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Solving Vancouver’s Forest Fire-related Air Quality Problem

by John Brian Shannon

City of Vancouver skyline transformed by the 2018 forest fire season.

The City of Vancouver skyline is transformed every forest fire season. File photo courtesy of CTV News-Vancouver.

Vancouver is suffering the worst bout of poor air quality in its 132-year history

Since the 2018 forest fire season began, smoke has been accumulating in the atmosphere and finding its way to lower elevations in the province of British Columbia.

The greatest concentration of BC residents live in the province’s Lower Mainland (also called the MVRD or Metro Vancouver Regional District) home to 2.8 million people and the average elevation of the region isn’t that much higher than sea level.

The mountains that surround the area keep the smoke from moving out of the region, which is why all that smoke is concentrating in the MVRD, instead of dispersing.

Visit the MVRD website to read the Continued Air Quality Advisory

Vancouver was ranked as the fifth-worst major city for air quality in the world on Wednesday. Global News.

Vancouver was ranked as the fifth-worst major city for air quality in the world on Wednesday. An air quality advisory from Environment Canada is still in effect for much of the province. Image courtesy of Global News.


How to Solve Air Quality Issues in Vancouver (and in every other city)

Every year, Vancouver is inundated with smoke from distant forest fires. It’s no surprise that Vancouverites are visited by a virtual wall of smoke every summer and it seems to be completely uncontrollable even with today’s modern fire-fighting methods. Therefore, the only variable that can work to improve air quality in the Vancouver region is to drastically limit the use of motor vehicles within the MVRD during the worst air quality days.

Several cities in the world have already adopted ‘Car-Free’ days in an attempt to mitigate their urban air pollution and it can work wonders for local air quality. Seoul, Paris, Copenhagen and other modern-thinking cities simply issue a ‘Car-Free’ notice and cars and trucks are banned from the cities roads until further notice.

In Paris, emergency vehicles still operate and people with medical emergencies may use their car to drive someone to the Hospital or to an Ambulance station — but they are speed-limited to 20 miles per hour — though with zero traffic in Paris on ‘Car-Free’ days it means you get to the Hospital much sooner than compared to normal traffic days. Also, the city’s transit system boost the number of buses to accommodate the extra ridership.


Parisians instructed to leave cars home during the city’s third official ‘Car-Free’ day


“Vehicles were forbidden from all of the city’s historic centre for the day on Sunday, making way for environmentally friendly modes of transport such as cycling.

The first journee sans voiture (day without cars) was held in September 2015 and was found to reduce exhaust emissions by 40 per cent. The idea has since been repeated twice.

But this time the zone has been expanded, covering 40 square miles over the historical centre of the French capital, and was in force between 11am and 6pm.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was first elected in 2014 on a promise to tackle pollution in the city, which is estimated to kill 6,000 every year. She has begun building new bus and cycling lanes to reclaim the roads from cars.” — The Independent


‘Car-Free’ Days for Vancouver?

It’s long past the time for the Metro Vancouver Regional District to embrace the idea of ‘Car-Free’ days during peak air pollution events such as forest fires, weather inversions or other events that wreak havoc with air quality — and by doing so — lower ambient emission levels by 40% or more.

Screenshot of the most recent Air Quality Advisory in Effect for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley of British Columbia

Air Quality Advisory for Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, August 23, 2018

Air Quality Advisory for Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, August 23, 2018. For more information click the image.

If you care about air quality in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, call or write your elected officials to suggest they implement ‘Car-Free’ days during periods of poor air quality.

Such ‘Car-Free’ days have been found to lower air pollution by 40% or more in other cities, which can dramatically improve air quality and improve the personal health of everyone who lives in the region.