Carfree Times

      Issue 27

2 September 2002   

Downtown Cascais, Portugal

News at

Carfree Cities Paperback Edition

The paperback edition of Carfree Cities has been printed and is now being shipped to distributors for release in October or November. The paperback differs from the hardcover first edition only by a handful of minor corrections and updates. The paper is thinner but of the same type, and the illustrations are reproduced nearly as well as in the hardcover edition. The binding is once again sewn, so the book still opens easily. The paperback edition costs US$17.95. is accepting advance orders. Those outside North America and the UK can already buy the book, direct from the publisher.

The hardcover edition of Carfree Cities will continue to be available for some time. Barnes and Noble usually offers a 20% discount and prompt shipment.

Fire at

Many of you already know that was struck by a house fire on 2 July. Although no one was hurt and nothing lost, your editor has been busy dealing with the mess. Please expect delays in responding to e-mail. It will be another month or two before everything is finally sorted out.

Conference: Towards Car-Free Cities III

17~21 March 2003 - Prague, Czech Republic

Five years after Car Busters was launched at the first Towards Car-Free Cities conference, in Lyon, we are again putting out a call for the international car-free movement to come together, this time at the Toulcuv Dvur Ekologicke Centrum in Prague. Above all we will share information and experience and develop visions and practicalities for building car-free cities of the future. Time will also be set aside for discussion and feedback on the Car Busters network, its current projects, and its future direction. The precise program will be determined in the coming months by the input of those attending - but we assure you it will be fun as well as interesting and productive.

So far €12,000 out of a €20,000 budget has been raised for the conference. Donations to fill the funding gap are more than welcome (please write to Two as-yet-unselected people will work full-time from January through March organizing the conference and will receive a volunteer-level wage as well as the glory, acclaim, and satisfaction of it all; applicants should contact Car Busters at the above e-mail address. Anyone interested in attending the conference should let us know and also sign up on-line to receive the Car Busters Monthly E-Bulletin, where updates will be posted. Looking forward to hearing from you. . .

Randy Ghent, for Car Busters
    Your editor attended the 1997 Lyon conference and regards it as the single most useful conference he has attended. He'll be in Prague.

International Making Cities Livable Conference

J.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. in Sticker Fraud

Some vandal in the San Francisco Bay Area has been pasting stickers bearing the web address of onto cars in the area. deplors this action, which is highly counterproductive. If the person responsible is reading this newsletter, they are requested to stop and to make amends to those whose vehicles have been damaged. Read more.

World News Notes & Comment

Paris Beach

It sounds like a crazy idea - build a beach along the banks of the polluted Seine River, where swimming is prohibited. In fact, it's become a hallmark of the city's new Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoe. The beach was a four-week experiment that temporarily turned Georges Pompidou's riverside expressway into a pedestrian haven. It proved a raging success and turned Delanoe into a local hero. It's been hailed as the beginnings of an effort to win back more of the French capital for pedestrians.

In its four weeks of existence, two million people visited the beach, which consisted of some sand and a few palm trees. The success can probably be attributed in part to the street entertainers who were encouraged to perform. The beach was crowded day and night, and very few unpleasant incidents occurred. Yvan Hinemann, who managed the inexpensive project, said, "There has been a real sense of people mingling together, in an atmosphere of total mutual respect."

While the beach was preceded by a political row, it now seems set to become an annual rite and is expected to lead to other pedestrian-oriented experiments. Former right-wing politicians, recently ousted by Delanoe, attacked the idea as a waste of money and a public safety hazard. The right immediately realized that the stakes were high and that a success might erode the position of drivers in Paris. The beach was built at a symbolic loacation, a stretch of the Seine that Pompidou turned into an urban freeway in the 1970s. The project thus served to announce the dawn of a new political era in which pro-car policies are out.

The mayor intends to pedestrianize the freeways along both sides of the river by 2007, but expect the struggle with the pro-car lobby to raise some dust.

"Life's a beach for Paris mayor"
CNN Europe
18 August 2002

Ah, Paris, without the cars. Magnifique!

Carfree Area for Montreal?

"Imagine a clean, car-free street in the centre of Montreal, dominated by pedestrians, cyclists and the occasional, ultra-efficient, battery-powered bus." So begins an article in the Montreal Gazette. The candidate site is a long stretch of Mount Royal Avenue, one of the busiest arteries in the city. Claude Mainville and the Citizens for a Green Mount Royal are campaigning to turn the avenue into Montreal's first carfree street not interrupted by cross-traffic. Their petition already has 5,000 signatures, with most of the support coming from local residents.

Mainville cited projects in the USA and Europe that are now 20 years old. "Go and ask the business owners to bring the cars back. Hah! You will get a demonstration. Now they understand that it's not the car that comes to buy, it's the people." There is temperate opposition from some merchants, with calls for more study rather than outright rejection. On the other hand, Margaret Cameron, manager of a café in the area, welcomed the idea. "I don't think there would be one merchant who would be against this."

"Car-free street for Plateau?
Local residents press to close Mount Royal Ave.
to motor traffic"
Montreal Gazette
13 June 2002

Cold weather certainly is an issue in Montreal, as I know from direct experience. However, in areas with cold winters and short summers, people are all the more anxious to make the best use of good weather.

Housing for All

Neal Peirce, noted advocate of regionalism, recently published a column on the need for affordable housing. This issue all but disappeared from the political scene after the collapse of large-scale public housing developments in the mid-1970s, but the problem has not gone away.

According to Peirce, local, state, and federal governments will soon come under intense pressure to provide affordable housing. For working-class families (those with annual household incomes below $54,000), housing is now the hottest issue. Health care has dropped to second place.

Middle-class Americans are not much interested in the issue - they have long had government-subsidized mortgage-guarantee programs and tax subsidies, and most own their houses. However, Peirce thinks the landscape is shifting. The price of housing, both rental and purchase, has risen so dramatically that many Americans are concerned about keeping a roof over their heads. Some 28 million Americans spend more than 30% of their income on housing, and minority groups have considerably lower rates of home ownership. House prices have been rising rapidly for seven years and this trend continued even in the cooling economy.

The upshot is that US cities have a predominance of housing-deprived families. "Rack up another evil, if you will, to 'sprawl' development," says Peirce. "Even if we could somehow justify sprawl as an inevitable American phenomenon, we know the American Dream is in peril of turning sour when growing millions of us canít afford decent shelter - even with a full-time job." Peirce concludes, "But if the pollsters are right, this is an American crisis whose solution canít be postponed much longer."

"Housing returns to the political limelight"
Charlotte Observer
6 July 2002

Sprawl is, of course, the most expensive and resource-intensive means of housing ever devised. I doubt that the problem can be tackled except by providing high-quality carfree urban areas, which require so much less land for streets and parking. The cost of infrastructure is greatly reduced, and most residents would no longer need to maintain a car, making more money available for better housing.

Sprawl and the Johannesburg Summit

Arturo Soria invented the Linear City. He envisioned cities stretching along central transit spines and running for very long distances, with all areas within easy reach of both rail transport and open countryside. The Linear City project was actually started in Madrid the 1890s, running in the direction of Paris, but the project was abandoned within a few kilometers for lack of money. The prototype Ciudad Lineal has long since been engulfed by sprawl.

The UN predicts that by 2030, nearly 5 billion people will live in urban areas, with most of the growth occurring in poor countries with limited infrastructure. David Harvey, a US urban planner, said, "The qualities of urban living in the 21st century will define the qualities of civilization." He thinks that unless the present condition of cities is improved, people may not find the coming civilization particularly congenial. A mix of grinding poverty, social strife, violence, wasteful consumerism, and crumbling infrastructure may become "a dystopian nightmare in which all that is judged worst in the fatally flawed character of humanity collects together in some hell-hole of despair."

To keep up with urban growth, 3000 cities of one million inhabitants will have to be built over the next 40 years. If the North America model of single-family homes and malls is followed, vast areas of farmland will be consumed by sprawl. British architect Richard Rogers believes that sustainable cities cannot be based on auto-centric suburban sprawl, but must instead be "compact, polycentric, ecologically aware, and based on walking." Rogers feels that, above all, cities must promote social inclusion. "This is no utopian vision. Cities that are beautiful, safe, and equitable are within our grasp."

Questions for the Johannesburg summit:

  • Is there a better models for urban development than sprawl?
  • Can new cities in regions painfully short of resources and cash develop waste disposal systems quickly enough to avert epidemics?
  • Is there hope of finding work for urban youth and bringing an end to frustration and poverty?
  • How can governments ensure that the expansion of cities is an orderly process?

"Learning to manage urban sprawl"
11 August 2002

Will the "Leader" of the Free World Attend?
The Suspense Is Killing Us

The fat cats bankrolling Bush & Co. have urged him not to attend the Johannesburg summit on sustainable development. A letter dated 2 August 2002 and signed by 31 right-wing political groups and individuals says, "We applaud your decision not to attend the summit in person." It continues, "Even more than the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the Johannesburg Summit will provide a global media stage for many of the most irresponsible and destructive elements involved in critical international economic and environmental issues. Your presence would only help to publicize and make more credible various anti-freedom, anti-people, anti-globalization, and anti-Western agendas." The heads of all other G8 nations will attend.

ExxonMobil is apparently an important source of funding for some of the "think" tanks that signed the letter. That's doubtless why the letter says "the least important global environmental issue is potential global warming, and we hope that your negotiators at Johannesburg can keep it off the table and out of the spotlight." Just so you'll know, the signatories funded by ExxonMobil are:

  • Fred Smith and Myron Ebell, Competitive Enterprise Institute
  • Craig Rucker, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow
  • Steven Hayward, American Enterprise Institute
  • Terrence Scanlon, Capital Research Center
  • Joseph Bast, Heartland Institute
  • Deroy Murdock, Atlas Economic Research Foundation
  • H. Stirling Burnett, National Center for Policy Analysis
Bought, paid for, and delivered. And the suspense is over - Secretary of State Colin Powell will lead the US delegation.

Bush Bucks Public Sentiment

In a recent poll, 76% of US voters want federal controls on emissions of greenhouse gases by power plants and industry. Reliance on the voluntary cuts proposed by Bush & Co. is not favored - only 16% support the voluntary approach. The poll was commissioned by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which backs a Senate proposal for strict cuts in industrial emissions of CO2.

Bush & Co. have proposed a plan requiring cuts in SO2, NOx, and mercury emissions by 2018 (!), but reductions of CO2 emissions would be voluntary. By contrast, the Senate has proposed deeper cuts that would include CO2 and take effect by 2008.

"This poll shows that the president's head-in-the-sand stance on global warming is also distancing himself from the public," said Alden Meyer, a lobbyist for UCS. The poll also shows that 78% of Americans believe global warming is a serious problem now or will be in the future, but Bush & Co. has rejected any cap on CO2 emissions because it would cost his rich friends too much money.

It seems to me that Bush is putting a loaded gun to his head - it's rare to find this level of agreement on anything. People understand, at a gut level, the risks posed by large-scale climate change, and they want action on this issue. Watch the mid-term elections for a sign on this and other issues where the Bush & Co. free-market fanaticism is colliding with common sense and the will of the people.

Broad Support for Rail Services in the USA

A recent poll conducted by the Washington Post revealed that most Americans like the idea of passenger trains, and strongly support subsidies for Amtrak, currently running about $1 billion a year, even though comparatively few of them actually travel by train. Of those polled, 51% opted to maintain current funding levels, 20% to increase funding, and 17% to end subsidies.

Suggestions have been made to re-examine Amtrak, the quasi-governmental corporation that consolidated failing privately-operated passenger rail service 30 years ago. The history of Amtrak is dotted with incompetence, unworkable agreements with both freight railroads and operating unions, and conflicting and unreasonable political objectives.

"Public Willing to Pay for Rail Service"
Albany Times-Union
11 August 2002

The real issue here is the broader question of transport subsidies, which are almost universal. The real pig at the trough is, of course, the private automobile.

Another "Transit Failure"

A study of transit data from the 2000 census found major improvements in subway and bus service since 1990. In New York, public transport has become less a way to go to work than simply a means to go anywhere for any purpose. Weekend ridership rose rapidly during the last several years and many subway stations are busy even at night. Subway ridership rose by 34% and bus ridership by 27% during the 1990s. Public transport ridership for nonwork trips rose by 62% in the 1990's. Work-related public transport travel rose by a modest 6.7%, and work trips now account for only 44.1% of all trips.

New Yorkers are again relying on public transport systems the way they did decades ago, before Robert Moses rammed cars into the city. Bruce Schaller, a transport consultant, examined the census data. "What has happened here is that the transit system has essentially been reincorporated back into people's life outside of work," he said. "You would have to look back to the 40's and 50's, I think, to find the last time it was like that."

Mr. Schaller believes that the MetroCard, introduced in 1994 and improved in 1998, had a great deal to do with the change. The Unlimited version of the card allows unrestricted travel for a fixed price, and he believes that its widespread use has changed the mental calculus regarding the cost of transport, especially for discretionary trips. Mr. Schaller said, "It's always hard to find a seat on the subway during the rush, but now it can be hard to find one on Sunday mornings, literally."

"Masses in Transit, to Anywhere but Work"
New York Times
20 June 2002

Of course, the streets of Manhattan are just as congested as ever, so I suppose some transit "experts" would claim that public transport in New York was a failure, since it had failed to relieve road congestion.

This is one more lesson in the importance of convenience in attracting riders to public transport.

Clean Air and Your Heart

Finnish researchers have reported that air pollution worsens heart disease by reducing circulation to the heart. The study helps to explain why polluted environments aggravate not only asthma but also heart conditions. The US EPA estimates that 60,000 Americans die each year as the result of particulate air pollution. The Finnish study considered pollution emanating from factory smokestacks and diesel-powered buses and trucks.

Heart disease patients exposed to fine particulates were three times more likely to have ischemia (decreased blood flow to the heart) when exercising after exposure to such pollution than when they had been breathing cleaner air.

Researchers studied 45 heart disease patients living in Helsinki. Twice a week for six weeks the volunteers took an exercise test. The results were plotted against levels of extremely fine particles. Two days after breathing polluted air, the volunteers had "significantly elevated" levels of ischemia. The pollutants may be causing clumps of artery-clogging plaque break off, causing heart attacks and strokes, or may be causing dangerous heart rhythms, or both. The pulse rate also increased after exposure to pollution, from 61 to 90.

Dr. Murray Mittleman, director of cardiovascular epidemiology at Harvard University, cited studies which showed that health risks from particle-laden air were found not only in heavily polluted cities such as Los Angeles and Houston, but even in cities with comparatively clean air.

When inhaled, fine particles can stay in the system for hours and disrupt the heart's activity, interfering with its rhythm and tightening arteries. Many people should exercise indoors on bad-air days.

The only way I can get myself to exercise is to go outdoors - I tried a stationary bike, but it's just no fun. Let's agree that air should be safe to breathe, and do something about fine particulates.

Sick Fat Kids

Only 25% of American kids walk or bike to school once or more a week, and the inactivity probably contributes to increasing childhood obesity in the USA, according to federal health officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in its first examination of why children seldom walk to school, asked parents why they do not send their children to school on foot. The leading concerns are: distance, traffic, weather, and crime.

The CDC called the lack of exercise worrisome. The number of overweight teenagers has tripled since 1980, and in 1999 some 13% of children and teenagers were overweight. A kind of diabetes once rare in adolescents is increasing dramatically.

The CDC wants to see at least 50% of children living within a mile of school walking or biking by 2010. To achieve this goal, safe routes to school are required. Today, even students who live less than a mile from school usually arrive by car, with only 31% walking or biking in an average week.

My recent observations in the USA would indicate that the prevalence of fat kids is much higher than 13%.

Feature Article

Vision 42

By Roxanne Warren, AIA, Chair, and George Haikalis, ASCE, Co-chair


The Proposal

By incorporating substantial pedestrian amenities into its long-awaited plan for a crosstown light rail line on 42nd Street, New York City can finally make this transportation improvement a reality. The original proposal, described in detail in the project's Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), was advanced by the NYC Department of Transportation and approved by the City in 1994. It called for converting the southern half of the street into a transitway, while retaining westbound traffic. That proposal would have provided a very important upgrading of surface transit; yet it failed to move forward because issues of cost and utility relocation could not be resolved. Now, with many new developments planned or under construction on 42nd Street, enhancement of the walking environment is vital. There are at least five times as many pedestrians on 42nd Street as motorists, while nearly 60 percent of the street is allocated to motor vehicles. Yet, crosstown transit is often slower than walking. Not only will light rail vehicles in a dedicated right-of-way flow more freely, but eliminating the cars in both directions will dramatically upgrade the walking experience on 42nd Street. This is a winning combination that, not surprisingly, has become the norm in progressive cities around the world.

Precedents and their Components

In well-populated cities the world over, including the USA, auto-free streets - where they have been furnished with good transit and a high quality of pedestrian amenities - have proven unexpectedly popular and economically profitable. This has been notably true in Europe, where transit usage and walking habits are quite closely matched by ours in Manhattan. On 42nd Street we already have excellent access by regional transit, with more than half-a-million people arriving by transit each weekday, and an equal number departing. It is the quality of design and maintenance of pedestrian space, as well as greatly improved local transit, that need to be addressed.

The System

Light rail is clean, quiet, and predictably channeled in its tracks, so it respects the safe and relaxed atmosphere of the pedestrian street. Modern light rail is the updated version of trolley technology, re-engineered with low floors, to meet contemporary needs for accessibility by seniors, parents with strollers, and persons in wheelchairs while permitting reduced boarding times and higher capacity. Its longer vehicles allow greater driver productivity and thus substantially lower operating costs than buses. Located at-grade, its easy boarding and inexpensive station platforms will allow frequent access points at every typical block along 42nd Street, making it an ideal collector/distributor for the subways and north/south buses. It will extend the reach of the subways, serving the ferries, massive new developments planned on the East and Hudson Rivers, and important tourist generators on the waterfronts, such as the UN Headquarters and the Javits Convention Center.

Traffic Diversion and Merchants' Deliveries

The same methodology that was applied in the 1994 FEIS to estimate diversion of eastbound traffic can be applied to westbound traffic, as the problem is symmetrical. The diverted traffic is not competing for the same space. The controlled delivery of goods and refuse removal can be handled much as they are within other pedestrian precincts, such as Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center and the South Street Seaport. Freight entrances for most of 42nd Street's large office buildings are located on 41st or 43rd Street, ground floor rents on 42nd Street being too high for this function. For handcartable deliveries, nearby truck parking spaces on adjacent avenues would need to be carefully reserved. For more substantial deliveries, trucks can be allowed entry at controlled times.

Cost and Funding Issues

The NYC DOT, in its 1994 FEIS, estimated the cost of constructing the two-mile long light rail line at $70 million, and the costs of rebuilding the remainder of the street - clearly in need of repair - at $30 million. Allowing for inflation, higher construction costs brought on by the City's building boom, resolution of utility issues, and inclusion of the dramatic upgrading of the pedestrian environment, the costs of this new proposal might be double the earlier estimate. This would still be a bargain. At $100 million per mile, light rail costs would be only one-tenth the cost of new subway construction in NYC. The City's proposal to extend the #7 subway line for 1.5 miles to the West Side Rail Yards is estimated to cost some $1.0 to $1.4 billion.

The operating cost of light rail would be substantially less than the bus service it would replace. While the original proposal called for a private franchise with farebox and advertising revenues covering operating and capital costs, this may not be necessary today, as the MTA is now considering system expansion projects funded from its capital program.

The 42nd Street light rail line would be an integral part of the City's transportation system, every bit as vital as the Second Avenue subway and the LIRR access to Grand Central, and in fact, complementary to these two projects. Given its far lower cost and substantial user base, the project should compete well for federal and local transportation funds. A package of funds are possible - some from the MTA, some from tax increment financing (a mechanism proposed for funding the #7 subway extension), and some from highway resources to cover the cost of pedestrian amenities. For a high quality of design and maintenance, amenities may need to be underwritten with supplemental private funds to achieve a sufficient level of excellence.

Potential for Future Extensions of the System

Successful conversion of 42nd Street into an auto-free light rail boulevard could ignite public interest in further extensions of the system, such as the "Midtown Crossing" loop proposed by the Regional Plan Association, which would extend the light rail east from the Convention Center along 34th Street, and up Broadway to Lincoln Center.

Further Steps

Preliminary, targeted studies are needed of key issues, such as traffic allocation, goods delivery, special access needs, public space management, and preliminary cost estimates. Until appropriate public agencies are willing to undertake these studies as part of a comprehensive analysis of land use and transportation issues in the 42nd Street corridor, funding from individuals, interested corporations, and foundations will be required to underwrite them, and to support an effective outreach to the public. These efforts will strengthen the case for the proposal and produce the widespread consensus that is needed to advance the concept, which can dramatically transform the urban environment of this very central street.

More details can be found on the group's website at


Book Reviews

Space Is the Machine:
A Configurational Theory of Architecture

Bill Hillier

Cambridge University Press, 1996

475 pages
$85.00 hardcover
$27.95 softcover
ISBN 052156039X

This book by a British architecture professor proceeds from the idea that the urban street pattern is a "mechanism for generating contact." Cities have evolved to ensure that trips from an origin to a destination take one past outward-facing blocks along the way, thereby generating additional contacts between people and putting the movement people need to make in a city to use.

Hillier posits that some street patterns are pathological in that they are segregated from the rest of the city, especially ones developed in the last century such as those generated by the doctrine of 'separation of uses' (the segregation of residential and commercial zones), and low density development. He calls these 'disurbanism', and actually traces these to responses to industrialization in the 19th Century. These 19th Century ideas, he points out, are alive and well.

Hillier proposes quantitative measures of local connectivity, and presents the results of studies that observe pedestrian density, showing that they are positively correlated with his measures of connectivity, and that crime is negatively correlated with it. He gives color maps of his measures applied to several street grids, including all of Greater London.

Other chapters talk of the "intelligibility" of street patterns, proposing that good patterns are ones in which local visible properties of part of the grid give some indication of the connectivity of that part to the rest of the city, although this principle is not very clearly presented.

There is a strong emphasis on straight lines ('axes') in street patterns, and much of the analysis is done after simplifying a street patterns into a network of straight lines, with connectivity defined using a distance measure of the minimum number of the longest straight line segments one needs to traverse to get from one point to another. This simplification implicitly assumes a model of human movement (which is not stated), and seems to ignore the benefits of enclosed views and "positive outdoor space" as shown by Christopher Alexander. Hillier's methodology would be more applicable with a better model of human movement.

The book has a tendency toward imprecise language, especially in the sections not described here; in this it is no different from other books presenting "theories" of architecture, but it sometimes clashes with its quantitative aspects. Nevertheless, since it provides potential tools for evaluating the properties of street patterns, it merits evaluation by those designing new urban areas.

A summary of part of the book is available at Hillier's research group's web page, and information on obtaining their software is also available.

Reviewed by Erik Rauch
    This suggests an interesting formulation: pedestrian traffic works best when it is concentrated; vehicular movement works best when it is dispersed. Ed.

Hot New Links

The links below will open in a new browser window:

Katarxis 02/1 On Architecture and Urbanism

"Car Crazy A Word from Richard Risemberg," in the New Colonist, August 2002

"Our Neighborhood," Russell Turpin in the New Colonist, about a walkable urban area and the benefits it offers

carfree living - autofrei wohnen carfree development in Germany

Radical Urban Theory, an on-line journal.

Le Piazze d'Italia glorious Italian Piazzas, some despoiled by cars, but all worth looking at.

"China's Carfree Town: Gulangyu" in The New Colonist


Events are listed on their own page.

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