Commuters lightened the carbon load 

Annual Commuter Challenge reduced greenhouse gas emissions in Whistler

It was less than two weeks long, but efforts made by locals during the Whistler Way Commuter Challenge took four tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. That's the ballpark equivalent of avoiding 1,000 litres of gasoline.

During the challenge over 900 commuters in Whistler found alternative, more eco-friendly ways to get to work. Biking, skateboarding and walking were popular choices for the active set, and those who would normally drive their single occupancy vehicles partnered up to car pool with co-workers. Some also learned to use the bus - not always an easy transition for people used to the immediacy of a car.

"I think things like the Commuter Challenge are a really important part of raising that dialogue and raising that awareness, especially when I look at the reach that we've achieved this year - 900 plus participants, 100 plus organizations - that's a pretty significant event and from an awareness perspective it is the start we need to have this conversation," said the Resort Municipality of Whistler community energy manager Ted Battiston.

Battiston rides his bike to work year-round.

"It's all the more powerful that it involves some degree of behaviour change, although not everyone made huge changes."

The Commuter Challenge was organized by RMOW's Whistler Way initiative, which falls under the umbrella of the Whistler2020 push to make the community more sustainable. Local businesses donated resources and prizes to the cause, and of the 100 participating businesses, eight earned 100 per cent of the available points. Amos & Andes in Whistler Village was one of the top earners in the small business category.

"We all walked, instead of driving. Anything for the community," said Amos and Andes sales associate Wendy Cartner.

She said her co-workers were motivated by health and the environment.

"I still walk every day. We all make a conscious effort."

Battiston maintains a large inventory of emission data for the municipality and his research shows that around half the total emission footprint in Whistler stems from passenger vehicles. The heating and lighting of buildings contributes 35 to 40 per cent, but transportation habits are the greatest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Statistically there is no reason why local residents can't keep contributing to the reduction. 65 per cent of Whistler residents participating in the Commuter Challenge travel an average of five kilometres or less to work. In Vancouver the average commute to work is 7.6 kilometers and the average commute time is 30 minutes. Coupled with Whistler's capable transit system, the town's design isn't prohibitive to improved commuting habits.

"This transit system has won awards for most number of passengers per annum. It's an award-winning transit system for the community and for a community of 10,000 people we are actually quite lucky with what we have," continued Battiston.

"That said, Whistler2020 sustainability indicators do monitor how many people live within 299 metres of what we call a quality bus service, so it is something we understand needs to be better if people are actually going to have the ability to be able to change their patterns and have good choices that are convenient and so on."

Battiston thinks new paid parking in the village will also help take more cars off the road and encourage people to start planning alternate routes if they need to go shopping or run errands.

Commuting in Whistler might be easier than in other Canadian cities, but it still has a long way to go when it comes to changing patterns of behaviour.

"Putting the cost of automobile travel on the user should help them make more measured decisions around the modes they use to travel. If it costs the community to have everybody in those vehicles, then that cost should be borne by the people who are using those modes," continued Battiston.

"Evidence in other communities suggests that yes, you end up with less single occupant vehicle travel when you have pay parking."

Battiston will have the data needed to assess whether the paid parking has changed vehicular patterns by mid-February.




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