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Does Vancouver really have a new pollution problem as cars idle because of the bleeping bike lanes?

November 26th, 2014 · 56 Comments

There was a little one-liner that kept surfacing during the recent Vancouver election, one that I’ve heard from more than one letter writer, which is that Vancouver is actually becoming less environmentally friendly by putting in bike lanes. That’s because the complicated lanes and lights and subsequent congestion are forcing drivers to idle longer as they wait to make right turns, from Hornby to Georgia, for example, or just idle longer because of the general congestion.

I realize some people will think this falls into the category of Obvious Logical Fallacies Not Worth Refuting, but we reporters like to check things out anyway. So I called Metro Vancouver to see if the air-quality monitoring done by the regional district has a measure for anything downtown or near a bike lane and what those measurements are.

Sure enough, they do.

There is a monitoring station in Robson Square near the Hornby bike lane. This is what it has shown over the years.

Metro Vancouver monitors air quality at 28 stations from Horseshoe Bay to Hope.  One of our air quality monitoring stations is located in downtown Vancouver within Robson Square and adjacent to the Hornby bike lane.  (It was closed for two years during construction at Robson Square.) Here are some annual average pollutant statistics from the downtown Vancouver air quality monitoring station (these two elements are considered to be reliable markers of car emissions):


Pollutant 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994  1995
NO2 [ppb] 29.7 N/A N/A 32.2 29.5 32.2 30.6 30.6 33.1 30.7 29.2 24  26.3
CO [ppm] 1.9 2.02 2.52 2.25 2.22 2.02 2.13 1.77 1.5 1.39 1.26 1.09  1.17


1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
NO2 [ppb] 27 28.5 29 27.3 26.6 25.6 25.4 24.8 22.8 24.3 24.3 22.6 22 21.5
CO [ppm] 1 0.96 0.93 0.83 0.83 0.75 0.71 0.64 0.61 0.56 0.51 0.39 0.26 0.25
2010 2011 2012  2013
NO2 [ppb] N/A N/A 19.2 18
CO [ppm] N/A N/A 0.25 0.28



As you can see, the emissions levels are is going down.

I also got links to a couple of other reports that were vastly more detailed and, for me, impossible to draw a single conclusion from, especially because they weren’t historical comparisons for the most part. By some measures, downtown Vancouver seems to have the highest levels of some pollutants, but it seems that it has always been higher because of the volume of traffic in a small space; by others, places like Port Moody, because of the oil refinery and tanker traffic, were higher. I link to them here and here for you to draw your unbiased conclusions from.

Just to be sure I wasn’t misinterpreting, I also talked to Derek Jennejohn, a senior air-quality engineer at Metro Vancouver.

He said that generally emissions levels in downtown Vancouver are declining.

“This is one of our most traffic-impacted stations. Even so, its levels are still coming down.” He said that’s likely in part because of new fuels and emissions controls. “The volumes of traffic might be higher but the cars are cleaner.”

I realize this still leaves the door wide open for other arguments about how Vancouver is going to hell in a handbasket — the emissions are declining because NO ONE WILL COME DOWNTOWN ANY MORE, IT’S A WASTELAND, for example. But I’ll leave that for another day.

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