- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Four or five undeniably nasty things about cars:

1) they are noisy
2) they are dangerous
3) they are dirty (i.e. bad for the environment)
4) they stink
5) they are just plain too big for everyone to use them all the time

A lot of people talk about electric cars these days. I must admit, having electric cars would deal with problems 1 (noise) and 4 (smell). However, no noise would make them even more dangerous, and unless we can find a non-polluting, non-dangerous way to generate the necessary electricity, they are not much better for the environment. And they are still just plain too big for everyone to be driving them around all over the place.

Now perhaps we (as a society) can manage to develop systems for automated driving. Many people have been talking about such systems, with sensors all over the place that make it virtually impossible for a car to crash or hit someone, and companies like Omron may actually manage to actually make the systems work, and the auto companies may actually fork out the dough to implement them (I suspect they will try to make us pay for it). If they do (and that's a very big "if", but if it happens), then we shall have dealt with a large part of the safety issue also.

That leaves us with two problems - size and the environmental issues. Not insignificant problems. In fact the environment issue is one of the biggest.

Now I like to think of myself as a positive guy, so I will assume that one day soon we will figure out a dinky little environmentally friendly way to generate and store the energy needed to power cars without polluting the environment, such as generating hydrogen via environmentally friendly solar systems and storing it safely in magnesium compounds, and running our cars (and our jacuzzis) on the electricity generated by it.

But that STILL leaves us with one big problem - inconvenience, particularly in cities and towns - where is after all where most people live. Forget about everything else for a moment, and consider the space that cars take up in our towns and cities. Cars really are still just plain old too big for everyone to be using them to get everywhere because when towns and cities are built for car sizes, you can't walk to the supermarket, or school, or work, or your friends house or just about anywhere else anymore - you need a car. And that is just plain inconvenient at a really fundamental level. Forget about the rich-poor divide, that's a hassle for even your average, everyday millionaire celebrity who wants a carton of milk.

Oh, and that leads us to yet another serious problem besetting our car-dependent societies - obesity. And that just will not ever go away as long as cars rule the roads - not, that is, unless pedal cars come back in a big way.

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