1 January 2002
Laborious freight handling in Venice
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World News Notes & Comment
The USA: Alone Against the EnvironmentNegotiators for virtually every nation on Earth recently agreed to implement the Kyoto accords. There was one glaring absence: the USA. European environmental leaders were outraged when Bush & Co. disavowed the accords in March, but they went ahead without the USA to reach an agreement in Morocco that establishes a framework and mechanisms to limit climate change. Last-minute wrangling by several nations for preferential treatment was derailed, and an agreement was reached. Virtually all countries except the USA are expected to ratify the agreement.
While the required reductions in greenhouse gas emission are small, the principle of reductions has now been established. As with the Montreal protocol on CFC reduction, the new accords can be adjusted to provide the required levels of climate protection.
Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said, "How long can the administration turn its back on issues the rest of the world cares about - from global warming to trade in small arms - and expect broad support on issues like the war on terrorism?"
"160 Nations Agree to Warming Pact "
The USA is the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, releasing about 25% of man-made CO2. Bush & Co. fear that the treaty might harm US economic interests and would not saddle developing nations with reductions.
Terrorism of a Different SortThe leaders of tiny Tuvalu, a Pacific island nation, have admitted defeat in their battle against the rising sea and have announced that they will abandon their homeland. The 11,000 citizens plan to move to New Zealand.
Rising sea level has caused flooding, saltwater intrusion, and erosion of the nation's nine islands. Higher temperatures have caused more severe tropical storms.
Paani Laupepa, a Tuvaluan government official, is bitterly critical of the USA for abandoning the Kyoto accords. He said, "by refusing to ratify the Protocol, the U.S. has effectively denied future generations of Tuvaluans their fundamental freedom to live where our ancestors have lived for thousands of years."
Tuvalu almost certainly will not be the last island nation to be evacuated because of rising seas. In 1987, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, President of the Maldives, warned that his country was "an endangered nation." Most of its 1,196 islands are barely 2 meters above sea level. Millions of others living in low-lying countries such as Bangladesh are also threatened by rising seas.
Even large nations are vulnerable. A one-meter rise in sea level would put more than a third of Shanghai under water. The USA itself is vulnerable. Large portions of lower Manhattan and the Capitol Mall in Washington would be flooded by the 50-year coastal storm surge.
Low-lying island peoples are facing the loss of their nationhood. They feel terrorized by US energy policy and view the USA as a rogue nation, indifferent to their plight and unwilling to take any action to halt sea level rise.
"Rising Sea Level Forcing Evacuation of Island Country"
Under the Bush administration, US policy on climate change has become simply indefensible.
In the DustNew concern has arisen that aerosols (micron-size dust particles mainly composed of soot) may have a far more profound effect on global climate than previously believed. In particular, aerosols may greatly affect rainfall. While aerosols have long been believed to cool the Earth by their shading effect, comparatively little attention has been paid to their effect on cloud formation and rainfall. While there are many natural sources of aerosols, man-made aerosols now represent a significant proportion of the total.
It appears that aerosols dissipate cumulus clouds and reduce rainfall. This is occurring as human water usage is soaring - mankind now uses six times as much water as 70 years ago.
Aerosols reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the ocean, which in turn reduces the amount of evaporation. At the same time, aerosols influence cloud formation by tending to limit the size of droplets, which in turn tends to retard rainfall. A possibly devastating effect is that aerosol formation tends to increase in dry areas, which may increase in extent as precipitation diminishes.
Aerosols increase the solar heating of the atmosphere, and reduce the solar heating of the surface of the planet. The magnitude of the effect may be comparable to effects of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases. Most climate models do not yet include the rainfall effects of increasing aerosol concentrations.
"Aerosol Pollution Could Drain Earth's Water Cycle"
We keep finding new, unsuspected terms in climate equations. Few of the new discoveries point to anything but even worse trouble than we had been anticipating. It really is time to take significant action, but as long as Bush and his cronies at Enron are calling the shots in the USA, there's little reason for optimism.
The Danger of Ecosystem CatastropheMany of the world's ecosystems appear to be vulnerable to sudden and catastrophic ecological change. Systems such as coral reefs, tropical rain forests, and boreal lakes and forests that have been stressed by human activities could collapse almost without warning.
Ecologist Marten Scheffer says, "Models have predicted this, but only in recent years has enough evidence accumulated to tell us that resilience of many important ecosystems has become undermined to the point that even the slightest disturbance can make them collapse." Gradual changes can accumulate to the point where even a comparatively small shock can destabilize the system and cause a state change.
Accumulated Change Courts Ecosystem Catastrophe
The War in VietnamHo Chi Minh City and Hanoi may soon have the worst traffic of any cities in the ASEAN nations, overtaking Bangkok and Manila.
The authorities are at least talking about adding more public transport to reduce scooter and motor cycle traffic. Hanoi has some 850,000 motorbikes, while Ho Chi Minh City has about 2 million.
Sgt-Major Than Anh Tuan of the Ho Chi Minh City Road Traffic Police has proposed a drastic solution: "It is time to stop importing motorbikes."
Air pollution in Bangkok is the worst I have ever experienced; if it's even worse in Vietnam, then it's a major assault on public health. I'll be happy to send Sgt-Major Than Anh Tuan a complimentary copy of Carfree Cities.
A Segway in Your Future?The hype-storm about Ginger has finally broken: Ginger is a push-mower-sized, self-propelled, two-wheel, self-balancing means of transport. It is designed to replace walking for local transport in cities. The inventors hope that it will be allowed to compete with pedestrians for sidewalk space. Basically, it doesn't do much that bicycles don't do, and has less ability to carry freight. Its principal advantage is that lazy people won't have to walk, which means they'll get even less exercise than now.
It can apparently travel 17 miles on a single charge and reach a top speed of 12.5 MPH. The inventors project a price of $3000. While the device is clearly a triumph of technical innovation, its real usefulness and its impact on urban life remain unclear.
Inventor Dean Kamen predicts that Segway will lead to a rethinking and redesign of cities, in which cars would be subordinated to scooters. He seems to be a bit schizophrenic in his attitudes regarding the effects of his invention. He told Time that the scooter is not a replacement for the automobile but then claimed that the Segway "will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy."
"Inventor Dean Kamen demonstrates
It will fall to us to make certain that the Segway does not become yet another assault on hapless pedestrians.
Amtrak on the Chopping BlockAmerica's long-suffering national passenger rail system, Amtrak, is down for the count. The organization may be liquidated for failure to reach financial targets imposed on the publicly-funded corporation by Congress. While the subsides to Amtrak are substantial, it has provided vital rail service in the Northeast Corridor and other areas of the USA. Its long-haul routes have been especially unprofitable.
Congress may allow Amtrak to be liquidated just at the time when airlines are demanding and receiving massive infusions of Federal cash to stave off bankruptcy in the wake of 11 September. Amtrak's oversight board, the Amtrak Reform Council, concluded in October that Amtrak cannot become self-sufficient by the end of 2002, as required five years ago by Congress. Ironically, the liquidation of Amtrak would come just as many, even including some airlines, are concluding that high-speed intercity rail service is essential.
"Is This Any Way to Run a Railroad?"
Amtrak president George Warrington has done more than any previous chief executive of the railroad to improve service and complete the Northeast Corridor Boston electrification extension. Carfree Times wishes him luck in his efforts to preserve US intercity rail service - it looks like he's going to need it.
Couldn't We Change Our Minds?Light-rail bashers in Dallas are now pleading to have stations built in their neighborhoods. A scare campaign to discredit light rail failed, and the system was built anyway. Some of the very neighborhoods that fought the hardest to keep out stations are now anxious to have them. Sadly for them, there's no money now to build the stations they had blocked. Areas plagued by heavy traffic have realized that the DART system is just what they need to help solve their parking and congestion problems.
"A change of heart about DART rail
It's time for the USA to deal with the underlying racism that, in some areas, is reflected in opposition to light rail lines.
On the World Peak Oil Production
By Seppo KorpelaThe world has just completed a remarkable century of economic growth. It was achieved by the availability of inexpensive energy sources of oil and natural gas. The preceding century in turn was powered by abundant coal and experienced an unparalleled expansion in science and technology. This has continued unabated to present day. Advances in medicine and food production made possible an increase in world population from one billion in 1800 to just over six billion today. This exponential growth is unprecedented in human history, but is likely soon to come to an end, not by a natural demographic transition as countries industrialize, but by a looming scarcity of oil.
Owing to readily exploitable oil reserves, advances in aviation during the century just past shortened travel times and distances. And a personal automobile gave a freedom to go to places, guided only by whims of the traveler. Train travel fell out of favor, particularly in North America, where Hollywood glamorized the automobile and thereby helped bring the demise of trolley service in cities. Many European cities were saved from this destruction and anyone who has lived in places, such as Zurich or Helsinki, has experienced the convenience and lightness of travel by streetcars. In these and similar places the main railroad station is at the heart of the city and trolleys, running at the street level, provide further convenience to the commuter. Daily use of subways in London, Paris, and New York is much more fatiguing, as long walks in underground tunnels and steep stairs depress the traveler's soul.
The exploding world populations of people and automobiles have put severe demands on oil production. Continued expectations for better life will be only thwarted, when it becomes eminently clear that the rate at which oil can be produced in the world has passed. This event will take place before the end of this decade, perhaps only five years from now. Although it will be an historic event, the slowdown in economies that is taking place today may mask it, as reduced consumption for a few years can still be met without Herculean efforts. And if the economic slowdown will resemble the prolonged recession of Japan, a concerted response to scarcity will be delayed, as leaders will vainly hope for a pick up in economies. It will finally become evident to everyone that humanity is faced with a permanent supply shortfall in oil.
In various regions of the world, oil production follows roughly a bell-shaped curve. At first it rises exponentially, moderates as it reaches a peak, and then moves down as depletion of the fields takes hold. This is already clear for the United States, where peak oil production took place in 1970. US oil production now diminishes every year, and for the entire world the decline will begin soon. That this is so is obvious when the production history is compared to the rate at which new oil is found. In the United States peak discovery took place in 1934 and the world the peak came thirty years later in 1964. Since one must find oil before one can produce it, the production will follow the discovery by about four decades. The rate at which oil is found has ground to a halt since the discovery peak 37 years ago. Only one barrel of oil is found today for every four used.
Most of the oil reserves are in thirty huge and aging reservoirs, all of which were discovered before 1970, and many of them happen to be in the Middle East. Secondary recovery techniques slow the depletion for a few years, but there is nothing to replace these large reservoirs. The Caspian region will provide some relief, but is unlikely to replace the depletion that is taking place in the rest of the world. Another potential oil province is the South China Sea, but any drilling there is delayed by China's claim to the entire region. A graph of the annual oil production in the USA is shown below.
To construct the solid curve it has been assumed that the oil endowment, put in place by geological processes that took over 500 million years, is 225 billion barrels. As years pass this estimate becomes better. It was already roughly clear to M. King Hubbert, who in 1956 predicted that the US production would peak in the early 70's. The actual data follows the theoretical curve closely and shows the peak in oil production to have taken place in 1970. A secondary peak appeared in 1987 when the Prudhoe Bay in Alaska reached its maximum production. This super-giant field, with 11 billion barrels of oil, was discovered in 1967. It ranks as the fifteenth largest in the world, but only managed to move the theoretical peak production year to 1975.
The ultimate oil endowment for the world is estimated to be 2000 billion barrels. With annual production of roughly 25 billion barrel, every four years 100 billion barrels is consumed. Optimists put the ultimate oil endowment to 2200 billion barrels, which moves the peak production year only four years to the future. The graph below shows that the world oil production will peak in 2005 and by optimistic reckoning this is delayed toward the end of the decade. There is the further uncertainty whether Saudi Arabia will invest in new production, for it and Iraq have the largest reserves. Today's political climate there does not bode well for increasing oil production for the near term, and for longer term modest increases in Middle East production will just make the depletion curve somewhat milder.
Such are the brutal facts humanity must face. To be sure, there is oil still to be extracted from tar sands, but as this is a mining operation, expenditure in energy to carry this off is substantial and the environmental effects unpleasant. Massive coal mining to produce, not only electricity to power the new hybrid cars, but also for conversion of coal to liquid fuel is equally fraught with difficulties. World's natural gas supplies are still substantial, but the largest fields are in Russia and natural gas at best will carry the world over another twenty years after the peak in oil production is past.
What is clearly needed is a massive effort to reduce the consumption of oil. To do so requires a re-examination of our modes of life and commerce. Transport of goods by trains easily wins over air cargo and long-haul trucking in energy efficiency. Public transportation needs to be improved and cities rebuilt so that people can live close to their places of work. Bicycle paths and sidewalks should be built to give people a choice, which by and large is lacking today. Policies that favor public transportation would also reverse the urban sprawl that plagues industrial nations.
These are matters well known to the readers of these pages, but it is hard to see a timely response to the difficulties ahead. The warning signals of the 1970s were to no avail, as the past thirty years clearly show. Those prone to technological optimism believe that engineers will deliver solutions right on time as needs arise. Economists hold promise that the principle of substitution will work, but they lack the understanding imposed by thermodynamic constraints. Government officials and bureaucrats of international organizations coin new words, such as sustainable growth, to make old agendas seem fresh. And most of the people just shrug off the idea of a looming calamity with the thought that it will not arrive in their lifetime. Since humans so far have been incapable of controlling their population, it is difficult to see how they would be capable of mustering the will and the wisdom to act now. Therefore the children born today will need to get by in 2050 with the same oil production as was available to us in 1960, but for each of them there might be four others vying for the same oil. Life will be difficult for the next generation, for nature again will exert her brutal will and cleanse man from the hubris of recent times.
View notes for this article.
Seppo Korpela is
Preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens
The City Pushes the Car Back from the center
By Thanos Vlastos
The center of Athens is being rebuilt. Cars are being pushed out of the center, asphalt is being removed from the roads, and pedestrianized areas are being expanded. The aim is large and ambitious: show off the city's rich history. Visits to the historical center must be comfortable and pleasant for pedestrians. The city center must be liberated from the car and freed of excessive pollution and noise.
These are challenging objectives. The historical center coincides with the commercial and the administrative centers, and it is also the place of residence for many people. The city center must maintain this rich mixture of activities. Today, transport service for all of these uses is based largely upon the private automobile. In order to retain the rich mix of uses in the city center, new, alternative means of transport (metro, tram, natural gas buses, cycling) are being promoted, and these will also help to improve the urban environment.
Major flows of traffic pass right through the center of Athens, because there are no ring roads. A ring road is nearing completion and will absorb some of the through traffic. Areopagitou, an important artery, has been pedestrianized for 900 meters of its length, which encompasses the Acropolis hill. A further 800 meters will soon be pedestrianized, and the Areopagitou may well become the most important pedestrianization of a central artery in Europe. Sidewalks are being enlarged along other central arteries. The central Omonia Square, which has functioned as a roundabout carrying heavy traffic, will be largely pedestrianized by the end of 2001.
The make-over must be completed by the summer of 2004, when the city hosts the Olympic Games. The city has promised that the Olympics will also be a celebration of the environment and culture. Cycling and walking will be celebrated as vital elements in the future of the city.
Athens is a member of Eurocities - Network for a New Mobility Culture (formerly the Car Free Cities initiative), but Athens is obviously not a carfree city [neither are other members of the European network, ed.]. A large carfree city is not presently seen as feasible, and none exists. However, big cities do exist which have pedestrianized their historical cores or which have established traffic-calmed zones in residential areas. Athens has also adopted these goals, and this is the reason for its participation in the European network. The creation of a carfree center in Athens will be a much bigger achievement than in any other European city, due to the difficulties that Athens encounters in removing the car. These difficulties are linked to traffic congestion and ingrained auto dependence.
Athens is widely known for its serious environmental problems. In addition to pollution and noise, the city suffers from other, auto-related problems: degraded aesthetics, sidewalks occupied by illegally parked cars, and the absence of a dedicated cycling and public transport infrastructure. These problems discourage both children and the elderly from using the streets as well as discouraging the general public from walking. Cyclists and the disabled are both being driven out of the city.
Prior to the adoption of current policies to reduce the impacts of private car usage, other events and policies affected the development of the city. Although some innovative policies have yielded poor results, it is worthwhile to mention the following.
Archaeological Excavation of the Ancient CityAthens became the capital of Greece in 1823, following 400 years of Turkish occupation. At that time, Athens was a small city, with only 15,000 residents, but it has since grown to be one of the largest cities in Europe, with 4 million inhabitants. Extensive archeological excavations began soon after Athens became the capital and are ongoing. The first excavations took place in areas already occupied by houses and roads. Today's excavations are in other parts of the city. All the revealed archaeological sites are located in the center of Athens. The sites cover an area 3 kilometers long, crossed by several important streets. The reconnection of the excavated areas with the existing pedestrianized streets of the modern center is a central feature of the proposed pedestrianization scheme.
Boost to Public TransportAthens doesn't have as many cars as other European cities. In Athens, as in Greece as a whole, car ownership is just 300 cars per 1000 residents; in Europe as a whole, the figure is 410 cars per 1000 residents. As is the case in so many European cities, there are too many cars for the very narrow city streets. Many drivers park on the streets, since there is very little off-street parking. Due to the relatively small number of cars and the bad traffic conditions, people use public transport quite intensively. In fact, public transport usage in Greece is the highest in the EU, with 20,6% of total passenger-kilometers on public transport. The European mean is just 8,9%. In Athens as a whole, public transport usage reaches a level of 34%, and in the center it exceeds 50% of all journeys.
Apart from the bus and trolley networks, Athens has a 24 kilometer-long metro line. A year ago, two new lines were added, bringing the total to 42 kilometers, with further expansions in progress. Two regional railway lines, 32 kilometers long, and two tramlines, 21 kilometers long, are also being constructed. Natural-gas-powered buses are rapidly replacing diesel buses.
Taxi sharing is a common practice in Athens. It serves as a sort of public transport, because it is very cheap. Taxi sharing, in combination with conventional public transport, is expected to provide efficient transport in the city by 2004.
Pedestrianization of a Big Part of the Commercial CenterThe city plans to pedestrianize the 19th-century center, which coincides with the commercial center, adjacent to the archaeological sites. Some 40 hectares have already been pedestrianized but more money needs to be found in order to complete the repaving of streets. The planned replacement of asphalt paving with stone paving would help to make it clear that the area is no longer the domain of cars. The continuing presence of asphalt gives the wrong impression to car drivers, many of whom continue to enter the area due to the insufficient enforcement.
Closure of Center to the Half of the CarsIn order to protect the center from the car, a central area with a radius of approximately 2.5 kilometers was defined. Cars entering this area are restricted by an odd-even license plate number scheme. This measure, implemented in 1982, has never been modified and has caused many side-effects (such as the purchase of a second car, which assures daily entrance). Despite the odd-even scheme, the number of cars has in the center has actually increased dramatically. The measure must be updated and made more stringent. It is also possible to use this restriction to promote "clean" cars and motorbikes, which might be allowed to enter the protected zone without restrictions.
Thanos Vlastos is
Assistant Professor at the
National Technical University
Letter to the EditorDear Editor,
I enjoy receiving Carfree Times and appreciate your efforts to spark debate on this vitally important topic. I do have a concern regarding the following passage in issue #22:
"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."
Given the success of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) throughout Latin America (Curitiba, Bogotá, Quito, etc.), the 17-city US programme, the 5-city Australian programme, and the Canadian efforts, I think it is a bit unfair to give such a negative impression to this option. In many respects, BRT does emulate rail-like performance (e.g., São Paulo's Nove de Junho corridor is recording volumes over 50,000 passengers per hour per direction). Of course, one aspect of BRT that is different from rail is its price tag. BRT systems are constructed for US$1 million to US$10 million per kilometer, a fraction of heavy-rail systems.
Yes, the image issue of bus travel does need to be addressed, especially in developed nations. Thus, the BRT programme in the USA emphasizes rail-like vehicles from such manufacturers as Neoplan and Civis.
However, in the developing nations, BRT does not necessarily have such an image problem. The citizens and municipal leaders in Curitiba and Bogotá would not agree with the assessment that they have an inferior product. In fact, Bogotá's new TransMilenio system is far superior to most rail systems that I have experienced.
In the end, it may not even be a strict choice between BRT or rail, as São Paulo has shown that the two options are mutually complementary, with a subway serving the urban core and busways connecting to other areas. At the very least, we should give this promising option a fair chance to prove itself.
As readers of this newsletter will be aware, the editor strongly favors rail-based urban transport systems because of their very high energy efficiency, good speed, and high levels of passenger comfort. This is not to say that buses do not have their place, especially in cities where money is very tight. It is interesting to note, however, that Curitiba, which pioneered the advanced bus systems supported by Mr. Wright, is now considering the conversion of some routes to light rail, presumably because of the lower operating costs, reduced pollution, and increased capacity.
The authors fear that this work will be misused, as has so often happened in the history of British urban design (consider what was made of Ebenezer Howard's work, for example). They warn,
Yet this is not a tick-box exercise. A note of caution is required. In design guidance, as in other fields, there is a sort of inverse utility rule; the value of new measures diminishing as a function of time. The more they are institutionalised, the less their utility. A classic case is the original Essex Design Guide - a first class piece of work in its time - rapidly adopted by planning departments and then by the development industry. This led to permissions being won on a "deemed to comply" basis, almost regardless of the actual design quality. They learnt the tune but ignored the music!The authors come directly to the point:
Since the Second World War, this country has seen very extensive urban development and renewal. While there are exceptions, a great deal of this development has been third-rate and is lacking in any "sense of place." At worst, the results have been downright ugly and unpleasant."
The authors have endeavored to rectify this fault by summarizing and codifying the points of good urban design. If these guidelines are used with insight and artistry, they will go a long way towards restoring good urban planning.
While the book is not specifically directed at carfree development, the two recurring themes of the book are the need to improve pedestrian environments and the need to limit the damage that cars are doing to the urban fabric. The methods and philosophy of the work are entirely consistent with the needs of carfree development.
While it is short, there is a great deal of meat to it - it is well written and the illustrations make the concepts readily available to the reader. This is a really excellent addition to the planning literature, one that was written for everyone, not just the cognoscenti. The heading, "Everyone Owns Design," makes it clear that the authors believe in an egalitarian planning process, not Le Corbusier's pearls-before-the-swine stance, which was enthusiastically adopted by so many planning "professionals" and led to countless planning disasters.
The authors are well aware that "the devil is in the details," and the second half of the book is rich with examples of various approaches to urban design, right down to the details of street furniture.
The book is nicely designed, printed, and illustrated. It is an essential addition to the library of anyone concerned with urban design issues.
Reviewed by J.H. Crawford
Hot New LinksThe links below will open in a new browser window:
Katarxis, a wonderful new site on the viability of contemporary classical architecture. Full of luscious illustrations.
No Such Thing!, Jane Holtz Kay on cleaner cars vs. fewer cars.
Quest for Driving Options Meanders to Europe in the Washington Post of 17 December 2001.
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