Metro Vancouver politicians are dismissing provincial guidelines that call for new housing developments to be set far back from busy roads to protect residents from air pollution.
The environment ministry’s Develop With Care guidelines urge cities to ensure a minimum 150-metre setback when homes, long-term care facilities, schools and hospitals are built along busy roads that carry more than 15,000 vehicles a day.
It says there should be even deeper setbacks on major truck routes, noting higher concentrations of air contaminants are detectable up to 750 metres away.
“It’s totally impractical,” said Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew, who sits on Metro’s environment and energy committee. “It really doesn’t mean anything. It was frankly ridiculous.”
He said a 750-metre setback from all truck routes would render much of Metro Vancouver undevelopable, particularly cities like Burnaby that are crisscrossed with such routes.
Surrey Coun. Linda Hepner, the committee’s vice-chair, said the province should redraw its guidelines to reflect reality.
“In an urban environment, where is this even possible?” she asked.
“It just doesn’t make any sense. Maybe the environment ministry isn’t talking to the transportation ministry, but something has to be amiss.”
The committee asked staff to analyze how such a system of setbacks would mesh with Metro’s new regional growth strategy.
The guidelines aren’t binding or enforceable – it’s up to each city to decide their local utility and how far to go in implementing them.
“If the setbacks can be accommodated, health risks will be reduced for residents,” a Metro staff report said, citing a growing body of scientific evidence of higher disease risks for people who spend much time near freeways and busy roads.
“Exposure to this pollution has also been bound to hamper children’s ability to learn,” the report said. “Pregnant women, children and older adults, especially those with pre-existing cardiac disease, are at increased risk for health impacts of traffic-related pollution.”
It also notes setbacks don’t need to be bare land, but merely uses that expose fewer people to high pollution levels.
In cases where setbacks won’t work, the guidelines suggest developers be forced to install specialized air filters or place air intakes away from traffic.
The Develop With Care guidelines aren’t exactly new – they were drawn up in 2006 with input from developers, cities and other groups.
They were only drawn to Metro’s attention this summer when a delegation of Surrey residents calling themselves the 32 Avenue Alliance pressed for the elimination of the truck route designation along 32 Avenue from Highway 99 to the Campbell Heights industrial park.
Opponents of the South Fraser Perimeter Road have also argued the truck freeway now under construction will increase health risks for residents near the route and children who attend nearby schools.