10 June 2002
News at Carfree.com
Carfree Cities DistributionCarfree Cities continues to be available from Barnes and Noble, which usually offers a 20% discount and prompt shipment. Your local bookstore should have no difficulty obtaining the book. If ordering from outside North America, please visit the How to Order page. A paperback edition is expected by Christmas.
First Draft of City Design Site On LineThe City Design site at Carfree.com is now available in a draft release. The text is present but will change (and improve!) considerably in the coming months. This is a book-length work - there are more than 300 pages. The site requires a fast connection and at least 800 x 600 resolution.
Morocco PagesPhotographs and a discussion of the January 2002 study trip to Morocco are now available.
Crooked StreetsA brief illustration of the virtues of crooked streets is now available. The photographs were taken during a March 2002 trip to Coimbra, Portugal. People have asked if I had to pay the woman to walk through in a red coat. The answer is no, but I'm not surprised by the question! Have a look.
International Making Cities Livable ConferenceJ.H. Crawford will present a paper, "An Idealized Design for Carfree Cities and Its Practical Application in the Real World," at this conference, to be held in Alpbach and Salzburg, Austria, 15-19 September 2002.
World News Notes & Comment
You Say What?!?Bush & Co. had long maintained that there was no clear evidence of global warming. Now, in a report to the UN, the administration admits not only that global warming will have specific, large effects but also that recent global warming is the result of human activity, in particular the use of fossil fuels.
The report details frightening changes in the US environment, including the disruption of critical water supplies, killer heat waves, the destruction of mountain meadows, and the disappearance of coastal marshes, but it proposes no policy changes on greenhouse gas emission.
The report suggests that Americans had better learn to live with the changes, rather than make an effort to reduce their magnitude by trimming emissions. The report, entitled "U.S. Climate Action Report 2002," concludes that no reductions in future emissions can avert the consequences of decades of greenhouse gas emissions. Only voluntary measures are proposed to limit the rate of future increases.
The report was under review by the White House for months but few changes were made. Without any announcement, the report was sent to the UN and posted on the Internet by the EPA. Some snippets from the report:
Mark Van Putten, president of the National Wildlife Federation, said, "The Bush administration now admits that global warming will change America's most unique wild places and wildlife forever. How can it acknowledge global warming is a disaster in the making and then refuse to help solve the problem, especially when solutions are so clear?"
"Bush team now warns of climatic warming
"U.S. government report blames humans for global warming"
And a fire-breathing analysis:
"U.S. government report blames humans for global warming"
And a fire-breathing analysis:
How, indeed? I can only shake my head.
Bush Holds Kyoto Hostage Until the End of His Third TermBush & Co. has ruled out joining the Kyoto treaty for at least another 10 years, according to senior US climate negotiator Harlan Watson, one of Bush's "most trusted advisors." The USA will not take part in renegotiations in 2005 and will not have anything to do with the treaty before 2012. Watson said that the USA intended to go its own way in curbing its greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Watson, "Kyoto would have hammered our economy and put millions of Americans out of work and undermined our ability to make long-term investments in cleaner energy." But he also said, "There is no doubt that humans have obviously influenced the climate." Watson said that the administration did not feel isolated internationally by the decision to pull out of the Kyoto agreement. "I don't particularly feel isolated because we're all in the same boat. We're trying to accomplish the same things. All the countries in the world are committed to the framework convention, we've chosen to take a different approach." Dr. Watson also said [and your editor commented]:
"Forget Kyoto deal for another 10 years, says Bush adviser"
Fortunately, Bush is prevented by the US constitution from serving a third term. . . as long as the Supreme Court doesn't interfere.
OilCarfree Times no longer covers the petroleum-exhaustion question in detail, mostly because the mainstream press now pays attention. However, a recent, compelling presentation by Simmons & Co. did not receive the attention it deserved, so we'll mention it here.
The scariest statistic is that, while current production is about 77 MBD (million barrels/day), demand is expected to increase to 115 MBD by 2020. At the same time, baseline production will decline from today's 77 MBD to about 17 MBD. That leaves nearly 100 MBD of new production required in just 18 years. We thus need to generate new production that is 25% greater than today's total production. Most of the oil from the Middle East is now coming from fields that are decades old - new fields have been smaller, well production much lower, and exhaustion rates much steeper.
At the same time, populations in the Middle East are exploding, and average income levels remain very low (except in Saudi Arabia, where they are about 1/4 of US levels). Simmons sees problems.
"The Middle East: The Energy Solution Or The Energy Problem?"
Even if there's ten times as much oil as the optimists think, it will run out some day. As long as we burn it, we'll be contributing to global warming. Isn't it time to begin to cut fossil fuel consumption, no matter how much there is?
Carbon TaxThe New Zealand government plans to levy a carbon tax to reduce CO2 emissions. The tax goes into force in 2007 and only if the Kyoto accords are ratified. The proposal has drawn fire from both industry and environmentalists, but for different reasons - the usual business objections on the one hand and "too little, too late" on the other hand. NZ Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons asked, "When is any government going to finally have the guts to make the polluter pay?"
"New Zealand unveils new carbon tax to meet treaty"
GaspingMore than half of all Americans breathe air so polluted that it can damage their health. Existing environmental laws would protect them, but the bought-and-paid-for Bush administration is not enforcing the law (and attempting, with some success, to gut it). It would cost their billionaire friends too much money.
Smog levels in nearly 400 US counties are above legal limits, according to the American Lung Association. John Kirkwood, head of the ALA, said, "It is clearly time to get serious about enforcing all of the provisions of the Clean Air Act so that we place Americans' health above business and political interests." He continued, "Somehow, industry believes it needs to continue to pollute. They have fought every step we have taken toward cleaner air for all Americans. Now is the time for EPA to act."
"Most Americans breathe polluted air, says survey"
This stinks. Isn't it time to do something besides line the pockets of special interests? Then again, it isn't as bad as Mexico City. . .
Mexico CityMexico City, one of the world's three largest cities, is choking on traffic It can take two hours to drive across town. Fumes from 3,000,000 private cars, 150,000 taxis, and 100,000 buses make the capital of Mexico a polluted nightmare.
Should the mayor extend the metro system, or double-deck the city's busiest highways? The answer, not surprisingly turns on issues of race and class. The mayor first announced plans to double deck the two most congested highways, where average speed is 11 km/hr. This was held to be a solution to congestion, and thus to pollution, and construction was to have started in May, but the mayor stomped on the brakes, and the double-decking may be limited to a few extremely congested sections. At the same time, he proposed the first metro extension in years, that, while modest in scope, would serve an additional 250,000 people, most of them poor.
Nobel laureate Mario J. Molina of Mexico City says, "It's a classic dilemma: when you build more highways, do you decrease pollution or increase traffic? The only way to solve it is to increase public transportation."
Public transport usage is heavily segmented along class lines. Rich people want roads; poor people want more metro lines. Many middle-class Mexicans refuse to ride the metro because it is used by poor people.
Owning a car is the social badge in Mexico - it announces membership in the middle class. And thus, the class struggle - metro lines or highways?
"It's a First-Class Gridlock, but No Easier to Unlock"
I'm no communist, but there is a class struggle, and poor people are usually on the losing team these days. So is Mother Earth.
Ring Around the TubFor more than ten years, California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) has violated federal laws prohibiting the discharge of polluted water from highways into watercourses. A large body of evidence shows that CalTrans, operator of 15,000 highway miles, has failed to stop sediment and contaminants from draining off roads, bridges, and other sites. The US EPA admits that CalTrans has improved but it continues to be a major polluter.
Highway runoff is a disgusting mix of trash, oil, antifreeze, rubber, hydraulic fluid, exhaust particulates, brake dust, powdered metal, soil, and waste. In California alone, annual oil runoff from highways amounts to more than half the spillage from the Exxon Valdez wreck.
CalTrans claims that controlling runoff from all sources in the state would require a capital investment of $70 to 114 billion and might consume all state road building funds for decades. However, other state DOTs have a better record in treating runoff, and at far lower costs. The Natural Resources Defense Council claims that CalTrans inflates cost estimates and then argues that controls are not cost-effective.
"Caltrans Still Lagging on Water Pollution Abatement"
Make 'em scrub the tub!
California Takes the TrainPublic transport use in California increased 6% in 2001. As usual, public transport detractors claimed that the moderate increase represents a negligible change in commuting habits. Highway lobby mouthpiece state Sen. Tom McClintock said, "You are talking about a small percentage change on a very small share of all miles traveled." He favors pouring more money into the freeway system, of course.
It's true that about 70% of Californians still drive alone to work, and that public transport use represent only 5% of state-wide transport. However, the Red Line metro between Los Angeles and North Hollywood saw a near doubling of ridership once the final extension was opened in March 2001.
"Mass Transit Use in State Up 6% Last Year"
Your editor must report that when he used the Red Line in May 2000, there were no trains for nearly an hour, and no announcements regarding the nature or expected duration of the service interruption. I finally called a dispatcher who grudgingly agreed to make an announcement. If this is characteristic of service, then the highways must be dreadful indeed to force people onto the metro.
Even Vegas. . .In the land of something for nothing, an expensive public transport system is being constructed in the face of gridlock. At 11 km, it's to be the largest monorail system in the USA. Toy monorail systems are in use at the World's Fair site in Seattle (about 2 km), at Newark airport (a few kilometers, which had to be taken out of service within a few years of construction to correct structural defects), and of course at various Disney theme parks. Needless to say, most of the Vegas service will be to the casinos. Project manager Bob Broadbent said, "We want them to think it's like a ride at Disneyland, not public transportation."
Fast-growing western cities are desperate to get drivers out of their cars and onto public transport. Phoenix officials are planning a 20-mile commuter rail line. Denver is extending its new commuter rail system. Salt Lake City recently opened a light-rail line. Seattle is considering expanding its toy monorail into a useful system. In Las Vegas, walking from one end of the Strip to the other can be faster than driving (though probably not healthier, due to the smog).
There is some sense being talked in Vegas. Jacob Snow, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission said, "We don't have a way to solve this problem anymore just by continuing to add more roadways."
In typical fashion, the groundbreaking ceremony last fall featured Elvis with showgirls.
"Vegas's Next High Roller: a Monorail"
What is it with monorails? They're expensive, unreliable, and offer no conceivable advantage over conventional systems except for the sci-fi sex appeal.
Dangerous 'BurbsIt's probably no surprise to readers of this newsletter, but now it's official: those suburbs are hazardous to your health. People who live in the outer suburbs run a greater combined risk of being killed, either by a stranger or in a car crash, than those in center cities and inner suburbs. A study by urban and environmental planning professor William Lucy at the University of Virginia examined homicide and traffic fatality rates in eight metropolitan areas for the period 1997-2000. The study invalidates the common belief that low-density outer suburbs are safer places to live and raise children than cities and inner suburbs. In fact, outer suburbs tend to be the most dangerous parts of metropolitan areas. Lucy assessed the life-threatening dangers people face when they leave home.
While many of the central cities had higher rates of homicides by strangers than suburban counties, the relatively low homicide rates in outer suburbs were overwhelmed by much higher rates of traffic fatalities. "I think the basic reason [outer suburbs are more dangerous] is that the people who live farther out are driving farther, they are going faster and they are driving on roads that are more dangerous," said Lucy.
"Study says commuters more at risk than urbanites"
When most people talk about death at the hands of a stranger, they aren't thinking of death at the hands of a stranger driving a car. He's the most dangerous stranger of all.
Carfree Goes MainstreamThe beginning of a recent article in Canada's most respected newspaper, the Toronto Globe & Mail, includes this text:
A car-free city is impossible, right?The article goes on to cite chapter and verse from the carfree story. Cities that have closed large parts of their downtowns to cars are cited as good places to be, places where people get around mostly on foot, the rest by bike or public transport. It speaks of the joys of walking through quiet but vibrant, livable communities.
There's nothing here that's new to readers of Carfree Times. All that's new is that this topic is now seen worthy of coverage by a major, mainstream newspaper. And that's news.
"Mobility culture picks up speed"
We're on our way. . . on foot.
By Kyle Laursen
IntroductionFrom a land use perspective, satellite cities and infill development are the best alternatives to accommodate California's rapid population growth, while preserving open space and natural resources. Larger cities are not the answer. In 1996, I envisioned one model for the satellite city of the future, the Solar City. This pedestrian City approaches the sustainability of a closed system by harnessing renewable energy and recycling 100 percent of its solid waste and wastewater.
The Solar City: 2010The master plan for this City assumes that solar technology will advance to a level that can sustain a city of 30,000 people by the year 2010. In terms of design and philosophy, the Solar City was influenced by the work of Ebenezer Howard and, more recently, the principles of New Urbanism. However, there is a salient difference: Private automobiles are not allowed in the Solar City. Alternative modes of transportation like walking, cycling, electric taxis, and light-rail or monorail, are incorporated into the design. The cornerstone of the General Plan is affordable housing.
The Solar City will feature a distinct regional style of architecture, with an emphasis on passive solar design and stick-frame construction, as well as materials like straw bale and rammed earth. Energy-efficient appliances will be backed up by active solar systems, typically photovoltaic cells. Wind generators shall be located in the City's greenbelt, which is designated for open space and agroecology. In addition, Design Guidelines will ensure a mix of uses, zero lot lines and cohesiveness in the core area.
Preliminary research indicates that California's Great Central Valley may be an ideal location for a pilot project. The site criteria include solar access, wind velocity, climate, hydrology, geo-technical factors, topography, cost and availability of land, and proximity to a metropolitan area. A political champion is key to the success of this project. My goal is to identify a reasonable range of site alternatives, including a preferred alternative, then form a team and carry out the physical design of the Solar City.
ConclusionSustainable satellite cities and infill development are the best solutions to accommodate California's rapid population growth, while preserving open space and natural resources. The Solar City is an urban experiment and one model for the satellite city of the future. The Solar City is also a tribute to ancient Greece and Plato.
Kyle Laursen earned a B.A. in City and Regional Planning at Sonoma State University; then worked in the public and private sectors. He also studied Landscape Architecture in the graduate program at Cal Poly Pomona, with an emphasis on ecological design.
With this book, Kunstler has left the two Nowhere books behind. While he draws on material from these earlier works, he breaks new ground with this one. He chose to analyze Paris, Atlanta, Mexico City, Berlin, Las Vegas, Rome, Boston, and London. With each of these cities, he dips far back into history and analyzes how they reached their current state, and what prospects they have for the future. There are fascinating lessons from each of these analyses, but I will focus on just Paris, Berlin, and Rome.
The analysis of Paris is principally concerned with the work of Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann, who together transformed that city while preserving the good parts. Even today, despite the tyranny of automobiles, the quality of Paris remains unusually high. Haussmann drove broad boulevards through the city and in so doing created the Paris we know today. He tied the city together and opened the culs-de-sac that had restricted circulation. "The Paris that is beloved today is exactly that tapestry of narrow medieval streets aerated by the broad new boulevards supporting one another at appropriate hierarchies of scale." (p.26) This work appears to have been undertaken in a fine spirit of public-mindedness, notwithstanding that the principals were despotic characters.
Berlin is the stage for Kunstler's study of the relationship between 20th Century despotism and architectural styles.
Paradoxically, the opprobrium that Stalin and his fellow tyrants expressed against modernism only boosted its legitimacy in the West, where it became by default the architecture disliked by fascists and communists, and therefore the official architecture of democracy and human decency. [emphasis in the original] (p.128)and further:
Perversely, postwar West Berlin, the island of liberty in a sea of socialist oppression, became a showcase of monumental Bauhaus-inspired modernism composed of intrinsically despotic buildings that made people feel placeless, powerless, insignificant, and less than human. The Christian Democrats actually paid workers to remove ornament from old buildings. (p.129)Fortunately, by the time of massive reconstruction in the 1990s, the need for traditional approaches to city design had been accepted in Berlin, and most of the work recently undertaken is sound.
In the chapter on Rome, Kunstler considers the evolution of the classical style (inherited quite directly from the Greeks) and the reasons for its widespread application. "To the Romans, the classical was a means for ordering the ways of doing things, especially in building. . ." (p.172) Kunstler believes that the return of classical principles is assured:
The operations of modernism worked in perfect synergy with the automobile to drain the public realm of meaning and decorum, and the repair of the public realm is a crucial mission for people who care about the continuing project of civilization. The blank walls and concrete planters of the modernist office buildings, the industrial facades of the muffler shops, the jive-plastic signature parapets of the fry-pits, will someday have to be replaced by buildings that regard the public realm respectfully, that speak to us in comprehensible vocabularies, rhythms, and syntaxes - not just abstractions, and certainly not in cartoons and illuminated verbiage - and that respect the hierarchies of scale that compose the built environment from the smallest detail of window proportions all the way up to the coherence of the region. (p.191)As usual, Kunstler's writing is tight, organized, and smooth. This is not one of those books that takes days to get through. Any book that sets the reader to thinking to the degree that this one does has to be recommended.
One minor point - the text is set in my favorite font, Bembo, which is the ultimate expression of Renaissance typography and possibly the most readable typeface ever cut. It is now more than 500 years old.
Reviewed by J.H. Crawford
This is not a book about transport, but rather a book about the relationships among transport policy, social justice, the environment, and politics in the developing nations. The author begins by claiming the need for equity, not equality:
[Equity] is different from equality, which represents the mere equalization of a formal right. An equitable condition is therefore superior to a formally equal one, and the search for equity in transport is a challenge for planners in developing countries. (p.7)Thus, while building a road may offer equal opportunity of use to everyone, it is not equitable, since most people do not have cars and so can only make use of the road when traveling by bus; the allocation of space is thus highly distorted in favor of those who own space-hogging cars. Politics and social justice loom large in this book, as they must in any sound discussion of transport policy:
The neglect of pedestrians and cyclists seems difficult to overcome in the near future, because of the deepness of the ideological prejudice against all non-motorized means, and also the deficiencies of the political representation process. (p.225)While this refers to the developing nations, the situation is substantially the same in most countries. In other respects, the circumstances in the developing nations (mainly Asia and Latin America) are quite different from the developed nations. Urban population densities are quite high, streets are narrow, and resources are limited. Motorization has not proceeded very far in most of developing countries, so there is still time to turn the tide.
Conditions for pedestrians are shocking in many Asian cities. There are simply no sidewalks in many busy streets, and pedestrians are often struck while walking in the roadway. People have always walked in the roadway in these cities (as it was the only space available), but now they are terrorized by speeding drivers. One of the most important actions in Bogotá's TransMilenio program has been the dramatic improvement of walking conditions.
The book continually harps on the matter of traffic deaths, and with good reason:
Traffic accidents are the most relevant environmentally related transport problem in developing countries and should receive priority attention. (p.280)Some of the numbers are simply shocking, and the dead are disproportionately poor and disadvantaged street users. In Latin America, pedestrians account for a staggering 60% of traffic deaths. (In the USA, it is "just" 20%.) The author is one of the few to treat the matter of injuries, which in the developing nations amount to 18 million a year, of which about a quarter are "serious." The number of pedestrians killed varies widely by region. In 1986, São Paulo saw 1621 deaths, New York 271, and Tokyo 43. These cities are of comparable size.
The book attends to the matter of "value-free" (my term, not the author's) traffic engineering:
Hence, the political nature of human activities along with the conflicting nature of space use makes traffic engineering not only a technical, but also a political act. [emphasis in original] It uses technical tools to distribute a limited space between political players with conflicting needs and interests, and different levels of access to the decision-making process. Therefore, it cannot be viewed as a "neutral" activity. (p.73)Traffic planners have a deeply ingrained preference for motorized means, and it is necessary to expose the underlying values that support this bias. The book is highly critical of the Urban Transportation Planning Systems (UTPS) traffic models for their highly auto-centric bias. This would be an excellent thesis topic - how and why was this bias built into these models? A partial answer seems to lie in the fact that most surveys of road use tend to overlook non-motorized users entirely, or to underrepresent them in the findings (often by neglecting foot trips of less than, say, 500 meters).
The author has not overlooked the class significance of automobile ownership, nor the political clout of car owners as a group. The social and class implications of transport planning decisions are covered in considerable detail. The book also shows an excellent awareness of the impacts of land use decisions on transport, sustainability, and equity.
Vasconcellos is not, per se, opposed to the use of buses to provide urban transport, but he is clearly aware that most bus service leaves a great deal to be desired. Still, he still holds the bus to be the public transport tool of choice in poorer nations. While my own biases on this matter are well known, I must concede that, when resources are very tight and when an advanced bus system is implemented, the results can be quite good, as in Curitiba and Bogotá. However, in the developing world, the speed of urban buses running in mixed traffic is truly dismal - during peak hours, it ranges from 11.5 to 18.4 km/hr. Separated rights of way, such as busways, are essential if the average speed of buses is to be raised to something like reasonable values.
The slavish reliance on market forces to solve problems receives much consideration and condemnation - this approach simply has not worked in many aspects of life. Public enterprises, or tightly-regulated private enterprises, are essential in sectors such as public transport. Turning to the market to provide these services is to abandon most citizens to the wolves.
The book is quite critical of "informal transit" (mainly jitneys), which has been praised by right-wing think tanks as an example of the wonders of the market in action. In reality, cities that rely on this form of public transport are nightmarish.
Vasconcellos makes a very interesting argument regarding land values:
...land-value benefits arising from new transport infrastructure are not charged to the beneficiaries. Although international experience clearly demonstrates that [there, sic] are several obstacles to defining values and targeting payers (Nigriello, 1993), developing countries should face the problem by defining legal ways of reappropriating, as public funds, a part of the benefits generated. (p.261)This offers a prospective means to finance very expensive urban transport infrastructure projects, such as metros, which usually bring huge increases in the value of land near stations.
We may be closing in on support for the oft-quoted figure that the average car requires eight parking spaces. Vasconcellos cites Tolley and Turton (Transport systems, policy and planning, a geographical approach, Essex, UK: Longman, 1995, p.284) as follows:
The total area needed by a car to park at home, in the office and at shopping areas has been estimated in the UK at 372 m2, which is three times that of the average home. (p.181)Now, this works out to 4003 square feet. The figure for efficient parking lots in US practice is 100 spaces per acre, or 436 square feet per space. This equates to just over nine spaces per car, close enough to the "eight spaces per car" myth, which might now be upgraded to the status of "legend." I do not have the cited source available and would appreciate hearing from anyone who does.
The book suffers from a large number of typographic errors, some serious enough to stop the reader or cloud the meaning. This is a common and inexcusable failing of modern book publishing. I know from direct experience that professional proofreading of a manuscript adds about US$300 to the cost of a book. Spread over thousands of readers, the cost is negligible. The writing is laborious (to be fair, Vasconcellos is a Portuguese speaker, and while his written English is fairly good, the book needed better editing). These faults not withstanding, this book breaks new ground and should be read by anyone engaged in transit, land-use, and environmental issues in the developing nations.
Reviewed by J.H. Crawford
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