- 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.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Velomobile in Japan

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

Deutsche Bank: Oil at $150 a barrel by 2010

Carfree USA and World Carfree Network are excited by WSJ article on DB's forecast of potentially severe constraints on supply in the very near term. What does it mean? Well, it is not good news for China and India, Russia and Eastern Europe. Much of the growth in the forecast oil demand is due to increasing motor vehicle use in these countries. They have invested a vast fortune in automobile infrastructure, equipment and tooling, and just as they are starting to enjoy this new "economy" they are discovering that it is one that is not sustainable in any way. These countries have a momentum to their automobile economies and will likely continue growing "on the automobile's back". This is bad news for anyone working for the environmental department in China or India, as the wave of international investment in their auto industries threatens just about everything they wish to protect. But perhaps oil at $150 will start to turn this around, and fortunately for them, they are not as far down the road to autopia as the West, so the transition to post-auto economy will not be as painful. Not quite so for the West.

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.

50,000 heart deaths/yr caused by traffic noise

Close to half of all Europeans are regularly exposed to traffic noise levels that are potentially dangerous to health, a new study has found. See news report HERE.

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

No More Pork !

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

Great Carbon Offset Spoof

These guys have already been mentioned in British Parliament, so maybe I am the only one who hasn't heard of them, but wow, what a fantastic spoof of carbon offset schemes. And it addresses an important and overlooked issue with carbon offsetting and trading - the human behaviour element. How is it likely to make people behave? Probably something like this:

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

Trek child trailer on sale in Japan

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.