11 October 2001
This issue is dedicated to the memory of the thousands
who perished one month ago, on 11 September 2001.
News at Carfree.com
J.H. Crawford on Peace in the Middle EastRead J.H. Crawford's op-ed piece on achieving a durable Middle East peace, that those who died on 11 September 2001 shall not have died in vain.
See also the Editorial below, calling for a carfree city in Palestine.
Carfree Cities DistributionCarfree Cities continues to sell steadily. Barnes and Noble usually offers a 20% discount and prompt shipment. own page.
Saying at the Santa Fe Institute
World News Notes & Comment
Carfree Day Rolls Around AgainOn 22 September 2001, a thousand cities spread across Europe observed European Car Free Day. In many cases the observations were more or less token, with a few streets closed off to traffic. Here in Amsterdam, the entire inner city was closed to traffic, except for taxis and a host of other vehicles. Walking in the streets was just as dangerous as on any other day, since the taxis were driving even faster than usual in the lighter traffic.
EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said, "The European Car Free Day responds to a demand for participatory democracy that is visibly increasing in modern societies. People want to understand and get directly involved in the decisions that affect their everyday life. European citizens have taken full ownership of the Car Free Day." Hmmm, well, here in Amsterdam, Carfree Day is firmly in the hands of the Chamber of Commerce, which exercises what is tantamount to veto power over any proposal by the city government that might affect commerce.
This year, the standards for participation were somewhat higher, and city governments had to commit to implementing permanent measures to reduce congestion and car pollution. The pan-European event supported the EU's proposals to improve urban environments, specifically air quality and noise.
"Over 100 Million Take Part in European Car Free Day 2001"
Giuliani Finally Says "No" to DriversIn the wake of the WTC disaster, New York Mayor Giuliani banned single-occupancy vehicles from mid- and lower-Manhattan river crossings between 6 and 10 AM weekdays. This is the same mayor who closed pedestrian crosswalks in order to speed up the flow of cars. Flying in the face of the "right to drive" movement, Giuliani took the step to end gridlock.
"'Not a Normal Time'
It's Buses... AgainThe US General Accounting Office released a report that finds that "bus rapid transit" can solve transport problems in US cities more cheaply than light rail systems. The approach includes signal prioritization, better shelters, fewer stops, faster service, and "more attractive vehicles."
"Hybrid electric buses show rapid transit promise"
In the end, they're still buses. The fiction was maintained that bus rapid transit can often provide similar performance to light rail. The reality is that people will switch to rail vehicles in much larger numbers than anticipated. People will avoid buses, no matter how you dress them up. It's just not a comfortable way to travel.
Well, Maybe It's Rail, InsteadUS Senate Democrats are considering large investments in rail service as part of a stimulus package for the reeling US economy. As much as $37 billion might be invested in passenger rail as a means of replacing much short-haul air travel. Other proposals might provide as much as $71 billion in tax-exempt bonds, loans and loan guarantees, and direct funding of high-speed rail. Trains would travel at sustained cruising speeds of at least 125 MPH, on tracks without grade crossings.
"Senate Democrats weigh funds for rail service to spur economy"
A top speed of 125 MPH is not really high speed rail, but it's reasonable. Readers are also referred to J.H. Crawford's recent "Interstate Rail" proposal.
Ghost of Thatcherism Still Haunts BritainBritain's Railtrack was created in an orgy of privatization that flowed from Thatcherite philosophy, which holds that the only good public enterprise is a dead one. Railtrack was the private organization that was to operate and maintain the basic rail infrastructure that had once been the responsibility of publicly-owned British Rail. Railtrack proved unequal to the task and has on its hands the blood of dozens of people killed in wrecks.
The British government finally denied Railtrack further financial support, forcing Railtrack into bankruptcy. It debts: £3.3 billion. Railtrack had been counting on billions more in aid that turned out not to be forthcoming. Some 2/3s of Railtrack's funds came from public coffers.
Railtrack stock is now apparently worthless. Rail operations will continue under a reorganization plan that is not yet clear. CNN commented, "The decision marks the end of Railtrack in its present form and is an embarrassment to politicians who argued for less state involvement in public services. Other European governments will hope to learn from the UK as they reform their own railways."
"Railtrack: End of line"
Enterprises that are funded by the public should be owned by the public. The first steps to privatize the Dutch Railways have been marked by a plunge in the quality of service. There is some evidence that the Dutch government is rethinking the wisdom of this approach.
Toronto Likes the BikeToronto is considering a plan that would build an extensive network of dedicated bicycle paths, possibly the most extensive in North America. The city hopes to encourage more bike trips thereby easing the city's worsening gridlock and smog.
At present, the city has 166 kilometers of bicycle paths, but the new plan would expand the system to more than 1,000 kilometers of on- and off-road paths throughout the city. Many major roadways would get an adjacent bike lane. On city streets, lanes would be repainted to make room for bike lanes.
About 62% of Toronto households own a bicycle, and 50% of adults consider themselves cyclists.
"More bike paths planned to fight gridlock, smog"
California Governor Sees "End to Freeway Building"California Governor Gray Davis dedicated the latest section of freeway but declared that the current project would be the last. California is, of course, the poster child for freeways. Declaring the end of freeway construction is an earthquake in California politics. In reality, the state long ago abandoned any hope that more highways could solve urban transportation problems.
On a sweltering, smoggy afternoon, Davis announced this radical shift in state policy by declaring that the primacy of the automobile in transportation planning was over. New money will be spent on trains and buses.
Even that bastion of automobility, the Automobile Club of Southern California, has accepted the new reality. Spokesman Jeffrey Spring admitted, "We have to look at alternative methods of moving people around."
Trouble looms, though. Brian Taylor of the Institute for Transportation Studies at UCLA said, "The bottom line here is that transit use is not increasing nearly as fast as transit expenditures. We haven't seen any big shift in travel because we don't ask drivers to pay the costs of their driving. Things like gas and parking are actually getting cheaper in inflation-adjusted terms, so it's no surprise people are driving more and more."
"California Governor Sees an End to Freeway Building"
Talk Is Not CheapA new study by the University of Utah shows that cell phone use by drivers leads to "poor driver performance." The study was published by the National Safety Council. The concentration required by a phone call impairs a driver's decision-making ability. Researchers found that those talking on a cell phone showed dramatically slower response times than when listening to the radio or a book-on-tape.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 3% of drivers are talking on hand-held cell phones at any given moment. A separate NHTSA report suggest that the distraction of using a cell phone accounts for 20-30% of all crashes.
"Study: All cell phones distract drivers"
Better Fuel Efficiency, Anyone?The USA EPA has reported that the average fuel economy of car and truck models sold in the USA is 20.4 MPG, the lowest level in 21 years.
"U.S. Vehicle Fuel Economy Hits Record Low"
Just in time for the next oil crisis.
Canadian Gas Wheezing
The largest natural gas find in Western Canada in the past 25 years is now playing out in a marshy area of northeastern BC near the Alberta border. Some analysts expect the Ladyfern field to gush about a trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas, which to a layman's ear might sound like a lot of burning power. But Ladyfern probably contains just enough fuel to heat all the gas-fired homes in Canada for a year or two at most. And it's a clear freak of nature. A typical new gas well, in fact, produces barely enough gas to heat 90,000 homes for a year.So begins a recent article on the gas supply picture in Canada. Canada now produces 6.2 tcf of gas a year from all sources, barely enough to meet domestic and export demand. "We need 6.2 Ladyferns a year to just keep up with gas consumption and stand still," said Rob Woronuk, a Calgary gas analyst. "The really scary part is that we are finding a Ladyfern only every 25 years."
The Alberta Energy and Utility Board, the provincial regulator, recently published its supply outlook for 2001 to 2010. It predicted that conventional natural gas production in Alberta (Canada's largest producer) would peak by 2003 at 5.3 tcf. Thereafter it is expected to decline by 2% a year. By 2010, Alberta will have produced about 75% of its ultimate gas reserves.
The situation in both the Alberta and US fields is pretty much the same: the old, rich fields are now mature and aging basins, with relatively little remaining gas. New pools are smaller and exhibiting lower production rates and steeper decline rates. North America is using more gas than it is finding.
"The next gas crisis"
Despite break-neck drilling in US gas fields, production is struggling to keep abreast of demand.
A Gift to PalestineA resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict requires that Israel withdraw from the occupied lands on the West Bank. By way of a global apology to the Palestinians for half a century of homelessness, it has been proposed that the world build a "shining city on a hill" in the yet-to-be-formed nation of Palestine.
Why not build the Palestinians the best city in the world? By designing the city as carfree from the start, the following advantages accrue:
The Reality of A North American Carfree Community
By John Bacher
Nestled in the narrow straight between the two Great Lakes Michigan and Huron, is Mackinac Island. It is a four-square-mile carfree community of around 600 year-round residents and nearly a million annual visitors.
Carfree communities share many happy characteristics, notably low crime, prosperity, and an attraction for tourists. They also have an enviable history, particularly in the democratic activism that nurtured their development. These communities enjoy many beautiful, frequently bizarre and eccentric individual characteristics that elsewhere were flattened by the dreary monotony of motor mania.
Unlike the much more densely populated carfree Venice, Mackinac flourishes in its celebration of equine culture. It has been called "the land where the Horse is still King."
In the mid-19th century, pioneering environmentalists such as the artist George Catlin were inspired by the beauty of native Americans' spiritual connection with their land to develop national parks. In 1874, the US Congress made the island the third national park of the United States. It became a Michigan state park 20 years later.
Almost 80% of Mackinac island is still a forested state park, a legacy of pioneering conservation efforts. The remainder of the island preserves one of the many turn-of-the-century elegant resort communities, elsewhere ravaged by motorization. These centered on great white wedding-cake hotels with endless verandahs. Other Gilded Age vacation communities, such as Saratoga Springs, New York, and St. Catharines, Ontario, long ago ceased to be carfreee, clean-air havens. The remains of their once elegant hotels, previously surrounded by huge formal gardens like the Mackinac Grand Hotel's 500 acres of blooms, are now blighted by vast parking lots.
The Grand Hotel, built in 1887, has a 700-foot-long veranda where visitors take the clear air coming off Lake Huron. Guests still travel back and forth to the island's docks in a horse-drawn omnibus. This perpetuates an experience once common at the turn of the century, which survives only because regulatory systems were developed to restrict motorized vehicles throughout both the Michigan state park system and the municipality of Mackinac. Regulations attained their current form in 1928, although the tradition of banning cars on the island dates back to 1896, shortly after the establishment of the state park.
Mackinac's history shows how motorization did not develop through an inevitable law of nature. The public health and safety hazards of automobiles were recognized by many from the beginning, which resulted in numerous early automotive bans in democratic nations, where foes of "rich men's deadly toys" could successfully pressure governments to radically restrict their use.
The best-known of the early car bans is the "Red Flag" law of Great Britain, which required that a footman carrying a red flag precede a motor car. Less well know were prohibitions of automobiles in North American national parks and the banning of automobiles in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island from 1912 to 1914. The Swiss canton of Graubunden was able to ban cars until 1922, when the ban was overturned by the federal Swiss authorities. In contrast to most other efforts to ban cars, those of Mackinac Island endured.
Mackinac Island's regulations to restrict motorized vehicles have much in common with the careful, selective use of new technologies by the Mennonites and Amish. Just like these thriving agricultural communities, which regularly adopt new ideas on organic farming and solar energy, the island of Mackinac is not a museum to by-gone technologies of the horse and buggy era. Horse-drawn fire engines, spewing smoke and clanging bells as they raced to blazes, cannot be found here except in the memories of the oldest residents.
Where the increased speed of motorization serves some evident public good, such as emergency vehicles, it is employed. Although most island police officers ride bicycles, there is a police jeep. The island also has motorized ambulances, a snow plow, and fire trucks. Motorized freight trucks, buses, and private cars are banned. There are some highly specialized uses for which motorized vehicles are permitted, such as electric and phone utility trucks, used only in the winter months.
Except for emergency vehicles, the operation of all motorized transport is tightly regulated. The operation of motorized construction equipment is limited to specific days and hours, usually during the late night. Daylight use of such equipment normally requires that it be preceded by a team of horses. A horse-drawn freight wagon must be attached to the motorized truck or tractor. Efforts to disguise automotive blight are supported by additional regulations, similar to the Red Flag law, that require police to precede moving automotive vehicles.
Bicycles are widely used in Mackinaw Island, including for the delivery of some freight. It is a common sight to see college student "dock hops" master such tricks as balancing nine suitcases on a bike. Phil Porter, the curator of Mackinac Island state park and an author of the island's natural history, has commented, "The best way to see Mackinac is to get on a bicycle and discover it yourself."
In addition to the hotel omnibus, transportation is provided by modernized horse-drawn carriages. These use snow tires, since regular tires frequently go flat, as they don't roll fast enough to kick pebbles out of treads. Island inventors also developed a rubber-cushioned horse shoe with a special steel insert that gives better traction and more cushioning than a typical rubber horseshoe. The island is served by 24-hour-a-day, year-round horse taxis equipped with two-way radios. Horses and carriages can be rented by the hour. Fifty open-air tour carriages carry up to a dozen passengers each. Their owners, like most of the islanders, are descended from the same families that banned cars in 1896.
All freight on the island is moved by horses, which in the summer months number about 600. Fodder must be ferried to the island from the mainland and then delivered by horse-drawn wagons. Horses also haul away garbage.
Mackinac is slowly expanding its role as a winter resort. Until recently, cross-country skiing was merely a practical way for the town's residents to get to the post office. Tourists have now discovered the delights of skiing forest trails in the state park. In winter, air travel replaces ferries, and tourists are whisked by sleighs from the airport to their final destinations.
Apologists for motorization harp on the difficulties posed by horses at the end of the 19th century, exaggerating the stink of horse manure and swarms of flies. From a visit to the island during the peak summer season, I know that such claims by authors who did not live in these times are flights of fancy. A large, full-time crew keeps the streets of the island nearly free of horse manure. The strongest smells on Mackinac are of flowers borne on the fresh air.
The reality of Mackinac shows that the carfree city does not necessarily require futuristic technologies to replace the automobile. To borrow the language of anti-drug campaigns, the essence is to "just say no!" Mackinac also shows the need to correct myths regarding the impact of city horses in the 1880s, which were already being regulated with increasing success by the public health and humane society movements. Those fortunate enough to visit Mackinac will be able to give a new and better meaning to that old quip of American crusader Lincoln Steffens - " I have seen the future, and it works."
"Great Lakes Getaways," Midwest Living (1998).
John Bacher is the author of Petrotyranny, reviewed just below.
This book is exceptionally timely. It throws into clear focus what precisely is going on in the Middle East. The book's thesis is simple: oil revenues help support authoritarian regimes, and Western democracies and especially their oil companies have done little to support democracy in the countries upon which they depend for their oil.
Bacher founds his work partly on his conclusion that taxes can only be extracted from the somewhat-willing, which tempers the behavior of governments that must depend on taxation. No such controls limit the behavior of oil dictatorships, however, as they can fund their activities from the large oil royalties they receive, monies that come to them with or without the support of their own people.
The notion is as revolutionary as the one, "democracies don't go to war with one another." I think I first heard that from Peter Arnett, and it stunned me at the time. I was sure it must be wrong. Could such a simple formulation really be true? But in the years since then, I have come to conclude that Arnett is correct.
What about the notion that oil pays for repression? Bacher gives numerous examples of regimes throughout the Middle East (which, in his geography, also includes North Africa). He cites many case examples, few of which make for pretty reading. The book strongly supports Bacher's thesis that repressive regimes are much more likely to arise and be sustained in countries where oil royalties provide the lion's share of government revenues.
The book is nearly prescient on the subject of Osama bin Laden:
Osama bin Laden's success as the man who defies America is understandable only in the light of support he gets from autocracies having great oil wealth. He has disrupted the path of freedom in many parts of the worlds. The bold acts of anti-American terrorism associated with his name have served to create a sensationalist unity that covers up the profound differences between the various groups and states allied with his cause of armed struggle.
What is remarkable about Osama bin Laden is the globalized nature of his role in sustaining and spreading petrotyranny. His actions are critical in retarding democracy in the Horn of Africa and Central Asia. They cause turmoil in the depths of India's forests in Assam and the mountains of Kashmir....
The same pattern of fostering an alliance of diverse organizations committed to armed struggle and supportive of dictatorship has been successfully manipulated by bin Laden to undermine democracy in India. Here he has worked closed with Pakistan's ISI, which ahs mastered such devious tricks as aiding Sikhs committed to armed struggle seeking separation from India, while driving their religious brethren out of Afghanistan and Kashmir!
In their cramped focus on access to oil as the badge of US power, strategic studies experts ignore how this has blinded the United States to more critical goals of a democratic peace that would eliminate the need for continued massive military expenditure and facilitate more secure business investments. Such an agenda involves the spread of the rule of law, safeguarding human rights and discouraging the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Bacher concludes that sustainable societies are the only cure for oil addiction. As the demand for oil declines, so too will despotic regimes that depend on oil revenues for their survival.
The book has a few peculiarities. The typesetting is bad enough to make the book noticeably difficult to read. For some very odd reason, the notes and index are set in a larger type than the main text of the book, which would have benefited from slightly larger type. More seriously, the publisher, as is so common today, did not bother to thoroughly copy-edit the book, with the result that it is in places annoyingly difficult to read. For example, in many sentences, the antecedent of a preposition is difficult to divine, which brings the reader to a full stop until the ambiguity is resolved.
These minor shortcoming aside, this is an important and timely book, especially in light of the current conflict in the Middle East.
Reviewed by J.H. Crawford
The authors of this book propose that intelligent development could lead, over the span of a few decades, to the use of half as many resources to produce twice as many goods, enabling the developed nations to continue something like their current levels of consumption while permitting developing nations to improve their standard of living. My own view of it is that we would do better to use these efficiency improvements to maintain the production of goods while cutting resource consumption by 75%. This would require that the developed nations reduce their level of consumption in order to allow poorer nations to raise their standards of living. The challenge is roughly similar, in any case: improving raw material and energy efficiency by a factor of four.
Much of the book is based on the "case example" method. The authors cite examples of impressive improvements in resource efficiency, but whether this is "cherry picking" or generally extendable to the economy as a whole is not clear; further studies will have to show whether factor four is generalizable or not. My hunch is that, for the most part, it is.
At times, the view chosen is too narrow. For instance, a discussion of more efficient cotton growing does not include a consideration of the substitution of other natural fibers for cotton.
The authors in general support the taxation of resources rather than labor, a move which seems nearly essential if we are to achieve a sustainable society based on meager resource use and minimal pollution.
The authors are well aware of the large impacts of suburban sprawl and intensive automobile usage on both resource consumption and atmospheric pollution. "Car-Free Mobility" is even addressed as a strategy. The "parking cash-out" is considered at some length as a means to encourage employees not to drive to work.
The book wrestles with many important issues: adverse incentives (as applied to energy utilities, which normally earn less if they help their customers save energy), the importance of land use patterns, the subsidy of the driving public, etc. One notable policy proposal is a 5% annual increase on the tax on energy and resource consumption, to be continued for decades. The population question is, of course, seen as central.
The book can only be considered a field reconnaissance and not a finished survey. For instance, too much reliance is placed on the highly simplified "MIPS" methodology (which assesses the "ecological rucksack" attached to a given economic activity). While a more rigorous analysis may presently be impossible, it is dearly needed. This brings us to a favorite long-running theme of mine: the need for global modeling of all processes on Earth that affect life on the planet. This is a challenge that makes the Apollo program look easy, but fortunately we can take more than eight years to complete it. Basically, we need to be able to run "what-if" scenarios to determine, reliably, whether a proposed course of action would achieve its aims and what unintended side effects it would have. More on this another time.
I think Amory Lovins must consider himself a "big picture" thinker, and with considerable justification. However, he continues his apparent aversion to detail in this book. Some of his earlier work was discredited when it became apparent that he had gotten an important decimal point in the wrong place. So too is this book riddled with simple math errors that undermine the credibility of the entire argument. Even competent technical proofreading should eliminate these errors, so the publisher must also bear a share in the blame. This is also true with respect to some poorly-written and unclear passages. Likewise, some highly technical jargon creeps in without explanation.
The book is now four years old and probably deserves a revision at this point. It's a useful introduction to pressing issues that will greatly affect us all.
Reviewed by J.H. Crawford
This book follows on from Rogers 1997 Cities for a Small Planet, but this one is written with a strong focus on Britain. It includes a good description of the Garden Cities movement begun by Ebenezer Howard in 1898, who proposed to disperse London's very high density neighborhoods into large, spacious new-towns in the surrounding countryside. His work laid the foundations for suburban sprawl and single-use zoning, although he would doubtless have been appalled by this use of his work.
Rogers is acutely aware of the damage that cars do to our societies, and a good chunk of the book is devoted to exploring just how bad all of this is for us. There's little here that will surprise readers of this newsletter, but it's a good summary. Rogers points out that Britain is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and laments the ongoing loss of green area to sprawl. There is a very discouraging map that shows just how much of rural England was lost to sprawl between 1960 and 1990.
Rogers holds up Copenhagen as a model for Britain. Despite surging prosperity, Copenhagen has managed to hold car use in downtown essentially flat for 40 years while also increasing the use of public spaces by pedestrians.
Rogers proposes that brownfield recycling is the wave of the future. We simply cannot continue to consume virgin land and must now concentrate on rebuilding our urban cores by redeveloping brownfield industrial sites. He proposes solutions very similar to what I favor : blocks with interior courtyards surrounded by a continuous row of 3- to 5-story mixed-used buildings, a pattern that has proven its worth through the centuries.
Rogers believes, as do I, that rail systems are the key to rebuilding our cities; only rail can provide safe, convenient, fast urban transport at affordable social, ecological, and economic costs. This, of course, requires building at much higher than suburban densities, and Rogers is keenly aware of this need.
Somewhat surprisingly, the book is very hard on much of 1960s and 70s Modern architecture. The solutions Rogers proposes really look much more like traditional cities than anything with a 20th-century pedigree. Perhaps as surprising as his condemnation of much that is Modern is Rogers belief that social justice is a cornerstone of any sustainable society.
I find it a little odd that while Rogers clearly understands the devastating effects of cars on city life and wants to see urban car usage brought way down, he does not deal in detail with the question, "How many cars are too many?" He even goes into the widespread success of "pedestrianized" (i.e., carfree) downtown areas. However, the final leap to carfree cities is not made. This notwithstanding, I find this an interesting book that makes the case for urban revitalization based primarily on public transport, with the car playing a much less important role than today.
The book uses the same excellent design as the previous one (including, alas, also the dreadful cover). It contains many graphs and photographs and is nicely printed and bound.
Reviewed by J.H. Crawford
Hot New LinksThe links below will open in a new browser window:
Wanderlust: a history of walking by Rebecca Solnit
The Social Ideology of the Motorcar by André Gorz
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