Carfree Times

      Issue 35

6 June 2004     
hydrogen bus
Fuel Cell Bus at Estoril Conference, 2004

News at

Diese Ausgabe auf Deutsch.

Towards Carfree Cities IV

WCN is hosting Towards Carfree Cities IV, which will bring together people from around the world who are promoting practical alternatives to car dependence and the transformation of cities, towns, and villages into human-scaled, pedestrian environments rich in public space and community life. The focus will be on strategy, collaboration and exchange, and assisting the practical work of conference participants - whether it be organizing carfree days or building the carfree cities of the future.

Conference partners are: BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany), Green City, Autofrei Wohnen, Autofrei Leben!, ITDP Europe, Humboldt University Student Union, UMKEHR, and Conference details and registration forms can be found at Be there!

Planning is already under way for TCFC V, to be held in Budapest. Relocating is relocating to a carfree street in metropolitan Lisbon. E-mail contact remains the same as ever.

Carfree Cities Availability

Both the paperback and hardcover editions of Carfree Cities are widely available.


    Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Radio Address
13 October 1940
Tell that to George W. Bush and his merry sadists.

Feature Article

Estoril Conference on Sustainable Mobility

by J.H. Crawford

Estoril, Portugal, hosted the Urban Sustainable Mobility is Possible Now conference 17-20 March 2004. Eric Britton kindly invited me to attend. The conference was an interesting mix of technology and urban transport planning.

Pietro Menga of the Electric Vehicles Association believes that the long-term fuel of choice will be hydrogen but that the change will be slow. He sees hybrids as the logical interim approach to reducing fuel consumption and local pollution.

Vieira de Castro, Secretary of State for Transportation in Portugal, expressed concerns about the quality of life in cities. He hopes for increased use of electric vehicles in old urban centers, including electric mini-buses.

Rome and Porto have experimented with fuel-cell buses, which presently cost €1.25 million a copy (with no indication as to whether or not the manufacturers are subsidizing even this very high price). Durability is also an issue.

Mikel Murga is the mayor of Bilbao, the center city of a metropolitan region with a population over one million. Bilbao is a high density, mixed-use city with an industrial past. It is now in transition to the service sector. Many local trips are still on foot, but the trend to suburbanization is leading to more driving. Part of the problem is that affordable housing is in the new suburbs, not downtown. A metro was opened in 1995, but most new development is occurring away from metro stops. Still, he regards the metro as a "place-making tool" that has offered some much-needed political flexibility. He believe that "value capture" is an essential public transport policy tool. This approach recaptures some of the value added to private land by investments in public transport. He regards urban goods distribution as the crux of the urban transport problem, and one that is difficult to solve. (I agree.)

James Rosenstein is head of Marketing and Engineering for Toyota Europe. He began by noting that the world car fleet was 250 million in 1973, is 700 million today, and may grow to 1.2 billion by 2020. He gave a frank assessment of the environmental problems arising from such growth. Toyota has a long-term goal to reduce the life-cycle energy costs of driving to just 33% of today's levels. He proposes to offer financial incentives for hybrid car purchasers. He does not see a mass-produced fuel-cell car before 2020, particularly because of the on-board fuel storage issues. The energy, pollution, and economic costs of hydrogen are also daunting. His goal is to produce hydrogen for US$1.50 per gallon of gasoline equivalent. He foresees that hybrid technology will be applied to virtually all future vehicles, whatever their prime mover. Toyota has a large lead in developing this technology and recently licensed it to Ford.

Giovanni Rovere of Rome describe the popular application of electric buses in the historical center of Rome, which is just 1.5 sq-km. The goal is 100% electric propulsion in the historical area and a reduction of noise levels to 50 dB by day and 40 dB by night (quite ambitious). Metros, trams, and trolley buses are all expected to play a role in reaching these goals. Large articulated buses are running in dual mode. On battery power, they have a range of just 12 km, which is ample to cross the center. The batteries are recharged once the bus is back under wires. The city was thus able to omit the two-wire overhead power supply in the central area. Small electric minibuses with 8 seats and room for 19 standees are in wide and successful use. These buses are powered by a 25 kW motor and have a range of 45 km between charges, which amounts to five hours of operation. The 72 volt, 585 AH batteries are recharged at the terminal.

I attended a couple of break-out sessions, which gave an idea of the breadth of research. "Wheel motors" have been developed, which are simply motors integrated into the wheels themselves, thereby eliminating the drive train. Software can now accurately forecast energy consumption by small electric city buses (it's about 0.6 kWh/km). Ultracapacitors with a rating of 2800 Farads (yes, you read right) have been tested to absorb braking energy and release it for acceleration.

As would be expected at a conference on this topic, a great deal of attention was devoted to batteries. The problems have been solved for vehicles of modest range and top speed. Vehicles such as GM's EV-1 are still problematic; it was an attempt at an electric sports car capable of running long distances at high speed, but this goal was not achieved by the batteries available, and GM has withdrawn it after a three-year trial.

A Segway-killer prototype named Citrus was demonstrated. This three-wheel scooter allows the rider to assist by kicking along as little or as much as he desires. The design is quite simple and low-tech, and prices would be fairly reasonable. It folds up into a portable package and has a range of 10 km.

Some simple electric trucks were on display. These are really only modern versions of the battery-powered delivery vehicles used in cities until fairly recent times. These vehicles will be needed to deliver goods off-route even in cities with metro-freight. Existing models already far exceed the required specification. Elcidis tested a variety of these vehicles. Except for some problems in snow and difficulties with one supplier, the tests were successful despite the excessive weight of many of vehicles, most of which were originally designed as diesel trucks capable of highway speeds.

Mega Delivery Van, Estoril, 2004

The Mega brand small truck illustrated above is an exception. Models weigh as little as 590 kg empty and can carry a payload of 435 kg, which is a reasonably good ratio for a light truck. The truck has a range of 50-100 km depending on model and a top speed of 45 km/hr, far higher than is needed or desired. A de-rated version would probably run fine with only half of the 8 to 12 batteries normally supplied and would be considerably lighter.

Various battery-powered vehicles were on display, including industrial tugs, modified golf carts, battery bicycles, electric scooters, and several full- and half-size buses with hydrogen and hybrid power systems.

The conference raised a number of questions in my mind.

I was truly amazed to hear Rosenstein contend that peak oil production would not be reached until 2040. This seems to me to be nothing short of a dangerous delusion that can leave us totally unprepared for shortages that may be developing even now. He also pled for tax breaks for hybrid car buyers. This may be politically acceptable today, but for how much longer? Are those who don't own a car always going to have to subsidize those who do? The challenge with hybrids, from an auto-maker's perspective, seems to be that the public doesn't think that they're "fun to drive" (read: they lack neck-snapping acceleration and a throaty roar). The new Prius is apprently pretty good in the neck-snapping department but still "too quiet." My parents own an old-model Prius which has, to my mind, quite sufficient acceleration. Unlike the new Prius, the engine on the old model runs nearly all the time the vehicle is in motion, and it makes enough noise to hear its approach.

Many vehicles were available for test drives. While I did not myself partake, I watched them in use. While some of them make a fairly irritating whine, possibly due to noisy gearing, many of them are very quiet. This, however, is a mixed blessing. These vehicles are plenty fast enough to endanger pedestrians, who are accustomed to dodging death on the streets by both looking and listening for approaching cars and trucks. I saw an older woman almost struck, and it appeared that she had not heard the approaching car. As is so typical, the driver seemed to expect the pedestrian to stay out of the way, even though the test track, normally a part of the street, had been fenced off, and it seemed to me incumbent on the drivers to avoid colliding with pedestrians who might reasonably expect that area to be free of traffic.

I continue to believe that no vehicle on a city street should be capable of exceeding a speed at which a collision with a pedestrian is likely to be life-threatening, excluding only emergency service vehicles with sirens. Clearly, we also need to develop a culture that regards the pedestrian and cyclist as the true owners of the street, and vehicles as intruders that are sometimes suffered, never welcome.

Conference web site


News Bits

Death in China

Last year, some 104,000 Chinese were killed in vehicular collisions, far more than in the United States, although China has far fewer cars. The death rate is lower in cities, because of the traffic - drivers can't usually get up enough speed to be really dangerous.

A Beijing television producer said, "In China, the one rule is: no one stops for anyone else. Pedestrians don't stop for cars, and cars don't stop for pedestrians." On the outskirts of Beijing, many drivers run red lights.

A new law will, among other things, finally establish that pedestrians have right of way. However, drivers routinely flout the law, usually with impunity.

The number of fatalities did fall by about 5000 from 2002 to 2003. However, this may have been caused by the SARS outbreak, which kept people home for two months. The roads were practically empty.

"Chinese Take Recklessly to Cars
(Just Count the Wrecks)"
Beijing Journal
11 March 2004

Adieu les Arbres de France

France has chopped down 90% of the plane trees that once lined her roads and distinguished her landscape from any other. Alas, drivers run into the trees. But as Chantal Fauché said, "if you hit a tree, it is not the fault of the tree." And so France becomes just another country, indistinguishable from any other. France could change its mind. It only takes 200 years to grow a plane tree.

"The killer trees"
The Economist
14 February 2004

What You Can Do with Buses

Bogotá is currently carrying over 36,000 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd) with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). That number is surprisingly close to the capacity of two-track metro lines, generally given as 50,000 pphpd. The Bogotá system has 58 km of exclusive busways, with 330 km more in planning or construction. The very high capacity arises because:
  • All trunk corridors either have two lanes per direction or at least a passing lane at stations
  • Headways are as short as 60 seconds at peak times
  • Dwell times are held to approximately 20 seconds
  • Stations have multiple bays, and some can handle three buses per direction stopping simultaneously
  • All corridors have a variety of local, limited stop, and express services
The result is that a bus passes every 15-30 seconds at peak hour.

In Latin America, a standard one-lane-per-direction busway has a peak capacity of about 13,000 pphpd. When platooning is used, capacity rises to 20,000 pphpd, as in Porto Alegre. When multiple lanes or passing lanes at stations are installed, capacity rises above 30,000 pphpd. These systems require level loading in order to reach these capacities.

I'm no fan of buses, but these systems have been installed in surprisingly short times and at a cost that developing nations can afford. Their rights-of-way can later be converted to tram operation once the routes have been fully developed.

Wireless Trams

For reasons of both aesthetics and cost, I have for some time been seeking a way to run trams without overhead wires. In Washington DC, trams were required to obtain their power from underground third rails, in order not to despoil the beauty of America's lovely capital city.

Now it appears that the French are reviving the American practice (now long since abandoned). Wireless, low-floor trams are entering service in Bordeaux.

These trams employ APS (Alimentation par Sol), which uses a third rail, between the running rails. The power rail is only energized when a tram is above it, so as not to electrocute pedestrians. This third rail is broken into lengths of just eight meters. A central control facility ensures that only that section of a rail covered by a tram is powered. A shoe on the tram picks up the power.

The French ministry of culture determined that overhead wires would damage the appearance of the city. It threatened to block the plans for a tram network unless something else was done. Some solution was required, and a metro was thought impossible due to soft soils. APS was the only solution in sight. It apparently costs about 10% extra, so this is no economy measure.

The Toll Taboo Is History

The "free roads: always and everywhere" transport policy that has prevailed in the US almost since the beginning of the republic has lost its sacred-cow status. Tolls are in, free roads are out, and not a moment too soon.

The details are still disputed, but the outcome of the perennial debate appears set to change. In 1822, the US congress took up the matter of the National Road from Cumberland, Maryland, to the Ohio River. The road required repair, and congress proposed tolls, but President Monroe vetoed the bill. The precedent has lasted almost unbroken to this day.

A few states did build toll roads, but federal roads have had no tolls, including the vast, expensive Interstate highway system. This popular policy is a cause of excessive traffic and the current poor condition of US highways.

The Bush White House wants to permit tolling of new express lanes on federal roads. This policy would end centuries of the egalitarian, free-for-all system and establish a network of urban toll lanes for the rich.

Once considered political suicide, the toll proposal is gaining acceptance for the construction of new lanes on existing highways, which some claim are needed in many US urban areas. The American Highway Users Alliance still opposes tolls on existing roads but has endorsed tolls on new lanes (and new roads).

Electronic toll collection now permits the recovery of the enormous costs of highway construction in urban areas; the traditional, small taxes levied on fuel are no longer enough to finance road construction and repair. Fuel taxes have not increased for decades and would have had to double just to restore the tax rate to its pre-inflation level. It has proven politically impossible even to index the taxes to inflation, much less raise them in real terms.

The result parallels the resolution of the National Road controversy two centuries ago. Then, as now, control of the road was passed to the states, which promptly erected tollhouses and repaired the road.

"Congress and White House End Taboo Against Tolls"
New York Times
4 April 2004

Smart Growth Helps Regions

The proposal for carfree cities far exceeds the precepts of "Smart Growth," but even the relatively tame Smart Growth proposals yield real improvements. A review of current research by the Brookings Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy finds that smart growth reduces the drain on the public purse and boosts regional economies.

The Brookings paper found three major advantages of more compact development compared to sprawl:

  • The cost of building infrastructure and providing services is significantly lower.
  • Productivity and economic performance are improved by the creation of dense labor markets, lively urban centers, efficient transport, and a high "quality-of-place."
  • Suburbs also benefit economically from healthy urban cores.
I anticipate that these benefits would be much amplified in carfree cities.

"Investing in a Better Future:
A Review of the Fiscal and Competitive Advantages
of Smarter Growth Development Patterns"
Brookings Institution

Enough Sprawl

Sprawl development slowed during the late 1990s, according to a recent study on demographic trends in 31 metro New York counties. The change reverses a pattern that began right after WW II and continued until now. One of the study authors said "the patterns of the last 50 years really are history."

The change was paired with a rapid increase in regional population, following many years of slow growth. Much of the growth came in areas that comprise the "urban core," the five boroughs of New York City plus three counties in northern New Jersey.

Contributing to the change were traffic problems and the shortage of land for development, especially in the face of open-space preservation initiatives. Also contributing was a shift away from single-family houses as a result of the empty-nester syndrome. Immigrants strongly prefer urban housing.

"Suburban Sprawl? That's So 1990's, Study Says"
New York Times
19 May 2004

More Than Enough Driving

A recent study commissioned by WageWorks Center for Commuter Studies shows that residents of metropolitan Chicago, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco are increasingly dissatisfied with driving as the way to get to work. They seek alternatives in the form of public transport, walking, and cycling. Some 66% of those surveyed would prefer not to drive to work. Of the 53% who now commute by car, only 34% believe that driving is the best way to get to work. 24% would like to walk, 30% prefer the train, subway or bus; and 5% would rather bicycle.

The report says, "A majority of respondents liked the reduction in stress (61%) of taking public transportation, followed by the reduction in cost over driving (58%)."

For more information, see

Way Too Much Pork

Tax breaks that were supposed to preserve farmland have instead been going to companies that are building tract houses, malls, and industrial "parks," according to a recent Associated Press investigation. The tax breaks are enormous, sometimes reducing property taxes by almost 100%.

Loopholes in the legislation have permitted misuse of the system. While a developer holds property for development, he keeps a few cows or cuts some hay on the land, qualifying for the huge tax break. The taxes may not even increase once construction begins. The fraud, which is perfectly legal, occurs throughout the USA. The legislation was originally intended to protect farmers from rising tax bills that resulted from encroaching development, but the policy failed and became instead a large drain on local governments.

Carfree Tempest in Paris

The city of Paris has proposed a renovation of the rue des Rosiers, a center of Jewish culture. The plan includes making the street carfree on Sunday afternoons. The street is located in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood full of stores. Residents of the quarter have protested the plan, claiming that it would turn the street into a "Jewish Disneyland."

Area residents come there "to do everything they need for everyday Jewish life." They fear soaring real estate prices and "Bobo" (bourgeois Bohemian) infestation of the traditional neighborhood. They fear that closing the street to traffic will impede deliveries and make it harder for customers to drive to stores.

Local leaders proposed a plan that would widen sidewalks, narrow the street, restrict parking, alter traffic flow, reduce speed limits, plant trees, and ban cars on Sunday afternoons. The goal was to ease heavy traffic in the tangled streets and reduce noise. The problems are especially acute on Sunday afternoons, as shops are open at that time. Officials thought they would be improving the area and claim that most residents favor the plan.

Opposition centers on the gentrification of an authentic old neighborhood. Some past carfree projects in Paris have attracted drug dealers, which has fueled objections.

This is a cautionary tale for carfree advocates - much of what we propose will affect settled ways, and we need to be certain that local people are on board with the plan, and that it is not derailed by a comparatively small number of well-organized, vocal opponents.


The Oil Report

New Technology Fails in Oman

Data from Shell shows that Omani production has been declining for years, notwithstanding optimistic Shell forecasts. The decline raises questions regarding the supposed promise of new technology to extend the productive life of mature Middle East fields.

Internal company documents and technical papers show that Oman's largest field, Yibal, commenced a rapid decline in 1997. Recently-fired Shell chairman Sir Philip Watts had claimed four years ago that "major advances in drilling" enabled the company "to extract more from such mature fields." However, Shell documents suggest that the figure for proven oil reserves was erroneously increased in 2000, overstating reserves by 40%.

Falling Shell production in Oman is but a part of the crisis of confidence that began in January when Shell issued the first of four announcements of downgraded reserves. The problems were known to Shell at least two years prior to the public announcement.

Oman is but a small part of Shell's total holdings, but oil experts think that the experience in Oman reflects broader questions about the role of foreign oil companies and their new technologies in the Gulf region.

Water injection had been claimed by Sir Philip to increase recoverable reserves but led only to increasing water cuts, which raises costs. Ali Morteza Samsam Bakhtiari of the National Iranian Oil Company said, "In Oman, Shell seems to have fumbled on technology." He added that the failure of Shell's horizontal drilling technology in Oman suggested that sophisticated technology "won't bring back the good old days."

In fact, horizontal drilling does not so much increase the recoverable reserves of a field as simply to pump them dry more quickly.

More Grain for Less Oil

"In 1970, a bushel of wheat could be traded for a barrel of oil in the world market. It now takes nine bushels of wheat to buy a barrel of oil." So begins a recent statement by Lester Brown on the balance between oil and grain, which has shifted dramatically in favor of Saudi Arabia, to the cost of the USA.

The USA is both the world's largest oil importer and grain exporter. The huge shift is contributing to rocketing US trade deficits and external debt. It has weakened the US economy. Saudi Arabia, the largest oil exporter and a prime grain importer, has benefited.

"Saudis Have U.S. Over a Barrel
The Shifting Terms of Trade Between Grain and Oil"
Earth Policy Institute
14 April 2004
For more information, see
Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress
and a Civilization in Trouble


And Now, the Weather

Wan Sun Through a Dirty Parasol

A stunning report from New Scientist claims that soot and other aerosols have held about 75% of the greenhouse effect in check. When these emissions stop, temperatures will spike. The ultimate amount of warming might be two or even three times greater than current estimates.

Scientists have been astounded by a drop in the amount of sunshine reaching the Earth's surface between the late 1950s and the early 1990s. Sunshine worldwide has fallen by as much as 10%, with a staggering 37% decline in Hong Kong. The trend may have reversed in the past 10 years due to improvements in air pollution control, and this could account for the surge in average temperatures observed during the same period. Scientists have been surprised not by the existence of the effect but by its magnitude. Satellites confirm that the sun shines as brightly as ever, so the dimming must be ascribed to atmospheric changes.

The role of aerosols has long been suspected, but until now it was thought that aerosols reduced greenhouse warming only by a quarter. They affect sunshine in two ways. First, sunlight bounces off the particles back into space. Second, the particles provide nucleation sites for condensation of water vapor, which increases cloud cover. Further evidence is that regions with low levels of pollution have not experienced much dimming.

Scientists are somewhat perplexed and admit that they do not fully understand what is occurring. Simple devices called radiometers measure the amount of sunshine, and hundreds of them scattered around the world have confirmed the diminution of sunshine. Scientists at first suspected a systematic instrumentation error, which has now been ruled out. Nevertheless, the degree of dimming has not been established with certainty.

The parasol effect may already have protected us from more than one degree Celsius warming beyond what we have experienced. Greenhouse gases will continue accumulating in the atmosphere, while aerosols stabilize or fall. That means "dramatic consequences for estimates of future climate change."

Aerosols typically remain in the atmosphere just a few days. Greenhouse gases, on the other hand, remain for a century or more. Aerosols will therefore offer steadily less protection from global warming, especially as power plant and automotive emissions are controlled.

Warming might actually run two or even three times as many degrees as current mid-range forecasts of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius. Worst-case warming could conceivably be as great as 10 degrees C., which would be apocalyptic.

My own take on this is that predictions will vary widely until the science settles down, but that we've found another major factor in the equation that had not previously been given much weight. It clearly makes the global warming crisis even more serious than had been thought.

"Global warming's sooty smokescreen revealed "
4 June 2003
"Globe Grows Darker as Sunshine Diminishes 10% to 37%"
New York Times
13 May 2004

Warming Troposphere

A re-analysis of satellite data reveals that temperatures in the troposphere are rising faster than had been thought. The warming had gone undetected until a team of scientists unraveled the mystery.

The troposphere is, in fact, warming almost precisely according to the predictions of the models. Cold temperatures in the stratosphere had masked the rising temperatures in the troposphere below.

Bush & Co. skeptics have argued that if any increase in temperature is actually occurring, natural variation is to blame.

The study examined atmospheric temperature data recorded between January 1979 and December 2001 by satellites. The raw data showed no pronounced warming, but the researchers realized that about one-fifth of the signal picked up had originated in the cold (and cooling) stratosphere above. Ozone depletion and increasing greenhouse gases are causing the stratosphere to cool five times faster than the troposphere is warming,

"Scientists Claim New Evidence of Warming"
Guardian (as reprinted at CommonDreams)
6 May 2004

First South Atlantic Hurricane

On 26 March 2004, a major cyclonic storm lashed southern Brazil, the first such storm ever recorded in the region. Pedants argued that the storm was not really a hurricane, but it's clear that such a storm has never before been seen over the South Atlantic.

Burning West

Climate change is apparently well under way in the US West. The threat to snow pack, which provides most of the water in the region, directly threatens continued human habitation. The region is utterly dependent on snow melt to feed streams and provide water for agriculture and human consumption.

Snow is melting as much as three weeks earlier. Large changes in vegetation are already in progress. Glaciers are in retreat. Reservoirs are at low levels, and farmers are being forced to crop just a portion of their fields. An entire forest in Wyoming has died.

Unprecedented weather contributed to forest fire disasters in Arizona in 2002. Trees weakened by drought were unable to fend off a beetle infestation. Trees in the US West are dying at a rate never seen before.

"This is all due to temperature," says Barbara Bentz, a research entomologist with the US Forest Service. "Two or three degrees is enough to do it."

The demand for irrigation water rises as the snow pack disappears ever earlier, further compounding the problem. Officials fear that reservoirs may run dry.


Interesting New Books

Bicycling Science

David Gordon Wilson

MIT Press, 2004

477 pages
ISBN 0262731541

I took one look at the cover and asked myself, "why did they send me a review copy of this?" We're not a cycling site, after all. However. I made the mistake of opening the book and discovered one of those treasures of publishing. This book covers almost every conceivable aspect of the science of bicycling, and it appears to be authoritative, which it ought to be, given the publisher. Where I've dipped into it, I found clear writing and excellent illustrations. It's a nicely prepared book, which is all too rare.

So, if you want to understand the science of bicycling, which is, after all, very important to carfree cities, you'll want this book.


Vitruvius on Architecture
Thomas Gordon Smith

Monacelli Press, 2003

232 pages
US$40.00 (much less at Amazon)
ISBN 1885254989


The New Transit Town
Best Practices in Transit-Oriented Development

Hank Dittmar & Gloria Ohland (Eds.)

Island Press, 2004

253 pages
Hardcover / Softcover
US$50.00 / 32.00
ISBN 1559631171 / 1559631163

Hot New Links

The links below will open in a new browser window:

Comprehensive Evaluation of Rail Transit Benefits (VTPI)

More Highways, More Pollution: Road-building And Air Pollution. . .

Personal Rapid Transit - Cyberspace Dream Keeps Colliding With Reality

Personal Rapid Transit: An Unrealistic System

PRT is a Joke

Shell scandal points to exaggerated estimates of oil reserves

Plan War and the Hubbert Oil Curve

Hype about Hydrogen [registration required]

Link for ordering "One Less Car" stickers:

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