- 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, July 28, 2007

"Individualized Public Transport"

I have mentioned the Paris Velib plan before, but reading about the program a little more I am really impressed. 20,000 bikes at thousands of "stations" around the city. For a nominal membership fee you can take one of the bikes and ride anywhere for free up to 30 minutes and return the bicycle to any of the ubiquitous stations. Over 30min there is a sliding scale of charges, encouraging users to park the bicycles at one of the provided stations rather than locking it directly in front of your destination where others cannot use it. This really is a smart system. It truly is "individual public transport" - public transport but with the freedom to go where you like. It is incredible to think that these bicycles get used 7 to 15 times a day on average. Not only are they an environmentally friendly method of transport - they are shared and well used! How fantastic is that? A really, really smart system.

And the idea of first 30min free then sliding scale after that is also really smart. When you have your own bike you tend to want to take it everywhere you go - because if you park it somewhere you are going to have to go back and get it at some stage. This system - with its extensive network of stations, eliminates that altogether - so not only does it encourage cycling, but it encourages walking also, as you won't want to go over the 30min limit so will take first opportunity to park at a station near your destination and walk the rest of the way - and even better, you don't have to come back that way, you can just continue on and pick up another velib somewhere else if you want to. Amazing system. A real boost to the civic good. I am not at all surprised to discover that a few of the big global financial institutions are buying into Paris CBD real estate in a big way. If this project does reduce auto traffic even a little, it will make Paris cleaner, quieter, safer, healthier and more pleasant. This will reduce pressure on the environment and allow Paris to grow its "sustainable economy" - rather than the unsustainable components of growth. Economists often forget that not all GDP growth is "good" - particularly those at the World Bank who have tended to sponsor the creation of extensive highway networks in the Third World. Sure it creates "economic growth" but in the final analysis, this form of GDP growth is more ikin to a cancerous growth than anything else. It grows to be sure, but to the detriment of the host - potentially leading to death unless "cut out".

Paris auto club representatives have said that this project does not impact the need for cars because cars are used for long distance travel. Well, sure cars are indespensible for freight, delivery and long distance trips particularly where there is no rail network, but the fact of the matter is the overwhelming majority of miles driven are local city trips of less than a few miles - and a portion of that is just cruising to find a car park! If people have a good alternative like this Velib system then it will reduce road congestion and then existing roads should be more than adequate for the remaining cars. This means less public money is required for expensive tunnels and bypass roadworks. In the meantime it will make Parisiens fitter, healthier and happier, reducing the public health burden. You cannot get a much better public outcome than this.

I really hope Ishihara siezes on this as a theme for his new bid for a Tokyo Olympics. This would surely win the hearts of Olympic officials and Tokyo residents alike, and perhaps begin to make amends for the endless raised motorways that were blasted through this city in the 1960's in the name of GDP growth and the previous Tokyo Olympics. This will go some little way towards restoring the almost forgotten reputation of this city as "Venice of the East".


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bridges and Cycling

Speaking of bridges - here is one place where bicycles were not forgotten. Must remember to try this route one day. Shimanami Kaido is a network of bridges connecting the main island of Honshu to Shikoku Island. Details here: