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Thursday, 8 November 2012

Synopsis of Sustainable Transportation Relations Affecting the Pender Islands

By Jake Skinner

This blog entry is the end result of two weeks of communal inquisition into sustainability issues affecting Salt Spring and Pender Islands. Our first week was the field research. The entire MA SLM student class traveled to Salt Spring and Pender Islands to learn from locals about sustainable initiatives and challenges facing their communities. The immersion in dialogue and setting helped students see challenges and successes first hand. Upon return, we were given a week to prepare a report, which focused on addressing three questions pertaining to a central social pillar. I chose to focus on transportation challenges, to and on Pender. My report tried to spotlight the challenges facing sustainable transportation, showcase initiatives or organizations that are devoted to addressing the challenges and located two case studies that may hold valuable information in addressing the challenges.
The report focused on two primary challenges: reliance on the currently unstable BC Ferries (www.bcferries.com) to access the islands and creating multi-model infrastructure on the islands. BC Ferries was identified as a sustainable underachiever because it is a financially floundering enterprise that is oriented to vehicle transportation. The Ferries' fleet is designed big to accommodate an archaic number of vehicles, which requires epic amounts of fuel to operate. The rising price of fuel keeps rates rising, reducing ridership, which adds to the financial woes. Large fuel also equals large carbon, which augments climate change. Transportation on Pender is also carbon dependent with cars being the primary mode of transportation, largely because of safety concerns, resulting from poor infrastructure.

Thankfully there are several organizations dedicated to addressing the two for-mentioned challenges. BC Ferries has begun a consultation process that will ultimately result in a fundamental re-shaping of its services. This was basically ordered by the government who subsidizes the Ferries to the tune of $200,000,000 plus annually. Less extreme measures are being taken on Pender to address its car dependency challenges. The key players are Moving Around Pender Alternative Transportation Society (MAP) (http://movingaroundpender.ca/) the Capital Regional District (CRD) (http://www.crd.bc.ca/southerngulf/index.htm)and the Islands Trust (http://www.islandstrust.bc.ca/ltc/np/default.cfm). The three have been instrumental in developing a transportation plan, which follows a very multi-modal model, with preference given to alternative forms of transportation, such as cycling and walking.

The third part of the report introduced two “outside” initiatives addressing similar challenges in slightly different contexts: the Small Ferries Project (http://www.smallferriesproject.com/) and the CRD's Pedestrian and Cycling Masterplan (PCMP) (http://www.crd.bc.ca/transportation/plans/pedcyc-plan.htm). The Small Ferries Project is a joint project between Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland to create a small fleet of ferries to service some of their remote islands. Unique to the project was the encouragement of local operators to bid for contracts to lease boats to provide government sanctioned “lifeline” services, encouraging local participation. The small ferries are also highly innovative and showcase some of the best green technologies, reducing environmental impact. Their size also makes them sustainability attractive, compared to BC Ferries supertankers. The CRD's PCMP also seems to offer an attainable fast-track to regional inclusion in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. Lessons could also be learned by partnering with adjacent Islands’ alternative transportation organizations, such as Island Pathways on Salt Spring Island.
The field work, report and presentation have deepened my experience and perception of communal consultation. I sincerely feel that I have learned more academically in the last two weeks, then in the last two years. I am excited to see what's next to come!

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