Monday, December 29, 2008
Yesterday I was riding a JR train, and in front of me was a map of the JR lines. To pass the time, I counted how many lines there were and was amazed to find that there are no less than thirty six (36) different Japan Rail train lines in the Tokyo area. Now that is just the lines owned and operated by East Japan Rail. After switching to the subway for the last leg of my return journey home, I counted the subways. There are also fourteen (14) subway lines (private and public) that crisscross Tokyo. Now that is a round FIFTY (50) DIFFERENT TRAIN LINES in just the Tokyo area! Next time when I have a LONG train ride I might even count the number of stations, but at a very conservative 15 stations per line that is no less than 750 train stations just in Tokyo. Absolutely incredible!
Now Tokyo has its own transport problems - not least of them being the fact that it actually lets motor vehicles into the city for free despite all this public trasport, that it does not have any bicycle sharing program and that people are brought up to give cars right of way everywhere and in every situation. But despite all of this, public transport in Tokyo wins hands down on both convenience and cost - not to mention all the knock-on improvements in individual health and sense of community that use of public transport bring at a societal level.
All this made me think just how much infrastructure development work other cities around the world have ahead of them if they really want to improve public transport to a level that makes it compete favorably on convenience. New York, Sydney, London - man, oh man you guys have a LOT of work to do.
Is this what government was created for? To encourage people to shop more?
No. I have no doubt that, in the long term, the credit crisis will be a good thing for society - or it would be if the governments of the world could just accept it rather than try to prop up the status quo with free money for banks and automobile companies so that they can keep doing what they have been doing, and what we now are coming to realize was probably the wrong thing.
In the USA, Obama seems to have realized that while Keynsian infrastructure spending may be necessary to avert a "car crash" in the economy, this money must be spent in ways that will transform US cities from auto-culture to networks of walkable communities. This is a none to easy task given the cumulative effect of about 80 years of money and effort already spent on developing auto-culture and the sprawl, pollution and waste that goes along with it. This article from Reuters highlights the fact that the fight is still far from won.
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is striving to revolutionize infrastructure through a proposed stimulus that may reach $1 trillion. States, however, seem to have other plans. Missouri, Utah and other states are planning to use the federal funds on highways rather than the environmentally friendly mass transit and rail lines that Obama envisions. Bloomberg (24 Dec.)
National governments now understand what needs to be done. Local governments mostly understand what needs to be done. This fight needs now to be taken to State governments as it appears this is perhaps the last stronghold of those dreaming of a return to the failed pork-barrel auto-dream of last century.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I have not verified this yet, but I recently heard on the radio that in order for a highway to carry the same capacity of people at the same speed into town as a regular commuter train line, it would need to be 60 lanes wide. Even if I misheard and it was only 20 we are talking many times if not orders of magnitude greater efficiency by rail than by car. It is simply that efficiency which makes it more friendly to the environment than the automobile.
Must try to look into that line a bit further. It is a compelling one.
Monday, December 22, 2008
There is a lot at stake and the signs are not good. From the front page of Reuters today, just a week after the auto bailout, these stories:
Post Bailout Chrysler Still at Risk
Commercial Property Seeks Bailout Aid
Jeez, and people say they don't understand GenX or GenY ! The boomers seem to want to have their cake and eat it - and if there are any consequenses, they should be held off at all cost until the boomers are long gone. That seems to be the attitude.
At least Obama seems to be saying the right thing - promote the shift to a greener economy ASAP. I just hope it does not end up like the promises of so many NSW state premiers for so many rail and subway networks for Sydney that have never materialized despite billions spent on new roads and tunnels in the meantime.
ps - another article along a similar vein here on Reuters: Fed Unleashes Greatest Bubble of All
Sunday, December 21, 2008
I started this blog a few years ago as a celebration of our family life without cars (despite having two small children), but recently with all the auto industry news around the world it has become something of a political commentary on the dangers of giving in to pork barrel support for sunset industries.
So I thought I would post this to get me back on track and remind myself, and readers of just why it is that we are so against cars in the first place. And of all the reasons, this is perhaps the most personal - your own health.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Nasa researchers have shown that the highly publicised controls on auto traffic and other pollutants during the Beijing Olympics really did have a significant impact - reducing NO2 by as much as half. Some had argued that the controls had had no impact - but clearly they did, and thanks to NASA for showing us that. Here is the news from the NASA site itself.
But look at this image closely. Hmmm. One small area of China gone from red to green for just one month, while the other red areas are so big... pollution really is a major issue for China... and neighboring Japan... and the USA, where the wind blows....
And of course, pollution is just half the problem with automobiles...
Thanks to Eureka Alert for this one.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
That is, until you think of these things:
1) Once you already have a road network, you don't need ANOTHER one, even if people are driving more. We already know that nearly a third of all the land space in US cities is already allocated to automobiles. What are you going to do - make more space for them? Oh yea, that's what we are doing with the billion dollar cross city tunnels we are building. No - building more roads because people are driving more and the roads are getting blocked is like a doctor saying that a patient with high blood pressure just needs more veins to carry blood - by that logic he'd pretty soon be all veins and nothing else because the underlying condition is not treated. No, what we could really do with is a different kind of network - a proper rail network or a pedestrian roads network, as it has been shown that the only reason that a lot of people drive at all is because there IS no other option. And I am not talking about railway networks that will just carry coal to the coast - which seems to be the biggest rail item on the recently announced Australian infrastructure spending plan.
2) Secondly, just because "Highway System Mileage" has not gone up does not mean that we have not built more roads. If you measured "Highway System Mileage" by miles of lanes rather than miles of roads, then the line would probably look steeper than the other line showing total miles driven. In other words the graph is a complete illusion. Roads and highways in the US have swollen to rediculous proportions like the cancerous growths that they are - so much so that experts seem to agree that adding new lanes actually does not alleviate traffic problems - it has become part of The Traffic Problem. And the new infrastructure - bridges and tunnels etc., that have been built to accomodate those new lanes have cost the nation a FORTUNE. And of course the more such infrastructure is built, the more needs to be spent on maintenance.
To be fair, the thrust of the Economist article seems to be that just such lasting metro rail and other infrastructure should be built in that the US and that it should be paid for by an increased gasoline levy, which would have the added positive effect of discouraging discretionary driving even further.
But at first glance, that is not what the picture says.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Even if they manage to retool, any hybrid or EV market that develops will be a far cry from the scale of current auto markets, because people have discovered that automobile society itself is not ideal. It does not matter what kind of automobile, the just won't sell like they used to. This graph shows that clearly.
And thank God for that. Many people have been praying and hoping for the demise of Automobile society for a very long time. It looks as though they may be heard.
The Australian - 11 hours ago
KEVIN Rudd has urged the nation's pensioners and families to "go out and spend the money" as the first wave of his cash handout plan to avert a recession hits bank accounts from today.
Spend bonus now ABC Online
Aussie PM pushes Christmas splurge with welfare bonuses USA Today
Sydney Morning Herald - The Canberra Times - Sky News Australia - The Age
all 97 news articles »
This story really reads from the plot of The Story of Stuff, a fast-paced 20minute clip looking at the underbelly of our consumption-driven economy.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
NEWS.com.au - 3 hours ago
By staff writers THE Government has struck a $2 billion deal to prevent the financial collapse of the car sales industry. Car dealers facing closure as a result of the global financial crisis will now be underwritten by a Government debt guarantee, ...
Car dealers get a $2b bail-out Sydney Morning Herald
Car dealers welcome $2b lifeline Ninemsn
Forbes - ABC Online - CNNMoney.com - Adelaidenow
all 47 news articles »
The Australian government seems convinced that it needs to support the automobile industry in order to maintain the capability to build vehicles in Australia at all. They are probably right. Australia is a small market and it costs money to maintain such large factories there. But why spend 5 billion dollars supporting a foreign owned auto industry in the country, and then another two billion supporting foreign owned dealers? Chances are probably quite high that a lot of this will flow out of the country - or at the very least it will save head office from having to support them themselves.
No - if the goal of the federal government really was to support and maintain a local auto industry, why on earth did they not wait until these companies - Ford and GM primarily, announce they are going to pull out, as they probably would have to without local Australian government support, and THEN step in with a local buyer, pick up the assets at or below replacement cost and Bob's your uncle, you have a locally owned industry - albeit smaller scale than it was before for obvious reasons.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Individual investors who bought SmartNotes from GMAC Financial Services are being left out of a plan by the General Motors financing unit to exchange cash, preferred shares or new debt for existing debt held by institutional investors. In the event of a bankruptcy, retail investors could end up with nothing, analysts said. Bloomberg (01 Dec.)
Putting this another way, not only does GMAC want taxpayers to foot the bill and rescue them when they have finally got themselves stuck in a hole with bad auto-loans after years of massive profits from shafting high priced loans on unsuspecting car buyers with doubtful credit, NOW they want to shaft individual investors who bought the company's debt in favour of their institutional lenders. So if you are a US taxpayer and one of these individual investors in GMAC debt you would get doubly shafted if the bailout were be passed - and if you happened to also be a borrower of one of their auto-loans, you're triple shafted. That's a hattrick. If there was a prize for shocking ethics, surely they would win it.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
This article from the Japan Times quotes a 39-year low for auto sales in Japan. All of a sudden people are realizing they don't need new cars, and maybe cars aren't so cool anyway after all.
This auto-slump is similar to the sub-prime mortgage crisis in many ways. For years the auto industry - in cahoots with credit card operators and others in the finance industry have contrived to convince the population that they NEED to buy the latest coolest sexiest extension of their personalities (on credit...). But just like the shiny new hovel in a deadpan suburban outpost miles and miles from the city with no public transport, people eventually realized that the dream they were sold is more of a nightmare - the financial and emotional burden of the debt combined with the un-fulfilled promise of a better life that a sterile suburban existence cannot ever provide.
Time for a little reality folks.
But the interesting thing here is that reality doesn't have to be all that painful. In fact it might actually be pleasant and preferable to our overly hedonistic existence of recent years (decades?). More emphasis on building walkable, livable communities (not "suburbs") has to be a good thing. Ride a bike, lose weight, meet and greet the neighbors on the way to school and work. Frugality can be surprisingly fulfilling.
No. You have to give them credit for persistence, but hang in there senators. Don't give in to the threats. There is a better way. For example, liquidate and help the workers and communities as they find new occupations and develop new - sustainable economies.
Because, as well all now know (and probably have known or suspected for the last 40 years or more) auto-society is not sustainable. It is not even desirable.
Even Devine, the condominium builder in far off Queensland Australia has realized that the new future is one of localized, mixed-use, walkable, safe, quiet, socially strong communities with good public transport. And that is one where the cars are mostly left in a big ugly building in the corner of the site and only used occassionally.
There is a very limited future for any auto maker - US or Japanese or otherwise, in this world. The price of oil may be down, but Hummers are just as un-cool as they have become lately. This will not change - even if the advertising (taxpayer funded or otherwise) continues.
Monday, December 01, 2008
This has to be about the most beautiful anyone anywhere could possibly make highways look. Does this look like a place fit for human habitat? The automobile is all about getting from A to B and in-between be damned. Does anyone else also get the feeling that everywhere is becoming that "in-between" these days, and that "A"s and "B"s are few and far between?
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Let's think about this for a second. No-one wants to lend to auto finance companies because car prices and sales are falling rapidly, defaults are rising, and their business is dwindling away.
So because no-one in their right mind would invest in such companies, they cannot access credit. If they cannot access credit they cannot offer credit to car buyers. Doesn't sound like such a bad thing at all really. Do Americans really need to drive three trillion miles a year? And aren't Americans in too much debt anyway? Do most Americans really need to buy that new car right now? The consensus - even in the US itself, seems to be that it is time to ween ourselves off this addiction. More, it seems clear that feeding the addiction will only make the situation worse.
But the government is running scared. If they do fall prey to these threats, and step in to allow these particular companies to access the Fed's commercial paper program, indeed by allowing them to become banks (if they are in fact allowed to do so - I fail to believe that Congress could permit this), the government is effectively bailing out the investors and lenders who have enjoyed wonderful returns for the past or so decade. offering money to these companies so that these auto finance companies can continue to lend money to people with bad credit to buy new vehicles that will fall in value so that they can continue to satiate their addiction to automobile lifestyles - environment be damned, energy security be damned, everything else be damned.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Who hasn't been inspired by these roads with high canopies of tree cover? Cars need wide roads preferably open for visibility at high speed. Everyone else however, enjoys a good canopy cover. This provides fantastic protection from sun, wind and also light rain - not to mention inspiring awe and wonder. Narrower streets are best for good canopy cover.
It is surprisingly easy to make a regular road livable and friendly. A few nice big planter boxes in the middle of the road is all it takes. This road is still accessible by car - but no longer a through road. There is also a special access for emergency vehicles. All of a sudden the stinking noisy screeching dangerous inner city roadside becomes a peaceful oasis - it is itself a part of the park.
Bollards have the same effect. A few of these bollards are removable to allow emergency vehicle through access as necessary (but chained so they cannot be taken far). Locals quickly put them back in place to stop regular traffic (because they have come to value life without high speed through traffic - gasoline-powered, electric or otherwise).
And who said that all roads need to be wide enough for vehicles? Why not have some roads that are just tracks - short cuts wide enough for pedestrians and bicycles. Cars must go around. This encourages people to get out of their comfort zone (lazy zone?) and walk, jog or ride.
In the West, road builders assume that pedestrians are there simply for pleasure, and therefore tend not to make (non-motor) paths straight. Pedestrian-only streets should be reasonably direct particularly if in busy areas - but on side areas it is not impossible to play a little with the design.
Just think - in the West you can drive a car from your street across the entire country with barely a bump in the road. Imagine if there was a similar network of car-free streets where the entire design goal was the efficiency and convenience of non-vehicular traffic. Why is it that pedestrians must "cross" a street? If we thought about it a bit, it could quite conceivably be the other way around - where the pedestrian has a straight and flat, unbroken path which automobiles must "cross" (and wait to do so). Design can assist in facilitating this perception in many ways other than these above, just as it is used now in the West to create the perception that roads "belong" to automobiles. But a picture is worth a thousand words, so hopefully these pictures will give people an idea of the incredible "traffic-calming" potential of these design features.
Incidentally, all of these streets are in inner city Tokyo.
Deeply disturbing issues are explored mercilessly by Michael Watts in this beautifully written and thoughtful but starkly confronting piece on the CNN website - HERE.
I will not add any quotes because I think you should sit down for a minute or two and ponder all of what he has to say.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Sounds like a lot, huh? That is, until you see this graph...
and see just how bad things have become in just the past 25 years. I found this graph, created by the DOT Federal Highway Administration in a Treehugger article. Just in case you can't see the image so well, this graph tracks annual vehicle miles travelled in the USA, counted in the BILLIONS of miles, and shows the change in miles driven since 1983. Americans in 2007 drove some 3 trillion miles. OK, so it is a fairly steep dip right up there in the top right of the graph - that is promising. But if you look at where we are coming off from... WOW. This trend of the last few months might have to continue for 20 years or more before we come back to the levels we had then. Nevertheless, a return to the levels of even 2 or 3 years ago would probably indicate a fairly major shift in lifestyles and attitudes. There is an old saying in finance that "the trend is your friend, until the end." Well this may be the end of the trend that has been friendly to the US auto/sprawl related industry investor, and the beginnings of a new trend that is friendly to a new type of investor - the green investor, the new urban citizens and the farming community. Indeed, many an investor has already bet the farm that this will be the new trend for the forseeable future in the United States.
China, India, South America and Russia/Eastern Europe have become the new battleground - where the old forces of oil/auto/coal/sprawl/consumerism have already taken their investment dollars.
Nov. 15, 2008 UPDATE - AUGUST DATA HERE
This strong new trend in US driving (or lack of driving) patterns continues, despite falls in gasoline prices, with total miles driven in August 2008 now 15 billion miles lower than the same month in 2007. Cumulatively this year, Americans have driven over 67 BILLION miles less in 2008 than the same period of 2007. This is a reduction in driving the likes of which the USA has never seen before. Sounds like a lot huh... and yet... again... it is just a drop in the ocean when you look at this graph of what we have done to the country in recent decades. Attitudes towards driving are changing, and fast, but it will take more than this before any real progress is made.
Friday, November 14, 2008
change, and sounded out action ideas such as creating new
eco-quarters, developing new forms of mobility and limiting urban
Simply reducing tailpipe emissions by switching to some other form of propulsion is not enough. If we are to really get sustainable we need better urban planning. And whether you want it or not, governments around the world are getting serious about it.
And yet, the government has its detractors on this policy and there are more than a few. Here is one scathing piece:
The author is right to attack a rediculous bail-out, but wrong to think that electric cars are the answer. I would wager that no new technology is going to fill the gap that is about to be rent open by Gen X and Y forsaking automobiles. Walkable built environments are the answer, not automobiles, electric or otherwise. GenX and GenY know it already, and the oldies are beginning to cotton on also despite having for generations seen car and suburban house as the God-given fruits of life in the New World, are getting the picture.
We don't need to spend money redesigning our cars - we need to spend money redesigning our ROADS so that we don't NEED cars so much.
Faced with hardening opposition from President George W. Bush and Republican members of Congress, Democratic leaders said it is unlikely that they would get a bailout for automakers passed in the upcoming lame-duck session. They are increasingly accepting the possibility that a rescue for the Detroit Three, along with economic-stimulus measures targeted to middle-class families and workers, would have to wait until the inauguration President-elect Barack Obama. The New York Times (13 Nov.)
Why is it that politicians seem do the right thing when they have nothing to lose?
...on the other hand, Obama has a lot to lose (political support from auto workers). He probably does not need their support really, but has the boy from Chicago already sold out? -
Faced with warnings that General Motors is on the verge of bankruptcy -- a shock that would echo through the entire U.S. economy -- President-elect Barack Obama is asking Congress for $50 billion to rescue the auto industry. Obama's plan includes creation of a czar or supervisory board to oversee the rescue. To have any chance of passage, said people familiar with the matter, the measure would need the support of President George W. Bush, who has opposed the idea of giving government money to automakers Bloomberg (13 Nov.)
Some say GM bankruptcy preferable to bailout: Some experts said a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by General Motors might be better for the company and the nation than a government bailout that is gaining support in Washington. They said the money might do nothing more than put off a transformation that GM must go through to become a profitable, competitive company again. One activist investor said he would rather see the money used to help GM workers and train them for new jobs. The New York Times (12 Nov.)
Well, heck - if even shareholders are saying that it should be allowed to go bankrupt, who are we to argue?
Let the company fail, and support the workers in retraining for new jobs. Now you're talking sense.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
That's three to one. I dare the Democrats to try. They will regret it. But lets look at this level-headedly here -there is no reason to support an industry that has had plenty of opportunity to change since they saw the writing on the wall in the 70's but they didn't for one reason or other (selling cars and SUVs was making so much money!). Well now they are paying the price. And if people don't want as many cars anymore, there's no point paying the companies to keep making them just like they were 5 years ago. We must simply accept that there will be consolidation and pain in the industry and let's do what we can to help the workers find something else to do. And the sooner the better. Build trains. The Japanese do it. The French do it. The Chinese do it. Why can't Americans? Build roads and towns that are walkable and don't even need driving. Imagine if your 10yr old kids could walk or ride a bike to school without you having to worry for their life. Imagine if you could walk to schools, shops, pools, tennis, library, doctors etc without having to get in your car everytime. Instead of being wide, open high-speed rivers of steel, exposed to the elements, imagine if most roads in the city were narrow tree-lined lanes with a canopy of tree cover, to protect pedestrians from the wind, sun and all but the hardest rain.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Well, Altman, would you like me to suggest where you stick your cars that nobody wants any more...?
Friday, October 31, 2008
Let em fry.
Listen to this quote from Reuters HERE
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, told reporters that quick loans were needed for the industry to get through the next six to 12 months.
"The bottom line is that all three automakers need some liquidity, some assistance with cash and they need it right now," Granholm said.
"The alternative is worse," Granholm said. "The alternative is the industry doesn't have access to funds and we lose a company or two. We don't want to do that."*****************
Well DUH, if there are too many cars around, and too many car companies making things that nobody wants any more, then YEA OF COURSE you are going to lose a company or two. THAT IS THE FREE MARKET. Or don't you like the free market so much any more? Hmmm. Want us to prop up a company that makes things we don't want any more, just because it keeps people employed and the wheels of the economy turning? Now you are starting to sound like a cold-war socialist. Fat chance. Listen, either we have socialism where the people can share in the profits to society from advances in productivity, or we have capitalism where companies that don't make things people want are allowed to fail. Attempting to socialize the costs and privatize the profits is a recipe for a mighty angry citizenry.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Yet more evidence that air pollution from traffic (automobile traffic that is...) is damaging our health. Read the BBC report HERE.
"Air pollution from traffic hinders the heart's ability to conduct electrical signals, a study has suggested." and
"Our advice to heart patients is to avoid prolonged exposure to high levels of air pollution." he says. Like where on earth can we get away from air pollution from automobiles? There isn't one decent sized city anywhere that has taken on the challenge of restricting automobiles.
Friday, August 08, 2008
Car driver crashes through a boom gate, get's hit by train, and they blame it on the train? Strange place.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
ABC Online - 1 hour ago
Part of the link between the Ring Road and the Eastern Freeway will be built underground. (ABC NEWS) The Victorian Government has confirmed it will spend $6 billion connecting Melbourne's Metropolitan Ring Road to the Eastern Freeway.
$6 billion road project will connect Melbourne Melbourne Herald Sun
Brumby's $40bn plan to get Victoria moving The Age
NEWS.com.au - The Age - Melbourne Herald Sun
all 26 news articles »
Monday, June 30, 2008
What is missing from this picture? I don't see either the ABC or the honourable Minister reflecting at all on WHY these people are in emergency rooms in the first place. If we want to reduce this state of emergency, then we need to change our very way of life. We don't need a war on terror, we need a WAR ON TRAFFIC.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
But wWow. I may have been criticizing it for years, but I never thought I would see American society forsake the "American Way of Life" so quickly, en mass. Talk about a "tipping point!"
Some quotes :
"High energy prices are undermining the American way of life itself, such as it is. As colleague Byron King explains, below, we've spent the last 100 years building the wrong kind of world. Now, many Americans are doomed to live in the ruins of a civilisation that no longer works."
"Like it or not, Americans are being forced to park their cars. This spring, they cut back on their driving at a sharper pace than anytime since 1942. But it's hard to stop driving when you live far from work and far from shops."
""Prices in outer suburbs will get clobbered," concludes economist Mark Zandi."
"And it will get worse before it gets better. To be perfectly blunt, it might not even get better. Over the next year, and into the foreseeable future, in the developed world people will go broke buying motor-fuel, heating oil and natural gas. (Wait until next winter... Sweet Jeeeezus!) In the less-developed world, people will go broke buying bread. And then the poorest amongst us will starve. Any way you look at it, it's bad for business.
"Fast-rising energy prices are decapitalizing entire nations. Energy prices are destroying wealth faster than people can re-create it. Entire segments of the world economy have hit the iceberg and are filling with cold seawater. Some industries are becoming obsolete in a matter of months. Much of the airline industry is drowning in red ink before our eyes - almost every flight in the sky is losing money, no matter how much they charge to check your suitcase or how few peanuts they put in the small package.
"And down on the ground, most motor transport is just plain uneconomic any more... 'Dead Rigs Driving.' Farewell to the 'Warehouse on Wheels.' Sic Semper Globalisation.
"Large swaths of the auto & truck building industry have become capital-wastelands. For example, GM is closing SUV factories and planning to ditch the Hummer brand. This cascades down to firms that make everything that goes into a set of gas-guzzling wheels. You name it: hot-coiled strip, axles & tires, wire bundles, paints & coatings, window glass and seatbelts, and so much more. Billions of dollars worth of past investment is just gone...bye-bye, poof! And the good-jobs-at- good-wages? History."
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Oh man. This is pretty impressive. Thanks to freep for this. Chrysler Chairman Bob Nardelli is quoted here as saying that this is "the lowest sales level in 16 years" and "indicates a significant and continued softening of the U.S. automotive market." No s##t Sherlock! And IRN Inc., ("The Source for Automotive and Industrial Intelligence") is quoted as saying that if the annualized rate of 12.5 million sales continues for long, it would be "Armageddon. Doomsday." Hyperbole to be sure, but a fundamental shift in attitudes is already running hot and the economy will follow - probably down for the time being as inventories run up of things people no longer want (cars) and industry frantically retools to provide the things that they do want - the tools and infrastructure of "New Urbanism" - so much more than just switching to selling hybrid or even electric cars, this is all about trains, transit, smaller more efficient homes in convenient, walkable towns that are safe and mostly free of speeding, stinking, dangerous vehicles and instead serviced by safe, efficient, cheap and convenient transit, where they can get to know the neighbors better because the kids play together in the park out the front where the highway used to be etc etc - what has been dubbed "New Urbanism" this newfound love of urbanity comes as much out of growing respect for the surrounding natural environment as it does out of desire for convenience and society.
As you may have noticed, I abhor car culture and everything it does to ruin our cities, communities and environment, and yet even still, I find this graph catching me quite shocked. Don't get me wrong. It is nothing to get too excited about yet. This isn't Armageddon or doomsday - hell, they are still selling over 10 MILLION NEW VEHICLES A YEAR and that's just in the USA, so Americans still have not yet kicked old habits of cars and sprawl, not by a long shot. But mark my words, attitudes are changing fast, and if this does continue it really will show that American society as a whole has finally woken up to the reality of the necessity for substantive change NOW to the way people's lifestyles there are designed.
It will be interesting to see if the Canadians and Australians (buoyed by mining) will follow suit. America could actually really get a leg up on other such new world countries by using the current crisis as the impetus to really rewire their cities for better efficiency PPS style, while these other countries power on with coal and oil, and sprawl and waste just because they can afford it...for now...
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I wonder if the WSJ has been found PPS lately. It really is all about the streets and public places - not about the home castle. I've never felt all that cramped even living in a small Japanese shoebox - because my home is much more than the dwelling I live in, it is the town around me - the shops, restaurants, library, public hall, park, shrine, children's playground, coffee shop, university etc etc. My house is just a place to sleep and clean and get a bit of private time. Most of the real fun takes place outside - on the streets. But of course, you cannot have a chat with the neighbors while watching your children play soccer in the street if (like in the USA, Australia, Canada etc) your streets are sterile places reserved for speeding vehicles.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
I am certainly very encouraged to see this kind of thinking in the Wall Street Journal, that bastion of the world of finance which until so recently supported everything automobile. It might be worth keeping these points in mind before pushing Governments for tax relief. Sure, there are plenty in finance who still do promote the automobile industry and culture - they just support it in China, India, Brazil, Russia and Eastern Europe now rather than in their own back yards. But America likes to throw its weight around, so once we have America convinced that auto-society is not the way to go, then I have a feeling we will be making some very good progress.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
Monday, May 26, 2008
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Thanks to The Aesthetic Elevator for that one. It's probably only 20minutes from my home but I have never seen nor heard of it.
Frankly I think good old on-street parking is pretty good (get rid of a few on-street car parking spaces and you could make a few thousand bicycle parking spots in a flash), but this sort of thing looks like just the ticket for a big train station like this.
Incidentally, this link from "TAE" is also a cracker - a short video presentation by James Kunstler at TED.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
In this post, I am going to add items from the news which give examples of these fundamental issues. I will keep coming back to it as I find news clippings. First, safety.
If you ever thought that an auto-society could be safe if only we could all just drive carefully, the following will bring you out of that dream. These few articles will give pretty irrefutable proof (as if you really needed any) that automobile society will never be a safe society.
- Careless drivers
Triple drink-driver behind bars and One dead in police pursuit crash
The sheer volume of stories like this highlight the fact that there will always be careless drivers who do not care much for their own life and safety, and therefore are prepared to put everybody else's lives at risk along with their own. As long as the system permits this, streets will never be safe for children and elderly. These two stories that speak for themselves, but for each of these stories there are literally thousands more like them. We need protection for non-driving road users. This can be done in many ways - more car free streets, better transit, traffic calming, wide flat unobstructed pavements protected by solid concrete bollards between road and shoulder on all roads with auto traffic. It could also be done by creating car-free urban residential communities with a single car-park and almost no vehicular traffic within. You can bet your bottom dollar that whatever the solution, it will be people friendly, not car-friendly.
- Elderly drivers:
Driver, 78, jailed for road death.
Auto-society begets auto-dependence. This leads older people to cling to their cars when they should not. Everyone gets old and many people get too sick to drive, but no-one wants to lose independence. In non-auto societies of Europe and Asia, the elderly live longer largely because they have more independence and mobility into very old age. The very design of walkable towns and cities allows the elderly to remain a part of the community well into old age - walking to shops, doctors and family - the social and psychological benefits are just as important as the physical fitness. No wonder Westerners die young by comparison. In a society where you need a car to buy milk, go to the bank, or the doctor, having a licence revoked is almost equivalent to receiving a "death row" sentence as we are shunted off to a "retirement home" to await death with a gaggle of other death-row strangers. The gentleman in this story is at least contrite. It could have been much worse for him, but it is still a horrible outcome for all involved. And as Western societies age, this issue will only get worse. The worse it gets, the more we realize the limits of automobile society.
- Automobiles as Weapons
Duo Deliberately Crash 4WD into Hospital Ward
Driver deliberately crashes into 50 cyclists, ends Olympic cyclists' bid
As long as automobiles are: (1) big and heavy, (2) able to go fast, and (3) freely controlled by the driver, they can and will be used as weapons to one extent or another. Whether it is cutting a bit too close to another road user just to "scare them a bit", or deliberately crashing a 4WD into a hospital ward, the ability to cause great physical damage, injury and death to others is the same. This story highlights a design flaw with the auto-society.
- Sprawl leads to crime
$100K offered for clues to hit and run incident
Auto-society leads to sprawling cities and towns - we all know that. But what many do not realise is that sprawl also leads to crime. When there are many dark roads with few pedestrians and no eyewitnesses to see what goes on - people get away with crimes that they would not get away with if the city had remained more dense. In more dense "old world" cities, there are always many eyes to make sure that people don't give in to the criminal urge in the first place, and help catch them if they do.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
It certainly looks the part. About the only review I have seen online by someone who has actually ridden the thing is here: Bakfiets en Moor, and by the sounds of it he is someone would know. Unfortunately the review is not good. The concept is very enticing, but as is often the case in the world of cycling - simple may be the very best.
Another interesting blog here about another city in the world that emphasises non-motor transportation - Copenhagenize. Can you imagine - the mayor for traffic and environment has proposed that on days when pollution is above recommended levels, traffic lights stay red a little longer - drivers would be text messaged in the morning in advance to give those who are able to the option to chose another mode of getting to work. That's great. If time is money then this is pure Capitalism. And who was the smart person who put the transportation and environment porfolios together in the first place? What a fantastic idea!
Friday, April 11, 2008
The Tokyo police had announced last year that they were going to begin to sting cyclists for behaviour such as riding with two children, front and back - something that apparently is actually an unenforced no-no.
Well, would you believe, the public reaction was so strong that the police have announced that they will not after all start issuing fines for such behavior. Instead they have requested bicycle makers to make bicycles that are safer for young children. The news has been all over the talk back and TV news.
I think this is a wonderful outcome, and strongly suspect that the police had this in mind from the outset, but simply wished to use it to force a public safety awareness campaign. And by the looks of it, that is exactly what they got. Nothing more, nothing less. Fantastic. A typically Japanese approach to a public issue. I wish the police would use the same force with driver safety issues. But then, perhaps they realize that "driver safety" is something of an oxymoron.
All the same, my wife and I do not use standard Japanese "Mama-chari" (ママチャリ) with our kids. We bought a trailer that can be pulled by a bicycle (子供乗せトレーラー), ours is a Chariot). That way even if the parent slips and the bike falls over, the children are still sitting pretty in the back (yelling nonchallantly "Mum! What are you doing up there?!") There are many other options also, the most practical of which is probably the beautiful Bakfiets Cargobike which has a low centre of gravity(低い重心), so that a tumble is far less likely to hurt anyone than a mama-chari, and also has a rain cover for the children. As the kids get a little older, I find they enjoy riding on my Xtracycle, and the concept is more or less the same but without the rain protection.
Anyhow, there is quite a bit of talk on TV and radio etc about finding the perfect bicycle for families... if you hear such talk, please let them know that such options already exist in the form of the Chariot and the Xtracycle and the Cargobike and others.
Monday, March 10, 2008
I came across the website of a guy in Japan who is really getting into his Velomobile. Lots of posts about other interesting bikes and human powered vehicles - all in Japanese too for those of you who prefer. There is also a piece about the Kuroneko Yamato delivery guys who now have vast fleets of e-bikes with whopping great trailers to deliver their stuff. I have not yet uploaded my pictures of them, so here is his:
Incidentally, speaking of Kuroneko Yamato delivery guys, there is a famous running race near Tokyo called the Ohyama Tozan race, a fabulous race for mountain goats young and old that takes you from the train station up through quaint shopping malls perched on the mountainside and up through shrines, further and further up until your lungs almost explode to finish and enjoy the view and a big bowl of tonjiru and a green tea under the eaves of a shrine. This year it seems there was a whole team of Kuroneko Yamato guys doing the race - in their uniforms, caps and all. Darn fast too by all accounts. One thing about these hill climbs - every ounce of extra fat is a major liability.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
What does $150 oil mean for the USA? Well, aside from the profits to the few US oil companies with reserves this isn't going to be pretty. Gasoline price rises will squeeze US drivers just as US consumers are being hit with inflation elsewhere and a falling dollar as it is hard to see how the Fed slashing rates to mitigate sub-prime fallout will not fuel inflation and a further falling dollar, and yet despite this banks, to shore up balance sheets, will pocket most of the gains from the rate cuts and borrowing costs will rise anyway. So drivers, consumers and borrowers in the US are probably going to be particularly hurt. There will surely be some collateral damage in the corporate sector also, particularly highly leveraged industries as the credit squeeze begins to hit overly geared businesses just as overly leveraged consumers are forced to cut back spending.
Will anyone in the USA gain from all this? Well, quite possibly, just maybe the US citizen will be better off in the long run. It is quite possible that this could be the tipping point for Americans - a decoupling of Americans from their automobiles, and automobiles from the American dream. As the average Joe begins to have trouble affording their car or the gasoline to power them, as it becomes fashionable to not drive, as average citizen begins to recognize the myriad of environmental hazards automobiles cause coming to a head world-wide as Chinese and Russians begin to drive cars en-mass and cause all the same environmental problems as Americans did for 50 years but on a scale that will have global ramifications (including the yellow sands that actually already blow over into the United States). As this happens, I actually think that average Joe American citizen just might "get it" by then and decide that the automobile lifestyle is just not the way to go about things in the 21st century. One or two American automobile companies might even go bankrupt, as several seem destined to do - and the American public might even just let them go this time, with niether the political stomach or the cash for any kind of public taxpayer bailout. For after all, that is the capitalist system is it not? Live and let die. If Americans no longer want as many cars, the automakers' resources should be put to better use doing something else. If they aren't, the companies will fail, and be forced to find a better use of their resources (or the resources themselves will have to find a better use of themselves...). In any case, while once the automobile was seen as the symbol of potency and all that is great about America, I have a feeling that in the 21st century Americans could become their biggest detractors.
By then will they be able to save China and India from choking themselves to death by asphyxiation on the ghost of an old American dream that no longer exists, and the rampant "growth" and the suburban sprawl and waste and corruption that inevitably come with it? I don't know. It might be a close call. It is certainly ironic that the very people who arguably started this whole crazy oil-fueled half-century of drive-by environmental disaster might be the ones who come to rescue us all from it at the 11-th hour, but Americans have an uncanny knack for timing. And Japan will go along, because instinctively, the Japanese knew all along that it wasn't a Good Idea in the first place.
I might add that the Japanese took noise pollution seriously back in the seventies with the development of the Shinkansen high speed "bullet train" lines, and now environmental quality standards for shinkansen railway noise are among the strictest in the world. Too bad the government counter this by spending some 5,000,000,000 yen each year building roads that have a constant stream of vehicles spewing noise and so much else besides.
Monday, March 03, 2008
What does this graph represent? It represents the percentage of people, according to a survey by TV Asahi, who support the current Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda's cabinet plan to spend 59,000,000,000,000 Yen on roads over the next ten years. 17% support the plan vs 65% do NOT support the plan. Is this a mandate for change or WHAT?
So what DO people want? Well you can be pretty damn sure they don't just want cheaper gasoline either. What people want are bold solutions from government that will provide real lifestyle improvement, not just a shot in the arm to "growth" because people are driving cars more.
I saw a news piece recently about a local train line North of Tokyo. The line was on the verge of being closed permanently. The news report talked of the aging population and yes of people driving more these days. Well, if the government is spending 59,000,000,000,000 Yen every ten years on roads, then OF COURSE people are going to drive cars more. Is this a Good Thing? No, of course not - and 65% of people instinctively recognize this.
Recently the "yellow sands" (黄砂) have been very bad in Tokyo also. Last weekend it looked like a thunderstorm was approaching, but it was just a yellow dust, blown over from China. Chinese desertification is expanding by the rate of minutes per hectare. Tests show that the yellow sands blow over as far as North America, and collect all sorts of pollution along the way from Chinese coal power plants, Korean industry and Japanese automobiles. It is a disgusting haze that looks like a yellow fog, but leaves a foul dust on and through everything, and gets in your eyes and mouth.
I am surprised that Japan does not try to do more to help China deal with its environmental problems, because if we don't, these problems are most likely to spill over (they already are). But then I fear that Japan may have already sold out - we are largely a nation of auto makers. They used to be only for export to America where they raped the countryside there, but gradually thanks to budgets like 59,000,000,000,000 Yen on roads every 10 years, Japan is also in danger of becoming a gas-guzzing nation ruled by impatient, horn-blowing, self-centered, egotistical, serial dangerous-drivers also. Our biggest banks give huge loans to automakers to build auto factories in the very neighboring countries that we should be trying to help save from this fate - but all we are doing is help rape them just like this country was and continues to be raped in the name of "economic growth".
Wow. I am glad I got that off my chest...
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Check out their website here. Check out the "Our Projects" page. It's a riot. And you can just see people doing these kinds of calculations with their driving and flying in a carbon offset context also.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
I found this by chance on the website of Cycle Yoshida. The Trek Child trailer (トレック チャイルドトレーラー 「デラックス ゴーバッグ」) was not available in Japan before as far as I know (or I might have bought one). We have never tried it, so don't ask me details but it looks quite nice, and being a Trek I have no doubt that it is very well designed and built. The price is reasonable for a quality trailer. It has great space and good weight capacity. It looks pretty cool too.
If I were looking at this for ourselves I would be asking whether there is a rain cover included or available, and perhaps whether the trailer itself can fold, as this can be handy if not always necessary.
Anyhow, well done Trek and to Cycle Yoshida for making high quality trailers available in Japan. It is high time Japanese families had some quality options available. I personally have a lot of respect for the good old "mama-chari" and "Jitsuyosha" but it is about time a few deluxe options to coax more families out of their automobiles.
Friday, February 29, 2008
Interesting little TV news clip here about the BIG DUMMY+Xtracycle taking off in the USA. Big Dummy is a bike developed by Surely specifically for the Xtracycle. Interesting also that the Surely guys did not mention anything about Xtracycle, who were the ones who actually designed the concept in the first place. Maybe that is because they don't want you to know that the big dummy is actually not really necessary. You can put the Xtracycle on just about any old bike you like. That's what I do and it works a treat, and a damn sight cheaper, and you can import/export more easily by buying the bike locally and attaching the Xtracycle to it. Anyhow, nice to see that it's becoming more popular. Xtracycle are out of stock again, so it must be selling like crazy.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
But as we all know, the Japanese lost their War on Traffic, utterly and completely. There were many reasons for the failure of common sense. The Korean and Vietnam wars had contributed to the huge growth in Japan's automobile industry, which then brought huge political power to bear on the automobile side. Memory of the oil shock faded, and gasoline prices gradually subsided. Efforts by the IMF and World Bank to promote automobile use with massive loans for highway building (a.k.a. "infrastructure") were beginning to have traction among the public - automobile sales grew rapidly, and with it more political power. The massive highway building in the leadup to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was a major coup for the roads lobby in this sense. And the American way of life (i.e. automobile + sprawl) still held an irresistible allure.
Traffic planning and traffic calming efforts on the other hand were piece meal, tended to play around the edges of the real issue, and by the 1980's were completely hijacked by the very people that they were intending to control - people who loved cars. Eventually all road works and traffic had one primary goal - the fast and efficient flow of automobile traffic.
Low gasoline prices in the 1990's, combined with growing power of the auto-makers as their share of the economy grew really consolidated the position of the 道路族 roads lobby. Most of all, the tsunami of Keynsian fiscal stimulus directed at road building through the 1990's completely cemented the automobile's position in Japanese Society - particularly in the countryside. Much of the road building in the 1990's was in country towns which had until then largely escaped from the disease of sprawl that was afflicting the major cities. Bypasses, high speed national roads combined with sprawling suburban construction were rampant. Pressure from China and elsewhere in agriculture, and low worldwide prices for primary produce pushed down the price of agricultural land, which was already depressed from the bursting of the real estate bubble in '89 - '90. These factors combined to push Japan headlong into rampant urban sprawl that continues today with the creation of local and foreign big box retailers on the suburban outskirts of town, still chasing an American dream that even the Americans have already begun to wake from. 15 years ago in Japan it would have been entirely feasible to get by with a bicycle and the train because everything you wanted was concentrated around the station in the centre of town. These days, things are not so simple, even in small country cities. The town centre may have everything you NEED, but if you want the cheapest or hippest items, you need to go to various big box shops scattered all over the city. Japan's consumption of oil, coal and other items continued to rise.
So Japan lost it's "War on Traffic", and the "rebels" are today few and far between and not well organized. I cannot help but hope that the increasing awareness of global warming, the fact that building roads as a fiscal stimulus is now regarded as having been a big mistake, the growing 車離れ and the amazing success of initiatives such as the Velib model will stimulate people to start a new fundamental debate again in Japan about the kind of lifestyle people want and whether the automobile is going to play a big part in that or not.
In China, by contrast - the War on Traffic is in full pitched battle right now. Stories like THIS ONE from NPR in the US highlight the real fight that is going on. I see a similar story to Japan's - auto money is starting to talk. An Olympics in Beijing has become a lever to push through the construction of massive highway systems. Trains that are built, go to the airport. Local governments in some cities have even banned electric bicycles for whatever reason they can get away with - knowing that more money will flow (for the time being) if they promote automobiles (and culture and lifestyle be damned). It is clear that the Chinese populace has not given up the fight. In another report, students at a University appear to have vented their collective anger at a driver, destroying the car completely and even flipping it over. Here is the story from the other camp. You would have to be blind not to see that this event shows the utter frustration and anger towards automobiles and the friction between the two camps. I hope the Chinese authorities take it as a sign, because if the Chinese continue to attack the issue by playing around the edges the way the Japanese did in their own War on Traffic, the Chinese will slowly move to the auto camp, and the Chinese will cease to be citizens and become another docile bunch of homogenous consumers just like the rest of us in the "developed" world.