could move the projected timeline for building the city’s entire six-corridor, 45-kilometre rapid transit system from 40 years to eight.
A similar rapid-transit system in Ottawa has contributed to almost twice as many commuters using public transit there than in Winnipeg. Higher transit use would reduce the number of cars on the road, improving traffic congestion, lowering demand for surface parking lots, decreasing GHG emissions and reducing spending on road maintenance and new construction. Greater accessibility to transit would also help build a more socially inclusive city, providing mobility options that improve access to employment and education for Winnipeggers of all ages and income levels.
Many Canadian cities use public transit spending to leverage private development and promote infill growth that increases the density of existing suburbs through Transit Oriented Development (TOD).
The convenience of a successful rapid-transit system can make living near access points attractive, acting as a catalyst for higher-density, mixed-use development.
By controlling where transit hubs are located, planners can target strategic locations for infill and renewal, helping slow the growth of distant suburbs that stretch city services and increase the corresponding tax burden.
TOD allows a city’s transit spending to transcend that of transportation infrastructure, reducing GHG emissions through a reduction in driving, increasing neighbourhood density that reduces the need for new infrastructure, and acting as a catalyst for private development that grows the economy, making the city more environmentally sustainable and fiscally viable.
Looking for other strategies that reduce our reliance on the automobile will be key to meeting our emissions targets.
The transportation sector is the highest GHG emitter in Manitoba, representing 38 per cent of the total, two-thirds of which comes from light cars and trucks.
Progressive Canadian cities are turning to cycling infrastructure to help reduce vehicle use. Without exception, every city that has invested in extensive, protected bike lane networks — including winter cities such as Montreal and Minneapolis — has seen exponential growth in cycling participation rates.
At a cost of $135 million, representing half of a single year’s carbon tax revenue, the entire protected bike lane network outlined in the city’s 20-year transportation master plan could be constructed.
The network would consist of 80 kilometres of protected bike lanes criss-crossing the city, including a $7-million, 13-lane downtown grid, instantly making Winnipeg an active transportation leader in North America, improving public health and reducing emissions.
Downtown growth can also play an important role in environmental sustainability. A study in Toronto revealed that residential emissions in dense urban neighbourhoods are up to 10 times lower per capita than those in distant, car-dependent suburbs.
To promote this type of development in Winnipeg, earmarking a small portion of the carbon tax revenue to a new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) incentive program for downtown housing would build on the momentum created by similar previous programs that have been the driving force behind downtown renewal and population growth.
Over the past 15 years, provincial TIF investment of approximately $50 million has been the catalyst for over $1 billion in private development, representing more than 50 residential projects and 2,400 new homes in the downtown.
With 23 per cent of Manitoba’s GHG emissions coming from the heating and cooling of buildings, there is an important opportunity to develop innovative programs that create incentives to retrofit existing buildings to improve environmental performance and create employment in the construction industry.
Extending the life of our older buildings also provides lower rent opportunities for startups and small businesses, while preserving Winnipeg’s urban character, often defined by its heritage structures. Installing higher-efficiency mechanical and electrical systems, switching from natural gas to hydro and improving insulation values in existing buildings could yield a 25 per cent reduction in GHG emissions by 2030.
Investing carbon tax revenues into urban initiatives represents a significant opportunity to create impactful, lasting change in our city. Since 1970, Winnipeg has grown by more than 60 per cent in area but only 30 per cent in population. By building a low-density, sprawling city, we are accelerating the growing gap between tax revenue and escalating service and infrastructure costs. Automobile use is continuing to rise, commuting distances, traffic congestion and GHG emissions are increasing, and spending on road maintenance and construction is growing.
By boldly reinvesting revenues from the Climate and Green Plan on initiatives that increase Winnipeg’s population density, renew our existing building stock and reduce our dependency on automobiles, we can begin to build a city that is a model of sustainability, both environmentally and economically.
Brent Bellamy is chairman of CentreVenture’s board and the creative director at Number Ten Architectural Group.
Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.
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