BftB: It’s not easy being green: The challenges of sustainable transit in B.C.

While demand for commuter rail exists, so do hurdles to implementation in BC. Photo via flickr

While demand for commuter rail exists, so do hurdles to implementation in BC. Photo via flickr

During a recent visit to see my partner’s family in Germany, I found myself sitting on the train to Munich after hiking in the Alps, wondering what on earth had happened to the idea of passenger rail between Whistler and Vancouver.

As rolling farmland and clusters of Bavarian houses with hearts carved into their shutters whipped by outside my window, I thought about all that this train provides: easy access to outdoor recreation, connecting commuters to jobs in Munich, allowing families to live in affordable, charming Bavarian towns without worrying about traffic, accidents, fossil fuel emissions, or gas prices. And what’s more, skiers can even purchase a train and lift ticket package for the Garmisch ski area near Munich!

Back in Canada, myself and many fellow environmentally-minded British Columbians see outdoor recreation as a way of reconnecting with nature. Yet without a similar rail system to that in Germany, we’re stuck using cars to go skiing, hiking, climbing and mountain biking in Whistler and Squamish. An average of 13 700 vehicles drive the Sea-to-Sky Highway every day. That’s hundreds of tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere every day. I sense ecological irony…

How can we enjoy our outdoor adventures when they directly contribute to climate change? If we’re going to continue selling ourselves as ‘Beautiful BC’, ‘Green Vancouver’ and ‘World- Class Whistler’, it’s time to put our money where our mouth is.

Whistler, Squamish, and Pemberton are growing. These B.C. municipalities have younger populations than most others in the province. The population of Squamish is projected to grow from 15,051 residents to 25,000 residents by 2021, and a new community, South Britannia, is already being planned. Imagine if young adults and families could enjoy affordable housing and a sustainable, productive commute. We could reduce commuters’ fossil fuel emissions and help to resolve Vancouver’s affordable housing crisis all with one stone!

But it’s not just about us British Columbians. We welcome tourists from around the world to see our breathtaking landscapes; however, without the right transportation infrastructure, tourists have to rent cars and emit fossil fuels to explore the Sea-to-Sky corridor.

As I sat on the train in Germany thinking about all of this, I kept coming back to one big question: Why don’t we have passenger rail for commuting, tourism, and outdoor recreation access in B.C.?

(For Cami’s thoughts on this question and more about the history and politics behind existing and pending transit rail projects, continue onto Part 2 of this series.)