Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Maxed Out: Whistler’s ‘Big Moves’ on climate miss the mark

'Why isn’t solving this a key initiative?'
Moving big or hardly moving?

A family gathering over the weekend saw me driving south to Vancouver at about 9:30 last Saturday morning. Northbound traffic was bumper to bumper from the village to Alta Vista. There was a short gap, compliments of a red light at Creekside, then bumper to bumper with other short open spaces due to the other traffic lights.

But from Function Junction to the bottom of power line hill there were no gaps, just nose-to-tail vehicles crawling along at walking speed or stopped completely, backed up by the Function traffic lights as a couple of cars turned left into Cheakamus and a couple turned north out of Function.

It was the kind of traffic I would have expected on a Saturday or Sunday when the conditions were great for skiing and boarding. But the weather last Saturday was far from perfect—wet, socked in, Wet Coast cementitious powder.

Coming back Sunday, between 5 and 5:30 p.m., southbound traffic was continuous from Squamish to North Vancouver and even heavier from Whistler to Squamish. The endless stream of headlights glaring off rain-soaked, boundary line-challenged Highway 99 left me laughing at the idea of autonomous cars trying to negotiate what their cameras and radar couldn’t possibly “see.”

It also had me thinking about Whistler’s Climate Action Big Moves Strategy. The goal of the BMs is to reduce Whistler’s greenhouse gas emissions to meet the target of a 50-per-cent GHG reduction below 2007 levels by 2030. I’m not interested in the debate about how insignificant Whistler’s and Canada’s GHG emissions might be on a global scale. If that’s the kind of palaver that makes you feel good about driving a big truck or hopping on airplanes to work on your tan or fill your Instagram, go for it.

But to the extent the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is serious about the BMs, I would like to explore some possible steps that would further the big movements.

On a What Have You Done About It Lately note, the RMOW would like us to move beyond cars, which is to say make half of all local trips by transit or “active” transport—bikes, walking, etc.—by 2030.

To encourage this transition, several steps have been identified: affordable fares, shorter trip times, dedicated bus lanes, and improved accessibility among them.

The most important of those, and the one we’ve seen no progress on, is dedicated bus lanes. Ironically, it’s also arguably the most important. Why? Because no one who has the choice is going to choose sitting on a bus stuck in gridlock as opposed to sitting in their own car stuck in gridlock.

An item completely missing from the list is end-of-trip facilities. This used to be a key consideration in the planning department. When the library was being rebuilt, a shower/change facility was added to the design and expense. The idea was to encourage people to bike in and clean up. To my knowledge, it’s never been used for that purpose and I’m not arguing for showers.

But the single best incentive to get people onto transit who are heading to the mountains to ski and board would be more equipment storage at the bases of Whistler and Blackcomb. Schlepping all your gear onto and off the bus to go skiing is a non-starter for many people, and for virtually all people with kids in tow. It used to be slightly less onerous when there were tubes on the side of the bus for skis, but fat skis pretty much killed that option. Considering the number of short trips in cars made each winter’s day by skiers and boarders, it seems making it easier to opt for transit would be considered low-hanging fruit.

The BM to decarbonize transportation seems to hinge on all of us buying electric vehicles. This, of course, is going to hinge on EVs becoming both available and affordable. All the incentives in the world aren’t going to change that calculus, and quite possibly the incentives are instrumental in keeping prices high.

The third BM is the money shot: reduce visitor travel emissions. Gratefully, this one acknowledges, “Emissions associated with tourist travel to and from Whistler are estimated significantly higher than Whistler’s total community emissions.”

I’m pretty certain the emissions I saw Saturday morning would be the equivalent of everyone in town letting their cars idle in the driveway all day. And that was just one Saturday’s worth of personal and commercial cars and trucks coming one way.

So what are the key initiatives to counteract this cloud of emissions? In a word, ineffective. And in some cases laughable.

Any mention of dedicated bus lanes? No. Any mention of satellite parking south of town to intercept some of those hundreds of cars? No. Any mention of higher rates for the day skier parking lots that already charge a fraction of what it costs to park in Vancouver? No.

But we’re somehow going to “show leadership in marketing a low-carbon vacation destination.” I’m not making that up. The only thing low-carbon about Whistler as a vacation destination is the pedestrian village. Other than that, Whistler is a poster child for high-carbon vacations. And no amount of carbon offsets—another initiative— is going to change that, such legerdemain often being compared to an obese person paying someone else to diet for them.

Clearly the vast majority of the GHG emissions stem from day-tripper traffic from the Lower Mainland. Destination tourists fly in, and some rent cars to drive up. But many take a shuttle, since they’ve read or know there’s no need for a car once you get here if you’re staying in the village.

The 800-pound—sounds more daunting than a 362.9-kilo—gorilla to tackle with this BM is day-trippers. So what’s the key initiative? “Partner with resort organizations and regional partners to encourage alternatives to personal vehicles travelling to and within Whistler, for example through marketing and communication.”

Marketing and communication? Show of hands: Anyone, other than whomever wrote this, who thinks marketing and communication is going to stem the tide of vehicles coming up and going back each day, raise your hand. I’ll wait. Still waiting. Oh, there’s a hand. No, just scratching his head.

Don’t get me wrong. I want people to come here. I want them to have a good time. Sitting in gridlock from the bottom of power line hill to the village isn’t a good time. Leaving your car at the Callaghan and sitting in a shuttle bus in a dedicated lane whizzing past the diehards who insist on driving and paying $60 or more a day to park is a much better time.

So why isn’t solving this a key initiative?