A pedestrian friendly downtown – more car-free streets are on the way

Back on the sustainability beat, on my second day in Iceland I met with Hrönn Hrafnasdottír, in charge of environment and climate policy for the City of Rekyavik. The City has a goal to be climate neutral by 2040, adopted a few years ago. Icelands’s abundant geothermal springs give the city a leg up, since most of Reykavik’s buildings are heated with hot water supplied by a district energy system. This means buildings are virtually carbon-free. I asked her if there were requirements for energy efficiency (BC’s building code is “blind” to carbon and implicitly relies on efficiency gains to reduce emissions). She said there are not specific requirements and, although they could be doing better, the harsh climate drives decent standards for insulation. I also observed that windows are more reasonably sized here, unlike Metro Vancouver’s obsession for excessive glass.

Iceland has very high vehicle ownership, however, and transportation accounts for two thirds of the City’s GHG emissions, so that’s the biggest priority for climate action.  Hrönn told me the City’s goal is to reduce the percentage of trips taken by personal automobile from 75% today to 58% by 2030, by implementing a bus rapid transit system, increasing densification, building more separated bike paths, and (ever-contentious) closing off more streets in the downtown area to cars.

Bike path near city centre

Since that still leaves a lot of cars on the roads, a switch to electric will also be needed. After 2030, no new gas or diesel vehicles can be registered, under a federal law. Already, the City is partnering with utilities to install public charging stations at its facilities, and offering incentives to multi-unit housing providers. In the past two years, 58 charging stations have already been installed. Although the pace of City EV charging installations is faster than most BC municipalities, most of these challenges and solutions sound pretty familiar!

Office park in Reykjavik

Despite the challenges, Hrönn told me she’s “optimistic” the City will actually meet its 2040 target.

In another post I’ll share about my visit to the geothermal energy plant, where, in addition to supplying hot water to heat builings, and generating electricity, they’re also turning CO2 into rocks!