Montreal ponders ‘zero-emissions zone’ in city center

Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels and London are among the European cities that have barred certain polluting vehicles from parts of the city.

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In recent years, several major cities around the world have created low-emission zones, reserved for the least polluting vehicles.

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A similar project could be in the works in Montreal, where Mayor Valérie Plante is interested in going even further by creating a “zero-emission zone” in the downtown core.

Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels and London are among the European cities that have barred certain polluting vehicles from parts of the city.

Amsterdam even intends to ban all gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2030. Cars, motorcycles and trucks that run on fossil fuels will no longer be able to make deliveries in urban areas starting three years from now.

The purpose of low-emission zones in European cities was to combat air pollution, said Christian Savard, director of the organization Vivre en ville.

“There were very important air-quality issues related to diesel, in addition to the desire to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” he said.

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In Montreal, the problem of air quality is less acute, so the reason for creating a creating a zero-emission zone is more to reduce GHGs and “send a signal on the importance of using public and active transport and electric vehicles,” Savard said.

The Plante administration’s 2020-2030 Climate Plan proposes the possibility of creating a zero-emission zone by 2030. For such an initiative to succeed, it would need “the support of partners and the public,” it notes.

On March 28, during a press conference where Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette announced $117 million in funding to the city of Montreal for the fight against climate change, Plante touched on the subject of a zero-emission zone.

“We feel that the population is open to hearing about a zero-emission zone, which was not the case 10 years ago,” she said, adding it was still too early to provide details on the project.

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“The idea is to do it well, to work together, to make sure that we have the necessary infrastructure, including charging stations, and we also have to assess the system, to know how we are going to enter and get out of the area and who will have access,” Plante said. The “devil is in the details,” she added.

Paris has set up a system where colored stickers indicate which types of vehicles are allowed in a zone. Certain sectors of the city are reserved for certain colours. Stickers for vehicles that run on fossil fuels range from green to brown, depending on the amount of pollution they cause, while electric vehicles have a blue sticker.

In Montreal, “we will start with a low-emission zone and end up with a zero-emission zone, going gradually,” Plante said at the March 28 press conference.

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London is also implementing its plan gradually, said Andréanne Brazeau, a mobility analyst at Équiterre.

“There’s an area in central London where a road tax has been imposed on the most polluting vehicles and every year that area is growing. Next year, in fact, there will be fees for polluting vehicles in the whole metropolitan area of ​​London,” she explained.

Such a project is inevitable for Montreal, Brazeau believes. Modern cities need to create them not only to meet their GHG-reduction targets, but also to improve mobility and citizens’ quality of life, she said.

“You have to start in the densest areas, where vehicle-ownership rates are lower and, therefore, where social accessibility is likely to be the highest,” she said.

“You need to demonstrate the benefits for the population in a small area, and communicate these benefits well, before thinking of expanding the area,” Brazeau added.

Before setting up such a project, it’s necessary for the zone to be well served by bike paths and public transit, Savard said.

Currently, about 70 per cent of trips to the city center use means of transportation other than private cars, he said. Once the REM de l’Ouest is up and running, downtown Montreal would be an ideal location for such a zone, Savard said.

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