Cars News and Reviews Mark your calendar for People's Climate March 2015- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

The date is 29 November, 2015. It's a Sunday. Mark your calendars.

This is the day of the 2015 People's Climate March, the day before the COP21 climate talks start in Paris.

Here is our chance to tell world leaders that we care about our planet's climate, that we need it to remain livable, for us, for our children, for all who come after us, and for all creatures with whom we share this blue marble.

400,000 people walked in last year's Climate March. We stunned the world. In New York, so many people showed up that there was literally no end to the march: the organisers had to cancel the closing ceremonies because there was no time, and no space, for all of us to attend it.

The 2015 People's Climate March can be bigger than that.

As the newsfeed curator at Global Warming Fact of the Day (replicated in my Twitter stream), I have seen the effects of that Climate March. It has brought a change of heart to many people. It has made many come out in favour of climate action. We're not talking environmental activists on the fringe, we're talking about the CEOs of major companies, religious leaders like the Pope, whose recent encyclical, Laudato Sí, emphasizes the moral aspects of climate change. We're talking about the mayors of the world's major cities, who are taking measures to protect their cities.

Sunday, 29 November 2015 is when you and I can show we stand with them, with each other, and with the planet. You don't have to come to Paris: marches will be held all over the world. Please plan to come to one. Bring your children, your parents, your friends. If you have the wherewithal, help organise one.

Here is Ricken Patel's open invitation to join the march.

You can sign up at Avaaz' site here.



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Cars News and Reviews Urban Design and Traffic- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

My kinswoman Danielle (I like her too much to think of her as my step-grandniece twice removed), knowing my interest in sustainable transportation, loaned me one of the books she used for the urban design studies which she recently completed.

I took it home and, as often happens with loaned books, spent a few days admiring the cover photo, and the heft of the book.

Then one day last week, I actually opened it. It hasn't let me go since. The very first random page I landed on had diagrams of residential neighbourhoods showing the layout of homes and roads, specifically designed so that there was a safe route to school from nearly each home, requiring at most one or two road crossings.

The shocking thing about this was that this concept was an eye-opener to me. Why should it be? Of course residential neighbourhoods should have safe routes for kids to go to the places they visit most often: school, the library, the pool and so on. This makes so much sense.

But in my town on the US east coast, school buses serve children who live more tham two miles away from school; the ones who live closer by are expected to get to school on their own.We have crossing guards (lots of them, one at each intersection) but there are no car-free routes. There are not even bike paths; the town has sharrows, but none on the streets around schools. As a result, many parents drive their kids to school, causing traffic jams and lots of emissions, and depriving their children of the experience of getting themselves to school independently.

The book is packed with gems like that; so far, every time I've opened it I've learned something about how to make a town or city not only sustainable, but pleasant to live in. The trick is to design for people, not for their mode of transportation (whatever that mode may be - but unfortunately, that's overwhelmingly the car).

"Urban Design and Traffic: a selection from Bach's toolbox" is based on the work of Boudewyn Bach, until 2005 a professor at the department of Architecture at the Delft University of Technology. Far from being a dry textbook, this is a mesmerising collection of recipes for elements of sustainable transportation in a city where public spaces are for people first.

There are strategies for traffic calming, how to make traffic safer for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and women, how to achieve accessibility for all by designing for those to are least able to get around, rules of thumb for what conditions make public transport affordable. The book describes many experiments (some of which backfired and were valuable teaching moments). All this provided with diagrams, before and after photos, and bilingual text (in English and Dutch).

At times it seems that half the examples are from Delft. I had no idea my home town (and its inhabitants) had been guinea pigs for a multitude of traffic experiments like the one that has made the medieval town core trivial to traverse on foot, harder on bike and impossible by car, much contributing to the peaceful ambience prized by visitors and residents alike.

Published by CROW, the Dutch technology platform for transport, infrastructure and public space, it is hard to get outside the Netherlands. Which is a pity. So if you are into Smart Streets, Complete Streets, sustainable towns or whatever arrangements are called that help traffic of all speeds and sizes co-exist safely, just contact the publisher. Or find a recent urban studies graduate who is willing to relinquish their copy.



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Cars News and Reviews The Melon- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

The other evening, I came home in my aunt's old car, and fished a large melon from the passenger seat before carefully locking the car. The melon was football shaped with a nice heft and a beautiful pattern on its skin; my aunt had given it to me as part of a string of exchanges that would have impressed David Graeber, the anthropologist author of "Debt: the first 5,000 years", in which he describes various forms of social, non-monetary debt.

Here's the story.

Earlier this spring, my ancient dad had a small car accident. Nobody was hurt: he had caused his car to scrape by a sidewalk pole. I think the pole, a sturdy concrete thing, wasn't even hurt. Only the car needed body work.

The thing was, that - being ancient - my dad hadn't noticed that he had caused the accident, and had gone on his merry way home. The owners of the sidewalk pole had followed him, noted his license plate, and called the police. Who duly showed up at his house to investigate. Long story short, they took away his driver's license, and gave the car keys to my cousin Ben, who had shown up to help out my dad.

It was the perfect wake-up call, and finally persuaded my dad to give up driving. We're still dealing with the aftermath: the trauma pretty much took away his ability to speak, as if the loss of mobility took him to the infant (literally meanin "non-speaking") state.

It also meant that he had to give up his car. Right around then I hear that my aunt, Ben's mom, was looking for a car to replace her old one that she had trouble getting into reverse gear. Ben had been giving my dad rides regularly, so it seemed the natural thing for my dad to give his car to Ben's mom, in a mobility swap.

Ben took the car to a body shop, transferred the ownership and the insurance, and my aunt was mobile once again. My dad's car didn't have the acceleration of hers (my lively aunt appreciates a bit of oomph) but it had the automatic transmission which was kind to her ailing knees. She was very happy.

That lasted two weeks.

One day, just after she had dropped by my dad's house with some yummy treats, a policeman rang her doorbell. It turns out her newly acquired car had been torched, probably in an act of random vandalism. The matches were still lying next to the wreck. She sent me a frantic and barely legible email - I didn't think an electronic missive could be so breathless, she was so upset. When I saw the photos I could understand why she was in shock.

Meanwhile, Ben had had the transmission in her old car fixed, so that all the gears are working again, albeit with probably more wear than before. She drove it for a few days, but her knees were acting up. So she decided to be car free until her knee operation this September. Meanwhile, she offered me the use of her car while I'm in the Netherlands this summer. This way I can bring my dad where he needs to go, and Ben gets a chauffering break as long as I'm in the country.

I had actually been researching a car-share scheme called GreenWheels, and had even found a place where you can borrow a wheelchair attached to an electric bike, as alternatives for getting him around. Each option would have been an adventure, but cumbersome in practice. So I was very grateful to accept my aunt's offer; and my dad is very happy: for him, nothing beats a car for comfort and on-demand availability, even if I'm the one driving it (I guess he's got on-demand dibs on me).

Meanwhile, my aunt's knees are hurting her. Her friend is lending her a wheeled walking aid but it's too tall, and leaning on it makes her shoulders hurt. So the other day I fished my dad's walking aid out of his basement where it's been languishing - he's far too stubborn to use it - and brought it to her house (in her car, of course). She had been doubtful when I told her about it over the phone, but was taken with its size as soon as she saw it. And it's light and easily foldable, so she wouldn't mind bringing it along when she gets a ride from a friend.

As a thank you, she pressed a melon in my hands. A friend had brought it to her as a gift that very afternoon, she said, but it was too large for her to eat by herself, so why didn't I bring it home and enjoy it with my family.

As CelloDad admired the melon, I explained the chain of events that brought it into my arms: How my cousin's driving my dad around after the loss of his driver's license had made my dad give his car to my aunt. Who in return gave me the use of her car for the duration of our stay. Whereupon I brought her his walking aid. Which prompted her to give me the melon. Come to think of it: who knows what favour my aunt had done for her friend, for which the friend had brought the melon in thanks. It was, indeed, entirely possible that the melon had changed hands several times as thanks, in a circle of favour, a whole network of social debt in which money has no place. I made myself dizzy just thinking about it.

But the buck - I mean the melon - stops here. I am determined to be the one eating that melon. Besides, it's ripe and it smells great.



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