2 May 2001
Acqua Alta, March 2001
News at Carfree.com
Results of Carfree Times Reader SurveyThanks to the many who answered the March reader survey. The general opinion seems to be that things are pretty good they way they are; some people wanted more, some wanted less, but most thought that things were about right, except that more book reviews would be useful. We'll try to include a review in every issue.
Funding for Carfree InstituteThe International Institute for Carfree Development, Ltd., (a recently-chartered non-profit corporation that should soon receive 501c3 tax-exempt status) is now actively raising funds to support the carfree initiative. The first project is to host the conferences described just below. We need funds now to prepare for these events. If you can contribute or help raise funds, please send e-mail.
Carfree Redevelopment ConferencesThe International Institute for Carfree Development will host two conferences, the objective of which is to identify existing urban sites in need of redevelopment and to propose how sites might be restored as carfree areas. The conference dates and places are:
The cost is $250, including several meals. Space is limited. Visit the Institute web site for more information. If you are interested in attending, please send mail and we'll keep you posted as more details become available.
Help!Since January, many volunteers have helped us to bring you the Carfree Places page and the classified Links pages. Thanks to everyone who made this possible.
Now we need help organizing the Carfree Redevelopment Conferences this September. The scope of the work is large, and we could use help with the details. If you have some time to donate to the cause, please send mail. We'll try to make the best use of your skills, so please tell us what you're good at and what you like to do.
Carfree Cities DistributionAfter a two-month lapse due to a change in distributor, Carfree Cities is back on sale in the USA. For details, please see the Ordering Information page. own page.
While it may be too soon to say that Americans' love affair with the automobile is over, another suitor has clearly entered the picture.
Some say that the Kyoto Protocol is not fair because it excludes developing countries. But surely we in the industrialized world, who have contributed most to causing this problem, should be first to contribute to its solution. Is there any fairness in the fact that US emissions are 10 times more per person than those in the developing world?
Oil Slick AwardAgain to Bush, this time for pulling out of the Kyoto Accords.
Unlike some awards, there's no limit to the number of times one individual can receive an Oilie.
World News Notes & Comment
World Carfree DayThe first World Carfree Day was held on 19 April 2001. Events were held in cities around the world. Halifax, Pune, Taipei, Katmandu, Seattle, Pusan, and Hong Kong conducted city-wide events. Cooperative neighborhood projects were led by cycling and walking groups, schools, health agencies, and environmentalists.
The event was primarily a grass-roots affair organized using the Internet. An Internet database created to support the event will remain available indefinitely.
Earth Carfree Day
Whoopee in Fremantle!On 29 November 2001, Freemantle, Western Australia, held its first carfree day. The event can only be classified as a rousing success. During the 24 hours of the carfree day, traffic was 71% lower than on a normal day.
A poll was conducted of city residents on the day of the event. When asked how often the carfree day should be repeated, respondents answered:
Never 3%Merchants also had a nice day: The number of people using retail outlets and cafes increased moderately at all hours of the day on the carfree day.
"Shed Your Car"
Steppin' OutPedestrians in the USA are finally starting to fight the erosion of their rights. The increasing barriers to walking - danger, aggravation, and difficulty - crossed an invisible threshold, and people across the nation are now working at the grass-roots level. Pedestrian advocates will hold the first national convention in Oakland this August.
Children and adults walk far less than just a generation ago. The design of cities and suburbs for car drivers has come at the cost of pedestrian safety and comfort. The number of trips the average American adult takes on foot fell by 42% between 1975 and 1995. Walking trips by children declined by 37%. In US urban areas, 84% of trips are made by cars; in Sweden, it's just 36%.
In 1999, 4,906 pedestrians were killed in US traffic and a further 85,000 injured. While that represents a 25% decline from 1989, the decline reflects not safer streets but of a dramatic fall in walking. Walking is 36 times more deadly per mile than driving.
Bill Wilkinson, executive director of the National Center for Bicycling and Walking said, "It's more hostile out there: The traffic is faster, the roads are wider, the enforcement is down, and the courts are a joke. The majority of motor vehicle operators who hit and kill pedestrians are never cited for anything more than a misdemeanor at the most."
Awareness of the issues may be rising. San Francisco launched an ad campaign last fall with a poster that depicts a frightened, elderly woman clutching a walker and glancing over her shoulder at an approaching car. "I'm sorry I ran over your grandma, but I didn't want to spill my latte," reads the caption.
In Santa Rosa, California, the death of a teen-ager sparked a campaign for better pedestrian safety. The student was killed while walking alongside the road on the way home from school; there was no sidewalk on his only route home. The city now requires new schools to have safe walking routes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only 10% of public school students walk or bike to school today compared to a majority of students a generation ago. Indeed, the most common means of transportation to school is... by car.
"Pedestrians taking steps to further their cause"
Get details of the
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Beijing BikingThe primacy of cyclists in China is under threat. The culprit is - no surprise - car drivers. Cyclists riding in bike lanes are no longer safe from intrusions by cars. The number of bicycles on China's streets has begun to fall for the first time in decades, and while it will take some time for the bike to lose its vital place in Chinese transport, the trend is clear. A decade ago, Beijing residents took their bikes for 60% of local trips; the figure has now fallen to 40%. In Shanghai and Guangzhou, it has dropped to as low as 20%, although some of the fall may be due to expanded metro service.
"These roads used to be ours," said one cyclist. "Now, the cars have taken over. They drive too fast. They even park in our lanes. There's nothing we can do." Of the 83,000 Chinese killed in traffic last year, about a third were bicyclists. Many Chinese seem to view this as a necessary cost of "progress." One-third of urban Chinese families plan to buy a car in the next five years.
In 1993, Guangzhou attempted to ban bikes from downtown, although citizen outrage led to a relaxation of the ban. Shanghai plans to ban bikes in the city center by 2010, and many major streets are already closed to cyclists during rush hour. Beijing, with 11 million bicycles, more than any other city in the world, is experimenting with a bike ban on a jammed street near the Forbidden City, so the cars can get through.
As the car takes over the streets, cycling becomes more dangerous, air pollution worsens, and cycling becomes much less pleasant. Domestic sales of bikes have plummeted. The Chinese government has promoted car ownership, and car sales have been rising at 15% annually, with the number of cars in Beijing tripling since 1993. It has, of course, been impossible to build enough roads for all these new cars, so total gridlock has become routine. Even Western traffic experts shake their heads in despair.
If car ownership in China rises to Western levels, China will have more cars than the all the rest of the world combined. Many Chinese cities already suffer from terrible air pollution. This, together with heavy cigarette smoking, has led to lung disease becoming the leading cause of death in China.
There is hope, however. Some leaders are developing a new appreciation of the bicycle, according to Liu Xiaoming, a leading traffic engineer. "It's clean. It saves energy. It's good for people's health. And it's more reliable than public transportation. We can't get rid of the bicycle completely even if we tried."
"Bicycle No Longer King of the Road in China
Thank heavens for that!
Back on BoardIn 2000, Americans took 9.4 billion trips aboard public transit, a 3.5% increase over 1999. In contrast, the number of vehicle-miles racked up on highways remained static; motorists drove a mere 2.7 trillion miles in 2000, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
What caused the growth in transit usage? Highway advocates claim road travel held steady because of economic problems and bad weather. Highway mouthpiece Bill Outlaw of the Road Information Program downplayed the change, saying, "Where there have been similar little blips in travel, there has been a correlation with previous recessions."
Transit officials contended that public transport is finally reaping the benefit of significant investments in new rail lines and rolling stock. New routes and more frequent service, renovated stations, and new equipment combined to offer a viable alternative to driving.
William Millar, president of APTA, said, "No one is going to use public transportation if it's not convenient. People are demonstrating that where high-quality public transportation is available, they will make use of it."
Mouthpiece Outlaw: "You have lots of cases where transit might even involve bus travel. You're still making use of the roads. Even with those increases, you still have an overwhelming majority of travel taking place on the highways."
"More Americans choosing mass transit"
If the Outlaws of the world prevail, there will never come a day when we can stop building roads.
Natural Gas and the Coming Energy CrisisWhile most attention has been focused on the coming crude oil shortage, natural gas may be the first energy source in North America to run into supply limitations. For a year, the US has drilled for gas at a rate 50% higher than ever before. More than 900 rigs are now drilling for gas, up from a low of 366 in May 1999 (roughly the bottom of the transient energy glut).
Despite the drilling activity, production has remained flat at best. Simmons & Company International indicates that fourth-quarter US gas production by the 21 largest companies actually declined by 2.7% year-on-year. Worse still, many of the wells drilled have limited potential, and new wells generally produce at a lower average rate and tap into smaller reserves than older wells. Most drilling is into "tight formations," where the output falls rapidly and then stabilizes at a low rate.
Even with aggressive drilling, short-term gas production growth will probably be limited to 1-2%. However, some think that active drilling programs in deepwater sections of the Gulf of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, Canada, and the Arctic might yield enough gas to achieve a real increase. Perhaps the most alarming change is that Canada can no longer balance US shortfalls - Canada is struggling to fill the pipelines that supply domestic needs and deliver large amounts of gas to the USA.
Energy companies are investing billions in facilities to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from foreign sources such as Australia. Idled LNG terminals at Elba Island, Georgia, and Cove Point, Maryland, might be reactivated, and new facilities may be constructed.
Increases in gas-fired power generation will continue to drive up demand. And there's the rub: the new capacity California is counting on to ease its electricity crisis is gas fired.
"Natural Gas Exploration Not Producing Enough To Maintain Supply"
Oddly enough, while the oil supply picture is fairly well understood, there is considerable uncertainty about gas supplies. Part of the reason is the different character of gas well production; unlike oil, which declines slowly from the initial peak, gas tends to fall off a cliff.
Whistling in the DarkWorldwide energy consumption will grow by 59% by 2020, claims the annual forecast by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Under the EIA scenario, CO2 emissions would increase from 5.8 billion metric tons carbon equivalent in 1999 to 9.8 billion by 2020. Developing countries account for nearly 80% of the increase. Part of the increase relates to the continued growth in the world's population, from about 6 billion today to about 8 billion in 20 years. Economic growth in the developing nations accounts for much of the remaining increase.
Some high points of the forecast:
"World Energy Use Will More Than Double by 2020"
Dream on. This is a statement of what won't happen. The prediction that oil production will rise from 75 MBD to 120 MBD is simply breathtaking. The actual figure in 2020 is likely to be about half what the EIA predicts, about 20% less than current production (and falling fast).
Waiting for the Politicians to Catch UpA remarkable three-fourths of Americans believe that global warming is a serious problem, according to a poll taken in the wake of Bush's abrogation of the Kyoto accords. Some 40% consider the problem "very serious" and 30% "fairly serious."
By a 3-1 margin, Americans believe that greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming. Even among Republicans, 50% believe that emissions are warming the planet.
Some 55% believe that the government should require improvements in fuel efficiency for cars and trucks, even if that means higher prices and smaller vehicles.
"Poll: global warming is serious"
Boycott American Global Warming?South Pacific climate activists propose to protest Bush's abrogation of the Kyoto accords by instituting a regional boycott of US products. Stanley Simpson of the Fiji-based Pacific Concern Resource Center said, "We have to do something concrete to show our disapproval. We will try to mobilize the Pacific as we did with the French nuclear testing."
South Pacific islands will be among the first places to disappear under rising seas. Prime Minister Terepai Maoate of the tiny Cook Islands said he was "very disappointed with the United States. The people who live in this region, across this vast expanse of sea, which holds our future, cannot accept the continued failures to acknowledge our concerns."
At a conference in Canberra, delegates unanimously adopted a resolution to back a grassroots campaign against oil firms. Greenpeace wrote to 100 large US companies, asking for their views on Kyoto. On the basis of their response, Greenpeace will decide whether to implement selective boycotts.
"Pacific environmentalists seek U.S. goods boycott"
Read the Carfree.com editorial "Bushwhacked" calling for Bush's impeachment for crimes against humanity.
The Final SolutionBush babysitter and former oilman Cheney announced on 30 April 2001 that the Bush strategy for energy independence would be hugely increased use of coal-fired power plants and expanded production of domestic oil. Cheney heads Bush's task force on energy strategy. The forthcoming "comprehensive" and "long term" energy policy will be announced to a breathless world in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the USA is cursed with abundant supplies of cheap coal, which is to be the cornerstone of Bush's energy policy. Never mind that coal releases much more CO2 per unit energy than any other fuel or that it's by far the dirtiest.
Cheney sees no significant role for renewable energy - renewable sources will account for only 6% of US energy production in 2020. "Whatever our hopes for developing alternative sources and for conserving energy, the reality is that fossil fuels supply virtually a hundred percent of our transportation needs, and an overwhelming share of our electricity requirements. For years down the road, this will continue to be true." Cheney, unlike practically any careful observer of the oil supply situation, foresees significant increases in US domestic oil production.
Cheney says the USA must build 1300 to 1600 new power plants. These coal-fired plants might be equipped with scrubbers to remove some of the pollutants, but, of course, none of the CO2, which forms by far the largest constituent of stack gases. There will also apparently be some increase in nuclear power, despite the lack of a viable long-term plan to dispose of US nuclear wastes.
This is all to carry environmental window dressing: "We can explore for energy, we can produce energy and use it, and we can do so with a decent regard for the natural environment. New technologies are proving that we can save energy without sacrificing our standard of living. And we're going to encourage it in every way possible." That's apparently why Bush's proposed fiscal year 2002 budget includes a 29% cut in the budget for energy efficiency research and development.
"U.S. Sticking With Fossil Fuels, Cheney Says"
The Bush energy policy can only be considered the most reckless course that the USA could possibly follow - little conservation, little development of renewable sources, resort to the worst fuel there is, and to hell with the rest of the world.
Letter from Venice
I have just had the good fortune to return to Venice for ten days. Not only is Venice as good as I remember, it is better. Peace descended on me within minutes of stepping off the ferry from the airport. Along with peace came joy, for, despite the cold, dreary weather, Venice was full of people just like me, enjoying the magic of the place.
Yes, it's true. It took the plunder of half the known world and 900 years to build Venice. Yes, it's slowing subsiding beneath the waves, Yes, motorboat wakes are eroding the foundations. Yes, it's more difficult to get things done in Venice than elsewhere. None of this matters.
Just as I was leaving for Venice, Eric Britton advised me to take photographs of not only the "nice" Venice, but also to show its problems. I considered and then rejected his advice. It would be foolish to minimize the problems Venice faces, but it would be idiotic to overlook its delights. In my first day there, I had more meaningful interactions with strangers than in a month in Amsterdam. My memory hadn't played tricks on me. People really do respond to the magic of Venice in wonderful ways. Instead of a hostile glare, my comment to a mother who was "fixing" her young child's ice cream cone elicited appreciative laughter. A woman from Harrisburg offered me a Polaroid of myself hunched down to take a photograph of two small children playing at a fountain. This led to a long conversation and, a couple of days later, a leisurely lunch with her and her husband. The simple fact that you can hear in Venice, unlike almost any other city, is vital to this process. (I made a series of sound recordings of Venice that I'll get on line as soon as possible....)
There is beauty and subtlety in practically everything you see. Yes, it's one of the world's greatest tourist traps, and has been for 700 years longer than Disney has been at it. But there's nothing fake about Venice as it crumbles before your eyes. La Fenice is still a gutted shell and might never be rebuilt after the fire of five years ago. The acqua alta comes steadily more frequently. Deterioration may outstrip efforts to preserve the city.
None of this really matters. Venice is there today and will be there, in some form or other, for years to come. It chastises me for being so cautious in the book. I based the reference design on 25-foot-wide streets, but really, half that is plenty. The four-story buildings I proposed are fine, but Venice shows that five and six stories are fine, too. Venice is twice as dense as the reference design, yet it rarely feels overcrowded.
Go to Venice. See for yourself what it's like to live, if only for a day, without cars. When you get home, set about moving cars out of wherever it is that you happen to live.
This nicely produced book is a worthy addition to the library of anyone seriously interested in the effects of traffic on city life, and, as the title implies, how to take back the streets. Engwicht has approached the issues from the micro-scale, here-and-now, in contrast to my own book which starts with theoretical principles and proceeds to practical application. Engwicht wants to help you make your street much better this year; I'm offering a vision for how our cities might look 20 years hence. For all the difference in their approach to the question, the two books are strikingly similar in the end product they would offer: streets returned to human uses, which of necessity means dramatically reducing the impact of motorized traffic.
The book begins with a look at the effects cars have had on the use of streets as social spaces. This material will be familiar to those who know Donald Appleyardís Livable Streets. Engwicht moves on to a strategy for cutting traffic by half on the basis of neighborhood cooperation and increased local economic activity. Not all of this change can be achieved by a single street working together; the mixed-use neighborhoods that I and so many others advocate as the cornerstone for civilized urbanity can only be achieved by a change in policy and subsequent redevelopment.
Street reclaiming is the process of taking streets designed for cars and turning them into spaces for people. Quite a lot of this is based on the principles of A Pattern Language, and rightly so. The most important work is to construct a sense of enclosure - to bring an end to streets as endless vistas of asphalt that belong to nobody. He pleads for the creation of an entrance that announces that you've left the amorphous public realm and entered a neighborhood. The stratagems for building a living street are the heart of the book.
"Six weeks to less traffic" is the how-to chapter. The technique could be summed up as: "Get together with your neighbors and just do it." He makes an interesting comparison with the changes in attitude regarding cigarette smoking, where, in the span of just a decade, smoking moved from being almost universally accepted to being restricted to just a few areas, almost none of them inside public buildings. The major strategies for developing cooperation are:
Engwicht was disillusioned when his first book was misused: some of the fundamental principles he thought he had established were ignored in favor of other, more concrete principles. In particular, he felt that the things that could not be photographed tended to be ignored in favor of those things that could be photographed. The physical changes had been taken out of their social context, vitiating the work. To prevent this from afflicting this newer work, Engwicht concluded with the section "Preserving the Heart: Eight Myths Exposed." By this means he hopes to avoid some of the misunderstandings that arose from his earlier book.
Engwicht closes with "Streets Ahead - Dare to Dream... and Create," a short chapter that offers a joyful vision of the best of the past combined with new dreams: "The future belongs to those who dare to create."
The only important area of disagreement I have with Engwicht is the question of the value of long-term planning. While I agree with Engwicht that long-term planning is certainly not a sufficient basis for urban development, I disagree with his belief that it can be neglected entirely. He states: ". . .any master plan for reforming the transport system of a city must be focused on the task of creating healthy neighborhood cells, not on trying to reform the entire system from the top down." (p 180) I believe that it is necessary to have a vision for the end condition; otherwise, the incremental steps cannot proceed past the point at which they begin to conflict with one another. Itís all very well and good to make dramatic reductions in car use, and the sooner the better, but if you seek to arrive at a condition where car use within a city stops entirely, itís necessary to have that as a goal from the beginning and to make sure that the various steps taken towards that goal do not carry the seeds of their own failure. It will also be necessary to make large investments in better passenger and freight transport - you can get rid of the first half of the traffic fairly easily. Getting rid of the second half is going to require rail-based public transport for both goods and people, and that requires central planning.
One final caveat: the book is written from an Australian perspective. While conditions in the USA are similar in many important respects to those in Australia, there are appreciable differences, chief among them the dreadful state of public transport in most US cities. Also, there's still a little bit of the freewheeling frontier mentality in Australia. You might find yourself in trouble with the local authorities if you attempt to replicate some of Engwicht's strategies in North America.
Reviewed by J.H. Crawford
Hot New LinksThe links below will open in a new browser window:
Stickerguy Pete's travels in Italy and Morocco.
Walkable Communities, Inc. is a non-profit corporation organized to help communities of whatever size to become more walkable and pedestrian friendly.
America Walks is a non-profit national coalition of local advocacy groups dedicated to promoting walkable communities.
Carfree Housing in European Cities: A Survey of Sustainable Residential Development Projects. From Jan Scheurer at Murdoch University.
About Carfree Times
Next IssueThe next issue of Carfree Times will appear in July 2001.
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