CarFree Times
      Issue 7
Published by Crawford Systems
Summer 1998     

Interior courtyard at the Amsterdam Historical Museum.
Such courtyards would be common in the carfree city.

Hot Links

The PCC Car Lives On in San Francisco

For a reminder of what the USA looked like some 50 or 60 years ago, visit Historic Streetcars in San Francisco. More than a dozen old PCC trams in their original liveries are each shown. Until recently, the PCC car was the zenith of tram design; the new EuroTram from ADtranz is the first tram to appreciably improve on the 1935 PCC car. The photographs are excellent by any standard.

The Suburbia Project

Richard Risemberg's Suburbia Project is documenting life in North American suburbs. Several interesting recollections are already on line and more is to come.

Traffic at is rising fast, although usage of the old "Cities for People" site on our domain remains high. If you maintain a link to our carfree material, please change your link to: Please let us know if you'd like to exchange links.

Quote of the Quarter

    The cities that have the best public transportation have the lowest portion of wealth going into transportation

Peter Newman, co-author of Cities and Automobile Dependence 

Feature Article

Pedestrian Deaths

Relative US spending on highway safety per fatality.
This graph is as accurate as the limited precision allows -
it is not distorted for effect.

There's nothing pedestrian about the death of a person on foot, but it happens routinely, 5157 times in the USA in 1996 alone. Of these victims, 837 were children. The Mean Streets 1998 report has recently been released, and it makes grim reading. The slaughter of pedestrians and bicyclists continues unabated, and governments seem to be ignoring the problem. The safety of pedestrians of all ages varies widely by geographic location, with sprawling metropolitan being the most dangerous. The three largest urban areas of Florida top the list of dangerous places to walk. These urban areas were designed for car drivers, not pedestrians, who just have to take their chances.

Despite the carnage, only 1% of funds for safety projects are spent to improve pedestrian safety, although 12% of traffic deaths and serious injuries are to pedestrians. The callous neglect of non-motorized street users has resulted in a situation where walking is at least 15 times as dangerous as driving. The following statistics were culled from the US DOT's National Bicycling and Walking Study:

Transportation ModeFatality Rate per billion miles traveled
Transit Bus0.1
Air Carrier0.2
Walking (high estimate miles)147.0
Walking (low estimate miles)316.2

As the awareness of the dangers has increased, parents have limited their children's freedom to move around on their own. In the last 10 years the number of children bicycling has plunged by more than 50%. The following table shows the dramatic decline in independent mobility of children in recent years:

Loss of Childhood Mobility in Britain19711990
Children allowed to cross the road on their own75%50%
Children allowed to take public transportation on their own50%14%
Children allowed to bicycle without adult supervision67%25%
7-8 year olds traveling to school on their own80%9%

Source: Hillman, Adams, Whitelegg, London Policy Studies Institute, 1991

Basically, we have to slow down traffic on our city streets. The chances of serious injury or death to a pedestrian struck by a car increase rapidly as speed increases, so slowing traffic is the only approach that has a chance of success. Dr. Ian Roberts concluded that:

    Countries which have experienced major decreases in pedestrian mortality are distinguished by having placed a greater emphasis on environmentally based prevention strategies (i.e. street design) rather than pedestrian skills education.

"International Trends in Pedestrian Injury Mortality"
Archives of Disease in Childhood, 1993:68: 190-192; I.G. Roberts, MD

Governments are doing very little to address the problem. Mean Streets 98 continues:

    This spending discrepancy becomes more pronounced when compared to another serious safety problem, railroad grade crossings. In 1996, incidents resulting in death or serious injury at rail grade crossings made up only 0.3 percent of all such incidents and accounted for 490 deaths and serious injuries. Twelve percent of all federal funds identified as safety projects were spent on improving safety at grade crossings. While pedestrian crashes killed far more people (5,157 fatalities), states spent far less—an average of just over one percent of federal funds identified as safety projects—some states spent nothing, despite double-digit pedestrian death rates.
As usual, the pedestrian gets the short and sharp end of the stick, and as usual kids are suffering the most. It is simply not right that 100 times as much is spent on preventive measures per death at railroad crossings as is spent per pedestrian fatality. Isn't it really time to change this pattern? The means to this end are simple, well-known, and relatively inexpensive. The recent media feeding frenzy over the danger posed by airbags to children is typical of misplaced emphasis: during a recent four-year period in the USA, 37 children were killed by airbags, but 4525 were killed as pedestrians. This latter slaughter receives scant media attention despite being a problem more than 100 times as serious. While the original report is quite long, you may want to take the time to read it.

World News Notes & Comment

Current events involving the urban automobile during the previous season.

Prince Charles Redux

In the last issue of Carfree Times, we said, tongue in cheek, that Prince Charles enjoyed more success in Italy than in his native Britain. Eric Britton at EcoPlan brought to my attention some of the Prince's successes in Britain. Most notable is Poundbury, a new community in Dorset. With Prince Charles as his patron, Leon Krier designed a new, quite dense village based on traditional principles. While Poundbury has received mixed press reviews, the community appears to be highly successful. Take a look at Poundbury.

Prince Charles is a powerful force agitating for more livable communities.

Community and Social Development

    A healthy community is one where children can play outdoors on their own, and where they have the freedom to move around their neighborhoods without fear. Children learn right from wrong by interacting with others: friends and neighbors as well as family and teachers. Keeping children off the streets can only hinder their moral and social development. It stops them mixing socially with their neighbors and learning the importance of respect for others, and leads to them having less sense of responsibility for their actions. As for abductions by strangers, while they are tragic events, it is important to remember that they are very rare (which is why they get so much media attention). Home zones will reduce the risk of abduction, because there will be more people out and about in the street and more contact between residents. Family, friends and neighbors will all be keeping a watchful eye out.

Children's Play Council, "Home Zones: Reclaiming Residential Streets"
(London: National Children's Bureau, 1997)
(A "home zone" is a variant of the Dutch "woonerf," an area where
cars must stay out of the way of all other street users.)

Nicely put.

Brits on Bikes

Britain's recently unveiled White Paper on Transport is the first in 20 years. Some highlights:

  • Motorists will be charged for entering towns and parking at work and this money will be invested in public transport
  • An organization will be established to monitor the progress of integrated transport.
  • School crossing patrols and safe routes to school will be expanded
  • Town planning will be altered to reduce the need to travel
  • Tough action will be taken against drivers who block bus lanes
  • The goal of quadrupling bicycle use in Britain by 2012 is maintained

The Bicycle News Agency, 23 July 1998

The new Labor government has made a good start after years of inaction by Tory governments.

Clogged Arteries

City centers in Europe are filling up with tourists, and bureaucrats are wondering what to do to keep cities from choking.

"Toerisme verstikt oude binnensteden," NRC Handelsblad, 23 June 1998

They talk as if the problem were people, but the real problem is not the people at all but the cars they drive. People like city centers because they're authentic places. They hate the new non-places built in recent decades, and they're flooding the remaining good urban areas for sight-seeing, shopping, and just hanging out. Only Venice has a genuine problem with too many pedestrians during peak periods. The rest of the places discussed in the article only need to keep cars out of the center city, and then they can comfortably accommodate everyone who comes.

Free Bikes in Copenhagen

Free bikes have been available in parts of Copenhagen since 1995. The bikes are simple and sturdy; solid rubber tires make flats impossible. Sponsors pay for the bikes and maintenance, and each bike carries the sponsor's ad. Bikes are available from 125 racks and have proven highly popular. Aalborg, Aarhus, and Odense are considering adopting the program.

The Copenhagen Post Aps 

Keep it up.

Will the Swiss Take a Break?

Voters in Switzerland will decide whether to ban cars one Sunday in each season of the year. Private cars would be banned from 4 AM to midnight. Public transport would operate normally.

Electronic Telegraph, "Swiss to vote on car bans," 10 June 1998

Switzerland is arguably the world leader in improving the livability of cities. Swiss public transport is the best I have seen. Swiss drivers are considerate of pedestrians, and many towns have good-sized carfree areas. Now they want to turn their small nation into a paradise, if only on four days a year. We wish them success.

Carnage in China

Despite an ownership rate of about one car per 1,000 people, more than 63,000 people killed in traffic accidents in China in 1993.

Trans-Mission "China's Captive Market Falls in Love with the Car,"
Gordon Laird, Winter 1995-96

There are about 1.2 billion people in China, so that makes about 1.2 million cars. That means that in a single year, one car in 20 is killing someone. If the life span of a car is 20 years, then the average car kills one person before it goes to the scrap yard.

Don't Honk... Really

The city of Nanning, China, recently adopted an ordinance that forbids blowing horns in the city. Car drivers can no longer force bicyclists and other street users out of the way by blasting the horn. After 350 people had to appear on television to apologize for blowing their horns, traffic in the city has calmed down considerably.

Car Busters magazine, Summer 1998

Peace at last!

Living in the Car

Residents of Naples, Italy, spend 140 minutes a day in transit, according to the environmental group Legambiente.

Car Busters magazine, Summer 1998

That's roughly 15% of your waking life.

Dying for a Toy

A driver frantically trying to keep her tamagotchi toy alive ran down and killed a bicyclist in Marseille. (Tamagotchi toys are the current Japanese rage - virtual pets whose buttons you have to push when they beep or they suffer a virtual death.)

Car Busters magazine, Summer 1998

This sort of thing makes World War One look like the height of good common sense.

Don't Phone and Drive

The risk of having a car accident quadruples when the driver is on the phone, making it almost as dangerous as drunk driving. The new hands-free phones don't appear to be any safer.

The New England Journal of Medicine
as cited in Car Busters magazine, Summer 1998

Sigh. I suppose this is inevitable in societies that are increasingly living their lives in the car. Gotta be productive while you sit in traffic.

The War in Vietnam

While the US war in Vietnam ended 25 year ago, a new war is being waged in this long-suffering nation, this time against street life in its cities:

    ...cities which survived decades of war are now suffering under a pallor of exhaust. The streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are being strangled, slowly, by aggressive, honking motorized vehicles. One might call it "urbacide."
    It is hard to imagine what Hanoi was like just five years ago when there were virtually no annoying motorcycles. Or ten years ago when streetcars still plied the leafy boulevards.

"Vietnam And The War In The Streets,"
Tooker Gomberg & Angela Bischoff

Every developing nation seems doomed to repeat the same mistakes. What a pity.

Tide Turns in Canada

A green revolution is under way in Canada, it seems. Car issues are in first place, with 45% of people saying that driving a car is their most environmentally damaging activity.

Car Busters magazine, Summer 1998

The light is beginning to dawn.

Railroad Suburbs

    The railroad suburb was a nineteenth-century invention, but it is also an alternative spatial model for the twenty-first century that retains some notable advantages compared to the sprawl of the more recent automobile suburb. The advantages of the star pattern come from its physical and social compactness, its preservation of the surrounding countryside, and its economy and efficiency of transport.

Quoted from Metropolis Unbound 
"The Sprawling American City and the Search for Alternatives"
Robert Geddes

To those familiar with the reference design for carfree cities, this will not come as a surprise.

More Rail Freight in Europe

Everyone agrees that rail freight isn't carrying its share of the load in Europe. In the Netherlands, less than 1% of freight moves by rail. The Dutch are preparing to build a rail freight line between Rotterdam (the world's largest port) and the Ruhr Valley (the world's largest industrial region). Rotterdam is actually closer to the Ruhr than any German port, so German companies usually ship through Rotterdam. Most of the containers are now being moved by road; the new freight line will help address that problem. In another move, Dutch and German rail freight operations recently merged in an effort to make it easier for shippers to use rail freight and to reduce both cost and transit time.

"Rail Cargo-combinatie mikt op Europese top"
NRC Handelsblad 24 June 1998

The EU seems well aware that the problem of CO2 emissions and highway congestion can only be solved by getting some of the freight off the highways and onto the rails.

Free Public Transport in Hasselt

The Fall, 1997, issue of Carfree Times reported that Hasselt, Belgium, had made its bus system free. The mayor rejected plans for a third ring highway, converted one existing ring highway into a pedestrian and bicycle street, and made the buses free. Since then, bus ridership has increased by 800%. This initiative has been so successful in attracting new business to Hasselt that taxes have been cut and the city's debt is down. To celebrate the first anniversary of the changes, the mayor announced free bicycles. One of the reasons the measure was adopted was a shortage of funds - the city did not have enough money to expand its roads. Free buses were a cheaper alternative, and it worked. The city had been slowly losing population, but since the new measures were adopted, population has been rising 25 times faster than it had been shrinking.

CNN, 19 July 1998
also NRC Handelsblad 
"Hasselt rijdt gratis met de bus, uit geldgebrek"
16 September 1998

Free urban public transport works, and it's cheap. Spread the word.

Sprawl Quantified

    From 1970 to 1990, more than 19,000,000 acres of US rural land have been developed. According to the Sierra Club, 400,000 acres a year are still vanishing under bulldozers for subdivisions, shopping centers, office parks, and roadways.

The New York Times, 9 June 1998
"Some States Tackling Urban Sprawl With New Taxes"
Jennifer Preston

In just 20 years, an area nearly the size of the state of South Carolina was turned into sprawl.

Transport Economics

Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman have made a careful economic study of transport and regional economies. Their 1989 book, Cities and Automobile Dependence, presents research that should change thinking on transport. Their results can be summarized simply: cities that invest the most in roads are the least economically efficient. These cities are less able to compete than cities based on balanced transport systems. The claim is based on a study they did for the World Bank of economic data from 37 cities around the world. "The idea that wealth is created by building transportation infrastructure is essentially not true," according to Mr. Newman. The critical factor in competitiveness is the proportion of wealth devoted to transport. Auto-centric cities in the United States and Australia spend the most on passenger transport. The more spent on cars and roads, the less efficient transport becomes. The average US city spends 12.4% of its income on transport, compared to Toronto at 7.4%. The difference is that Toronto boasts quite a good public transport system. "The cities that have the best public transportation have the lowest portion of wealth going into transportation."

Toronto Globe and Mail 
"Australians debunk highway myths," 10 July 1998
as posted to the cons-spst-sprawl-trans list

No surprises here, but it's nice to see it in black and white.

Governments Subsidize Unsustainable Development

A study prepared for the 1997 Rio+5 Forum found that public subsidies for water, agriculture, energy and road transportation cost the world more than $700 billion a year. The study also concludes that many of these subsidies actually harm long-term economic prospects. Many subsidies encourage unsustainable development. Some highlights of the study:

  • Agriculture: Only 20 percent of more than $335 billion in annual agriculture transfers contributes to farmers' incomes; the rest generally supports unsustainable agricultural production.
  • Water: Water subsidies are more than $45 billion a year and are an important cause of soil salinization, threatening continued food production on the affected land.
  • Energy: Annual subsidies of at least $237 billion for energy encourage the use of fossil fuels and thereby contribute to air pollution, acid rain, and global warming.
  • Road Transportation: Few motorists pay the actual costs of their travel. Worldwide, road transportation is subsidized by hundreds of billions annually.

The Earth Council
Subsidizing Unsustainable Development
Undermining the Earth with public funds

Money down the drain. Worse yet, it's clogging the drain.

Al Gore and "Smart Growth"

US Vice President Al Gore recently called for measures to build more livable communities in the USA. He said that continued economic competitiveness depended on the change. Speaking before the Brookings Institution, Gore announced federal initiatives to encourage sustainable growth. Hearings will be held around the USA this fall to discuss the issue of sprawl and to look for ways the government can help mitigate this problem. "Location-Efficient Mortgages" will be supported by federal institutions - those buying a home near good public transport will be allowed to take on bigger mortgages in the expectation that the family's transport expenses will be lower. The mortgages will come with a 30-year public transport pass. A range of other measures was also announced.

From a White House press release
"Vice President Gore Calls for Healthier, More Livable Communities"
2 September 1998 as posted to the cons-spst-sprawl-dev list

Many people in the environmental movement will argue that "smart growth" is an oxymoron, but it is certainly clear that some kinds of growth are smarter than others. Gore seems to be doing his homework.

Green Taxes a Hit

A poll of more than 500 registered US voters conducted by International Communications Research between 29 May and 2 June 1998 showed that more than 70 percent of those polled supported taxing dirty energy sources and using the funds to reduce income taxes.

Press release from Friends of the Earth
"Poll Finds US Voters Favor Green Taxes"
as posted to the cons-spst-sprawl-dev list

People really don't like pollution. It's time that politicians figured this out.

Cars and Air Pollution

According to figures from the San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District, motor vehicles emit 43% of the reactive organic gases (ROG) and 47% of NOx. These figures are calculated using the emission factors prescribed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). However, recent studies in tunnels show that ROG emissions are 40 to 85% higher than CARB's assumptions. It appears that estimates of ROG emissions will have to increase to show that cars cause between 50 and 60% of the total - vehicles are thus the majority source of this form of pollution, which causes smog.

From a posting by John Holtzclaw to the cons-spst-sprawl-trans list

Despite considerable technical improvements, cars continue to cause terrible air pollution problems in cities.

Disinformation and the Oil Industry

Worldwatch Institute president Lester Brown, speaking before the Offshore Northern Seas conference, recently said that oil companies must prepare for a post-automobile urban economy. He also said that taxation should shift away from personal income taxes to pollution taxes. He went on to say:

    "The image of U.S. oil companies is of an industry pursuing a disinformation campaign, rather like the tobacco industry hiring out people to testify about the lack of proof that smoking causes cancer."

Reuters, 28 August 1998, dateline Stavanger, Norway

Recent noises by Mobil support the contention of a disinformation campaign. Read a deftly-told series of misleading truths.

Plentiful Methane?

Thomas Gold's Power from the Earth: Deep Earth Gas--Energy for the Future is an interesting proposition that challenges conventional theories about the origins of gas and oil. Gold believes that the earth's mantle constantly outgasses, and that methane is a major component of the gas. He builds a coherent theory supported by widely disparate phenomena ranging from earthquakes to the distribution of the isotopes of helium to the composition of meteorites. Gold believes that there are large, untapped, reservoirs of methane (natural gas) deeper in the earth's crust than we are accustomed to drilling for gas and oil. Recent deep drilling lends support to this hypothesis.

Thomas Gold
Power from the Earth: Deep Earth Gas--Energy for the Future
(London & Manchester: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1987)

This books reminds us that we should not pin our opposition to urban cars on any single point of the argument. Our energy future may be much less limited than now appeared to be the case. This change would not, of course, affect most of the other reasons to move cars out of cities.

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