Commuter Challenge Update

Peace and Environment News, July–August 2012
by Mike Buckthought

Commuter ChallengeDuring Environment Week (June 3–9), over 25,500 people across Canada joined the 2012 Commuter Challenge. The annual event encourages everyone to use sustainable modes of transportation such as walking, cycling, public transit and telecommuting. By taking part in the Challenge, participants reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 440 tonnes of carbon dioxide during the week.

In Ottawa-Gatineau, a total of 1,500 people joined the Commuter Challenge. Over 40 workplaces were represented, ranging from small non-profit organizations to large federal government departments.

The Commuter Challenge included an environment-friendly competition between workplaces, to see which organizations had the highest rates of participation.

In Ottawa-Gatineau, the winning organizations were: the Sierra Youth Coalition (80% participation; workplaces with fewer than 50 employees), CUSO International (43% participation; 50–100 employees), Mountain Equipment Co-op (39% participation; 100–150 employees), Canadian Museum of Nature (32% participation; 150–200 employees), Fairmont Château Laurier (13% participation; 200–1,000 employees), Export Development Corporation (12% participation; 1,000–2,000 employees), and Statistics Canada (16% participation; workplaces with more than 2,000 employees).

The event also included an environment-friendly competition between communities, to see which cities and towns had the highest rates of participation. Calgary was the winning community among the cities with populations greater than one million. In Calgary, a total of 6,770 people used sustainable modes of transportation such as the C-Train, cycling and walking to get to work.

Another winning city was Winnipeg (cities with a population over 500,000). For the ninth year, it was the leading city in its population category. The Province of Manitoba and City of Winnipeg have been strong supporters of the Commuter Challenge, and this has translated into high participation rates in the province. Over 5,200 Winnipeggers joined the event this year.

The other winning communities were: Halifax (population over 250,000), Kingston, Ontario (population over 100,000), Saint John, New Brunswick (population over 50,000), North Vancouver, BC (population over 25,000), Thompson, Manitoba (population over 10,000), Banff, Alberta (population over 5,000), and Wabowden, Manitoba (population under 5,000).

Commuter Challenge 2012 was organized by non-profit organizations and municipalities across the country, including the Sustainable Alberta Association, Green Action Centre, Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, Clean Nova Scotia, City of Kingston and Region of Waterloo.

To view the results of the Commuter Challenge, visit The 2013 Commuter Challenge will take place during Environment Week, June 2–8, 2013.

Mike Buckthought is a car-free commuter, and founder of the Commuter Challenge.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 27, Number 3, July–August 2012, page 3.

Commuter Challenge 2012

version française

by Mike Buckthought

Commuter ChallengeDuring Environment Week (June 3–9), over 25 000 people joined the Commuter Challenge. Participants reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 440 tonnes. The annual event encourages everyone to use sustainable modes of transportation such as walking, cycling, public transit and telecommuting. The Commuter Challenge includes environment-friendly competitions between communities and workplaces across Canada.

In Ottawa-Gatineau, 1 500 people joined the Commuter Challenge. Over forty workplaces were represented, including non-profit organizations, small businesses, and federal government departments. Congratulations to the winners of the Commuter Challenge, and thanks to all the participants!

Winners of the Commuter Challenge (in Ottawa-Gatineau):

  • Workplaces with fewer than 50 employees:
    Sierra Youth Coalition (80% participation rate)
  • Workplaces with 50–100 employees:
    Cuso International (43% participation rate)
  • Workplaces with 100–150 employees:
    Mountain Equipment Co-op (39% participation rate)
  • Workplaces with 150–200 employees:
    Canadian Museum of Nature (32% participation rate)
  • Workplaces with 200–1 000 employees:
    Fairmont Château Laurier (13% participation rate)
  • Workplaces with 1 000–2 000 employees:
    Export Development Corporation (12% participation rate)
  • Workplaces with more than 2 000 employees:
    Statistics Canada (16% participation rate)

Winning communities:

  • Calgary (population greater than one million)
  • Winnipeg (population over 500 000)
  • Halifax (population over 250 000)
  • Kingston, Ontario (population over 100 000)
  • Saint John, New Brunswick (population over 50 000)
  • North Vancouver, British Columbia (population over 25 000)
  • Thompson, Manitoba (population over 10 000)
  • Banff, Alberta (population over 5 000)
  • Wabowden, Manitoba (less than 5 000)

For more information, visit the web site

Commuter Challenge Coming Up

Peace and Environment News — Insider, April–June 2012
by Mike Buckthought

On June 3–9, thousands of people across Canada will join the 2012 Commuter Challenge. The annual event encourages people to get to work using sustainable modes of transportation such as walking, cycling, public transit, car pooling and telecommuting.

To participate in the Challenge, commuters register online at and keep track of the distance they travel using environment-friendly modes of transportation. The website uses the distances you record to calculate your reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.

If your workplace is not mentioned on the website, you can add it to the list. You don’t have to be working to join the Challenge — individuals may also register.

In 2011, over 29,000 Canadians joined the Commuter Challenge during Environment Week.

The program includes an environment-friendly competition between communities across the country, to see which towns and cities have the highest participation rates during the week.

Last year, the winning cities included Calgary (cities with a population over 1,000,000), Winnipeg (population greater than 500,000), Halifax (population over 250,000), and Guelph (population over 100,000).

Ottawa’s motor vehicles produce 1.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. Emissions from the transportation sector have increased, thanks to the presence of large numbers of SUVs. Exposure to traffic-related air pollution increases rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

When we walk or cycle to work instead of using a car, we can help reduce levels of toxic air pollutants and get some exercise along the way. During Environment Week, don’t pollute when you commute — join the Commuter Challenge.

For more information about participating in the Commuter Challenge, visit Help spread the word in your community. Posters and flyers may be downloaded from the website.

Mike Buckthought is a car-free commuter, and he is the founder of the Commuter Challenge.

Published in the Peace and Environment News — Insider, Volume 27, Number 2, April–June 2012, page 4.

Join Bike to Work Month

Peace and Environment News — Insider, April–June 2012
by Mike Buckthought

May is Bike to Work Month in Ottawa, and EnviroCentre is collaborating with workplaces across the region to encourage people to cycle to work. EnviroCentre is offering an updated information kit, workshops, cycling safety information, multimedia tools, and an online pledge system.

Last year, 861 people pledged to cycle to work, covering a total distance of 759,040 km. Participants reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 191 tonnes by biking instead of using motorized modes of transport.

The 2012 edition of Bike to Work Month promises to encourage even more people to cycle to work instead of using cars and SUVs.

This year, EnviroCentre and the City of Ottawa will be introducing the BikeMobile, an interactive display booth on wheels, greeting employees with prize give-aways outside eight workplaces.

“The idea is to bring a simplified version of the celebration stations we’ve done in the past, right to your door. We’ll let the public know where we’re going to be each week on Twitter and through our online events calendar,” says Jessica Wells, EnviroCentre’s Programs Coordinator for Sustainable Transportation. “When you see us parked outside your lobby entrance, take a minute to check it out,” she says.

EnviroCentre has teamed up with City Wide Sports to offer 60-minute cycling workshops at workplaces for a modest fee. Lunch and Learn workshops will provide an introduction to commuter cycling, or a hands-on bicycle maintenance demonstration, and practical information about safe cycling. Cycling safety workshops will teach introductory and intermediate skills, with practice sessions in parking lots and on city roads.

EnviroCentre is collaborating with 65 workplaces representing over 50,000 employees.

“Cycling is a convenient, fun, healthy, and cost-effective way to travel. In Ottawa, the average commute is 7.8 km and one-third of us travel less than 5 km to work,” says Wells. “There is therefore, a huge amount of potential to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, road congestion, and noise and air pollution. Small steps can have a significant impact.”

The online pledge system has been expanded to track statistics such as distance travelled, reductions in emissions, calories burned, and dollars saved. Workplaces can combine their pledge totals to compete against other organizations to see which group has the largest number of green commuters.

To participate in Bike to Work Month or for information, visit When you pledge to bike to work, you’ll be eligible to win prizes, which will be awarded at the Bruce Timmermans Award Ceremony on May 31.

EnviroCentre is a non-profit organization that works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Ottawa and Eastern Ontario by delivering energy-efficiency programs and services. EnviroCentre has coordinated Bike to Work since 2010.

Published in the Peace and Environment News — Insider, Volume 27, Number 2, April–June 2012, page 4.

A Moratorium on New Roads

Peace and Environment News, September–October 2008
by Mike Buckthought and Lori Waller

Ecology Ottawa is petitioning city council to declare a five-year moratorium on spending for new roads and road widening. This funding would be better directed towards public transit, cycling, and pedestrian infrastructure. The City of Ottawa should support sustainable transportation instead of wasting money on new roads.

Ottawa’s motor vehicles produce 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, contributing to climate change. From 1990 to 2004, emissions from the transportation sector have increased by 15 per cent. Cars create a toxic mix of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds.

Smog is a serious problem in Ottawa. In 2005, air pollution in Ottawa was estimated to cause 290 premature deaths, 3,010 visits to emergency rooms, $25 million in health care costs, and over $18 million in lost productivity. Smog causes asthma and other respiratory diseases, heart diseases and cancer.

Ottawa’s Official Plan talks about promoting environment-friendly modes of transport. However, our city plans to spend $1.5 billion on roadways between 2008 and 2017. This includes $690 million for building new roads and widening existing roads. When roads are widened, traffic expands to fill the available space. The result is more smog, more traffic jams — and more expenses for taxpayers.

This year, the city had to cancel repaving on 20 per cent of the roads that need it because of higher fuel costs. At a time when we can’t afford to fix the roads we have, the last thing we should be doing is building more. We pay increasing taxes to maintain an expanding road network — 6,000 kilometres, and growing.

Narrow, pedestrian-centred streets are easier to maintain, and they encourage a sense of community. They’re also good for business. People are more likely to shop in neighbourhoods where they feel safe walking around. Children are more likely to feel safe playing in neighbourhoods built for people. Widening roads only increases the traffic, making our streets unsafe for children.

Car-centric cities are unsustainable. When roads are built in the suburbs and the countryside, we lose our precious farmland — it’s paved over, to make way for big box stores, and oversized parking lots. Urban sprawl threatens the way of life of Ottawa’s farmers. We must protect our villages, green spaces, and agricultural lands from the urban sprawl that is compounded by roads, which take up a fifth of all land in the urban area. When we grow food locally, we reduce emissions from the trucks used to transport imports from California and other distant places.

A road moratorium could include a cap and trade system. If a new road must be built somewhere, an equivalent length of road could be converted into a pedestrian street. In the future, many roads will become lively pedestrian-centred streets. Over time, we can reduce the total length of the road network — and encourage public transit, cycling and walking instead.

You can write to your councillor and the mayor, and tell them you want a moratorium on the construction of new roads. You can find your councillor’s contact information at:

Tell your friends about the petition, and ask them to sign it at:

Get involved with Ecology Ottawa, and help make Ottawa a more sustainable city. For information, visit

Lori Waller is Ecology Ottawa’s Environmental Research Associate. Mike Buckthought is a member of Ecology Ottawa’s Steering Committee.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 23, Number 5, September–October 2008, page 1.

Envisioning Democracy for Ottawa

Peace and Environment News, May–June 2007
by Mike Buckthought

In April, Mayor Larry O’Brien announced his plan to transform Ottawa, proclaiming the start of “1,000 days of change.” He called for closed-door meetings, to be held at the Pineview Golf Club. And what would be discussed, at a golf course? The city’s priorities, for the next few years. City councillors were invited, but he forgot to include the public — until there was an outcry.

An exercise in participatory budgeting? Not exactly. When a corporation creates long-range plans, it holds retreats in the country, and executives talk about profits, and increased “efficiency.” Mayor O’Brien has called for a more “business-like” approach. This new corporate approach may include the privatization of public services.

There is another approach. We do not need “corporate visioning exercises,” because we already have a long-range plan, called Ottawa 20/20. It was drafted after much public input, and it describes a new kind of city. Not an uncaring city, obsessed with tax cuts, but a city that is able to re-invent itself.

Ottawa 20/20 addresses the chronic underfunding of the arts: “A creative city must be able to sustain a concentration of artists, creative people, cultural organizations and creative industries.”

The Transportation Master Plan recommends increased support for public transit: “The City’s growth management strategy aims to increase transit’s peak hour share of motorized person-trips to 30 per cent. This is almost twice today’s level, and compares well to many large European cities.”

Ottawa has forgotten about its long-range plans — plans that were approved by City Council. Elsewhere, cities such as Toronto and Vancouver are investing billions of dollars to create new transit lines. Ottawa, by contrast, is going backwards — back to the suburban sprawl of the fifties. The 2007 Budget calls for millions of dollars in road construction, and the Province plans to widen Highway 417.

There used to be money for cycling. Now, this so-called “city with swagger” can’t afford to spend $50,000 to teach children how to cycle safely. It doesn’t care all that much about day cares. The idea of keeping up with inflation was kept out of the debate. Back in March, a proposed 2 per cent funding increase was turned down.

The solution to this mess? We need to return to Ottawa 20/20.

How to get from here to the year 2020? Citizens need to have a say in our city’s budget. It is not something to be left to executives, meeting behind closed doors.

We can learn from the experiences of other cities. Participatory budgets have been used in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and other cities around the world. We can learn from their successes and failures.

Citizens in Montréal’s Plateau-Mont-Royal have started the experiment — adapting the idea of participatory budgets, experimenting and innovating. We need to learn from their experience.

Democracy starts here — not behind the closed doors of a boardroom, but in public spaces illuminated by shared ideas and experiences.

For information about activities planned by Imagine Ottawa and the Ottawa Budget Coalition, visit: Ottawa 20/20 is available online:

Mike Buckthought writes about environmental and social justice issues.

Peace and Environment News, Volume 22, Numbers 4–5, May–June 2007, page 1.