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Montréal's Breathing Better, But Our Fight For Clean Air Isn't Over Yet

My administration is firmly committed to fighting greenhouse gas emissions, a battle we will fight on every front.

01/23/2018 15:54 EST | Updated 01/23/2018 16:02 EST

Air quality has always been one of Montréal's preoccupations. Already by 1872, when coal combustion was at its peak and black smoke shrouded the city, Montréal had adopted a by-law aiming to reduce air pollution, thus becoming the first Canadian city to regulate on the matter.

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Montreal's skyline.

Since then, the black smoke subsided, giving way to hydroelectricity, and air quality improved in our metropolis. However, we are far from having won the battle, and today's issues are more complex than ever before. This is why my administration is firmly committed to fighting greenhouse gas emissions, a battle we will fight on every front.

Mobility is not only at the heart of my preoccupations, but will also be at the very heart of our fight against air pollution. Transportation alone produces nearly 40 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Montréal. If we want to reach our 30 per cent reduction objective by 2020, compared to the greenhouse gas emission levels in 1990, we must improve mobility in Montréal.

Several options must be considered in order to fulfill our commitment. Thus, we must offer a more effective, more comfortable and quicker public transit system, so as to encourage Montrealers to use it. Active transportation will also have to be put forth, namely by offering safe biking and pedestrian infrastructures, thus converting more people to biking and walking. We will also have to make solo driving less attractive, namely by promoting carpooling, so as to reduce the number of vehicles on our city's streets. Our program is an ambitious one, but we have the willpower to reach our goals.

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Heavy traffic and solo drivers contribute to a decrease in Montreal's air quality.

But that's not all. Because in order to reduce the population's needs in terms of mobility, we must take a look at urban planning on our territory. Urban sprawl has generated considerable transportation needs, too often met by solo driving. Over the course of the next few years, we will have to revise how we build our neighborhoods and our city, so as to densify our territory, but also to offer all of our city's households access to local services within their own neighborhoods, thus reducing the cost of their mobility needs.

Greenhouse gas emissions produced by the vehicles on our streets will also have to be reduced. Renewable energy sources will have to be introduced, and the efficiency of freight transportation will have to be improved, so that the air we breathe no longer bears the brunt of our transportation habits.

We are deeply committed to keeping our promises, to remaining proactive and to providing future generations with improved air quality.

These goals are not just wishful thinking on our part. Shortly after being sworn in, I signed, like so many other North American mayors, the Chicago Charter. Under this agreement, all participating cities must offer safe and accessible active transportation and public transit to their citizens. Moreover, the Chicago Charter requires that municipal administrations invest in their public transit networks and in their vehicle fleet, so as to reduce their carbon footprint. We are deeply committed to keeping our promises, to remaining proactive and to providing future generations with improved air quality.

Our work is actually already in progress. For more than 50 years now, Montréal has been measuring air quality through 15 different monitoring stations strategically located on the island. This allowed us to record a steady improvement in air quality since the year 2000.

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Thus, the carbon monoxide present in the air was reduced by 53 per cent, hydrogen sulfide was reduced by 75 per cent, benzene levels went down 90 per cent, nitrogen dioxide is 77 per cent lower, and sulfur dioxide was reduced by 81 per cent. In addition, fine particle concentrations in the air were also 38 per cent lower in 2016 than they were in 2009. Since 2014, the average yearly fine particle concentration is even less than the norm suggested by the World Health Organization.

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However, we are still far from having won the battle. This is why the city has decided to adopt a by-law concerning solid fuel-burning devices and fireplaces. These devices are responsible for 39 per cent of fine particle emissions, second only to transportation. Our administration also wishes to invest in the greening of our city, by increasing the number of trees on its territory. This will allow not only to improve air quality, but also to fight against heat islands.

A few days ago, we also launched a call for tenders that will allow the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) to purchase 300 new hybrid buses, whereby we will considerably increase the quality of the network's, services, all the while reducing our carbon footprint. Furthermore, 40 electric buses will be added to the STM's fleet over the next few years. Our objective is clear and we will not lose sight of it.

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View of tree-lined Rue de la Commune.

In the short term, Montréal has earmarked an additional contribution of approximately $28,000,000 for the STM, in 2018. This amount will allow the STM to increase metro frequency outside of rush hour, and to add buses to less-serviced neighborhoods, such as Griffintown and Rivière-des-Prairies.

Air quality is every Montrealer's business. Although the situation is improving across the island, every neighbourhood and every household still plays a role in reducing air pollution, if only by their chosen method of transportation or the greening of their streets.

The past few years have allowed us to significantly improve air quality in Montréal, but we still have a long road ahead before we can say we've won the battle. I am convinced that together we will reach our goals.

Valérie Plante

Mayor of Montréal

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