- 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.

Friday, November 13, 2009

China Dust Clouds

China's dust clouds have been getting some attention around the world of late. To be honest I am a little afraid for Japan on this account, due to proximity. The dust can noticably impare air quality as far away as Tokyo, and it seems the effects are felt elsewhere also - in fact, just about everywhere.

A Japanese study using a NASA satellite has apparently found that one 2007 storm in China's Taklimakan desert made "made more than one full circle around the globe in just 13 days" according to this Reuters article.

A frightening thought and yet another reminder that there can be no shirking from dealing with the effects of global environmental damage, of which climate change is really just one element. Americans, Canadians and Europeans can no longer export the environmental impact of their consumption to China and the developing world without facing the consequences directly.

On a side note, I notice that the article also quotes the researchers as saying that "Dust clouds contain 5 percent iron, that is important for the ocean." It has been said that iron in the ocean can increase absorbtion of carbon dioxide, reducing the impact of global warming. Ironically (pun intended) this means that the dust storms - perhaps themselves partly a consenquence of global warming as well as urbanization and bad land use practices, may also be mitigating the impact of CO2 emissions elsewhere.

An interesting thought, and really in line with the somehow comforting Gaia concept of an essentially self-regulating Earth environment - including living and non-living elements. That is, until you imagine life with lots of big dust storms like this and realize that this particular "self-regulation technique" does not a nice living environment make for us humans...cough cough

Driven to Distraction

This is old news now, but very noteworthy. A July 21, 2009 article in the New York Times revealed that the U.S. government withheld important data on risks of distracted driving, stating:

"In 2003, researchers at a federal agency proposed a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to assess the safety risk posed by cellphone use behind the wheel. They sought the study based on evidence that such multitasking was a serious and growing threat on America’s roadways.

But such an ambitious study never happened. And the researchers’ agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, decided not to make public hundreds of pages of research and warnings about the use of phones by drivers — in part, officials say, because of concerns about angering Congress."

The article includes statements by the likes of the former head of the highway safety agency who is quoted in the article as saying he was urged to withhold the research to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who had warned the agency to stick to its mission of gathering safety data but not to lobby states.

Fortunately the research data has since been released and in case you weren't convinced of the danger, the article notes also that "The highway safety researchers estimated that cellphone use by drivers caused around 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents over all in 2002."

This article, and in fact there is now a whole series on the topic on the NYT website, to me really shows the importance of public opinion in shaping public policy. Congress can be bought out, and at times that can be extremely detrimental to the nation, but it can only go so far if the public opinion turns against them.

I sometimes wonder if the US would not be a very different place if there were all of a sudden no automobile advertising, which incidentally stood at something like US$10 billion or more in 2008. Good use of public bailout money that is... car companies start to fail because we realize we just don't really want life with cars so much any more, then govt steps in and bails them out so they can keep pitching cars that we don't want to us.

Stats and views from the USA

I did say I would try to focus more on Japan, but I found some very thoughtful comentary on US automobile dystopia by an investment analyst on a Seeking Alpha blog "The Ramifications of Growing Global Gas Guzzlers" and thought I would share.

Many interesting stats and insights from the US Department of Energy's Transportation Energy Data Book. He also hits the issue on the nose by pointing out that while the US is now (slowly)starting to head in the right direction, we need to be (very) worried about global car ownership.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blog Intro

Introducing another interesting little blog: The Sexify Blog *in Seoul*. The owner of the blog posted a comment here a long time ago, but I didn't follow up. Perhaps it was the peculiar title. However it is actually an entertaining and well organized blog - related to all things urban cycling, by a British person based in Seoul, with some good commentary and a few interesting links.