Tag Archives: Vancouver

Bike Sharing – Coming to a City Near You

By Nils Westling

“The Bixi bikes have given me the opportunity to try cycling for a season, without spending too much money” says Sasha Simmons, a regular user of the public bike sharing system in Montréal, called Bixi. She uses the bikes on a daily basis and finds the system convenient and easy-to-use.

Bixi Bikes, Montreal - Photo by afagen on Flickr

Public bike sharing is an increasingly popular way for cities to promote cycling. The list of cities with bike sharing systems is growing.  Berlin, London, Melbourne, Barcelona and Washington DC are just a few of the cities that have joined Montréal in adopting bike sharing programmes.  The idea isn’t new, but recent improvements in technology –  primarily to protect the bikes from theft and vandalism – have given bike sharing programs a boost in the last few years.

The world’s biggest bike sharing system – Vélib – is in Paris, with more than 20,000 available bicycles throughout the city. France is a world leader in public bike sharing and set up the first successful system in La Rochelle in 1974.  Now most major French cities have bike sharing systems in place.

Vélib' bikes in Paris - Photo by Tami

Perhaps the French influence may be at play in Canada as well.  Montréal boasts the largest bike sharing system nationally with approximately 5000 bikes available throughout the downtown core.

In Vancouver, about four percent of commuting trips are made by bike (City of Vancouver) but this number could be significantly higher. According to a survey carried out by the City of Vancouver (Cycling in Vancouver – Fact sheet march 2011)  31 percent of Vancouverites consider themselves cyclists or potential cyclists. But for potential cyclists to actually start pedaling in Vancouver, a few barriers need to be overcome. Bad weather, the risk of injury and the cost of acquiring and maintaining a bike are among these. While it may be difficult to control the weather, Vancouver is one of the best cities for year-round cycling. Safety however remains a serious problem.  Although there are more bike lanes (and most recently some separated lanes), cycling in Vancouver still feels unsafe for many.  With public bike sharing however, the cost of acquiring a bike and the time and effort needed to maintain it, are almost eliminated. For Sasha Simmons: “The best thing about Bixi is that you don’t have to worry about repairing the bike”,  she says.

Hornby Bike lane in the rain - Photo from the Average Joe's Cycling blog


How does bike sharing work?

  • The users who subscribe to the service get a membership card which is used to unlock a bike.
  • The user is required to provide his/her credit card information, which works like a deposit if the user does not return a bike. For example, the users of Bixi bikes in Montréal pay $78 per year whereas subscription in Paris and Stockholm costs approximately $40 per year (in Stockholm a helmet is included in this price).
  • A computer system keeps track of the time each bike is being used, and the user is required to leave the bike back in any station within a certain amount of time.
  • If the bike is not returned within 24 hours, the bike is considered lost and the user is charged a replacement fee (e.g. $250 in Montréal).

Vélib user paying at a station - Photo by nitot on Flickr

In most cases bike sharing is run by public-private partnership arrangements, and advertising is the main source of revenue. Many cities launch public bike sharing programmes with a subsidy or grant.  The City of Stockholm has recently indicated that its’ bike sharing programme is now fully financed and does not require subsidization from the city.

There are numerous benefits to public bike sharing – most notably reduced vehicle traffic, reductions in green house gas emissions, enhanced transit options, more vibrant street life and improved health for users.  Bike sharing programmes also change people’s behaviours. In Paris, cycling went up 70 percent after the first year of bike sharing .  And as someone who was not a cyclist before Bixi came to Montréal, Sasha Simmons agrees, bike sharing has changed the way she thinks about getting around the city – “I actually like cycling now”.


Innovator Profile: Larry Beasley

By Kayla Van Egdom

Carbon Talks is proud to launch a new blog series: Innovator Profiles featuring individuals and technologies that are helping Canada shift to a low carbon economy.

#1: Larry Beasley

Larry Beasley is an innovator in the urban planning sector. His vision and talents have played a vital role in the development of Vancouver City. In addition to the work that helped produce the livable and desirable “Vancouverism” of our city, Larry Beasley plays the role of city planning advisor to many other urban areas – his expertise spans internationally from cities across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

According to Beasley, every urban planner must act as the designer of the city. He has learned that applying the underlying principles of planning (density, diversity and citizen engagement) is only the first step in city design. Every city has its own culture, and this culture will drive the necessary modifications of the basic principles.

A key element to Beasley’s widely successful urban planning is to see the inhabitants of the city not as mere stakeholders, but as consumers of the city. As is true of any product with an end consumer, Beasley’s city designs have unique value propositions for each group of citizens. He employs what he calls experiential planning: fostering dialogue between citizens and planners in order to understand the desired living conditions of a city.

Beasley’s use of experiential planning has helped him understand the culture-specific needs of cities around the world. In Abu Dhabi, Beasley recognized the local population’s needs for privacy and preservation of their culture. By recognizing these needs, he realized that courtyard style houses and relatively spacious living arrangements (compared to the dense arrangements in Vancouver’s inner city, for example) were necessary to make Abu Dhabi livable for its citizens. Through citizen engagement and the desire to understand local culture, Beasley is able to achieve both livability and sustainability for cities.

When asked about the current state of Vancouver, Beasley points out that there are both structural and infrastructural aspects of sustainability. Structurally, Vancouver has made great strides, particularly in terms of the density and diversity of its housing and the transportation system in the city’s core. However, in terms of infrastructure, Vancouver has a long way to go. Although the use of renewable hydro energy is a step in the right direction, our overall waste and water handling, energy use and transportation methods are all very unsustainable. His suggestions for sustainable infrastructure are to rethink utility systems, layer Vancouver’s public transit system to make it more effective and accessible and develop office buildings and housing more strategically (rather than building office parks in unpopulated areas and continually subdividing for single families).

Beasley sees the transformations and challenges in Vancouver mirrored across the country. Cities throughout Canada are seeing a shift towards sustainable city cores.  They also face the challenges of unsustainable suburbs that account for two-thirds of overall housing.

Beasley has proven that his visions are definitely attainable. False Creek’s urban area (which Beasley played a vital role in designing) boasts a 90% citizen satisfaction rate and a reduced rate of car ownership. In Beasley’s ideal city, everything of importance (grocery stores, schools and places of employment) is within the citizen’s walking distance. This will not only address sustainability issues related to over reliance on cars, but also address some of our population’s current health problems as exercise-centric alternatives to driving such as bike riding and walking are healthy on an environmental and personal scale.

Through citizen involvement and a consumer-based view of cities, Larry Beasley believes that every city can become a livable and sustainable one. He sees Canada as having a responsibility to lead by example (as cities all over the world look to the West for inspiration) and to observe and replicate sustainable practices that are being carried out in other locations.

Tourism: Maximizing Experiences, Minimizing Carbon Footprints

By Kayla Van Egdom

Today’s Brown Bag dialogue featured Dr. Joe Kelly, a professor at Capilano University and one of the founding partners at Gobi Carbon Management Solutions. His presentation featured eye-opening information on the detrimental effects of climate change, the tourism industry’s part in affecting climate change as well as steps that the tourism industry can take to shift to a low carbon economy.

Tourism is one of the major sectors contributing to climate change. If the tourism industry was a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, emitting somewhere between 4-5 percent of total emissions. In addition to contributing to climate change, Dr. Kelly highlighted four climate change-related risks the tourism industry faces: physical changes to our landscapes will detract from the scenic beauty of nature (which can be seen in the case of Vancouver’s pine beetle infestation), new regulations such as BC’s Carbon Tax will increase costs for tourist operators, markets are shifting and consumers or looking for greener tourism options and companies that do not address these market shifts will have to address increased competition and potential brand and reputational risks.

Dr. Kelly believes there is not only a chance, but a profitable opportunity for the tourism industry to re-brand itself.  He suggests that rather than being a commodity, tourism is about experiences. By maximizing experiences and minimizing GHG emissions, the tourism industry will help slow the effects of climate change.

Dr. Kelly identified six steps to a “low-carbon tourism” industry in B.C.1) conserve; 2) improve efficiency; 3) use renewable energy; 4) purchase offsets for GHG emissions that can’t be reduced through other measures; 5) adapt to the climate changes; 6) share your successes with others.

Many businesses are already reaping the rewards of reducing their carbon footprints. Dr. Kelly profiled Harbour Air, pointing out that after their shift to carbon-neutrality, they experienced a 12% increase in revenues (which was primarily due to increased market share). This is a case in point: the market is ready for greener tourism experiences. Dr. Kelly is optimistic, believing that a combination of an environmentally conscientious market and sustainable tourism businesses will slow the damaging effects of climate change in today’s world.

Dr. Joe Kelly is a founding partner of Gobi Carbon Management Solutions, and teaches at Capilano University.

Canada could make huge progress in greenhouse gas reduction by retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency. But how would we pay for it?

By Chris Westendorf

With buildings accounting for approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada, primarily through end-user energy use (such as people using heat to warm their homes or offices), it makes sound ecological and economic sense to implement a more sustainable building stock. While comprehensive sustainability standards in new construction are the way of the future, the overwhelming majority of standing buildings are not built to green  standards and will not be replaced any time soon. Given this slow turnover of building stock, there is potential to make immense progress in GHG reduction by retrofitting existing buildings for energy efficiency.

The big problem is how to pay for it. While resources and expertise in terms of the actualities of the retrofit exist in abundance, financing remains a major barrier. Public-sector incentives do help, but usually cover only a portion of significant upfront costs.

Several innovations in retrofit financing that attempt to address this problem have sprung up in recent years. These innovations, which we’ll call “energy-savings financing,” generally involve a structure whereby future borrowing costs are offset by energy savings. The idea is to enable relevant parties to undertake a retrofit without impacting their cash flow. PACE, a model for individual home retrofits in the United States, is a well-publicized version of energy-savings financing.

Unfortunately, a generic retrofit financing model for all building classes is an overly optimistic and impractical dream. Each class of building presents special concerns that may each require a unique energy-savings financing model. The challenges in creating these models lie both in motivating relevant parties through an appropriate cost-benefit structure, and in demonstrating loan security to financial institutions.

Multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) are a class of buildings that make up over 30 per cent of Canada’s national housing stock and over 50 per cent of the housing stock in cities like Vancouver. Creating a successful model for financing MURB retrofits that is replicable on a widespread scale and meets private-sector financing criteria could have a massive impact on both energy efficiency and GHG emissions.

A major barrier in financing MURB retrofits is the complications involved in arranging and securing financing when dealing with multiple unit-owners, particularly unit owners who may not have plans to occupy their unit for the long term. Entry points for improvement do, however, exist. One point of entry with enormous potential is retrofit financing through MURB strata corporations.

Strata corporations offer the advantage of presenting a single face for debt administrators to deal with. They are also large and stable enough to be considered credit-worthy. As City of Vancouver sustainability manager David Ramslie puts it: “Stratas are actually excellent to lend to because they always pay the bills. They never move; you always know where to find them.” With the power to collect financing payments through strata fees (offset by energy savings) and to register liens against the property of owners who are late in their payments, strata corporations are a one-stop shop when it comes to dealing with the complications of multiple unit owners. Under this structure, owners who leave are also free of obligation, with new owners continuing payments under strata fees while benefiting from energy savings.

A problem with this model, however, is that mainstream financial institutions typically demand that this type of debt be secured with assets. Providing debt security is also an essential prerequisite for locking in long-term interest rates that provide stability. While attaching liens to each individual strata member’s mortgage to secure financing is a possibility, this model is complicated and much easier to implement at the new construction stage. What’s needed is third-party aggregators, retrofit-financing broker companies that specialize in evaluating a strata’s ability to pay based on future energy savings and that can guarantee and bundle financing and spread risk over several projects.

Several public bodies in Canada are already making inroads by acting as functioning aggregators. The Toronto Atmospheric Fund, for example, has facilitated multiple retrofit loans to strata corporations and provided financing to new-building developers to build beyond code for energy efficiency. Once the building is occupied, these added financing obligations are passed on to the new strata. Vancouver has plans to enact a pilot project facilitating MURB retrofits through stratas in 2011. Further public-sector incubation and finance tool development is an essential step in demonstrating and publicizing the business case behind MURB retrofits to both stratas and financial institutions.

In order to optimize conditions for private-sector entry into this field, all levels of government must collaborate to ensure a constant, stable, and encouraging regulatory environment. Ambiguities in strata acts that create uncertainty for lenders need to be addressed. Section 112 in Ontario’s Condominium Act, for example, allows newly elected strata boards for new condos to terminate agreements that previous boards have entered into if those agreements go beyond one year. Strata acts across the nation need to be integrated and refined for this model to flourish.

In a world where “sustainable” and “subsidized” often go hand in hand, the stability of strata corporations, coupled with the undeniable economic value of energy savings, offers a rare and shining beacon of potential for widespread market reproduction. It is important for our policies and incentives in this respect to function like mother hens; warming, protecting, and incubating a potentially market-worthy egg.

(Reprinted from The Mark http://www.themarknews.com/articles/3347-building-s-a-road-to-a-greener-future)