- 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, June 17, 2009

Compressed Air Car

This is a Reuters video about a compressed air car being developed for the European market in the near future. Nice idea, and a damned sight better than what we have now.

A few notes:

1) Sceptics quoted in the video note that it "does not meet modern automobile safety standards". What these people do not realize is that this is not a normal automobile. It is a complete rethink of the car. In other words, at low speeds "modern safety standards" are complete overkill. The more speeds are reduced, the more such "standards" can be relaxed. Why would anyone want to relax standards? One simple reason - less weight. Lower weight drastically reduces the energy input required. The incumbent motor industry realizes this, therefore pushes the "modern" auto safety standards line as hard as they can, because high-speed crash "standards" means greater weight, which means higher energy input levels are required. On that playing field oil/gasoline wins (if we ignore the myriad problems associated with it).

2) OK so let's consider the compressed air car as a people mover (ignoring for a moment that it is fairly clear the long term goal should be just re-development of our cities around walking, cycling and public transport). OK, so this thing runs on air and does not spew out pollutants. That's good. It is also lighter, which means it consumes less energy - good again for environment. Hopefully it is also inherently slower - because given its lower weight, it will need to be slower for safety reasons. This not only protects the occupants of the vehicle, but everyone else around. Assuming there will be more pedestrians around in the coming post-auto era, this is definitely a good thing.

However, we must ask one question... "Where does the compressed air come from?" Even if we give these guys the benefit of the doubt and assume that they have also developed solar powered compressors to provide the air that charges these cars, there is another question: "Where are the compressors and solar panels created...?" Are they also created and transported with renewable energy?

This reminds one yet again of the KISS principle, and the simple beauty of just making cities walkable again. Most of us have legs - so let's use them, eh?

God only knows, at current obesity rates, most of us could use a good walk...

(Austin Powers as "Fat Bastard")

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