23 August 2004
Floor Area Ratio IllustratedFloor Area Ratio (FAR) is now illustrated for ten different urban forms. Each page gives an example of a relatively homogeneous urban area and includes a map of land uses, a statistical summary, and three photographs of local streets. So far as I am aware, examples of this kind have not previously been available. The pages are useful in any discussion of density, building height, width of streets, and amount of green space.
Internships at Carfree.comCarfree.com is offering internships in Cascais, Portugal. A very wide range of skills is of interest, so if you wish to build your skills while helping the carfree movement, drop me an e-mail. The calendar for 2004-2005 is nearly full.
Support for Carfree.comI've been very gratified by the response to my appeal in the last issue for funds to pay the cost of maintaining the Carfree.com server. Scott Roy Atwood kept us on line for June and July. Nathan Banks paid for August and September. Chris Radcliff paid for October. My thanks to them all!
Sponsors are still needed for November and December plus all of 2005.
Please see the Support Page if you can consider
making a contribution. Remember, your contribution helps keep Carfree.com ad-free!
Towards Carfree Cities VBudapest will host World Carfree Network's next conference, Towards Carfree Cities V, in 2005. Details will appear in future issues of Carfree Times. See further in this issue for an account of this year's conference, held during July in Berlin.
"Ghawar Is Dying" StickersYou can buy "Ghawar Is Dying" stickers from New Colonist. Also, read the original article on the exhaustion of the world's largest oil field.
Carfree Design ManualPublication of Carfree Design Manual is expected in late 2005.
Carfree Cities AvailabilityBoth the paperback and hardcover editions of Carfree Cities are widely available. For details, see the Ordering Information page.
Towards Carfree Cities IV
World Carfree Network organized another in the Towards Carfree Cities series of conferences.
This was the fourth such event, held in Berlin between 19 and 24 July. This year's conference
was attended by 170 people, more than the previous three conferences taken together. A wide
range of experts gave presentations, and this year saw more graying heads in
attendance. Humboldt University hosted the conference and provided excellent meeting facilities.
On the public day, several internationally-known figures made presentations. James Kushner, noted professor of law, discussed the state of carfree housing projects in Europe, of which there are now quite a number. Karsten Wagner described the Hamburg carfree project which he initiated. Richard Register presented his proposals for carfree ecocites. Erika Jangen of the European Commission discussed EU alternative transport projects and carfree days. Markus Heller, a Berlin architect, described the difficult path to building a carfree project on a large site in Berlin. (It appears, alas, that the German secret service has preempted this site.) Derek Turner, architect of the successful congestion charging scheme in London, recounted the difficult path to success.
On other days, many workshops were held on a wide variety of topics. A thought-provoking lecture by Sajay Samuel on "The Subtle Dangers of Designed Spaces" was followed by a lively debate. Thursday was devoted to tours of Berlin, a city I had never before visited and which is impressive for its excellent metro system and enormous volume of new construction.
The meeting closed with the Annual General Meeting of World Carfree Network. A huge quantity of business was transacted in a single day, and plans to extend the Network's activities were explored and detailed. One of these is the establishment of a Carfree Institute (if you are interested in this project, please let me know).
The carfree movement is starting to mature and the mainstream is moving closer to us. A proposal during the Annual General Meeting to add "car-lite" approaches to our charter was immediately blocked, there being plenty of organizations already supporting these approaches. We have no need to water down our message.
The 2005 conference is being organized in Budapest.
A North American location is being sought for
the 2006 conference. The conference web site at
offers detailed information.
Gartensiedlung Weißenburg - Münster's Carfree District
by Wolfgang Wiemers
Münster - a Bicycle TownMünster, 280,000 inhabitants, is the commercial and administrative center of a predominantly rural area. It is the home of one of the largest German universities, and has active environmental groups. Probably due to its proximity to the Netherlands and the flat landscape, it is a town of cyclists. For decades it has adopted innovative bicycle policies, which resulted in its frequently being called the "Bicycle Capital of Germany." Its modal split, fairly consistent over the past decade, is 40% car, 35% bike, 11% public transport, and 14% walking. The political majority has almost always been Christian Democrat (CDU = conservatives), except during the period 1994-1999, when Social Democrats and Greens formed a coalition.
Author's InvolvementThe author has been active in various environmental groups since 1990, concentrating mainly on questions of energy and traffic, municipal environmental and planning policy, and organizational cooperation. He represented the Green party on the town council and a district council during the period 1994-1999 and was thus involved in the planning process. He is now chairman of Münster's Umweltforum, which coordinates activities among 16 environmental groups. His interest in writing this piece is to show how various factors must come together in order to secure something as ambitious as a carfree town quarter, and how long-term commitment is necessary to secure lasting success.
Environmental InitiativesThe first initiative for a carfree quarter was taken in 1993 by environmental groups aided by councillors of the Greens. The other parties showed only moderate interest. The groups tried various measures to promote the idea (e.g., an exhibition in 1996). The situation at that time was highly favorable due to housing shortage. Several new quarters were being planned, and some former military bases had become free for redevelopment. The new state government of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), a coalition of Greens and Social Democrats, as in Münster, favored new ideas and started a competition among cities for the first carfree quarter in NRW.
Cooperative PlanningMünster was chosen because of the qualities and availability of the site and the co-operative attitude of the owner, developer, and municipal authorities, promising a comparatively fast implementation. The former military site, a square of about 4 hectares, is situated in Münster's southern residential area, ten minutes by bike or bus to the city center and the main rail station, with all the necessary infrastructure close at hand. It was owned by an aid organization, the Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe (JUH). This group used the huge barracks to train conscientious objectors for social services. They planned to add a care unit for senior citizens and were looking for a developer for the rest of the site. A major housing company active in Münster was interested in the development and ongoing management of the flats. The town supervised the planning process, while the State provided some funds and scientific advice through its Institut für Landes- und Stadtentwicklungsforschung (ILS).
In 1996, 227 European architects and planners entered into the first stage of the planning competition. The winner was chosen in 1998, and the plan was adopted by the municipality in September 1999. A legal expert's report supported the carfree status. A mobility concept for inhabitants and attendees of the JUH-courses was also developed.
Parallel to the political process starting in 1998, an advisory organization (Wohnbundberatung Bochum) specializing in these matters began bringing together future inhabitants. An ample number of applicants was found, and groups were formed to participate in developing various aspects of their future district.
Opposition: From Indifference to Outright HostilityAs required when a new master plan is proposed, public hearings were held in the spring of 1998. Criticism was extreme and led to a highly emotional atmosphere. Neighborhood critics charged that the obligation of residents not to own cars would certainly be circumvented. The absence of parking spaces in the new development would lead residents of the project to park their cars in adjoining quiet neighborhoods. Complaints about the nightly noise of the young men in the JUH training-courses were used to mobilize people against the project.
Reasoned arguments that even a fair number of violators could not possibly cause as much traffic disturbance as a normal quarter with one or more cars per family were drowned out in the ensuing media frenzy. The political opposition took their cue and demanded that the plan be abandoned and that normal parking provisions be required within the new quarter.
Winds of ChangeIn the municipal elections of September 1999, the CDU regained its majority. While they had to abide by the prior decisions and contracts, they withdrew their active support for the project. Some councillors encouraged the lawsuit of a neighbor who claimed that the town's decision was not constitutional. The Higher Administrative Court of NRW, in its verdict of 11 January 2002, confirmed the right of a town to dedicate town quarters for special purposes, if there was enough demand and enough space for those who wanted alternative arrangements. The judge also stated that the town authorities could usually trust their citizens to keep their contracts, such as the one they signed when moving into the carfree quarter. He held that, by writing it into the planning law and through the contract between the housing company and the tenant, the carfree character was sufficiently assured. He concluded that it was obvious that, even with anticipated violations, this quarter would cause much less traffic disturbance to its neighbors than any normal one.
This favorable decision, however, did not close the matter. The project had been started in a cooperative effort and atmosphere, but some of the partners then defected. The JUH gave up their plans for the elder-care unit, fenced in their part of the property, and built a huge underground garage for their use. Personnel changed, the environmentally-friendly mobility concept was forgotten, and only gradually could the new inhabitants restore friendly relations. The State, like the town, lost its active interest, so the new residents and the housing company had to deal with all the problems of construction on their own. Only the advisers of the Wohnbundberatung stayed on the job once State subsidies ran out, paid by the company alone, until the second big group of tenants took up residence in 2003.
The quarter had deliberately been planned as a socially-mixed quarter, with subsidized rented flats for low-income families, individually owned three- and four-story apartments, and some individually owned two-story terraced houses at the outer margin, as in the surrounding quarter. However, costs soared due to an unexpected volume of contaminated soil, so prices for property rose above the market average. The company, moreover, did not show enough flexibility to the wishes of those who were still interested, so the spaces for terraced houses are still empty. Public opinion holds that this is solely due to the carfree character that discourages ownership, and consequently calls the whole project a failure, even though 80% of the projected inhabitants are there.
Present Reality: Residents Form a Lively CommunityWhen in October 2001 the first 200 tenants, many of them young families, moved into their 2- to 5-room apartments, the outlook was not encouraging. The main access lane was dominated by the garage entrance, wire fences, and garbage containers. The term "garden city," invoked by marketing experts, was belied by the building-site character of most of the terrain (not necessarily disliked by older children). The only green was the small lawns behind the houses, but even here chain-link fencing dominated. The rather simple square blocks seemed to demonstrate the preponderance of economic considerations.
As in almost all new projects, there were many defects and drawbacks, large and small. To mention just one: stairs to basements were so steep and narrow that they required an athlete to get a bike up or down, to say nothing of children's seats or trailers. Many families had to leave their everyday bikes and carts outside, exposed to the winter weather.
However, the undaunted inhabitants tackled these problems. They founded a residents' association and set up various committees, the most important of which was the arbitration committee, empowered to grant exceptions to the carfree obligation. They organized many community events to bring the people together.
When the second batch of houses was built, many of their suggestions for improvement were accepted, and the company provided a centrally-situated flat as a community center at a moderate rent. This was named "Geistreich" (a pun, meaning "kingdom of the spirit" as well as "full of spirit", "quick-witted"). It is also an allusion to the name of the whole city area, Geist, which is dominated by a church of the Holy Ghost.
Walking or cycling through the gently winding lanes free of motor traffic today, one gets quite a different impression from the first days. Private and public green space and trees have already grown considerably, and "garden city" is no longer just a marketing slogan. Upper stories have balconies decorated with flowers, and each ground-floor apartment has a private garden, many of them opening on to a small common green and playground. The big central playground and recreation area opposite the community center has just been completed. In the afternoon, children play at random in gardens, playgrounds, or lanes, reminding the author of his childhood just after the war when cars were rare in residential streets. The people you meet relish the situation and are ready to stand up for it.
OutlookIf the dedicated inhabitants of today continue to hold high standards, a positive future seems assured. I think it is no disadvantage that construction has yet to be finished. New ideas have time to mature (e.g., property owned by cooperatives). Plans to use more solar energy are being developed, to gain the additional title of a "solar quarter." The community spirit may appeal to people looking for property, and the high prices of today may seem reasonable tomorrow. Facilities for the elderly are in growing demand, and investors will show up once they see the quality of the place. Children fill kindergartens and schools, and all the residents are an important source of income for neighboring shops. With more neighbors attending community events, prejudices will soon seem ridiculous, and the new quarter will come to be regarded an integral and enriching part of the town and indeed of the whole region.
Wolfgang Wiemers is spokesman for Münster's environmental organizations.
Sustainable Community Near LisbonPortuguese green groups are supporting an ambitious project to develop a sustainable community of 30,000 people about 20 km south of Lisbon, complete with housing, work, and leisure activities. The demonstration project, one of five proposed by World Wildlife Federation and BioRegional, is to show that communities can greatly reduce pollution and use renewable energy. The project is being touted as the "world's first-ever integrated sustainable living program." Waste from the community is supposedly to be reduced to 25% of the national average, and 90% of organic wastes are to be composted.
The Mata de Sesimbra project will cost €1 billion and will occupy 5300 hectares when completed, in about 10 years. Most of the site, some 4800 hectares, will be a nature reserve and restored forest. The project will have a heavy slant towards eco-tourism.
The plan calls for all energy to come from renewable sources. Rainwater will be collected on the site and waste water recycled, which should help with a serious water shortage in Portugal. Half of the community's food is to be grown within 50 km of the site, to cut transport energy and aid local farming. Recycled and reused materials will be used where possible.
When he sent me this article, Lloyd Wright said,
I recall a study a few years back comparing the overall environmental impact of highly energy-efficient homes in a suburban area to energy inefficient homes in the city centre. The study took place in San Francisco. The result was that a super-efficient home in a suburban area produced many more emissions than an inefficient home in the city center. Basically, the extra energy consumed in the longer commute blew away any savings from having an energy-efficient home.This is quite probably true for most projects of this kind. I nevertheless hope that this project will go ahead, as we need demonstration projects as soon as possible. The difficulties of building such a project in existing dense urban areas are currently almost insurmountable, mainly because of strong opposition by existing residents scared of the major changes required. As the problems of global warming and energy shortages begin to bite, people will become more willing to consider these kinds of changes in their own neighborhoods, especially if the pilot projects have shown a high quality of life. Until then, we should support these demonstration projects.
Cybercar Conference AntibesThe Cybercar conference held in Antibes was the culmination of 3 years' research and development by a number of universities and companies, sponsored by EC, into the development of electric robotic vehicles. Firms such as Fiat and Frog Navigation attended, and INRIA organized the conference. Presentations covered many aspects of Cybercars such as safety, user-reaction, cost reduction, and the large potential market - at present untapped.
The 20 person Parkshuttle bus, by Frog Navigation, (2 GETTHERE) ran along a 500 metre stretch of exclusive roadway. Running driverless, using an onboard computer, the bus "read" tiny magnets set at 3 metre intervals allowing it to do precise reverse turns at either end and stop at two points. In an impressive "safety" demonstration a staff member stood in its path and the bus travelling at 10 mph, using its infra-red camera, started to slow at 20 metres, to come to a stop 1 metre from away from its "obstacle." Six Parkshuttles, run by Connexion, the Dutch transport authority, will connect a metro station in Rotterdam with the Rivium business park by next Spring.
The other Cybercars demonstrated were 2 person bubble cars, called Cycabs, or 4-6 person cabins intended for use individually or as taxis in towns. A Cycab could be picked up and the passenger driven to his or her required destination, whereupon it would find its way back automatically to its parking area. The control systems use infra-red and GPS (satellite), sensing the position of pavement kerbs, or following a white painted line. Mixing such tiny vehicles with other road vehicles looked doubtful, the open-sided cabins looked vulnerable, although running them slowly within pedestrian-only areas might work and their use as small goods delivery vehicles would also be worth studying.
Local politicians, the Mayor, and a state senator all made stirring speeches about "L'avenir," which would be car-free, safe and clean. None suggested that anything should be done now about traffic in Antibes, which by mid-summer must be awful. The intention is that Parkshuttles would run around the harbour within 3 years, but must not remove any parking. So whether Cybercars will be the catalyst in the future to change this attitude remains the big question.
First published in Architects' Journal, July 2004
Under the RugAs if it were needed, more evidence of the harm from atmospheric pollution has seen the light of day, despite efforts by the auto industry and governments alike to bury the reports and ignore their conclusions.
Fossil fuel combustion kills tens of thousands of Europeans a year, according to the new studies. In France alone, automobile emissions kill as many as 10,000 people annually, according to a report by the Agency for Health and Environmental Safety (AFSSE). WHO and independent studies in other European countries reached similar conclusions. It appears that tiny particulates, those smaller than 2.5µ, are especially to blame.
It seems that European governments are hiding information on the risks.
The AFSSE paper had been due for publication in early in May, but the current right-wing government tried to block the report due to "the embarrassment the survey causes to the automobile industry," according to an unnamed source at the French ministry of health. The report suggests drastic measures to cut car use, which goes against the interests of car manufacturers, the source said. The paper was leaked to the press, and then AFSSE released it on its Internet site.
The German BUND (a branch of Friends of the Earth) called last year for the installation of exhaust filters that would trap the smallest particles, especially on diesel engines, which are notorious for their emission of small particulates, but the government rejected the proposal. A Green proposal to tax highly polluting cars was also rejected.
A 2002 report from the US EPA on the health risks from automobile emissions is marked "don't cite, don't quote" on every page. The EPA was afraid of being sued by the US automobile industry. The agency has seen the need for strict emission limits since 1977 but has never prevailed against all-powerful Detroit.
"Auto Emissions Killing Thousands"
They Could Have Had MetroIt appears that the newly-opened monorail line in Las Vegas is a hit, even though the line is a paltry four miles long. On its first day, the system operated near capacity. And that's at a fare of US$3.00 per trip!
The US$650 million system, with just seven stations, connects 24,000 hotel rooms to 4.4 million square feet of meeting and convention space and the airport.
In case you missed it, the system cost US$150 million/mile. They could have had a high-capacity metro for that price. So much for monorails.
"Las Vegas Monorail launches to rave reviews, strong ridership"
Or Maybe TramsIn Barcelona, trams are running through the streets after a 30-year absence. The two tram lines in the northern part of the city and three in the south do not connect to each other, however. For this reason, they pose no competition for the existing metro. In fact, however, the tram is part of a plan for an integrated system with components sized to meet the demand expected on various parts of the system.
The two systems together cost only €400 million, and may eventually be connected with one another, but the route would be through the rather narrow Avinguda Diagonal. The system uses modern articulated, low-floor trams of 32 meter length capable of negotiating a steep 7% grade. Nearly the entire length of the system is on its own right-of-way, with crossings arranged to give priority to the trams.
The trams run at the same five-minute frequency as the metro and connect with it. The average service speed of the trams is 23 km/hr, which compares surprisingly favorably with the metro's speed of 28 km/hr. The metro network is also being expanded, albeit at a cost of €2.2 billion. This may be a wise investment, the very high price tag notwithstanding.
"Tram nieuwe concurrent voor metro in Barcelona"
PCC Car, Newark, NJ, 1999
Or Even Antique TrolleysThe new F-line trolley route operated by San Francisco's Municipal Railway (MUNI) is suffering. It's too popular. The line connects Fisherman's Wharf with the old Ferry Building. The service is operated with vintage PCC streetcars, which first hit the streets in 1935. Some even older cars from Milan are also used.
The service is so popular with tourists and residents alike that it's sometimes impossible to board a trolley, and people have occasionally waited while five full trolleys passed them up.
The line is just 4 miles long and cost only $55 million to build It now carries about 20,000 passengers a day, far more during the summer tourist season. In fact, ridership is double the forecast level, and MUNI has been forced to put some buses on the route, as they are short of streetcars.
The SFGate.com article says the restored PCC cars, "which look modern," are "streamlined." Well, not to my eyes. They look just like the brilliant 1930s engineering they are.
MUNI bought old PCC cars recently taken out of service on the Newark Subway, for the bargain-basement price of just $15,000 each.
"Nonstop rush hour on F line"
Does Amtrak Have a Future?America's trouble-plagued Amtrak intercity rail system is headed for a shutdown in early 2005. Fiscal year 2005 funding for the heavily-subsidized system is about half what is required to keep it rolling, and no easy solution is in sight. Amtrak's management warns that the funding voted by the House of Representatives would force the system to halt all intercity service early in 2005.
While a last-minute reprieve is always possible and has occurred before, I suspect that the system will now close. In fact, this may not be as fearful an event as it appears. I suspect that a new operator will keep the more sensible parts of the system running, in particular the heavily-traveled Northeast Corridor route between Boston and Washington. Some of the long-haul service in the western part of the country simply makes no economic sense and is pulling down the whole system. A closure or bankruptcy would also permit a new operator to resume service without the irrational labor agreements and pork-barrel considerations that have kept costs at very high levels.
Finally, Amtrak's operations have often been so inept that they have interfered with commuter rail systems (not operated by Amtrak) and thus damaged the quality and particularly the reliability of the commuter systems, which are arguably more important than intercity rail service.
"House Funding Bill Would Close Off Travel Options - Amtrak and New Rail Transit Projects"
The Commons RevisitedBritain is considering a resolution of the tragedy of the highway commons: congestion-based road charges may be imposed nationwide. Charges as high as €2.18/mile could be imposed on the most congested roads. Congestion would be cut by half and avert a looming transport crisis.
Reason to think the plan might actually see implementation can be found in the long list of organizations that contributed to the study proposing these changes. Interested parties were included in developing the plan, even including the motoring lobby. The plan would probably result in rural car travel actually becoming cheaper than it is today, but users of busy roads would pay far more.
Under the scheme, the UK's 30 million cars would be fitted with transponders that would be tracked by satellite. More than €15 billion would be collected annually, although it would cost about €4.5 billion to fit the devices to all vehicles.
Many people are concerned by the Orwellian aspects of the scheme, which would make it simple for authorities to ascertain the location of any car at any time and to plot its route across the nation, but it seems that a majority of Britons are prepared to accept this. (It would also nearly end car theft!)
"Crisis plan for tolls on all roads"
Beijing: Acts of DefianceA recent International Herald Tribune article on the escalating conflict between car drivers and other street users in Beijing included this nugget:
The courage of ordinary Beijing citizens never ceases to elicit wonder. Fifteen years ago, the populace stood in the way of tanks and soldiers, desperately trying to preserve a civic space they lived in and loved. Today, pedestrians can still be seen playing chicken with heavy, groaning vehicles in singular, random acts of defiance. They are standing up to the onslaught of sport utility vehicles and black-tinted limousines that herald the arrival of a two-class society in the People's Republic - those with cars and those withoutCars are rapidly destroying centuries of tradition as they foul the air and endanger pedestrians and cyclists. A rich driver ran over and killed a defiant pedestrian with impunity, an all-too-common event. Interest in the case mushroomed when the story received wide play on China's corner of the Internet. The problem centers on the support of the state (i.e., rich, car-owning politicians) for car-owners' claims to right-of-way.
Time for another Cultural Revolution?
"Meanwhile: Man versus machine on Beijing's streets"
Hope for ChinaChina has decided to emphasize public transport improvements during the next five years. Chinese Vice Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing, speaking at a Beijing conference, cited foreign experience that has shown the benefits of giving priority to urban public transport projects.
The program will include dedicated public transport rights-of-way in urban areas so that public transport vehicles can run without delays. At present, the average speed of buses in Beijing is under 10 km/hr due to the heavy competing traffic from private cars. (Walking speed, let us remember, is 4.5 km/hr, so taking the bus is barely twice as fast as walking, if waiting time is ignored.)
Unfortunately, it appears that there will be a strong emphasis on building park-and-ride facilities (i.e., large garages) at the edge of the city core, with drivers changing to public transport for the trip downtown. A better approach would be urban development patterns that provided door-to-door public transport service, which would mean an end to suburban sprawl development. China really can't afford to waste precious agricultural land adjacent to cities in the highly fertile coastal plains.
The project appears to be a serious commitment, with 3-5% of GNP to be spent on transport infrastructure. The matter will turn on the balance of investments between the needs of car drivers and transit users.
"Public Transport To Be Key Focus For China Over Next 5 Yrs"
Carfree Day in ShenzhenShenzhen, China, population 4.7 million, marked its first carfree day in June, with 100,000 walking, biking, or busing to work instead of driving. The day's theme: "reducing exhaust emission to have more blue sky." It probably sounds better in Cantonese, but I'm sure it's better any way you look at it. Some walked for as long as three hours from home to work. (Is there no public transport in parts of Shenzhen?)
Shenzhen's economy has exploded during the past 20 years, and car ownership has reached the level of 23 cars per 100 families. Air quality has declined precipitously as a result.
Vancouver's Arbutus CorridorThe Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) has announced a design contest for the Arbutus Corridor in Vancouver. Students, planners, and the general public are invited to contribute design ideas, the best of which will be presented to the City of Vancouver.
SPEC wants to see the corridor preserved as a transportation link and greenway space. The site is a historic area in central Vancouver. SPEC thinks the corridor can integrate rail transit service and greeways with bike and foot paths plus community gardens. They are working with community groups and politicans to bring this vision to reality.
Preservation of the corridor as a transport right-of-way is supported by 79% of Vancouver residents. Until 2001, Canadian Pacific had operated rail service along the 11 km right-of-way. Full contest details will be posted in early September at www.spec.bc.ca.
Paris May Say Non! to SUVsParis is reconsidering the SUV - does it really belong on the traffic-choked streets of the City of Light? These behemoths might be banned in 18 months, the result of a new city council resolution. A Green deputy mayor said that SUVs are "not suited to towns." He went on, "They're polluters, they're space-occupiers, they're dangerous for pedestrians and other road users. They're a caricature of a car." The ban may take effect if it is included as part of a larger project to reduce congestion in the city.
The city council urged Mayor Bertrand Delanoe to consider banning SUVs, which now constitute 5% of the French car market, still low by US standards. Paris has been allocating more road space for buses and bicycles ever since a Socialist/Green coalition came to power in 2001, but the city cannot not legally ban SUVs outright. The best they can do for now is to restrict the amount of driving by the most heavily polluting vehicles, in particular SUVs, which may be banned during high-pollution periods. Residents' parking permits might be denied, and they may be kept out of some of the most sensitive areas.
"Paris bid to ban designer jeeps"
Ever More TrucksThe Czech Republic joined the EU on May 1st, and truck traffic crossing the Czech-German border has increased 30% at some crossings. Until EU accession, trucks crossing from the Czech Republic into Germany often waited a day for border inspections, so shippers opted to use rail service from Lovosice (north of Prague) all the way to Dresden. Until May, the trains ran at 75% capacity; now it's a scant 9%.
There is no highway between Prague and Dresden, so thousands of extra trucks are roaring through villages and towns along the existing two-lane roads. Worse yet, the rail link is being closed unless lawsuits by German and Czech citizens' groups succeed.
"EU Accession Leads To More Trucks on the Roads"
Toyota-izationThe new word for today: Toyota-ization. It refers to the hordes of four-wheel-drive vehicles (in particular the Toyota Land Cruiser) now tearing up deserts around the world. The consequence: unparalleled amounts of dust entering the atmosphere. The problem apparently has global consequences. These vehicles break up the surface of the desert, especially in the Sahel, south of the Sahara Desert. The factured surfaces readily give up dust to storms and thereby increase atmospheric dust around the globe.
Annual dust production in parts of north Africa has increased ten-fold in 50 years. The effects are being see as far away as Britain and result in "blood rain" that deposits rust-colored dust. Other factors, including population growth, deforestation, and overgrazing contribute to the problem, but Toyota-ization appears to be the major cause. The deserts in the US south-west also suffer from the problem.
Desert surfaces have in many places been stable for millenia because a thin layer of lichen or algae binds the surface together. When these surfaces are breached, they leave fine sand free to be swept up by the wind. Typical storms 100 km across can pick up some 30-40 million tons of dust. It is also possible that this increases the transmission of diseases.
Dust particles are also known to affect cloud formation by providing nucleation sites. They may also act as aerosols do, by helping to mask the effects of global warming. Once all that driving in the desert comes to an end, the dust will fall out of the atmosphere fairly quickly and may lead to a small boost in global temperatures.
"'Toyota-isation' is latest global threat as desert dust storms spread"
California Gets That Good Ole' Carfree Religion (Sort Of)Carfree redevelopment is coming to that ultimate bastion of automobility: California. In downtown Long Beach, apartments are being built in a dense project that includes commercial on the lower floors. Residents will have direct access to a movie theater, cafés, bars, and other small stores. The project is near the Blue Line light rail system, which gives good access to downtown Los Angeles. The project's 142 units have filled up fast, attracting residents across a wide range of ages and incomes.
The project is a tentative response to the anticipated population increase in the six-county LA metro region from today's 17 million to 23 million over the next 25 years. The region simply cannot continue to see population increases based on the current patterns of auto-centric sprawl, a circumstance recognized by the Southern California Association of Governments.
The projects going up are not carfree in the true sense of the word, but their residents can manage fine from day to day without recourse to a car. That's about as much as can be expected for now in this region.
"Lifestyle Change Might Save the State" [Registration required]
And Now, the Weather
Sour OceansAbout half the CO2 released by fossil fuel combustion since the dawn of industrialization has been absorbed by the world's oceans. When dissolved in water, CO2 forms carbonic acid, the very same acid that makes soda tart.
An article in Science documents the first widespread effort to measure how much CO2 the ocean is absorbing. The results show a high potential to change the oceans' chemistry and quite likely sea life. Some 9600 water samples were collected from various depths and analyzed for CO2 content. It seems that 48% of the CO2 formed by burning fossil fuels has been absorbed by the sea, with the rest remaining in the atmosphere. The study found that much of the CO2 absorbed by the oceans has remained in surface layers, which means that the oceans can still absorb about twice as much CO2 as they already have.
Researchers cautioned that they have little understanding of how increasing marine CO2 levels will affect life in the sea, especially coral and mollusks, which form their shells from carbonates dissolved in sea water. The oceans have long maintained an alkaline condition because of the huge mass of dissolved calcium carbonate.
As more CO2 dissolves in ocean water, the alkalinity of the oceans can be expected to decline, making it more difficult for organisms to grow shells. The pH level of the surface waters could drop to levels below those seen for more than 5 million years.
"Greenhouse gas buildup seen as risk to oceans"
Hot SkiesThere is now more CO2 in the atmosphere than at any time during the past 55 million years. This increase in a principal greenhouse gas may eventually cause all the ice on the planet to melt. This would submerge cities like London and New York and many of the most productive food-growing regions in the world.
Deep ice cores from the Antarctic hold an 800,000 year record of the climate. They show a direct relationship between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and planetary temperatures. At the peak of the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago, the sea was 150 meters below its current level. [Ed. Note: I am advised that the peak was 20,000 years ago and that the end was 12,000 years ago.]
The rate of ice melting is increasing. The loss of the Greenland ice cap alone will cause sea level to rise 6 to 7 meters; the melting of Antarctic ice will add another 110 meters. The ice cores show that, during ice ages, the CO2 in the atmosphere was around 200 ppm; during warm periods, it reached around 270 ppm. That pattern was repeated many times but has now been broken by fossil fuel burning. Atmospheric CO2 has reached 379 ppm and continues to increase at the rate of 3 ppm/year.
"I am sure that climate change is the biggest problem that civilisation has had to face in 5,000 years," said Sir David King upon his return from Kyoto Protocol negotiations in Moscow. He described how the ice caps like those on Mount Kilimanjaro had been continuous for hundreds of thousands of years and had survived successive warm periods. These glaciers are now expected to disappear in 30 to 40 years. He said, "We are moving from a warm period into the first hot period that man has ever experienced since he walked on the planet." He noted that the heat wave of 2003, in which 25,000 Europeans died, killed more people than terrorism yet had not been given anything like the same level of attention.
Because there was no ice on the planet 55 million years ago, it is impossible to know how much CO2 was in the atmosphere, but it was probably only slightly more than the level we will soon reach.
"Melting ice: the threat to London's future"
Breeding Catastrophe Devastates Sea BirdsEnormous numbers of Scottish sea birds failed to breed this summer. The cause: global warming. Several species of sea birds failed to nest in Orkney and Shetland and this may be the first actual impact of climate change on Britain.
A rise in sea temperature is believed to have led to the disappearance of the sandeel, the small fish that plays a big role in sustaining larger fish, marine mammals, and sea birds. In Orkney and Shetland, sandeel stocks have been shrinking for several years, and this summer they disappeared, resulting in mass starvation of sea birds. The figures for breeding failure, for Shetland in particular, are shocking. More than 172,000 breeding pairs of guillemots were recorded in the islands in 2000. This summer, these birds have produced almost no young, an unprecedented event.
More than 6800 pairs of great skuas were recorded in Shetland in 2000. This year they bore as few as 10 chicks. The 1200 arctic skuas failed to produce any surviving young. The 24,000 pairs of arctic terns, and the 16,700 pairs of Shetland kittiwakes are also thought to have had a complete breeding failure.
The situation in Orkney appears to be almost the same, although figures are not yet available.
The link to climate change is clear. The microscopic plankton on which tiny sandeel larvae feed are moving northwards as the sea water warms, leaving baby fish with nothing to feed on.
Water temperatures in the North Sea have risen by 2C in the past 20 years, and the whole ecosystem is experiencing a "regime shift." The availability of food has changed so fast in the past 20 years that the entire ecosystem is starting to fail. All animals in the food chain, which ultimately depends on the plankton, are affected. Young sandeels are not surviving.
While over-fishing of sandeels caused breeding failures in the past, the current collapse cannot be blamed on fishing. The Shetland sandeel fishery was closed earlier this year.
The significance of what has happened is just beginning to dawn on the political and scientific community, but some leading figures already understand. Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said, "This is an incredible event. The catastrophe to sea birds is just a foretaste of what lies ahead. It shows that climate change is happening now. . . . reducing the pollution causing changes to the earth's climate should now be the global number one political priority."
"Disaster at sea: global warming hits UK birds"
Shell Worried About Climate ChangeRon Oxburgh, Shell's chairman, has said that the threat of climate change makes him "really very worried for the planet." In a Guardian interview he said that we urgently need to capture CO2 and sequester it. "Sequestration is difficult, but if we don't have sequestration then I see very little hope for the world," he said. "No one can be comfortable at the prospect of continuing to pump out the amounts of CO2 that we are pumping out at present. . . with consequences that we really can't predict but are probably not good."
Oxburgh said the situation is all the more difficult because many developing countries, including India and China, have enormous coal reserves. Coal emits the most CO2 per unit energy of any fuel. He said, "If they choose to burn their coal, we in the west are not in a very good position to tell them not to, because it's exactly what we did in our industrial revolution."
"Oil chief: my fears for planet"
California Will RoastA study by 19 scientists from leading universities has released conclusions that should alarm Californians. Los Angeles may see a seven-fold increase in heat related deaths as temperatures rise by 15F in some inland cities by the end of the century. This assumes that fossil fuel is burned at the current rate. (In fact, what is more likely is that coal will substitute for natural gas, and that electricity consumption will further increase as demand for air conditioning rises, making the problem much worse.) Water would become a huge problem for California as 73-90% of Sierra snow pack disappears.
Scientists also considered a second scenario under which emissions were held to lower levels. Even under this scenario, average high temperatures would rise by 4-6F. The higher temperatures would devastate both the wine and dairy industries in the state.
The scientists warned not to dismiss the findings as overstated. "We have been studying this for 30 years, and the conclusions are getting increasingly clear, and increasingly consistent," according to Dr. Stephen H. Schneider, a climate scientist at Stanford.
"Study Finds Climate Shift Threatens California"
Europe Is ToastThe European Environment Agency (EEA) says "Europeans must learn how to live with a changing climate as well as seeking to limit its effects by cutting emissions." A recent EEA report says that we have less than 50 years to respond to the threat.
The figures are staggering. Last year alone, Europe's glaciers lost 10% of their mass. Harvests in southern Europe were down by 30%. The climate change now under way is expected to exceed all natural climate variation for a thousand years.
If we don't change our ways, in less than 50 years we will see conditions deteriorate to dangerous levels. Temperatures in Europe are expected to increase by between 2 and 6.3C. The EU wants to try to limit temperature rise to 2C above the 1990 level, which it regards as the highest sustainable level. The EEA report concludes that "on present trends this target is likely to be exceeded around 2050."
Further conclusions of the report:
"Europe 'must adapt on climate'"
The Oil Report
The Real Price of OilAccording to the US Department of Energy, the February 1981 peak oil price of $39.00 equals about US$73.50 in today's money. Oil has been flirting with US$50.00 recently. So oil really is not very expensive in historical terms.
"Oil prices hit fresh record highs"
Simmons Hopes He's WrongIf Matthew Simmons is correct in his belief that Saudi Arabia's major oil fields might already have peaked and could begin a rapid decline in as few as three years, we're all in very big trouble.
Simmons has asked anybody, including the Saudis, to refute his claim. Nobody has stepped forward, although he does acknowledge that the Saudis recently have been more forthcoming.
Just six fields account for virtually all Saudi production. Ghawar, the world's largest oil field, has accounted for 60% of all the oil the Saudis have ever produced. Even today, Ghawar still produces about 5 million barrels/day (mbd) of the current Saudi output of 7.5 to 8 mbd. Just five other fields produce virtually all the rest.
Alas, all six fields are more than 30 years old, and they may have been managed to maximize production in the short term, perhaps with adverse consequences for their ultimate yield. Simmons says that Saudi fields would normally be subject to the same decline curves as other fields, once reservoir pressure begins to fall. However, Saudi Aramco has, almost from the beginning, kept reservoir pressures and flow rates as high as possible.
Simmons claims that the Saudis have produced their fields under simultaneous primary and secondary recovery, having implemented large-scale water injection soon after developing the fields. What this means is that once these fields enter decline, it will be comparatively rapid. During the past decade or so, the lack of good field data from producing countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, has made it difficult to predict future extraction rates.
Lacking good data on Saudi fields, Simmons painstakingly analyzed oilfield activity reports presented at meetings of the Society of Petroleum Engineers from 1961 through 2003. Some 200 such technical papers were gleaned, and they provided a fairly clear picture of all six Saudi giant fields.
"Each individual paper doesn't tell you a lot," Simmons said. "But, by going through this incredible stack and then going back and isolating each by the specific field they dealt with, chronologically, you could see the history of what had been going on in Saudi Arabia during that time." The study revealed a "whole litany" of surprises, the most important of which is that while the six Saudi Arabian giant fields have accounted for Saudi production so far, the evidence suggests that once those fields begin to decline, the Saudis won't have much else to draw on. Aramco has thoroughly explored the nation and found no new giant fields.
Nevertheless, Aramco's management claims that existing fields can produce as much as 15 mbd for another 50 years. They claim that these numbers are actually conservative and that far more oil remains to be found in the country. Simmons notes that the only support for this is the company's claims.
Simmons says that Aramco believes that the advanced technology used by the company will contain the rising water cut in the older fields. "My worry is that too many other oil companies around the world also believed these same tools would allow them to steadily grow their production from a reduced amount of wells drilled. Instead, it turned out that virtually every key oil producer using these same tools sadly ended up seeing their production growth peter out."
He explains that the tools do allow more oil to be extracted per well, but the decline rates are far steeper than for normally-managed wells.
Simmons would like to see the Saudis produce at a lower rate in order to protect the fields and to extend their lives another 30-50 years. He thinks that the Saudis may already have reached the limits of their ability to increase production, and that "if that's so, the world has peaked, as well." Simmons continues, "There isn't any case you could make, by any stretch of the imagination, based on anything we know, that you could go elsewhere to make up the difference. This could become the biggest energy issue the world has ever faced."
Simmons is hoping that someone will prove him wrong.
"Simmons hopes he's wrong"
Peak Oil. . . Now?The Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) recently concluded a conference in Berlin. The group of oil executives, geologists, investors, and academics has been warning the world of high oil prices for some years now.
At the ASPO conference, Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, (and other "optimists") began to talk to the peak oil crowd. While they may disagree with Colin Campbell's predictions, their attendance shows that ASPO is now regarded as an important player in the oil debate. In public, Mr Birol has denied that supply would not match rising demand. But he seems to have changed his tune. "For the time being there is no spare capacity. But we expect demand to increase by the fourth quarter (of the year) by three million barrels a day." He pinned his hopes for an increase in production squarely on troubled Saudi Arabia. "If Saudi does not increase supply by 3 mbd by the end of the year we will face, how can I say this, it will be very difficult. We will have difficult times. They must invest." Now, any investment made today will take years to yield increased production.
Birol was forced to admit that Saudi production was "about flat." If the Saudis produce an extra 3 mbd, they will have to boost production by 30% in just a few months. When asked if such an increase was actually possible, he refused to answer. "You are from the press? This is not for you. This is not for the press."
Supporters of the peak oil theory, when asked whether such a large increase was possible, "absolutely out of the question," "completely impossible," and "3 million barrels - never, not even 300,000." One delegate laughed so hard he had to support himself on a table.
One grim figure supports ASPO's outlook. In 2003, the number of major new oil field discoveries worldwide fell to zero for the first time.
"Is the world's oil running out fast?"
Does China Have More?China's Ministry of Land and Resources has announced that the country had more oil reserves than expected. The ministry cited a report from China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation that identified 47 billion barrels of proven reserves. The amount is about double the figure given by other sources.
At the same time, China may only be able to meet 44% of internal demand from its own fields, as demand is rising as much as 15% a year. Chinese demand has been one factor in the recent rise in oil prices.
"China says oil reserves twice as big as expected"
Just Vote for KerryJohn Kerry is a lousy candidate for President. He's the best we're going to get. He does at least understand and respect the role of the US Constitution and the rule of law, concepts seemingly foreign to Bush.
Vote for Kerry. We simply can't afford four more years of Bush. Once the continuation of the American Republic has been assured, we can quibble about the details.
Nader, if he wanted to run again, should have competed for the Democratic nomination, not run as a spoiler. However much you may agree with what he says, now is not the time to vote for him. Unless, of course, you want four more years of Bush. . . .
Interesting New Books
From the publisher: Transportation and Sustainable Campus Communities presents a comprehensive examination of techniques available to manage transportation in campus communities. It gives readers the understanding they need to develop alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles, and sets forth a series of case studies that show how transportation demand management programs have worked in a variety of campus communities, ranging from small towns to large cities. The case studies highlight what works and what does not, as well as the programmatic and financial aspects involved.
Hot New LinksThe links below will open in a new browser window:
"Transport efficiency around the world" by Erik Rauch
Bus Rapid Transit [PDF!] Newsletter
"On Becoming a Number" A Word from Richard Risemberg for June, 2004
About Carfree Times
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