PICS Fellow switches gears to explore more active transportation options

September 27, 2017
Heather Mitchell
Heather Mitchell is exploring climate change action in northern communities and investigating how active transportation such as cycling can play a bigger role in reducing carbon emissions.

Heather Mitchell hopes people living in northern communities will eventually begin to think of cycling as an everyday sport and healthy lifestyle activity that can be integrated into their daily routines.

Canadians, she said, are hardy, as they have learned to cope with cold temperatures and the challenges that come with a long winter season.

“We can bring nature into our urban environment by exposing ourselves to the elements and in doing so we can limit our dependency on fossil fuels and build stronger, more resilient communities,” Mitchell said.

Examining climate change action in northern communities and investigating how active transportation such as cycling can play a bigger role in reducing climate emissions is the focus of Mitchell’s graduate research as a Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) Graduate Fellowship at the University of Northern British Columbia.

PICS Fellowships are available on an annual basis to outstanding Masters and PhD students at PICS four collaborating universities (UNBC, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria) conducting research in an area related to climate change impacts and adaptation.

Mitchell is one of two UNBC students who received the five available PICS fellowships this year. Nazrul Islam is the other successful 2017 PICS Fellow. His research is about quantifying methane emissions from the natural gas industry and evaluating how well B.C.’s current emissions reduction policies are working.

Both Nazrul and Mitchell’s projects will involve collaborating with governments of all levels, as well as community stakeholders.

The PICS Fellowship will support Mitchell’s thesis as a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies program. Her supervisors are Environmental Planning Associate Professor Dr. Mark Groulx, Environmental Planning Assistant Professor Dr. Darwin Horning and Environmental Studies Assistant Professor Dr. Kyrke Gaudreau.

Mitchell earned her Bachelor of Environmental Planning degree in May and began her Master of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies in Environmental Planning in September.

“The City of Prince George currently has 72 km of bike lanes and has invested heavily in signage and road-user knowledge,” she said. “The long-term benefits of an effective bicycle network are reduced carbon emissions and better air quality with the city, rider health benefits, and a more accessible city for everyone.

“A possible action plan to meet this vision could address lowering the barrier for bicycling and instilling confidence through safety, implementing protected bike lanes, providing bike lane network maps, rider education and awareness programs and year-round bike lane maintenance.”

She added there is a major disconnect between city government, business and local culture regarding how we can work together to better reduce our carbon footprint within northern communities because there isn’t a monitoring system to establish benchmarks for Prince George’s sustainability efforts and a sure way of knowing when certain goals have been reached.

Some of those indicators, Mitchell said, could include measuring how many citizens feel safe commuting by walking or cycling, what the split of cars, public transit and cycling is and what educational services and programs are available to new cyclists.

When it comes to transportation and other larger sources of greenhouse gas emissions, avoiding creating them in the first place is the ultimate solution, says Michelle Connolly, PICS research manager – co-ordinator at UNBC.

“Heather’s study will tackle this head-on,” she said.

PICS is a research network that develops information on climate solution options that can be used by governments, so the results of work done by PICS Fellows has the potential to influence policy at the provincial, regional and local levels.

PICS Fellowships are granted every year. Students and faculty can contact Connolly for more information at