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World News Notes & Comment
Car-Free in Vienna
The Green Party of Vienna has worked long and
hard to realize a local car-free neighborhood. An exemption from
the law requiring one parking space for every apartment was finally
obtained. Parking spaces are being provided for car sharing,
with some electric vehicles planned for this fleet. If, however,
inhabitants start to get cars despite their promise to live car-free,
a garage will have to be built in the future.
Construction of approximately 250 apartments began in October 1997. Occupancy of the self-governing community is expected during 1998 and 1999. The future tenants participated in the design process for the community facilities, which include play areas, natural areas including a pond, vegetable gardens, cooperative food purchasing facilities, meeting rooms, and laundromat. The money saved by not building parking facilities is being invested in such things as solar power, solar-powered cooling, gray-water recycling, roof-gardens, sauna, Internet cafe, several areas for children, a party roof, and a bicycle garage.
Daniel Sokolov, personal communication
You can have lots of nice things that you couldn't otherwise afford if you give up your car.
Car-Free in AmsterdamHere in Amsterdam, the old waterworks in the Westerpark neighborhood is being redeveloped as a car-free neighborhood. There are 600 residential units, 300 for sale and 300 for rent. The initial subscription for the units was 6000, so it appears that car-free can also be a commercial success. I've visited the site and plan to take some photographs once the dust has settled. I'm afraid I can't be too optimistic based on what I've seen so far. The architecture is poor-to-awful, the buildings are too high, and the open space appears to be badly arranged. But it's a start.
Sustainable Model District Vauban in FreiburgSouth of Freiburg, Germany, a new city district is taking shape on the site of the Vauban barracks. Planned are flats for 5,000 people and 700 jobs in the commercial area. The district redevelopment should be completed by 2005. Citizens have participated in a design process aimed at creating a sustainable model city district.
Essential facilities are to be located within the district to avoid unnecessary traffic. It is hoped that many residents will find a job from among the 700 being created locally. The district will eventually be connected to the tram system. In addition, an option exists to connect to the suburban train system now being planned. This would reduce the time to get to downtown Freiburg to a few minutes. Bike paths will link the community to the existing bike network.
Parking will be located at the periphery of the residential area, not more than 350m from dwellings. Car owners must pay for their parking space directly, so the construction costs for parking are separated from those for dwellings. Services and deliveries will be the only motorized traffic inside the district. Car-sharing will be encouraged.
More information from: Citizen Participation of Forum Vauban e.V.
Merzhauser Str. 150/07, D-79100 Freiburg, Germany
Tel.: +49-761-407344, Fax: +49-761-407395
Car-Free Housing in EdinburghThe regional government of Edinburgh, Scotland, has recently approved a £7 million housing development that will be reserved for tenants who agree not to have a car. Enforcement is automatic - there is no feeder road and no parking lot. Emergency vehicles will need a key to get in. The scheme is particularly important because car ownership in Edinburgh has increased 56% in the past ten years.
This is the fourth large car-free development in Europe of which I am aware. (There is reputed to be a very large car-free neighborhood in Stockholm, but I have no details on this. Anyone know?)
Sustainable BerkeleyRichard Register of Ecocity Builders is promoting the Heart of the City Project in Berkeley, California. Located downtown, encompassing a BART metro station, the plans include a plaza, an open creek (now in culverts), terraced buildings, greenhouses. . . and no cars.
San Francisco Chronicle, 10 October 1997
Register has been deeply involved for years in the efforts to put Berkeley on a sound ecological footing. His work is taken seriously, and he was to present his plans to the city council in November. No word yet on the results.
Middle-America Gives New Urbanism a BoostKansas City, in the heart of the USA, is looking into its past to find a way into the future. A five year planning program suggested a return to past patterns of development, including the small, denser neighborhoods favored by the New Urbanists, where people can walk places instead of driving everywhere. The plan seems assured of adoption by the city council.
"Focus on the Future: KC's Master Plan for Next 25 Years Looks to the Past for Inspiration," in The Kansas City Star, 18 October 1997
Beyond Sprawl: New Patterns of Growth for CaliforniaThe Bank of America, California's largest bank, recently released a report on development patterns in California. The report was developed by a coalition of organizations including the B of A. Some poignant sections:
. . . as we approach the 21st century, it is clear that sprawl has created enormous costs that California can no longer afford. Ironically, unchecked sprawl has shifted from an engine of California's growth to a force that now threatens to inhibit growth and degrade the quality of our life.
Sprawl is finally being recognized as part of the problem and not the solution to anything.
Montreal Looks AheadThe province of Quebec is going to limit the building of schools, hospitals, and roads in the suburbs in an effort to stop sprawl and increase the population of Montreal Island. The guidelines established are also seen as a stimulus to economic growth.
Montreal Island lost 183,000 residents between 1971 and 1991, but off-island suburbs grew by 567,000. The environmental impact is severe. Private cars create massive traffic jams during rush hour. The financial costs of sprawl are enormous - the provincial government spent millions of dollars building highways, schools, roads, and electrical lines to accommodate sprawl development.
The new guidelines will be applied to all spending decisions and will form the basis of a regional master plan.
City Rail, Vol. 3 No. 5
Cities have the right to control their destinies, even if this is at the expense of developers' profits.
Car-Free Sunday in AmsterdamPlans are under way to organize a car-free Sunday in Amsterdam. The Netherlands held a number of nationwide car-free Sundays during the 1973 oil shortage. Many people recall these as restful days when people took to the streets once again. There is considerable support for the idea of bringing them back.
Actually, Amsterdam already has one essentially car-free day every year - the celebration of the queens' birthdays on 30 April. The entire inner city is car-free for most of the daylight hours. The city is thronged with locals and visitors from all over The Netherlands.
Footloose in London"Londoners walk 39 miles further every year than people who live in other parts of the UK. On average Londoners walk 239 miles per year. . . . Car ownership in London has actually fallen slightly over the past five years. Over half of Inner London households do not own a car compared to the national average of a third. Londoners travel about two-thirds of their total mileage by car as opposed to a national average of four-fifths."
UK Department of the Environment, Transport & The Regions
Press Notice: 248 / Transport, 30 October 1997
People in cities equipped with good public transport don't drive as much as those who live in the suburbs. You can also walk to many destinations.
Los Angeles Metros Work"A survey of rail transit passengers in L.A. shows most of them feel the trains are safe, clean, convenient and compare favorably with a car in terms of travel time. As opposed to bus patrons, a majority of rail riders said they were using public transit by choice. The biggest complaint was overcrowding and unintelligible public address announcements on the Blue Line."
City Rail Vol. 3 No. 6
Unfortunately, plans to expand the city's metro have run afoul of budgetary problems and political conflict.
Free Fares Boost Ridership in HasseltWe reported in the last issue of Car-Free Times that the city of Hasselt, Belgium, instituted a system of free public transport. Since the system was implemented, together with improvements in the frequency of service, ridership has increased 857%.
Die Zeit, 21 Nov 1997, "Stadt ohne Fahrschein" (City without a ticket)
Part of the increase is surely due to increased convenience (no need to buy a ticket or have correct change) and faster service (due to the absence of fare-collection-related delays).
The Costs of SprawlJohn Holtzclaw of San Francisco has assembled some useful summaries of the sustainability of various forms of development. Some of the more interesting results:
Major Indicators by Type of Development
|Transit (veh./hr. nearby)
|Shopping (5 within 1/4 mi.)
|Annual veh. miles/capita
|Annual household auto costs
Holtzclaw, 1994; Newman and Kenworthy 1989From 2 households/acre up, each doubling of density reduces driving 25-30%; from 10 households/acre up, each doubling reduces driving 40%. (Holtzclaw, 1994)
Number of Freeway Lanes Required to Accommodate the Same Number of Travelers Compared to Various Other Modes
|Equivalent Number of Freeway Lanes
|Subway line (Metro)
|Light rail or bus line
|Lane of walkers
|Suburban street lane
Lowe, WorldWatch Paper 98Compared to a typical Nob Hill, San Francisco, apartment, a typical suburban house uses:
Phillips & Gnaizda, CoEvolution Quarterly, Summer 1980
All quoted from: John Holtzclaw, "Consuming Issues" in The Bike People
Suburban sprawl really is killing the planet.
The Asphalt Rebellion"The Asphalt Rebellion seems to begin, in just about every state, at a bridge. It is a country bridge: lightly traveled, decades old and starting to fall apart. The local government wants a few modest repairs. The state transportation department comes in, takes a look and declares that the only way to save the bridge is to tear it down and build something much bigger and costlier in its place. A fight ensues. By the time it is over, a mild-mannered mayor or council member or selectman has turned into a rebel."
"The Asphalt Rebellion" in
Governing: The Magazine of States and Localities
Alan Ehrenhalt's article shows that road issues are becoming mainstream in the USA.
Pedestrian's ProgressThe USA spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year to improve road safety. While this investment is clearly making roads safer for drivers, little is being done to improve the safety of pedestrians. Between 1986 and 1995, 6,000 pedestrians were killed and 110,000 injured by automobiles each year. Pedestrians account for 14% of traffic deaths, yet only 1% of federal highway safety funds are spent on pedestrian safety. The other 99% are spent to remove obstacles to traffic flow, which tends to increase average speeds and further endanger pedestrians. Traffic calming, on the other hand, improves pedestrian safety - the Seattle traffic calming program reduced pedestrian accidents by 75%.
From a press release on 8 April 1997 by the Environmental Working Group
as posted on the Congress on the New Urbanism list
The public must insist on stronger measures and more funding to improve pedestrian safety, even if that must come at the expense of automobility.
Road Pricing Coming Your WayIt began in Singapore more than a decade ago, and it's coming soon to a city near you. Road pricing is now seen by many metropolitan areas as the only cure for road congestion. Pretty much everyone has given up on the idea of building more roads. Local opposition to new road projects has become vociferous and costs have risen beyond what cities can pay. Everyone now acknowledges that new roads relieve congestion only temporarily. Here in the Randstad (Holland's big agglomeration), "the charge for driving into each of the four cities will be set high, at about 15 ecus ($17), between 6am and 10am, but the price will fall to 3 ecus at other times."
The Economist, "Living with the Car: No room, no room" 6 December 1997
The Economist may run a little ahead of the rest of the pack, but it's definitely mainstream. When they start publishing this kind of thing, you can be fairly sure it's going to happen. Sure glad I walk to work.
New Vehicles Now Less Efficient than Junked OnesUS Environmental Protection Agency statistics show that old cars and trucks now being retired are more efficient, on average, than new vehicles being sold. (New York Times, 11 August 1997). The main culprits are gas-guzzling minivans, sport utility vehicles, and pickups. These vehicles now have a 40% market share in the USA.
August 14, 1997 electronic version of The Sierra Club Newsletter
This is grim news indeed. Gone are the days of steadily-improving fuel consumption figures. The vehicles in question are exempt from fleet-weighted fuel efficiency standards. The Sierra Club is urging the government to raise CAFE standards to 45 mpg for cars and 34 mpg for light trucks. We wish them success.
Hey, Butterball!"The most recent edition of NHANES, a massive federal survey of health and nutrition, finds record levels of childhood obesity in spite of the fact that children are consuming fewer calories than they reported on the last NHANES edition 10 years ago. There is a connection here. We have made an environment that makes kids fat."
Reported by Nancy Pappas in a newsgroup
Casual observation suggests that American kids are the fattest in the world. They are driven everywhere, since the roads are too dangerous for bicycles and it's too far to walk. This is not good for these kids' long-term health.
Dying to Go for a Ride?Worldwide, traffic accidents were the ninth largest cause of lost "Disability Adjusted Life Years" in 1990. Worse still, road accidents are projected to rise to third place by 2020, close behind ischaemic heart disease and depression. These grim statistics come from a recently-completed study by the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the Harvard School of Public Health. Every year, 15 million people are injured in traffic accidents, and the toll is rising as developing nations put more cars on the road. Already, traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among males aged 15-44 worldwide.
It's not safe out there.
Dutch Auto Use Continues to RiseThe Dutch ministry for the environment reported that automobile usage increased 11% in 1996. CO2 release in The Netherlands is now 8% above the level in 1990. The official policy is to reduce CO2 emissions to a level slightly below the 1990 level by the year 2000.
NOS teletext news, page 106 on 8 September 1997
It's already 1997. I don't think we're going to reach this target.
New York: Speed CityTransportation Alternatives recently released a study showing that the New York Police Dept. issues only 44 speeding tickets a day on local streets. Pedestrian death and injury rates are above those of London, Paris, Rome and Tokyo, but New York's authorities have taken little action.
Speeding is rampant. Motorists routinely exceed the 30 mph (about 50 km/hr) city speed limit by 10 to 20 miles per hour. On Brooklyn's 4th Avenue, motorists were observed driving 53 mph, with speeds in the upper 40s common. On Manhattan's upper Broadway, many motorists drive in the low 50s. Both streets have heavy pedestrian usage and high injury rates.
Press Release 23 April 1997 from Transportation Alternatives
Contact: Paul Harrison or John Kaehny +1 212-629-8080
One more clarion call to rope in errant motorists and save the sanity and lives of pedestrians. Where is New York Mayor Rudolph "Law 'n Order" Giuliani on this issue?
Bangkok Transit Project CanceledThe Thai government has canceled the Bangkok Elevated Road and Train System (BERTS). The project was way behind schedule and far over budget, and the system was not going to be completed in time for the Asian Games this month. The developer and the government are exchanging accusations. The recent collapse of the Thai currency and real estate market also contributed - the developer was planning to recoup costs by capitalizing on increases in real estate prices near the stations.
Various newspaper reports and
Railway Gazette International, Sept. 1997, p.613,
all as quoted on the Sustran list
This is a terrible blow to Bangkok, which suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion and air pollution on the planet. Some people are spending more time in their cars than in their beds.
Are Cars a Drug?
. . . Recently a local police department ran a sting operation where a plainclothes officer would step into a crosswalk and try to cross a street notorious for flattened pedestrians. When the officer was brushed back by a car, a motorcycle cop would zip out and write a ticket. Drivers were indignant that they would be fined for such a minor offense. Most telling was the excuse they invariably gave, one that will be familiar to bicyclists and motorcyclists everywhere: 'I didn't see him.' This was repeated as a valid excuse even after a passenger in one car said, "I did see him, from a block away."
Quoted from: Richard Risemberg, "Are Cars a Drug?" in The Bike People
A Better Drink Than a Fuel?Ethanol brings its own problems when used as a fuel additive. Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have released a report indicating that while ethanol reduces hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions when used as a fuel additive, it increases the emissions of other pollutants called aldehydes and peroxyacyl nitrates (PAN). PAN is highly toxic to plants and does not break down rapidly. It's also a powerful eye irritant.
"Ethanol Causes Pollution, Too, Argonne Scientists Say"
Press Release from Argonne National Laboratory
Trying to make the internal combustion engine a good neighbor appears to be more difficult than anyone would have supposed 20 years ago.
Oxygen Bars in BeijingIf you think pollution in L.A. is bad, maybe you should visit Beijing, where air pollution is so bad that people patronize "oxygen bars," where the only mood-altering substance available is pure oxygen. The air quality in this city of 11 million is up to five times worse than L.A. "When I was a little boy in Beijing, the blue sky was really impressive. I can still remember that," said Liang Congjie, president of Friends of Nature, a local environmental group. "Nowadays, it's so hard for you to see the blue." In Beijing, breathing the air for a day is equal to smoking three packs of unfiltered cigarettes.
San Francisco Chronicle, 4 May 1997
This is the kind of nightmare scenario the developed world would face today had it not been for the great effort to reduce pollution since Earth Day 1970. In China, coal is one of the major culprits, but private car use has exploded in recent years. China's recent decision to adopt the automobile for passenger transport is little short of terrifying.
TransEuropean Nightmare?Eastern Europe has signed up for TEN (TransEuropean Network). TEN is supposed to support the development of a single European market by providing necessary transport infrastructure. While this includes some high-speed trains, it also includes a lot of road building. Now eastern Europe is borrowing money from international organizations (including the World Bank) to build their part of TEN. The roads, of course, will be a great impetus for further development of private car usage in areas that are very poorly equipped to deal with it.
"Blueprints for Sustainable Transportation in Central and Eastern Europe"
or at the alternate site if the above is off line
Eastern Europe should think again and decide to preserve its vast rail networks rather than dismantling them in favor of road construction. There is no need for these countries to fall into the same trap as western Europe. The source given above is loaded with details.
Marine Oil Pollution"About 3 to 4 million tonnes of oil enter the oceans each year. Oil spills the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster occur somewhere in the world on average once a year. Even so, 'non-accidental marine transport' (ballast discharge, washing of tanks, bilge pumping, etc.) accounts for twice as much marine oil pollution as accidental spills. Land-based urban and industrial sources account for more than four times as much marine oil pollution as marine accidents. Car exhausts and car oil changes dumped down drains account for more oil entering the oceans than any other source."
Greenpeace, "The Environmental Impact of the Car," 1991, pp. 35-38
To put this in perspective, this spillage is roughly equal to all the oil used in the USA in a two-day period.
Jane Holtz Kay's recent book is garnering a lot of attention in the USA. A review of the book is available at E-Design On-Line, an excellent site on sustainable development. We suggest that you check their review of the book; the URL is given below.
I had the pleasure of attending this conference in Lyon, France, between 26 October and 1 November. Lyon is a city of about 1.5 million people situated on the Rhone and Saône rivers. The old heart of the city is Presqu'Ile, located on a peninsula just above the confluence of the two rivers. This area is, as I quipped, a car-free city center; somebody just forgot to take out the cars. (It does, in fact, have a nice pedestrian precinct.) The buildings are very similar to what is proposed for the car-free city, but one to two stories higher. The architecture is fantastic - Presqu'Ile is beautiful. Most of it was built during the 18th century and has miraculously escaped war damage. The streets are quite narrow, and the blocks have good-sized interior courtyards. My estimate is that this entire area is actually somewhat denser than is called for by the reference design for car-free cities.
One the west bank of the Saône is the mediaeval quarter of the city. This is the most beautiful part of the town, with extremely narrow cobbled streets and gorgeous old buildings, not quite as high as those in Presqu'Ile. There is some car traffic, but only for residents. On the hillside above this part of town are the Roman theaters, which remain in astonishingly good shape. This is an old town.
Unfortunately, Presqu'Ile is subject to extremely heavy traffic. A major trans-European route runs right through the southern end of the district. Congestion has become a major local issue, and the conference was well received by the city government as well as by local and national media.
This was my first close contact with young European anti-road activists, and I was impressed. These young leaders know how to organize a conference, work the media, and obtain the cooperation of local authorities. The conference participants organized and carried out a number of actions during the course of the conference, and these received excellent and sympathetic press coverage.
The conference was attended by 60 people from 20 countries. Most of the conference was devoted to activism, but I facilitated a workshop on the design and implementation of car-free cities. We developed a plan for implementing car-free cities in existing metropolitan regions. Given that this is a massive change to make in an existing city, we determined that it was essential to develop both the long-term plan and the phased implementation scheme only after prolonged and detailed consultation with every interest group in the city. This technique can help develop a consensus, which will be nearly essential if the change is to be achieved.
One activist from Germany has made something of a career of walking over cars which obstruct the sidewalk. There was no absence of these in Lyon, and his "car walking" was filmed several times.
One group found a string of cars blocking the sidewalk and bounced all but one of them back into the street. When they returned later, all the cars that had been bounced into the street had been ticketed (for obstructing the street), but the car parked on the sidewalk had not been ticketed for blocking the sidewalk. This was taken to be a sign of the times.
City hall hosted the conference on Thursday, and the afternoon's proceedings included a number of dignitaries (including the deputy mayor). In the morning, I presented the reference design for car-free cities and unveiled the concept plan (shown above) for a car-free Lyon. There were plenty of questions afterwards and a good level of interest.
Two roundtables were held during the afternoon. The topic of one of them was, "When will car use in Lyon decrease?" The answer, judging by what folks had to say, was clearly, "never."
One interesting report was that public leaders greatly underestimate the concerns of citizens regarding cars. About 95% of the people think that cars get too much space in cities, and about 95% of the mayors also think that cars get too much space, but the mayors believe that only about 35% of the people hold this belief. This has led to a campaign to reeducate mayors about what people really think.
On Halloween night, with permission from the city, we closed off the square in front of the conference center and threw a streetfest, in temperatures of about +4 C or so. We were allowed to block the area off from mid-afternoon and succeeded in getting all the cars out of the square. A good crowd assembled for folk dancing, singing, and hot mulled wine. A dead Renault was draped in a huge black veil and decked with a sign, "The car, it's death." A good time was had by all.
Saturday, the last day of the conference, saw a large street action in the heart of downtown. The Renault from the previous evening was dragged through the streets by someone straining at a rope. The Grim Reaper stood on the roof as the activists sang a song about the car, pollution, and death. It was both fun and funny. There were a great many sympathetic onlookers. At one point, a busy cross-street was blocked for about two hours and an impromptu street festival was held. The police escorts finally said that it was time to move on, and we did. I spent most of my time handing out leaflets about the cost-saving that can be realized by getting rid of the car. These were quite amusing colored sheets that looked like "free offers." The demonstration was very well received.
The organizing work on the actions was extremely good. The actions were fun, effective, drew lots of good press, didn't get anyone really angry, and made a number of useful points.
I traveled to Lyon on the TGV, my first experience on a train running above 200 km/hr (125 MPH). This particular TGV is the "slow" one - it doesn't get above 280 km/hr. The speed is breathtaking and the ride was smoother than any other train I have ever been on at any speed. The ride from Paris to Lyon is almost exactly two hours, much faster than it can be done by car.
The TGV is not without its environmental impacts, but these trains are reputed to use less energy per passenger mile than conventional trains, which makes them very efficient indeed. They are fairly noisy outside (although very quiet inside), but the noise is sporadic, in contrast to having a highway nearby. The capacity of the system is huge, and it is profit-making (including capital costs). Here in The Netherlands we'll have to wait almost 10 years for this kind of service.
On my way back to Amsterdam, I spent an afternoon walking around Paris, a city I fell in love with in 1965 and hadn't seen since. The effect of traffic on this beautiful city in the intervening years is very depressing. I will most remember this visit for the pervasive stink of all the cars stuck in traffic.
Review: End of the Road
Wolfgang Zuckermann has written an interesting and useful compendium of most of what is known about reducing automobile usage. The book is divided into two parts: the world car crisis, and techniques that can be used to improve the situation.
Zuckermann correctly understands that the advent of the car is one of the world-changing events in history and that we have not really got our heads around the problem yet. In particular, he understands that the status of those riding in cars is much higher than that of those on foot or in buses or on bikes.
The bulk of the book is devoted to specific techniques which help reduce car usage. He offers 33 solutions divided into eight main categories:
This is not a detailed manual about how to implement any one of the solutions. Rather, it is an overview of the possibilities we have at hand. He gives examples of the solutions in practice, and what some of the boomerang effects have been.
This book is a worthwhile read for anyone seeking a source book on reduced automobile dependence.
End of the Road: From World Car Crisis to Sustainable Transportation
(Post Mills, Vermont, USA: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1991)
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