- 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.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

53 Miles Per Burrito

Interesting little article linked above - a reminder of the efficiency of different forms of transportation. Makes you wonder why many roads are effectively designed to make life difficult for cyclists.

Norway Considers Ban on Gasoline Automobiles

The fact that Norway, the world's 6th largest oil producer is seriously considering banning automobiles run on fossil fuels from 2015, should be a wake up call for Japan.

This sort of pressure is only going to get stronger so as one of the world's primary automobile producing countries, Japan really needs to pay attention. The writing is on the wall.

It also goes to show that even countries with a large stake in the old "dirty" economy need not hold back from striving to become leaders in the new green economy. As usual it takes a combination of legislation, popular/consumer support, and innovation.

In Japan the popular support definitely exists, as does the corporate innovation. All we need now is politicians and bureaucrats who can take the necessary legislative and regulatory steps.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Liquidity Crisis or Solvency Crisis ?

The auto industry is where the argument that this crisis is one of liquidity alone breaks down. Increasingly, people are discovering that even with tens of billions of dollars in money from the US federal government, the auto industry is just not viable. Why? Because citizens (aka "consumers") are turning away from automobiles and in particular automobiles made by failed automobile companies.

Liquidity crisis it may also be, but ultimately it is the solvency of such companies as GM and Chrysler, together with the many outer-suburban sprawl related real estate industries (and the banks that supported them and lent to them) which is in question here.

We can only hope they all are liquidated before more money is wasted trying to sustain a failed business model, so that the government can spend its money productively helping to build the new, sustainable green economy rather than propping up old mistakes from a former era when the automobile industry was King.

Does that sound radical? Perhaps, but it might also be said that there are two kinds of radical ideas in the world: the kind that would take us on a path which diverges significantly from that which we have followed to date (for better or for worse); and the kind which diverges significantly from the generally accepted practices or beliefs of the population.

If you read the next post here about Norway considering a ban on fossil fuel burning automobiles from 2015, you will note that these ideas is increasingly only radical in the former sense - that it marks a departure from previous behaviour, but with increasingly strong popular and legislative support.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pedaling for the planet - Join the Danish Ambassador in Historic Ride

News photo
Wheel time: Franz-Michael S. Mellbin, the Danish Ambassador to Japan, on one of his twice-weekly early-morning bicycle rides. "In Denmark," he says, "people would be probably more impressed if you say, `I bike 20 km to work every day' than to say, `I've got this nice Mercedes and I go to work in this every day.' " TOMOKO OTAKE

Pedaling for the planet FULL ARTICLE HERE

Join Denmark's ambassador on a cycling tour he's hosting in Japan to mark a climate-change meet back home.

For more information about the COP15 cycling events, call the Japan Cycling Association at (03) 6229-2715 or the Danish Embassy at (03) 3496-3001, or visit

Great video interview by NHK (in English) HERE

There will be nine consecutive stages around Japan from Sapporo to Kyoto with kick off in Tokyo on 23 May. A 10th stage will take place in Copenhagen, where messages on climate change collected from people taking part in the stages in Japan will be handed over to the prime minister of Denmark, the co-chair of COP-15. More information about the events in the enclosed flyer and on the Embassy’s homepage:

This on the top page of Reuters. Yahoo. Sounds like we are finally getting somewhere - and we are not going by car!


America's road hogs veer off freeway 6:00am ET

Car ownership and the serendipitous pleasure of the highway have been a celebrated part of American life. But several signposts suggest America's love of driving is stalling. Full Article

"serendipitous pleasure of the highway" is a bit too poetic a description for the horror of the highway, but there were a few choice quotes in this article:

> "I see people cutting back who don't even need to cut back."
Duh. It is called a fundamental shift in consumption patterns.

>"It was as if people had started a new travel behavior, a new habit," Miller said. "And they have stuck with their habit."
Yup. Get used to it. Auto advertising dollars are like water on a ducks back these days.

>"We were road hogs," said John Townsend, spokesman for the American Automobile Association's mid Atlantic club.
Spoken like a true recovering alcoholic. Damn right you were.

>Some warn the American consumer will revert to old habits if the economy roars back.
If the full power of the money set aside by the US federal government for rail networks, transit and other sustainable transport initiaves is allowed to flower into real "brick and mortar" new public transport and transit systems to support the car-free lifestyles that people are so very clearly wanting, then there is very little chance that America will go back to its bad old ways. And if it does, we are all screwed. China, India and others will be watching very carefully.

>Americans also have started to embrace car sharing. Zipcar, the world's largest car-sharing company that rents cars by the hour or day, saw its membership soar 50.3 percent in the past 12 months.
>Zipcar chief executive Scott Griffith said he sees a major shift in philosophy that could stay in place for a long time.
>He said his firm's surveys show people take 46 percent more public transit trips, 26 percent more walking trips and about 10 percent more bicycling trips after joining Zipcar.
>"To me what their understanding is, I can live a more sustainable life and also save a lot of money by changing my behavior in some ways -- like using car sharing and driving less in total," Griffith said.

Go Zipcar. These are big numbers. More evidence of this change in behavior. The credit crunch may yet be seen as the financial world simultaneously realizing the need to abandon a model of economic growth that had previously supported the US economy for several generations - suburban sprawl. Their reasons for abandoning this model were not altruistic of course. The smarter (and richer) of the financial wizards simply noticed that Americans themselves were slowly but resolutely abandoning that model themselves and that the returns from propping it up and frothing it up were becoming progressively thinner. Hurray for people power. Bring it on.

Funny though, how the options people have affect behaviour in different countries.
The article says "America's road hogs veer off freeway, hop on bus" but I suspect they only use the bus because there are very few real lifestyle-friendly, car-free options in the United States comparable to the compact cities of the old world where kids can walk to school and people use trains and bicycles. 70+ years of auto infrastructure and urban sprawl means the only non-automobile option is a bus, a poor substitute for true sustainable living, but I suspect that it is only an intermediate trend until the infrastructure can be put in place so that people can really enjoy the fruits of car-free life.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Make the most of new transportation opportunities

Make the most of new transportation opportunities

After years of pushing all-for-the-auto policies, the government is now serious about supporting alternative ways of getting around

For decades, the federal government would fund 90 percent of an freeway project and much less—if anything at all—of a subway, light rail or commuter train line. That changed the face of America, as highways were slashed through the heart of vital communities, breaking their spirit and hastening the exodus of people to far-flung suburbs. In the same period, hardly any federal or state money went toward expanding trains and other alternatives to the automobile. From the end of World War II to the opening of the Bay Area’s BART transit system in 1972, only a few miles of subway lines were added nationally, compared to tens of thousands of miles of interstates and other highways. That gross imbalance may well have affected the growth and character of your neighborhood.

See full PPS article HERE.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Systemic Issues

If ever there was a time that best showed that lack of automobile safety was a systemic issue rather than one of "just a few bad apples" - it is during the Easter break. 3300 drivers caught speeding - and the holiday only just started today!!

Queensland Tilt Train Cancelled Due to Safety Concerns

The Story Here in the Courier Mail. Pretty pathetic really. If only the Australians and Americans could learn from the Japanese. A bit of railway technology transfer could go a hell of a long way...

End of America's Love Affair with the "Exburbs"

Wow. Even Reuters is cottoning on - very thoughtful piece here on the massive change in American attitudes to suburbia. Watch this space. This really is a paradigm shift that has hit the tipping point.

Pity Japan's government is still flogging the dead horse of automobile-centric life. You'd think they would have cottoned on by now. The irony is that in such a small, old-world country with great public transport they have fantastic examples of how great it can be, yet still choose to build more freeways to nowhere despite an aging population.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Call it quits while you are ahead (in less deep?)

Bligh, Queensland's State Premier may be "confident of tunnel project future" according to this article on the ABC regarding the rediculous Brisbane airport road tunnel project, and this sounds a little like government support for more pork-barrel automobile infrastructure (and verbally it is), but the reality is that these are just the sound of politicians placating fat old relics of a soon-to-be bygone era - the auto era. What matters is that the government appears staunchly opposed to committing any public funds - which is as it should be. Thank goodness. It seems that real change really can happen and is happening.

Incidentally, has anyone else heard the rumour that the owners of Brisbane airport intentionally made the airport rail link station as inconvenient as possible, in order to make car parking the most convenient because they could take parking fees from drivers but not from people doing the right thing and using public transport? I would not suggest that anyone could be possible of such money-grubbing, dirty profit-maximising behaviour but the fact does remain that the rail link to BNE airport is intollerably inconvenient by international standards.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

There is no such thing as an "environment-friendly car"

This just in on Reuters - in the Environment section, no less:

Hyundai to go ahead with eco cars 12:49am EDT

GOYANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Hyundai Motor Group, the world's No. 5 automaker, will go ahead with plans to develop environment-friendly cars despite the segment's low profitability and an industry downturn, a senior executive said on Thursday. Full Article

****If these people think that developing and selling cars that don't run on gasoline is going to solve all of the many problems caused by automobiles, they are in for a bit of a shock. Let's hope we do not go down that route at all, but face up to the fact that the problem is a systemic one, and the solution must be a fundamental paradigm shift away from the automobile model towards the European/Asian one of higher density urban areas, "un-suburbanization" and more and better public transport.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Faking Places

This funny "April Fool's Day" (or is it...) piece from the folks at Project for Public Spaces:

US Transportation System Revealed to be Giant Ponzi Scheme

Inline Image Much of the wealth invested in the US transportation system has disappeared into a giant pothole. Recent events have revealed that Americans have been paying into a system of transportation that has been creating wealth on paper, but when communities move to withdraw from their investment, they find only that they are in worse shape than they were before .Based on performance measures for climate, congestion, energy security, land consumption and public health, most Americans would have been better off stuffing their transportation money into a pillow.

By Ethan Kent

Read More »

Human Powered Forklift

This link just in from the World Carfree Network mailing list, is a link to a tidy looking little human powered forklift. Very neat - and made in Japan.

I did a quick search online and found what I think is the manufacturer here. Click on the photo to get a pdf catalogue. Another site showing the forklift here lists the price at 200,000 yen. Quite a steal if you think that the operating cost is basically zero. And here is one more advantage - you don't need a licence to operate it.