15 August 2001
A Major Street in Venice
News at Carfree.com
Carfree Cities DistributionWholesale stock of Carfree Cities in the USA has been replenished. At the moment, Barnes and Noble appears to be offering the best deal (20% off).
CalendarEvents are now listed on their own page.
General Motors can do better than showing off their worst gas guzzlers to our governors. Leave it to GM and the auto industry to show off 1950s technology dressed up with leather seats and cup holders.
Sierra Club lobbyist
"Environmentalists hit governors' gas-guzzlers"
3 August 2001
GM was kind enough to furnish 89 of its jumbo SUVs to the governors' conference in Providence, RI. The gas budget: $10,000 for the four-day conference. That works out to about $25 per vehicle per day, a mere 15 gallons. Sure hope they don't run out of gas!
Oil Slick AwardsTo Bush & Co., again, for successfully alienating 178 other nations that are trying to keep the planet from overheating.
To each of the 36 House Democrats who voted with Bush & Co. to rape the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the interests of a few more barrels of oil.
To US Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas for systematically gutting the provisions of federal statutes that protect land, water, and air.
Unlike the world's supply of oil, the supply of Oilies is limitless.
And 34 GreeniesTo the 34 House Republicans who had the courage to vote to save the ANWR.
Broken Rail AwardTo the Dutch Railways (NS), for finally managing to reduce on-time performance below 75% after years of hard work. This was achieved at the same time that 300 trains a day were cancelled due to a long-forecast shortage of operating personnel. Best of all: cancelled trains don't count as late! Hats off, fellows. Maybe 50% on-time lies within your grasp.
World News Notes & Comment
Take My Car, PleaseA majority of Canadians is willing to restrict car use on poor-air-quality days, according to a recent poll. While 58% of Canadians supported limiting car use on smoggy days (eastern Canadian cities are suffering one of the smoggiest summers on record), only 37% were willing to pay more taxes for better public transport.
Angela Rickman of the Sierra Club of Canada said, "I'm wondering how they're planning on getting around if they don't use cars and they don't want to pay for public transit." However, Gerry Scott of the David Suzuki Foundation said that resistance to new taxes doesn't mean people don't want existing taxes to be used for upgrading transport. The pollsters neglected to ask respondents if they wanted taxes diverted into public transit from other programs or from Canada's current large budget surplus.
Recent studies indicate that poor air quality leads to approximately 1,000 premature deaths a year in Toronto alone. So far this year, smog advisories have been issued on 17 days in Ontario; the historical level is 5-10 days during the May-to-September smog season.
"Majority supports restricting use of cars to cut smog
London on $7 a DayDrivers will have to pay $7 a day to bring their cars into congested central London as part of a plan aimed at reducing weekday traffic by 15%.
The fee goes into effect in January 2003. Mayor Ken Livingstone said the $282 million in anticipated annual receipts will be used to revamp the city's decrepit public transport. Livingstone said, "It would be negligent not to proceed rapidly. Continuing doing business every day in London is a nightmare."
Singapore and several Norwegian cities have imposed charges on drivers entering the city center. Other British cities and counties are considering congestion charges.
Livingstone and Prime Minister Tony Blair have been battling over a government plan to partly privatize the London Underground, now overcrowded and plagued by breakdowns. The mayor wants to keep the system under public control.
"London to charge drivers
Keep after 'em, Ken!
Judicial Activism (Right-Wing Extremist Style)A recent analysis of the U.S. court system has found a decade-long pattern of activism by judges ideologically opposed to environmental protection. The analysis was conducted by the Alliance for Justice, Community Rights Counsel, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
A group of judges - most of them appointed by Reagan and Bush, Sr. - has disregarded norms of judicial conduct to shape a new judicial philosophy that threatens core environmental protections.
Leaders of the nation's top environmental groups have responded with a coordinated effort to monitor Bush's nominations to the federal bench. Greg Wetstone of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "In pursuit of anti-environmental activism, judges have repeatedly ignored basic principles of judicial fairness to shut citizens out of the courthouse and create new rights for polluters."
Doug Kendall of Community Rights Counsel and an author of the report said, "Our analysis found that activist federal judges are developing a broad array of questionable legal theories to try to justify the results they want at the expense of environmental protection."
There are now 112 vacancies on the federal bench, giving Bush an opportunity to bend the federal judiciary to his world view. Bush has named as "model" judges Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, both of whom were cited in the report for promoting anti-environmental activism. Environmental areas now under assault by radical judges include:
"Report Finds Anti-Environmental Activism by Federal Judges"
It's time the liberals started getting some mileage out of branding right-wingers with the extremist label, where that fits.
Odd Man OutVirtually all of the world's nations, excepting the USA, accepted treaty rules at the Bonn conference in July that would require industrialized nations to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. The agreement, hammered out in days of intense negotiations, paves the way for ratification of a watered-down Kyoto protocol. Bush & Co. have dismissed the Kyoto protocol and make vague noises about some plan of their own.
Propelled mainly by the EU, 178 countries accepted the detailed language necessary to move the protocol from a basic plan to a detailed, binding international accord. This was only achieved after years of debate among blocs of countries, lobbyists, and environmentalists regarding the final treaty language.
While nobody was entirely satisfied, an agreement was finally reached that was acceptable to almost every nation of the world... except the USA. This was a difficult agreement to forge because the treaty will impose economic limitations on the industrialized nations and force changes in daily life.
"This issue will be around for generations to come, but this is an incredibly important first step," said Margot Wallström, the environment commissioner of the EU. A tough stance by EU negotiators resulted in an agreement that has real teeth and significant consequences for nations that fail to reach their agreed targets.
Some negotiators held out hope that the USA would rejoin the pact, but the chance of that happening, at least in the short run, are slim. Paula Dobrianksy, Bush mouthpiece, congratulated the parties to the protocol but reiterated the Bush & Co. mantra: The treaty is "not sound policy."
"Without U.S., 178 Nations Advance Kyoto Pact"
The USA hopes, of course, to continue to externalize to the rest of the world the costs of its outrageously high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. "Sound policy" seems to be a code phrase that means "what helps my reelection chances." Ironically, a large majority of Americans support environmental protection. Carfree.com is hoping that the Bush & Co. stance on Kyoto and other environmental issues will boomerang.
Oil for ChinaThe USA consumes 19 million barrels of oil a day, four times as much as China; on a per-capita basis, the U.S. burns 20 times as much. Yet it can be argued that China already has more influence on oil prices than the USA.
"Oil is priced at the margin," says Lawrence Goldstein of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation. Prices are driven by that last barrel of demand, not by the installed base of consumption. US demand is huge but is growing only 1% a year, and consumption in the EU is flat. Meanwhile, demand in China and India is increasing rapidly. Last year Asia accounted for 92% of net global demand growth.
During the 1998 Asian financial crisis, oil demand in the region declined for the first time in nearly two decades. World oil prices crashed to below $10 a barrel. When the Asian economies rebounded vigorously, oil prices rocked to more than $30 a barrel.
By 2010, Asia will be importing 20 million barrels of oil a day, twice as much as the USA does today, and 80% of it will have to come from the Middle East. China, a net oil exporter as recently as 1993, is now importing 1.4 million barrels a day. With more than 50% of the world's population, East Asia has only 4% of the world's proven oil reserves. Many of Asia's largest oilfields are drying up, and few good prospects remain to be explored.
China and India will tend to align more with the Middle East. China may barter weapons for oil, and some suspicious trades have already occurred.
Declining US influence in world affairs directly threatens US oil supplies and probably destabilizes the world balance of power.
Natural Gas PinchHigh prices and surging demand have sparked a natural gas drilling boom in the USA that will yield about 18,000 wells drilled 2001, some 60% more than just two years ago, and close to the all-time record. All this drilling, however, is resulting in miniscule increases in gas production, not nearly enough to meet the increasing demand, which arises from the many new natural-gas-fired power plants coming on line now.
The US Department of Energy (DoE) has projected a 45% increase in gas use by 2015, but, despite the drilling surge, production is only up by about 2% this year. The DoE thinks that the number of wells drilled annually must rise to more than 30,000, but even that won't be enough - imports from Canada, Mexico, and even farther afield will be needed to meet demand for gas. Wells younger than three years old now produce 60% of US natural gas, which means that drilling must continue at a frenzied pace just to maintain current production.
All of this demand leads to pressure to open public lands for drilling. Industry officials claim that federal restrictions on public lands make it difficult to drill into the richest of energy reserves, such as those in the Rocky Mountains, now closed to energy exploration. Officials claim that continued drilling in the old fields is not going to yield enough gas. Fields in the Gulf of Mexico are seeing declines as great as 40% per annum in the production of existing wells.
"Supplies Lag Despite New Natural Gas Wells"
It's too soon to know just what is going on here. Clearly, Bush & Co. are eager for their friends in the energy industry to make windfall profits, preferably through bargain-basement mineral leases on federal lands. Beyond that, it's cloudy. It certainly appears that the USA is going to have great difficulty in maintaining current gas production levels, almost no matter what is done. Canada and Mexico appear poised to limit exports to the USA as a result of increasing domestic demand and declining production. Gas can only be imported from outside North America by liquefaction and ocean transport by specialized LNG tankers. The process is highly inefficient because liquefaction itself consumes large quantities of energy. All in all, the long-term outlook for gas prices is up and for supplies, down. It's a moot point where the supply for all the new power plants is to come from.
New Urbanism Goes Mainstream"About one-third of Americans want to live in places that embody new community design with a focus on real neighborhoods, a strong sense of community, walkable streets, and less dependence on cars, but less than 1% of housing offers such mixed-use places," said Joel Hirschhorn of the National Governors' Association (NGA).
To help understand the true solution to sprawl and avoid falling into the trap of "communities" that differ only superficially from conventional sprawl, NGA has prepared a checklist to evaluate projects for their consistency with smart growth principles. The checklist poses such questions as: Does the project avoid fragmenting existing green space, especially natural habitats and forests?
Maryland's draft models and guidelines explicitly support "revitalization of older communities and new compact, mixed-use communities in locally-designated growth areas as an alternative to continued sprawl."
"U.S. governors endorse new community design"
Further evidence, as if any were needed, that the sacred mechanism of the market often doesn't provide what people really want.
America's "Free" Parking ProblemFree parking is a powerful contributor to America's unquenchable thirst for gasoline, with all the problems that causes. More than 90% car trips in the USA end at a "free" parking space, which isn't really free at all. The total cost of parking, whether direct or indirect, is actually higher than the cost of fueling the automobile fleet.
Fully 50% of the cost of parking is paid by employers, retail businesses, and citizens. Another 40% percent is included in rent and mortgages for off-street parking at home. Only about 10% of the parking bill is pay-as-you-go at meters, lots, or garages.
One reason that user fees for parking are comparatively rare is that zoning ordinances mandate the provision of extensive free parking, which is provided both off-street and on extravagantly wide streets in new residential developments.
The federal tax code also permits employers to offer free parking as an untaxed fringe benefit.
Of course, all of this parking requires enormous amounts of land, which in turn forces buildings to be built at greater distances from one another, which makes walking impractical.
Some communities have begun to reduce parking requirements. Portland, Oregon, exempts downtown residential development from required off-street parking. Downtown Olympia, Washington, imposes no minimum parking requirements. In fact, simply eliminating off-street parking requirements is a viable approach. Some developers may choose to include parking anyway, but most will build none or in any case less than they were formerly required to provide. This would reduce pressures on the supply of land and in turn tend to moderate housing and office prices.
"Land of the Free...
All of these changes would tend to have the effect of requiring drivers to pay the actual cost of parking, which internalizes a major cost of driving that is today normally externalized. This would exert a significant pressure to reduce the amount of driving.
This book summarizes 25 years of experience at the Project for Public Spaces. It shows, in practical terms, what can be done to make successful public spaces out of failures. It focuses on building an enduring sense of place, something not achieved simply by following engineering and planning standards, and something not always encouraged by zoning ordinances, either.
As William H. Whyte said, "It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people - what is remarkable is how well this has been accomplished." An obsession with neatness leads to dead spaces. Just as a slightly messy living room is likely to feel more comfortable than one in which not a thing is out of place, so too must one be prepared for something less than perfection in lively public spaces. This does not mean we should accept vandalized furniture or filth, it merely means that we must make spaces that people aren't afraid to make their own, if but for a moment.
Part of the problem is the failure of planning professionals to pay more than lip service to "community-based planning." Finished plans are laid before the community as pearls before the swine. Real community involvement must start at the beginning of a project ; it is not something tacked on at the end, once all the real decisions have already been made.
The 11 principles for creating public spaces are dealt with at length in the book and worth summarizing here:
The book is oriented towards success, and PPS thinks that success breeds success. John Kotter claims that people who successfully lead a program of change always
look for avenues that will allow them to produce some short-term wins, some visible changes that are associated with their effort, within six or 12 months. This gives them credibility and discourages the cynics - and there are always a lot of cynics. Change of any magnitude tends to take time, so short-term wins are essential, and must be an integral part of the long-term strategy. (p. 67)This is a useful source book that belongs in the library of individuals and organizations trying to improve the quality of public spaces in their cities.
Reviewed by J.H. Crawford
This is not a book for the casual reader - it is aimed squarely at professionals and academics in the transport sector. If, however, you need to win an argument with the likes of Wendell Cox (notorious transit-basher), you may need this book, for it presents well-founded arguments in favor of public transport. It is especially strong in making the case that government subsidies for public transport are good public policy in many cases. It's also saturated with references that may provide useful sources for further investigation.
The chapter titles are indicative of the areas covered:
The chapter on the value of transit to neighborhoods offers strong evidence that good transit services correlate closely with house prices. An example is the Pleasant Hill BART station study, which showed that each foot closer to the BART station raised the price of a house by $16.
Production values are unfortunately low - the book was probably typeset in a word-processing program (badly, thus), the press was over-inked, and the binding is of the cheap, glued variety, which does not last well. Alas, these are compromises we have come to expect in academic books printed in small numbers for niche markets. It wasn't always so, and the irony is that good books are now easier and cheaper than ever to produce. At $84.95, you deserve better.
Reviewed by J.H. Crawford
I read this while on vacation in a remote farming village where peace and quiet reigned, so the contrast with the National Automobile Slum was about as extreme as it can get. The book is, of course, a take-off on the famous book by Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson). It's filled with odd characters who collide, gently, with the prim, ever-so-polite Alice, who has a great deal of trouble understanding why contemporary America might ever have been arranged in such a peculiar and unattractive fashion. The venerable Wolfgang Zuckermann has managed to mimic the style of Carroll's book surprisingly well. The book is nicely illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings.
If you'd like a Girl-from-Victorian-England look at the absurdities of contemporary US auto-centric life, this book is a pleasant diversion. It's also a candidate for reading aloud to children aged 5 to 12 (assuming that anybody still has time to read to children after spending all those hours in the car).
Reviewed by J.H. Crawford
More than you ever wanted to know about
The last issue of Carfree Times included reviews of three books about the building of the transcontinental railroad from Omaha to San Francisco, as well as some lessons from the transcontinental railroad. We continue here with a review of George Kraus's book; future issues will include reviews of The First Transcontinental Railroad and A Work of Giants.
Kraus was a public relations flack for the Southern Pacific, so this book is largely uncritical of the Central Pacific's principal actors and their deeds. (The Central Pacific was merged into the Southern Pacific, which was in turn recently merged into the Union Pacific.) The book clearly benefits from Kraus's ready access to the company's archives. There is comparatively little about Washington politics and nothing about the bribery of officials high and low that characterized the times and the building of the railroad. If you're interested in details of such skullduggery, read the Bain book.
This book is mercifully shorter, and therefore much less detailed, than the first three books reviewed. It does not deal with the Union Pacific's construction from Omaha to Promontory Point except where the activities of the two railroads intersect. Since the construction of the UP was mainly the story of incredible greed, utter mismanagement, and barbarous relations with the American Indians, the CP is a more interesting story from an engineering standpoint. At the time, the construction of a railroad over the Sierra Nevada was widely regarded as impossible, whereas the construction of the UP faced comparatively few technical difficulties, and the matter of supplying the necessary material was vastly simpler than for the CP.
The book devotes relatively little space to finance, although it does contain some interesting reports of early revenues. The matter of financing is so intricate that it really merits a book of its own, one that has not, to my knowledge, yet been written. Both the Bain and the Ambrose books are difficult to follow with respect to the intricacies of finance, and the matter is further clouded by the fact that the CP's books were burned not long after the railroad was completed.
Perhaps the greatest failing of the book is the absence of information about the personal relations among the principal actors. Such of this information as exists is mostly in the form of excerpts from letters between the principals, and some of these letters, obviously written in haste, are hard going and not always clear.
The book is very well written and a pleasure to read. It is extensively illustrated and beautifully printed and bound. Sources, however, are not documented, in contrast to the other three books, although the information appears to be reliable. This book shares with all the books so far reviewed a lamentable absence of really good maps; the authors are so familiar with the line of the railroad that they tend to forget that most readers do not know where these places are in relation to one another. None of the books have maps that really meet the needs of the reader.
The book is widely available at ABE.com for as little as $5.00. It's an excellent first book on the transcontinental railroad, and, for many, all that's needed.
Reviewed by J.H. Crawford
The contention that walking might be becoming obsolete seems bizarre. For every scene evoking the city that shows a busy freeway, consider how often the city is depicted in a film as a foreshortened scene of a thousand bobbing pedestrian heads flowing towards the camera. To grab the point: why will someone walk on some occasions and not on others? How can it be that walking is both popular and at the same time held in contempt? National surveys in the USA and Europe, as well as countless personal accounts, attest to the delight of strolling, hiking, and rambling. Yet it is an urban cliché that in some North American suburbs the police will stop a walker as a suspect character or someone in need of assistance.
I've lived less than two miles from Birmingham city center since 1979, but didn't made the journey on foot until 1993, when one of England's rare snows had blocked the roads to cars, so I headed home on foot, arriving 45 minutes later, full of a sense of achievement. A few years later, I more or less gave up urban driving in favor of "functional" walking, cycling, and public transport. What mix of circumstances might persuade others to take so bold a step? "Rediscover the joys of walking!" say Buchanan, father and son enthusiasts. Abandon the narcissistic preoccupations of the gym and recognize that nothing is better for well-being than a daily constitutional. This 40,000-word book comes out of the US mid-West and can be downloaded for $3.00. It's the latest in the "Minnesota Walk Book" series describing the trails of the state's six tourism regions. "Walk Right" begins with arguments lauding the physical and mental benefits of walking. Laced with literary, medical, and political quotes, it concludes with an admonitory overview of the ailments awaiting a generation whose sedentary behavior is wrecking health and breaking links with nature. Between this advocacy are three chapters of detailed information for walkers - fit and unfit, experienced and beginners alike. There are chapters on day hiking, backpacking, bushwhacking (off-trail hiking) - including advice on handling a medical crisis, an encounter with bears, or on stumbling upon an illegal field of marijuana which some will defend "with deadly force". The book has a reading list that includes links to the wider debate on mobility.
In their strictures on couch-culture, the Buchanans are allies of public health authorities across the rich world, where a burgeoning fitness industry typically includes the prospect of "walking your way to fitness" in, for example, the "the safe, climate-controlled comfort of Fair Oaks Shopping Center" A curious scene presents itself to me as I cycle or stroll through urban gridlock. Near the rail station, a floor above the busy ring road that corsets our city center, I can see, through a long window, a frieze of exercise bicycles from whose saddles fellow citizens gaze on the congestion below. "Get away from this" advise the Buchanans, but are they merely rehearsing the bland advice of those recreational advisors urging us to buy expensive boots with which we can head for rural "leisure circuits" that start and end at a parking lot? Are they selling a technical fix for our unwillingness, to escape the matrix of auto dependency?
The Buchanans do not expand on their interesting work "building and using trails as public transportation" but they remind us that the "real hazards of walking" are not bears or woodland weed farmers but "sensational news reports of joggers and walkers ambushed by muggers, rapists, and murderers on urban fitness trails" with an even greater bar being the "ideal urban good life" so many are "passing on to the offspring of 'The Me Generation'." Deeply entrenched mental habits obscure the more frightening picture reported, for instance, in the US Surface Transportation Policy Project's annual report - "Mean Streets, 1998 Children at Risk" - which states that "on a per-mile basis, walking is more dangerous than driving, flying, or riding a bus or train" with "most fatalities, 69%, occur[ring] on neighborhood streets." Too many of these incidents, say the Buchanans, are a product of "urban planning that assumes that the only way to get around is by motor vehicle and that makes no provision for walkers."
This conclusion is the premise of a UK report produced by a House of Commons Select Committee on "Walking in Towns and Cities." Says the report, "In a myriad of ways when we walk we are treated with less respect than when we drive." This report promotes city squares, pedestrianization, Home Zones, further restraint of motorized traffic, the harmonization of walking and public transport, and improved safety and security for pedestrians. It asks "whether greater priority should be given to measures to promote walking, including a greater share of the Government budget and the re-allocation of road space" and "whether national targets should be set and a National Strategy published." Where the Buchanans emphasize reconnecting with nature, this report asks what could make city life more civilized.
For once, all that has to be done to see the difficulties is to step outside the Palace of Westminster.... Here in the heart of our largest and richest city, by the nation's best known buildings, it is impossible to cross some of the roads."Walking has declined in cities because people in cars have been given priority over people on foot. Although 27% of journeys in Britain are still on foot, this decline is maintained by the spread - as both cause and effect - of out-of-town shopping centers, leisure centers emphasizing indoor recreation and exercise, excessively busy roads, fear of crime, unlit underpasses, long-wait pedestrian crossings, lengthy guard railings, poorly designed and maintained urban walkways full of street clutter, including bill-boards facing the road. Similar enquiries support similar conclusions in the USA and the rest of Europe.
Growing apprehension at this trend has seen more and more policy analysis feeding into more and more moves - public and private - to promote neighborhood shopping centers, to include "walking and cycling" within the definition of serious transport, and to place pedestrians at the top of a hierarchy within local transport strategies. Despite infrastructures blighted by auto dependency, we are seeing the precisely detailed and creative thinking needed to weave signed, safe, and continuous routes for walkers into the urban fabric.
Partnerships between education and health authorities, anxious about problems of obesity in the young, are experimenting with getting more children, with and without teachers and parents as role-models, to walk to school. Such measures, because of safety fears but perhaps also because they might create future voters and consumers weaned of auto-dependency, can be laden with hidden oppositional agendas. Ben Plowden, director of the UK Pedestrian Association, speaks in the Association's latest annual report  of "broadening our vision" and campaigning for "Living Streets - public spaces that people on foot can use and enjoy." Voula Mega, OECD Consultant on sustainable cities,  discussing the drivers and obstacles to urban innovation and change, says "The human leg is the only truly sustainable transport means" and declares "A pedestrian-friendly city is more human." Iain Sinclair in the Vintage Book of Walking  writes that "Walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city." Nathan Glazer, reviewing an urban theorist's admission  of the "disability" of never having owned a car, suggests that "interest in cities begins with... the intimate observation available to the walker."
Can one be accused of false optimism when authoritatively-referenced texts like these, with their extensive evidence and advocacy, are spread across the world? Are we in the midst of mobility mind-shifts comparable to those that accompanied mass production of the car and massive government investment in roads? Prediction is unwise; pessimism is usually safer. Anger at present conditions can be salutary when pondering the scale of change required to rediscover walking in town and country, not as what you do between car and home, or car and shopping center, or even car and leisure trail, but as simply one of the best means of getting around.
Reviewed by Simon Baddeley
Hot New LinksThe links below will open in a new browser window:
Interstate Rail at JHCrawford.com.
The Automobile Revisited, also at JHCrawford.com.
FHWA Traffic Calming (from the folks who brought you all those roads!)
Climate Control Requires a Dam at the Strait of Gibraltar, at the American Geophysical Union site, to prevent severe cooling of Europe as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change.
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