Carfree Times

      Issue 71

29 September 2013     
2012 J.H. Crawford


Carfree Institute

A colleague and I will be visiting Bhaktapur, Nepal, in October and November to study the feasibility of finally establishing a bricks-and-mortar institute for the study of carfree issues. This has been a priority for me for many years, but this is the first serious attempt to actually establish the Carfree Institute. Eric Britton was kind enough to share his contacts there. If you are in touch with anyone in the Kathmandu area, please send mail. I'll report on the trip in the next issue.


What with all the planning for the Nepal trip, I shot no new video this summer. The existing 30 videos continue to draw views. You can find them all here:

Vimeo (recommended)

YouTube (not all videos are here)

However, the best way to watch is probably to use my new Channel at Vimeo:


which allows me to present the newest and best videos first.

If you watch a video, please Like it by clicking the Heart icon in the top-right of the video frame (Vimeo) or clicking the Thumbs Up icon below the video (YouTube). Posting to Twitter and Facebook will also help if you can. We need to get the message out to a broader audience. I know this is a bit of a nuisance, but it really does make a difference. The 20,000 views needs to become 20,000,000 views as quickly as possible. I need your help with this.


One Evening in Campo Santa Maria Nova, Venice


The Books

Carfree Cities and Carfree Design Manual are widely available in Europe and North America.

World Carfree Network actively supports World Carfree Network (WCN). Unfortunately, WCN is largely inactive at this point.

World Carfree News no longer appears with any regularity. Old issues are available in Czech, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. November/December 2012 is the most recent issue. Justin Hyatt tried heroically to keep it going, and he still seeks a return to regular publication. He could use a hand if you have time.

Quote of the Quarter

"One of the easier ways to measure the health of a democracy is by the size and quality of its sidewalks."

Mario J. Alves, 2004



Lavinia Beach
Mount Lavinia Beach on a weekend
Photo: Udan Fernando

Feature Article

How cars squash livability

A South Asian example

By Debra Efroymson

While parts of the world have clued in to the dead end road that car-based planning represents, others continue to follow the example of the worst of car-centric urban design. Given the entrenched nature of car culture, a range of methods are needed to resist the madness. One of the tools in our arsenal is action-oriented research.

Recently a colleague and I conducted a study on a public space in Sri Lanka, entitled "Public Space and Quality of Life: A case study of Mount Lavinia Beach." The main goal of the report is to give input into urban planning and in particular the creation of public spaces. Following a 30-year civil war, the government of Sri Lanka is now eager to create new public spaces in order to make Colombo an attractive, modern city that will draw foreign investment. Unfortunately, the tendency of the government planners is to design places that look good but fail to encourage liveliness, and the expectation is that most visitors will arrive by car.

The result is several attractive but very dull places. One is Independence Square, which is a popular place to walk. And only walk. As it is not within walking distance of any but a few high-priced residences, it attracts mainly those of high income, and thus lacks diversity of both users and uses. At the square is an army-run "Walkers' Café" which has been dubbed the "Drivers' Café" because it is mainly frequented by those who drive the walkers to the square. Another gorgeous but sanitized place is the Dutch Hospital. Named after the renovated building in which it is located, Dutch Hospital consists of restaurants and shops inside, and an attractive plaza outside with tables and chairs. As with Independence Square, it is not located near residences. Inside are mostly wealthy young people drinking. There are generally a few people sitting in the spacious plaza outside, looking a bit bored. Then there is the Water Park in Battaramulla, so named for its attractive lake which is used for flood water retention. But the park is, again, not located near residences, and the parking lot is almost bigger than the park. Although I've seen Water Park when it's crowded, the so-called children's play area was only being used by people walking, and activity was mostly limited to walking and sitting.

Lavinia Beach
Selling pineapple to beach goers
Photo: Udan Fernando

But all is not rotten with public spaces in Sri Lanka. A space on the unfortunately named Slave Island, similar to Dutch Hospital but smaller and less attractive, is much livelier, with vendors selling affordable items to lower-income people. Near Dutch Hospital is also the highly popular Galle Face sea wall and Galle Face Green, which are full of people of different ages and incomes, not just walking and sitting but buying, selling, playing, and eating in a festive atmosphere. Although Galle Face is also not accessible by foot from anywhere but five-star hotels, its easy access by train and bus makes it a popular destination. Most of the sea wall and the Green are far enough removed from the road that one can enjoy a carfree experience.

Then there is the place that we studied, the Mount Lavinia Beach. The beach is essentially a linear park within a short walk of thousands of people's residences. Some highlights of our findings include that while 21% of people say they drive to the beach, 30% say they walk. More interestingly, walking is far more common among daily visitors, 70% of whom say they walk there, and only 12% of whom say they arrive by car or van. Even for the irregular visitors, driving is not the main mode. More weekly visitors walk than drive, and more monthly visitors take the bus than drive. While one complaint we heard about the beach is that it is difficult to access by car, that complaint needs to be taken in the context of most people's preferred way of accessing the beach. It is not wise to make access by the majority who arrive on foot more difficult in order to accommodate the few who come by car.

Lavinia Beach
Family enjoying their meal at the beach
Photo: Udan Fernando

Another important finding was partly captured in the activity audits we conducted. The beach is an unscripted place that people feel free to use as they wish. It is a real public space, one that attracts a wide variety of users and uses, inviting all and excluding none. We charted 18 different activities, including various forms of exercise, socializing, buying and selling, and play. None of the new public spaces in Colombo are likely to yield more than three or four different types of activity. At the Mount Lavinia Beach, we found medium to high levels of many activities across a wide range of ages and income groups and among both sexes.

The findings of the survey and activity audit are reinforced by many hours of observation. People love the beach. Those who go to exercise also socialize with others while there. People feel comfortable going alone, as watching others is good entertainment and the beach is quite safe. People feel comfortable taking their children there, knowing they are safe from traffic. Though unacknowledged by most, the fact that the beach is a carfree space is likely one if its greatest attractions. That people should fail to mention that bonus is not surprising. It is hard to notice what isn't there. When the trains, which regularly come roaring by, did not pass for two days due to a rail strike recently, I failed to notice their absence. When I am at the beach, I don't think "how lovely to be in a carfree space!" I simply enjoy the quiet, the safety, and the fresh air. But when I am in a public space that is close to the road, the intrusion of cars - their noise, their smell, the danger they create - is an ever-present nuisance.

The research is important because it gives us the evidence to state the obvious: a public space will not be popular and well-used if it can only be reached by car. It needs to be accessible by foot from nearby residences and by public transit, so that people will be able to use it on a regular basis. Furthermore, there is no need to take away space in order to accommodate cars.

The liveliness of the beach, as with other popular public spaces in the city, is partly due to the presence of vendors who provide affordable eating options and add to the vivacity of the scene. For a public space to be real, it cannot target only those of a high income, nor should it only attract the poor. A true public space will be so attractive and inviting that people of a range of incomes, of both sexes and different ages, will regularly visit and enjoy it. And finally, it is vital that public spaces have an unscripted nature that allow people to step out of the box of their daily lives and use their creativity to shape the space to fit their needs and desires.

Lavinia Beach
Sunset bathers
Photo: Udan Fernando

We did not find anything terribly surprising during this research, but the messages are important. Yes, people want to use their cars, but they also want liveliness, fun, and a chance to socialize. They want safe places where their children can run free. That is, they want the benefits of the car but can readily appreciate the advantages of a carfree space. We need to emphasize access by means other than the car, or we will destroy what we are trying to create. And we must balance people's desire to use their cars with their other desires and needs. That is, if we gave people what many say they want - endless free parking, wider roads, more highways - we would create barren landscapes that people would then reject. We need to remind planners that they cannot give people everything they ask for, and that some demands are far more important to satisfy than others. People might want a parking lot, but it won't make them happy the way a good park can. People might prefer to drive, but if we offer them good public transit and great environments for walking and cycling, then those options will gain popularity.

It is not easy to counter all the propaganda put out by the combined forces of the automotive, fuel, and road-building industries. It is not easy to overcome the force of habit. It is not easy to convince people that there are far better options out there than to continue with the car-based model of development. We have to think of many different ways to get our message across. We must draw new interest groups into the discussion of how we will design our cities. I hope that this study will help advance that debate in Sri Lanka and beyond.

The full study is available in PDF format on the HealthBridge website under Livable Cities publications.

Debra Efroymson is a regular contributor to
Carfree Times and Sustainable City News.
She splits her time between Dhaka and Colombo,
working on Livable Cities for the Canadian
public-health NGO HealthBridge.


Kerala biking
Reni Varghese
Photo: Jinu Varghese

Feature Article

Cycling to Life

By Jinu Varghese

"Cycling has become a part of my life now," says Mr. Reni Varghese (39yrs; no relation to the author) who works as a Special Village Officer in the revenue department of Kerala Government. He has been cycling to work for the past six years, and all he had to say was about the health and environmental benefits of cycling. He cycles around 20km (to and fro) per day. Mr. Reni started cycling to work after trying different ways of physical activity such as walking, jogging, etc. The time spent for exercise and the cost of transportation prompted him to think of cycling to work at first, which was later reinforced by the newspaper articles portraying the benefits of cycling and examples elsewhere in the world. He now takes a motorbike or car to travel only for long trips.

"People around me were surprised to see me cycling to work, at first," he recalls. He remembers the faces of people gazing upon him with ridicule. He says that in Kerala there's a strong notion that cycling is inferior and only the poor use bicycles. According to him, it's the attitude of people that must change to attract more people to cycling. A few of his colleagues also started to cycle to work, but they had to drop it soon. At the beginning he too found it difficult to overcome these societal pressures.

Mr. Reni was born in a middle-class family. His grandfather and parents were teachers, so he is well known among the people in the area. He sees many known faces on his way to work on the bicycle. He takes time to wish them well or sometimes stops for small talks. He takes a short way to office, avoiding the main road. For him, it's a rejuvenating experience to ride through his daily route with paddy fields, streams, and trees alongside the road. Only when it rains heavily does he switch to other modes of transport (motorbike or car). He doesn't dream of roads with separate bicycle lanes, as he's of the view that such infrastructure improvements won't take place in the near future, especially on roads he use for cycling. "I could no longer cycle to work," he thought when he was transferred to another village office 25km away. Not ready to give up, he travelled half way on his bicycle and locked it at his aunt's house, where he switched to his motorbike for the remaining part of his travel.

Kerala biking
Reni Varghese passes a motorcyclist on his way to work
Photo: Jinu Varghese

For him, cycling has brought many changes. He recalls that he weighed 75kg before he started cycling to work and now he is down to the 60kg which he thinks is proper for him. He used to spend to spend INR 200 (about US$3.00) for fuel for his motorbike each week for travel to work. He says that cycling keeps him fresh and fit all day. He has never visited a doctor in the last 6-7 years, he says. It also gives him a sense of pride when he thinks that he is not harming the environment like the many others who use motor vehicles. "I could also control my anger," he says, when asked further about changes. He is now less troubled by the minor irritations of life.

Mr. Reni asserts the need for inculcating cycling habits among school children. He feels that it will make children more independent. He recalls his childhood experience of the insults he faced from the Pvt. Bus employees while travelling to school. For them, a student who travels at a concessional rate was no replacement for an adult passenger who pays the full ticket price. He says that the transportation demand is not met during the peak hours, which creates traffic problems. Cycling is the best option, according to him, to overcome this problem at a low cost. By word of mouth, he encourages people to cycle to work. "We can build a healthy nation if more people choose to cycle," he says.

This case study was done by Mr. Jinu Varghese,
who is Project Coordinator for the Livable Cities India Program
implemented by Evangelical Social Action Forum (ESAF)
with the support of HealthBridge, Canada.


2012 J.H. Crawford

News Bits

The links below will open in a new browser window (crtl + left-click to open in a new tab instead):


"Due to Global Warming, End Is Virtually Certain for NYC, Boston, Miami, Holland"

    And further in the main news this evening, Larry Ellison won the America's Cup. . . . (Huffington Post)

"Climate change: IPCC issues stark warning over global warming"

    "Call to 'stop dithering about fossil fuel cuts' as expert panel warns entire globe is affected." Yeah, we all know where this goes. (Guardian UK)

"Denial of Nature's Limits is the Problem"

    The deniers are claiming, "There really is no such thing as a human carrying capacity." The author of this article points out that Jared Diamond's 2005 Collapse reaches a distinctly different conclusion and cites many compelling historical proofs to the contrary. (Culture Change)

"Seven facts you need to know about the Arctic methane timebomb"

    "Debate over the plausibility of a catastrophic release of methane in coming decades due to thawing Arctic permafrost has escalated after a new Nature paper warned that exactly this scenario could trigger costs equivalent to the annual GDP of the global economy. Scientists of different persuasions remain fundamentally divided over whether such a scenario is even plausible." Current logic says that as long as there is any debate, we should sail blithely on, with no course change. The precautionary principle says otherwise. (Guardian UK)

"Arctic sea ice shrinks to sixth-lowest extent on record"

    Much is being made of the fact that this summer's Arctic ice melt is not as bad as it has been in some recent years. That's not saying much: 2013 belongs to the new cohort that began with the major melt in 2007. This year, as in every year since 2007, minimum ice extent is smaller than in any recorded year prior to 2007. (Guardian UK) Incidentally, the best single source of information I am aware of is The Cryosphere Today.

"ESA's Cryosat mission observes continuing Arctic winter ice decline"

    Uh oh. It's not just summer ice, either. This past winter the maximum ice volume was about half of historical levels following steady declines in the past few years. Most notably absent is thick, multi-year ice, which now can only be found north of Greenland and the Canadian islands. (BBC)

"International Energy Agency urges stop-gap climate action"

    The IEA fears that climate change could pass a critical point if the world waits until 2020 for a comprehensive UN deal on emissions. This is significant, as the IEA was until recently projecting large increases in petroleum consumption far into the future. One thing they propose is an end to fossil fuel subsidies, which should be a no-brainer in the current economic situation. (BBC)

"Air Pollution Is Not on Political Agenda in Denmark"

    There are thought to be 1500 premature deaths a year in the Copenhagen region from air pollution. This article finds fault with the government's campaign to get people to avoid pollution, rather than fix the source. (

"Wall St. Exploits Ethanol Credits, and Prices Spike"

    "A little known market in ethanol credits has also become a hot new game on Wall Street." The cost of a credit skyrocketed from 7 cents to over $1.33 since the start of this year. Wall Street got a corner on the market. I'm shocked, shocked to find that Wall Street is cheating us again. (NY Times)

"Radiation at Fukushima Soars to Highest Level Yet"

    "As officials tout 'ice wall' experiment, more lethal levels of radioactivity detected." Even if one of these melt-down horrors only comes along every 25 years or so, we can't afford it. No nukes. (Common Dreams)

"Living Near Good Transit May Make You Happier"

    I don't know about you, but it sure makes me happier. (Atlantic Cities)

"Maybe buses should be free "

    From that bastion of market-based economics comes the heretical idea that maybe buses should be free. (Economist)

"Car ownership rates fall among young people in Amsterdam" (Dutch)

    In the last ten years, the percentage of Amsterdammers aged 18-29 owning a car fell from 24% to 16%. Of course, these figures were already low compared to the same age group in the USA and many other rich nations. ("Autobezit onder jongeren in Amsterdam daalt," Het Parool)

"Unclean at Any Speed: Electric cars don't solve the automobile's environmental problems"

    "Environmentalists who once stood entirely against the proliferation of automobiles now champion subsidies for companies selling electric cars and tax credits for people buying them. Two dozen governments around the world subsidize the purchase of electric vehicles." Canada will pay as much as $8500 to drivers of electric cars. The problem is that these cars consume exotic materials in their manufacture, and, at the end of the day, their lifetime emissions are no better than advanced diesel cars. "Upon closer consideration, moving from petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric cars begins to look more and more like shifting from one brand of cigarettes to another." (IEEE Spectrum)

"Driving Sideways"

    From the concluding paragraph: "By becoming so enamored with how technology might transform the car, we've neglected to adequately explore how getting rid of cars might transform how and where we live." This article takes a fairly comprehensive look at the future of the driverless car. (NY Times)

"Bristol car-free Sunday closes roads"

    Bristol, UK, recently held its first carfree day. Despite plenty of complaining, the event opened up Bristol for pedestrians. (BBC)

"Roads Kill"

    This is a global map of road fatalities worldwide. Scary part: it's already 1.24 million/year and expected to rise to 3.6 million/year in 2030. Time to change course? (

"Cargo Bikes: The New Station Wagon"

    "Cargo bikes are winning over casual and avid cyclists alike with one supersize feature: the ability to haul it all - from the groceries to the family that eats them." (Wall Street Journal)

"Spanish saddle up and ride the bike boom that's sweeping the country"

    Spain is not usually at the top of the league tables in bike-centric cities, so it's interesting to see this article. Maybe it's the ongoing economic crisis in Spain, but whatever the cause, cycling is gaining and car sales are plummeting. I'm pleased to say that drivers in northwestern Spain are among the most courteous I have encountered anywhere, so all those new cyclists may be doing all right. (Guardian UK)

"The Dutch Prize Their Pedal Power, but a Sea of Bikes Swamps Their Capital"

    This is not a real problem. You can park 20 bikes in the space occupied by one parked car, and Amsterdam still has way too many car-parking spaces. (NY Times)

"Back-seat kids can no longer bike well" (Dutch)

    So many kids are now being ferried to school that a considerable number of middle-school children are not competent cyclists. This is a shocker for the Netherlands. If it follows the UK trend from 20 years ago, it won't be long before very few kids are biking to school, due to the danger from all the parents driving their kids. ("'Achterbankkind' kan niet goed meer fietsen," (Trouw) and "On your bike: one third of under-13s are now driven to school" (

"Free-Range Kids"

    "How to raise safe, self-reliant children (without going nuts with worry)" A regular blog on how to raise kids in the American security state. Plenty of common sense being written here. (

"When Tokyo Was a Slum"

    Charts the reconstruction of Tokyo after WWII and how it evolved into its current form. The insight into Tokyo's neighborhoods is fascinating. (

"Math targets cities' essence"

    "New formula relates city size to infrastructure, productivity." Maybe you can do more with this than I can. (Science News)

"Cities Are a New Kind of Complex System"

    "We have intuitively invented the best way to create vast social networks embedded in space and time, and keep them growing and evolving without having to stop. When that is possible, a social species can sustain ways of being incredibly inventive and productive." (Science Daily)

"Agenda Plus: J.H. Crawford on Car-Free Cities"

    I do television. Badly. (The Agenda with Steve Paikin)


Book Review

CNU cover
Charter of the New Urbanism

By Congress for the New Urbanism and Emily Talen

McGraw-Hill, 2013

320 pages
ISBN: 9780071806077
(also available as an e-book)


This is a beautifully-produced book from the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) that can be taken as the comprehensive set of standards for the New Urbanism (NU). While I have expressed some doubts regarding NU and feel that in some ways it does not go far enough, it is clearly a large improvement on business-as-usual urban planning and design such as has been practiced in the USA for decades.

One of the most commendable things about NU in general and this book in particular is that it is rich in illustrations that can be grasped in moments, rather than pages of dreary text that are hard to absorb. The urban transect is an especially useful concept and one that should be widely applied. Another important innovation of the CNU is the "form-based code," which shows, rather than tells, how to design buildings for a given part of a city or town. This method is discussed and illustrated.

As I am sure most readers know, CNU promotes walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods that are more sustainable and better places to live. Case studies, plans, and examples are used liberally throughout the book. In particular, the book considers how the disasters of suburban development in the USA can be countered by planning and designing neighborhoods that look much better and should make people happier.

The book considers all scales, from the regional down to individual buildings. Many of the solutions proposed should be very familiar, as they are actually drawn from our rich urban and architectural heritage. These are approaches that are not based on one or another flighty system of philosophy but have been tested for centuries and shown to meet human needs well.

I still wish the CNU would get behind the carfree initiative. Some of its practitioners, especially Peter Calthorpe and the Krier bothers, are just millimeters away from pure carfree urban design. I hope they'll make that last little jump.


Book Review

Taking Steps cover
Taking Steps:
A Community Action Guide to People-Centred, Equitable and Sustainable Urban Transport

Paul Barter and Tamim Raad

Sustran Network, March 2000

120 pages (free download)


We missed this first time around. It's people-centered transport policy and practice from a mainly Asian perspective. Well worth a look, and you can't beat the price.


2012 J.H. Crawford

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Help Carfree Times

Thanks to those who suggested articles for this issue: Robin Bassett, Owen Blacker, Piper Hollier (who also found many errors during proof reading), Dexter Jeannotte, Rick Risemberg, and Clyde Verner (also for proof reading). And thanks of course to Debra Efroymson and Jinu Varghese for their contributions. We welcome articles on a wide variety of subjects and offer an opportunity to publish letters to the editor and guest editorials. High-quality photographs are always in short supply. Drop us an e-mail and get involved!

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