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We, my family and I, recently drove through town and I found that, although there did not seem to be a lot of cars, traffic was moving rather slowly. In recent months, that might well have been due to road construction. Vancouver has had so much road construction that it has been difficult to go anywhere without having to maneuver through all sorts of fluorescent orange or green traffic control systems. I took to commenting often that, “Vancouver is just one giant construction zone.” Vancouver is a city where folks like their cars. It is hard to get them to give up driving everywhere. Transit systems are in place, as are a variety of initiatives, to make getting around without using a car, much easier. One such initiative is bike lanes and it was a bike lane that got me thinking, as we drove through town.
For those who live in, or near, town, biking is a very viable alternative to using a car. Bike lanes have been added to a few streets and bridges. One street corridor recently received a three million dollar (if I recall correctly) experiment, trial, pilot project, whatever, one that is taking place in the middle of winter. There was quite a bit of discussion about this project because it received approval at around 11 PM at night and the construction began a 7AM the next morning. It seemed the contractors were expecting to be proceeding, even before a formal go ahead. It also seems as if the lane might be designed to be permanent.
We live in a suburb of Vancouver and actually seldom drive downtown, so, I was a bit surprised at how much driving space is lost due to the bike lanes. I always imagined a narrow bike lane. I guess it never really occurred to me that the only way to make the lane is to take a whole car lane. The result, as I soon noticed, is that traffic moves much slower. That got me to thinking. Our drive through town took place on a rainy day and I saw only a few (brave?) bikers. We, however, sat in our car idling and having to start and stop more often than usual. So, how can this be a green option? Three and four lane streets were reduced to two lanes, thus slowing traffic. All this for only a few bikers.
This raises the issue, and it is a real concern, what makes a particular initiative a green one? It can look green, like a bike lane, but, what lies (a pun?) under the surface? Was reduced automobile traffic flow factored into the ‘bike lanes are green’ equation?
It turns out that many corporations and large organizations will take what looks to be a green initiative and publicize it to gain attention. It is a usually a marketing money grab. If you dig under the surface, just like the bike lanes, there are other considerations that may negate some of the green value.
Many corporations struggle with going green. They attempt to take existing products and make them greener, only to find that the consumer gets confused and no longer understands the product. Other corporations have discovered that creating an entirely new product introduced as green, brings more success.
I know I have opened a very controversial can of worms. Here is another green initiative, light bulbs. Today, my mother-in-law brought up the fact that it is getting difficult to buy incandescent light bulbs. She mentioned the alternative, compact fluorescent lights (CFL), and wanted to know what other options were available. I told her that LED (light emitting diode) lights are probably the next answer, but, they are too expensive at this time. LED lights do last far longer that anything else. I forgot to mention Halogen. One can find many halogen bulbs in the lighting section of stores, but, most look like very small spotlights and are usually used in track lighting and pot lights recessed in the ceiling.
Back to our conversation where we were pondering the green value of CFLs since they contain mercury. How can mercury be a better alternative? Without some research, the only reason I can think of is that they are a cheaper transition option to use, getting people to switch to other types of lighting and, while LED or other types come down in price.
I know we can go on with this discussion for years, and I’m sure we will. For now, I’ll end with asking, “Is the world going to end one day anyway, no matter what we do?”