- 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.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Build carfree streets and they will come - on foot

And build roads and highways and carparks - and surprise surprise, people will come in cars.

Interesting article HERE reminding us that all the scientific evidence points to the fact that we may not really actually need those highways and carparks that the generation before us so vehemently fought for. The real result of all the extra roads is that the average American now apparently drives three times as much as he did in the 60's. Hmmm. Autopia?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cyclist Killed on Tokyo's "Model Bicycle Intersection"

On the intersection of the Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park in central Tokyo is one of the most dangerous intersections for bicycles and pedestrians alike. It is a model of how to build an intersection that is inconvenient, confusing and dangerous.

I have always thought it strange therefore that there are several signs posted right on this intersection that says that this is a "Model Intersection for Bicycles". Whenever cars are involved the meaning of the word "safety" is commonly construed creatively, but this one is a doozy.

The icing on the irony cake was finding a new sign there the other day asking for witnesses to come forward with information about an accident in which a bicycle was hit by a car (hit and run, no less) on March 4 on this very corner. You can just see the "Model Bicycle Intersection" sign in the background of this new sign, still there as if jeering or taunting at the poor person who was hit. When did we allow ourselves to become such a violent, heartless society?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Here is one car I might consider driving...

This is what they call a "velomobile". Basically a high tech three wheel recumbent bicycle with a high tech fairing. These vehicles are manufactured and used mostly in the cold and windy countries of northern Europe, but even the guys at Greenspeed of Australia have gotten into the act lately.

There are basically two types of these faired recumbents - racing and general use. The racing variety are usually two wheeled and built purely for speed. These velomobiles are built for daily use, and are usually three wheeled (four wheels just adds extra weight without much benefit.

Is this the future of personal transport:

Saturday, March 24, 2007


There. I said it. Are you happy now?

My next door neighbors recently moved to New Zealand. The other day Mrs. Neighbor admitted to me that actually she enjoys driving. I think she was expecting me to put up a fight with her or something - to try to talk her round or something. But you know, I will freely admit to anyone that OF COURSE driving can be convenient. It is easy; it keeps you dry; there is a radio, you can carry your luggage and your friends just about anywhere; the roads are well kept and you get to blast down the middle of it noise and smoke trailing behind you while everyone else looks on jealously from the sidelines. Sure, they are probably more likely to be angry - but you can wind up the window and pretend they are just jealous.

All that is beside the point. A smoker will always enjoy his cigarette. Enjoying it doesn't make it a good thing. I choose to not drive simply because I finally admitted that car culture is out of hand and that I can personally do something about it. It is as simple as that. I smoked cigarettes for a little while, but gave up smoking when I was 21 and said to myself - "You can give up smoking anytime, but whatever you do with your life after this, giving up smoking HAS to come first - the other stuff can wait until after you do that." And it is amazing how following through on that one decision can change your whole outlook. Good things just seem to flow from a good decision like that. I was able to get fit again, lose weight, get along better with healthy non-smoking people etc etc. I feel the same way now about driving. Once you take that plunge that you know you really probably should, it can really be quite liberating and literally change your world for the better. I find that I meet more locals and bump into friends more often when walking or cycling. I get to work in a better mood. I feel better and healthier. It would be great if lots of other people gave up driving too, but I understand that not everyone will or can do that - not just now anyway.

I would probably give up beef steaks too if I could, but I can't - not yet.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Just the Tikit


If you are interested in folding bicycles - you really should take a look at this. Even if you aren'T you should watch this anyway. This thing is incredible. Folded size looks a touch larger than the Brompton, but manageable. I wonder how it handles when riding...

Cycletech-IKD will probably get a model in at some stage I don't doubt. [looks like they have a test model here already now: SEE HERE]

Probably not a fast touring bike, but for commuting it could be awesome.


Found an interesting little story about the history of suburbia and car use in the United States here:

Not surprisingly, the author appears to be from Oregon - Eugene or Portland.

Also found this book: "Sprawl Kills" one of a growing number of books chronicling the chronic problems with the runaway culture of cars and sprawl around the world.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Convenient Truths

How is this for a great idea? Treehugger online is running a competition for best video about some easy ways to do something about the climate problem.

Treehugger has been around for a while. I have always thought that Treehugger was a bit overly consumerist (in a "buy this wind up torch! buy that dinky solar powered electric toothbrush and you can save yourself when the end of the world comes! "... kind of way).

But this video competition actually is a really cool idea. And it is great fun watching the entries. Check them out.

The Beautiful Streets of Beja

Carfree times has a new edition out online, with some pictures of the beautiful streets of Beja. Imagine streets like this in your home town.

Quiet, clean, safe = happy, friendly and sustainable. Details here:

And these are just two lane streets - imagine what you could do with a four or six lane road.

Motor Show Sabotage

Any takers for doing this at the next Tokyo Motor Show? The balloons say "60 meters by car makes this much CO2"
Even better - get some young ladies to help hand out the protest flyers and balloons to all the oogling geeks who only come to take photos of the girls in miniskirts pimping the vehicles at the show. Fight fire with fire.

Friday, March 09, 2007

New Yorkers Demand Safe Streets

New Yorkers are sick and tired of deadly streets. Last Sunday over a hundred rallied at City Hall to demand a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan. I wonder how many people in Tokyo would do this kind of thing. I imagine you could get thousands of people outside the department of transport, or the mayors office.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ski slopes, a car-free refuge?

There is a ski slope in Japan called Gala Yuzawa which is probably fairly unique in the world. In most places in the world, skiing means driving. Whether you drive, or take a ride with someone else, or take a bus, driving is regarded as pretty much the only way to get out to a slope. At Gala Yuzawa however, the gondola lift is linked directly to a shinkansen (bullet train) station, which puts it just a little over one hour from Tokyo station. How cool is that!? How respectable is that! Read a book, have a sandwich on the train on your way up, get off, rent your gear, get changed, gondola straight up the slope before breakfast you are on powder snow high up in the mountains. There is even a spa resort connected to the station, so you can clean up and relax before the train home in the afternoon - again relax, read a book or eat your dinner during the short (and safer) trip back home.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece about skiing in China, and noted that one of the great attractions of skiing to people everywhere around the world is the peace and quiet and clean air. It is a pity that people don't realize that our city streets could also be as quiet as this if we just changed the way we thought about things.

Friday, March 02, 2007

State of the Union

Each year, the Department of Environment and Conservation in NSW Australia releases a report entitled "Who Cares About the Environment in 200X". The 2006 report, HERE, shows a huge increase in awareness and concern about environmental issues. For example, about 90% of people say they are concerned about the environment (makes you wonder about the other 10% though).

But how about this one - more than 75% of people could not even distinguish between the ozone hole problem and global warming. Frankly, I find it hard to believe that 75% of Australians have their heads so far up their #$%%s... or then again maybe... (just kidding!)

Even still, 85% of people think that government and industry are not doing enough to combat environmental issues. There's a mandate for change if ever there was one.

The High Cost of Free Parking

It always blows me away to see the amount of precious space that cars are allowed to take up in Japan's crowded cities. Well, it looks like I am not the only one who thinks that on-street car parking is just "not on" :

Obviously not many people in Japan likely to be able to attend this event, but interesting to see the high profile that this issue is reaching in the US.