Cars News and Reviews The Car of the Future Comes to Singapore- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

Singapore seems to be a city-state of transportation legends: its trains are state of the art and run on time. More than that: they are free for early-bird commuters - in fact, better than free: if you come in before 7.45am your zero fare comes with a breakfast voucher.

This all makes sense if you consider Singapore's equally legendary commercial spirit: because nothing wastes time and money as traffic congestion. This is why Singapore has a strict cap on the number of personal cars.

But still they have congestion. So now they are considering the idea of inviting a new kind of legend onto their streets: the driverless car.

I've said it before: in my ideal future, there will still be cars on the road. Fewer than now. I may have the use of any of them, but none of them are mine: I will be done with car ownership.

Quite possibly I - and myriad commuters - will also be done with traffic congestion, because if every car were driverless that takes away the need for traffic lights and other traffic control devices that avoid accidents but do slow traffic down.

Singapore has already done a successful on-campus demonstration a driverless Mitsubishi i-MIEV electric car, developed in a collaboration between the National University of Singapore and MIT.

Driverless Car Demo, NUS-MIT

In 2015 Singapore will test driverless cars in real-life traffic. The pilot will be much like an Uber service, only there are no drivers involved. This was announced by Lam Wee Shann, director of the futures division for Singapore’s Ministry of Transport. The "futures division"!

Why wait for the future if you can shape it?



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Cars News and Reviews Bicycle Lanes in Cambridge- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

It's been quite some time since the fare was a quarter. But wandering the old haunts in Cambridge MA over Thanksgiving, I was pleased to find that the Number 1 bus still plies its route over Massachusetts Avenue, between Dudley Station and Harvard Square. The buses have been updated, and the fare column is now equiped with an RFID reader for the CharlieCard that gets you access to Boston's public transport network.

But what is new on Mass Ave is the bike lane that goes both sides along its length. It's still only a lane, marked off with mere paint. But it's there.

You can look at a bird's eye view - OK, it's a google satellite image, so it's marked with the various features, like the bus stop, and the greyed mark designating the road - but you can see what happened: Where there used to be two car lanes each way, going in front of 77 Mass Ave, there are now still two lanes headed toward Harvard Square, but only a single lane headed toward Boston. The space that used to be occupied by the fourth lane has been divvied up between the two bicycle lanes.

I can't help wondering how much doing it took to put in that change. Certainly bike lanes are now all over Cambridge. And even though they are still only lanes, it's still a welcome change for the better.

And while the bike lanes are still between the traffic and the parked cars, who knows, maybe this town will some day see proper bike paths where they belong, between the parked cars and the sidewalk.



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Cars News and Reviews The Diesel to Electric Transition- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

Diesel engines pack a roaring fuel efficiency. Modern diesel engines, with a turbocharger at the front end and scrubbers at the tail end, pack much higher efficiency than gasoline engines, and are much cleaner than diesel-powered trucks of the past. But are they clean enough?

While modern diesel engines, both for personal and commercial vehicles, no longer spew out a cloud of black smoke wherever they go, they are not entirely "clean". The biggest problem is the small particles in their exhaust, that cause health issues in the lungs. The small particle (or PM2.5) pollution is much reduced with the use of "clean" diesel with very low sulfur content.

But where the sulfur content is high (China, India, Brazil outside the big cities) the use of diesel can still lead to severe smog and extreme particulate pollution. And even where the diesel fuel contains ultra-low concentrations of sulfur (US, Europe), very high densities of diesel vehicles can still cause problems.

In its drive to reduce carbon emissions, European countries have long opted to encourage the use of diesel engines, boosting the already high efficiency inherent in the engines themselves, with significant reductions in the fuel tax. In a way, it is a policy that works towards climate justice by taking on the immediate health risk of diesel fuel use by the home population, while the reduced carbon emissions benefit the planet as a whole (the European fuel efficiency standard is well ahead of the American one).

But supporting diesel has health implications. Because diesel engines last forever, older cars that don't have the scrubbers and particulate filters are still on the road and still cause high levels of small-particle pollution even with the cleaner diesel. Beside the particulate matter, nitrogen oxides (NOx) can be a problem. Despite good public transport options, the rise of the private car has been relentless; add that to the very high density urban environments found throughout Europe, and you have a real urban health problem.

(To put this in perspective: the current situation in European cities is still far better than how it was in the 70s and 80s when European cities frankly stank of exhaust fumes out of all those cars merrily doing their combusting without any filters or scrubbers. Ugh).

Many large European cities have declared themselves Low Emission Zones (LEZs) where older diesel vehicles are banned, and most personal cars as well. While this is of course the real long-term solution (most of these LEZs have excellent public transport), several European countries are now moving away from favouring diesel fuel as well.

France, where after three decades of pro-diesel policy nearly 80% of all cars run on diesel, is now doing an about-face, with the prime minister, Manuel Valls, making the stunning pronouncement that France's support of diesel fuel has been a "mistake". Starting January 2015, France will phase out the subsidies on diesel taxes, which currently makes diesel 20% less expensive than unleaded gasoline. (In comparison, American gas stations charge about 15% more for diesel than for regular unleaded)

I hope they put some of that extra revenue into public transport improvements. At any rate, there are plans for enlarging LEZ areas, and giving perks live free centre-city parking to very low emissions vehicles such as EVs.The steep hike in diesel prices will be softened by a bonus of up to € 10,000 if you trade in your diesel car for an electric one.

It is likely that the UK will soon go the same way on diesel cars: a European court has ordered it to clean up the air in its cities, where NOx from not-so-clean diesel has reached unacceptably high levels. I would think it is quicker and cheaper to clean up the supply of diesel to it has the same ultra-low sulfur content as the rest of Europe.

A few decades ago, it made sense for European governments to favour the new generation of diesel cars that deliver the much-reduced carbon emissions. But now that European carmakers are in good position to start selling electric cars, it is time for this transition. Although I repeat, in the long run they should encourage the transition away from the personal car altogether.

Carmakers will probably start selling more diesel models in the US now that the European market is shrinking. It wouldn't be the first time that they put their latest technology into the more demanding European market, introducing it to the US with a few years' time lag.

And that's actually okay. The US is a much better place for diesel cars for several reasons: Most Americans still live in suburbs and small towns where the pollution from diesel cars is not a critical issue; in rural areas the particulate pollution overwhelmingly comes from dust from unpaved roads. Even in the cities, except for a very few, urban densities are much lower than in European cities. And Americans drive more, so the higher purchase price for a diesel car is offset by the lower cost to run it, as well as the longer lifetime. Adding more diesel cars to the nation's fleet would help significantly lower carbon emissions from transportation.

Living in a small town in the US, I am going to keep driving my diesel car without worrying about its particulate emissions. I wouldn't encourage CelloPlayer to stand in its exhaust, but I wouldn't do that with any car. Its 45 mpg highway mileage still beats most cars. Meanwhile, I'm doing my bit to get proper bike paths and other infrastructure that allows the real transition we need. And I'm waiting for the EV that makes my heart beat.



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Cars News and Reviews Making Carbon Dioxide Visible- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

"If only you could see carbon dioxide," is the sigh often heard from climate activists. If carbon dioxide were not an odourless invisible gas, we would have started to curtail its emissions long ago. It is unfortunate that something so dangerous goes undetected by our human senses.

But what if you could see carbon dioxide? What if it had a colour, say pink, and you can watch pink clouds billowing out of factory stacks, chimneys and tail pipes? Gregg Kleiner has imagined just such a world in his children's book "Please don't paint our planet pink", that visualises the problem and - pardon the pun - paints a solution. (Book review by ClimateMama here).

Laurel Thompson's illustrations for this book may seem whimsical, but they are in fact close to reality. Compare them to footage from the makers of the movie "Racing Extinction" (out in 2015), who have enabled their cameras to "see" carbon dioxide by putting the right filter in front of the lens. Here is a taste of what that looks like:

(2 mins) via Upworthy

In this video footage, the carbon dioxide appears as white clouds coming out of smoke stacks and tail pipes, and breathed out by people. As the producers say, it's scary to see how it's everywhere, since everything we do involves burning fossil fuels.

And, zooming out from the breath of a single human, an ultra-high resolution computer model from NASA shows the carbon dioxide produced on the surface of the earth and subsequently dispersed throughout the atmosphere by the various air streams of the global weather patterns.

It compresses one calendar year into a mesmerizing 3-minute watch: you can see the plants come into leaf, then re-releasing their carbon throughout the seasons. Very high concentrations of CO2 are visible as enormous red plumes covering industrial areas in the United States, Europe and South China.

NASA | A Year in the Life of Earth's CO2

But unfortunately, in too many places on earth you don't need a lively imagination, special filters or satellite data crunched by supercomputers to see the carbon dioxide. In regions where coal and high-sulfur diesel are the main sources of energy, all you have to do is look at the nearest smoke stack of the tail pipe of a passing truck: Their carbon dioxide emission is marked by the small particles that are also in the exhaust stream.

Please save the PLANET

Photo by Vijay Chennupati

While factory stacks can be taken as signs of progress in developing countries, their particulate pollution also brings smog, lung health issues, and shortened life spans. It is no wonder that pressure is mounting in China to move their economy to cleaner sources of energy. And it is quite possible that India will follow that same path, for the same reason: you can cut down on carbon pollution and significantly improve public health at the same time.

And that would be a real gain, not a whimsical children's tale.



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