Cars News and Reviews What to Do About Our Choked Roads?- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

There is a poster, produced by the city of Muenster in Germany, for their 2001 campaign to push for better space management of their roads. It compares, side by side, the space required for sixty people to commute to work by car, by bus and by bike.

A picture is worth a thousand words! A composite picture like this poster is worth more than three thousand words, which is great for me, as I have a few other things to say.

Car commuting is a great example of the prisoners' dilemma: going by car is great if it's just you and your four wheels on the road, and you can go unimpeded from A to B. But real life is never like that (unless you work the graveyard shift). So many of us now commute by car that we're constantly in each other's way, suffering delays and stress together, wasting time and money sitting in interminable traffic that only seems to be getting more interminable with every passing year.

So far, the standard response has been to widen the roads, or to build more roads. But those measures tend to be counter-productive: New roads are like magnets, sucking in cars: they exert a seeming irresistible attraction to more traffic, which proceeds to clog up the new lanes or roads, and you're back to where you started with the congestion, except that now there are even more cars on the road in total.

Quite apart from the health hazards coming out of tailpipes. Plus the carbon emissions.

Inside a city there isn't even any space for more or wider roads. In places that do have the space, building new roads or widening them is expensive. So much so, that Iowa's Department of Transportation has made the unprecedented proposal to stop building new roads, so that more funds are available for the maintenance of existing infrastructure.

A lot of technologists are saying that the near-future self-driving cars will help dissolve traffic jams. Sure, they probably will - for a while, and on the highways where the distance between human-driven cars must be large. But again, inside cities, where congestion already puts traffic at a stand-still, adding self-driving cars is not going to help much to get it flowing.

In Los Angeles, things have gotten to such a head that the city, the birth place of "car culture", is taking the astonishing step of re-examining its relationship with its freeways. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, columnist Christopher Hawthorne says,

"Increasingly the fundamental task Los Angeles faces is one of re-urbanization — of infill development, of reanimating or repairing the public realm. At the heart of that task is an understanding that the most successful kinds of spaces in the city are the ones where a broad range of activities has a chance to play out.

In this emerging Los Angeles, the freeway is an outlier, a hulking support system for an aging, if not outdated, set of beliefs."

Strong words indeed! However, this sentiment is not exceptional, but part of the broader zeitgeist. The state of California, suffering from a crippling and prolonged drought that can be attributed at least partly to man-made climate change, is proposing to slash the use of petroleum for transportation by half by 2030.

If the bill goes through, it will be very interesting to see how California will get to the 50% reduction in 15 years. They already have the nations largest fleet of electric cars, but both EV ownership and the power generated by renewable sources like wind and solar would need an improbable jump to eliminate all carbon emissions from half cars and trucks on the road today. My sense is that popular resistance to nuclear energy makes that avenue not a realistic option, and in any case it would be hard to ramp up nuclear energy production on the scale required within fifteen years.

Most commentators on the road congestion problem have dismissed public transportation as a viable option. (I'm talking about buses, light rail and trains, not car-sharing or Uber). I agree that on the whole public transportation in the US is patchy, not very fast, often unreliable, with the exception of some highly localised successes. In short, it stinks.

I say that it not a reason to write it off. Public transportation can be quite glorious: fast, on time, clean, and used by a large cross section of the population. Look to Seoul, Tokyo, Paris or Rome for examples of places where that is the case.

Photo by Supermac1961

Inside cities, reducing the number of cars on the roads would make space for a whole bunch of cool things besides bicycles: things like sidewalk cafes, street markets, festivals; things that turn a bunch of buildings into a beloved neighbourhood. A place where people want to spend time - which is why such streets can be called Sticky Streets.

A combination of a good public transport network and safe cycling infrastructure (to cover the notorious "last mile" to and from the home) can do wonders, not only to traffic congestion, but also to the health and wealth of the residents and - yes - their happiness.

The big secret of public transportation is that it has to be public. A patchwork of private enterprises is simply never going to deliver the way a seamless public network can. The best infrastructure - light rail, BRT lanes, fast-charging stations for electric buses - is expensive, and can often only be reasonably undertaken by a city or even a country or a state.

This is where public education comes in. People need to be convinced that the public outlays are worth it, paying for themselves in the long run not only financially but also in better health. And that it's okay that parking space is being exchanged for safe separated bicycle paths, because that helps reclaim our streets from the automobile, which has had it for long enough now, thank you very much.

I expect to see more outreach programs soon, like the one that generated that poster for Muenster.



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Cars News and Reviews License-Plate Parking- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

I'm squinting at the parking meter, grateful that it's a quiet weekday morning and nobody is behind me waiting their turn to use it. That gives me a chance to take my time with the new routine, and to step back and admire the photovoltaic panel mounted on top like a minimalist umbrella.

But let's step back in time a bit: In the beginning, there was the mechanical parking meter. Putting in a quarter (or a lot of quarters, depending on where you are parking) made the steel arrow move to the desired parking time. The arrow sits in a glass window, so you can see it from both sides of the parking meter.

Parking meters lined up down the length of the street alwas reminded me of the scene in the Odyssey, where Penelope challenges her suitors to shoot an arrow through the eyes of twelve axe heads. Except parking meters were never that well lined up.

Then there was the Pay and Display scheme: this is where you park your car and pay at a post that dispenses a slip of paper that says your car is good to stand there until the time stamped on the paper. This you put on your dash board.

This saves a lot of meter repair, and the cost (and risk) of emptying the meter of its coins. But it still broadcasts to the world, or at least to anyone who glances through the wind shield, how much longer your car is going to stand there. That's really not great for privacy or theft safety.

So now the city of Delft, which has pioneered all sorts of transportation measures that make cities more liveable, is running a pilot program of license plate based parking called, in true Germanic form, "kentekenparkeren".

As with Pay and Display, there is one meter for the parking lot (run on a solar panel, mounted above the meter). However, it no longer dispenses the paper with the time stamp. And as we shall see, it requires no coin pickup either.

Start by entering the license plate ("kenteken") of the car you are parking. Apparently it does not require a Dutch license plate, which is nice if you're visiting from outside the country, like France of Poland.

Then you enter the time you plan to park the car. This is still a fixed amount, even though you get to choose it. It would be great if you could enter some long time, and get reimbursed if you return before the time is up. But maybe that's for a future implementation. For now, you estimate the time you need.

The machine responds with the amount you owe. At this particular spot it's apparently €0.60 an hour, really not that much. This is the outskirts of a small city, after all. Of course, if you dont owe a parking fee, like on Sundays, the meter would give you a friendly reminder, which a mechanical parking meter never did.

But when you look for the coin slot, you'd be disappointed. Even though there is one (barely visible in the photos, to the right and slightly below the screen), it has been carefully sealed. This is the 21st century now, and no cities want to pass by the safety and cost savings of electronic payments.

You can use a bank card (very popular with the Dutch, who use it for everything, including a 30-cent parking fee), or if you are a hapless tourist you can use a credit card. If you have neither, you're out of luck -- although in practice, chances are you can find a friendly Dutch person who will bail you out with their bank card if you give them the cash.

That's it. This machine prints an optional receipt, but you put that in your wallet or purse, not on the dashboard.

A meter maid would scan the license plate, and the municipal computer would respond with the expiration time. I assume that, once this system if fully implemented, any parking tickets for Dutch cars would be automatically issued by the city computer and arrive at the address to which the car is registered, with a pre-printed money transfer card that only requires your bank account number and your signature to complete. This is how you pay the fine if you run a red light and the camera gets activated (as, I'm sorry to say, I can confirm from personal experience).

Here's the really cool thing about this deal for my dad: My dad has a handicapped-parking card that he hangs on the rear-view mirror. It allows him to park for free, at places designated for the handicapped, or regular places, or places in residential zones that are reserved for residents. As well as anywhere inside the largely car-free city core.

That makes this card extremely desirable, and a magnet for thieves. (When he received the card, it came with an offer for an in-car safe box in which you can lock it away). But now you don't need to bring the card at all: I've registered my aunt's car, which is his motorised transport for the summer, to his handicapped-parking card, and now the car can be parked anywhere inside the city of Delft, without even using the parking meter and without displaying the handicapped-parking card. (Outside of Delft we still have to remember to bring the card, since this is a local experiment).

So this is the true end of unsightly rows of parking meters. Allright, individual parking meters come on poles, perfect to lock your bike to, but that makes it even more unsightly. Bikes belong in their own parking spots. And there would never be arguments about parking tickets issued at meters that don't work.



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Cars News and Reviews Urban Heat - CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

"Urban Heat" sounds like a cool name for a band. Unfortunately it's nothing like that. In fact, it's not exactly cool. The "urban heat island" refers to the fact that the average temperature of a large city is higher than the surrounding rural area. Sometimes, quite a bit higher.

This is because a lot of energy is used in cities, for transportation, heating, cooling, lighting, running computers, washing machines, coffee makers and all the other machines that make modern life possible. And once that energy has done its job, it turns into heat.

And that's even before taking into account some other things that make it worse, like the lack of cooling trees, and the presence of dark asphalt and rooftops that are very good at absorbing heat from the sun. So there is more than fresh air that makes it so "refreshing" to get out of the city and into the countryside.

Urban heat is hard on cars. On a nice sunny day cities can be warmer than the area around it by up to 27F (15C). And if you park your car in the sun, it can get hotter still.

This hapless Megane got stuck in a confluence of unfortunate circumstances: Its owner had parked it in the sun, on an asphalt lot, in an Italian town, right when a heat wave hit it in August 2015. Oh, and the car was dark blue. Outside, the temperature was in the high 30s centigrade (38C =100F), and since a car is a nice greenhouse under any circumstance, the temperature inside the car must have shot way up: high enough to cause the plastic parts on the car to melt.

This photo makes me wonder what the inside of the car must have looked like. I imagine the radio could have looked a bit like Dali's melted clock. In fact, any electronic part must have suffered immensely. And think of all the plastic parts from the carpeting to the wire insulation. So there's another reason to leave you car out of the city, at least on very warm and sunny days.

Here is a cool interactive graphic from the amazing folks at Climate Central, illustrating the urban heat effect for an urbs, that is to say a city, near you.

Go ahead: give it a spin. Then, next time you go downtown on a hot day, take the train or bus. It keeps one more heat engine off the streets, and spares your car the wear and tear of being in a furnace. Not to mention the risk of melting its electronics.



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Cars News and Reviews Not Enough Fear and Loathing in The Hague?- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

Since I shamelessly borrowed, for the title for this post, from Hunter Thompson's book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", let me start by saying that I've actually never visited one of the Dutch "coffeeshops" where they don't sell coffee. So the photo below is not mine, I found it at a website called This menu is pretty, and it's from a coffeeshop called Tweede Kamer, perhaps in honour of the Lower Chamber of the Dutch Parliament that passed the policy that, while marijuana, like other drugs, is not legal in the Netherlands, possession of marijuana "for personal use" (up to 5 grams, if you must know) is not prosecuted.

This is probably the most famous example of the Dutch ability to see something without seeing it.

Another thing they see, all the time, is water. Water is embedded in the national psyche, not only as a necessity of life, but also as the stuff that comes out of the sky (no language has more words for "rain" than Dutch), and the stuff you need to keep out to keep the country from getting flooded. Half the country is a gift from the rivers whose delta it forms. The other half has been hard-won from the sea. And the sea is now threatening to take back what belongs to it.

When the IPCC came out with its fifth Assessment Report in 2013, the projection for sea level rise was 26-82cm. In the Dutch news, this was reported as "up to 82cm": they didn't even bother mentioning the lower bounds, they need to be prepared for the worst case.

So the country of 17 million is battening down the hatches. They're pumping €20bn into a fortification of the Delta Works, a system of coastal defenses. The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (formerly the Ministry of Traffic and Water Management) is shoring up dikes all along the coastline. It's spending an extra €2.3bn on innovative river management projects, because when a river dike breaks, that's a disaster too.

They see clearly the climate change that causes sea level rise and the kind of heavy rainfall that causes rivers to swell. There's no climate change denial here.


Image Havenbedrijf Rotterdam N.V.

On the other hand, Shell is a fixture in the country. The port of Rotterdam is a huge transportation hub running almost exclusively on fossil fuels, and is ringed with oil refineries. It's so successful that they've had to build an enormous extension that juts out into the sea, that can accomodate modern supertankers carrying mind-boggling amounts of oil and goods.

Meanwhile, the country still get less than 5% of its energy from renewables, which is crazy if you consider that the windmill is its iconic trademark. Sure, they're building offshore wind parks, finally, but because of resistance based on "aesthetics", the total capacity is still dwarfed by the wind installations in near-neighbouring Denmark. And they're blowing off building an experimental wind park that proponents say could be crucial for developing next-generation windmills.

And day to day, nobody is talking about climate change much.

I'm not saying the Dutch are living a drug-addled existence out of touch with reality, coffeeshops notwithstanding. They are a matter-of-fact kind of people who prize having both feet firmly on the ground. Even so, I feel there's not enough fear - or should I say respect - of the sea. There's not enough loathing of the peddlers of a fossil-fueled lifestyle, not enough of connecting the dots between the fossil fuels burned by everybody and the incessant, tough, expensive fight against the rising waters.

But maybe, just maybe, the Dutch are starting to shake off the comfortable haze brought on by the prosperity made possible, among other things, by North Sea Oil and the country's natural gas reserves.

There are wake-up calls. The Dutch Natural Gas Company has pumped so much natural gas out of a bubble beneath Groningen, that in parts of the northeast of the country the soil surface is lowered by more than a foot: 35cm. That's not great for a place that's already below the current sea level by one meter. But these changes are slow and not very visible.

What is plain to see are the cracks in people's homes, caused by earthquakes in the area due to the settling of the soil. The number of eartquakes has been increasing drastically over the past two decades, and it's been estimated that two of every three homes are at risk of structural damage.

So there's been an outcry. In response, the government has reduced the production of natural gas in the area. But the lost production volume has to be compensated by buying natural gas from Russia. In order to decrease that dependence, Minister Kamp, of Economic Affairs, has now proposed drilling for natural gas in the North Sea.

Nobody will complain about the aesthetics, since the drilling platforms will be way out of sight of the shore. But if they go ahead with that plan, the Dutch government will never reach the emissions reductions to which they have committed.

The climate activists Urgenda, who do have a clear view both of climate risks and of their citizen responsibility, have now challenged the government in a landmark citizen lawsuit to force it to abide by its own plan.

The citizens won.

I hope this is the beginning of a shift. I hope that, when those damaged homes in Groningen are rebuilt, they will be not only more earthquake resilient but also more climate resilient: that they will run on renewable energy, and that the building of such homes will give rise to a whole new class of job opportunities that have nothing to do with the production of natural gas. Indeed, that natural gas will become quite obsolete.



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Cars News and Reviews Car Ownership Is So Twentieth Century- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

"Surely you're taking the car?" says my dad.

"Umm no, we're going by bike."

It's summertime, we're in Delft, the Netherlands, where my dad lives, and we have this conversation every other day: My dad is forever offering us the use of his car. At first we thought he was being very generous. Then we started wondering, why the insistence that we not take the bike, or the train? You'd think that after we'd said No Thanks about two hundred times, he'd get the message. But he persists. And now that we have my aunt's car on loan, he's even offering us the use of her car, which is kinda funny if you think about it.

And that was what finally made me realise: he doesn't offer us the car because he think's it's less tiring than the bike (it is) or cheaper than the train (it is, for a family of four). He wants us to take the car because he thinks it's unseemly for a middle-class family not to move itself by car.

From the time that Henry Ford started making cars affordable (which was only a few years before my dad was born), car ownership has been the aspiration of everyone on the planet. Even if it was the Fiat 500 (tiny at the time it was introduced), you got a car as soon as you could afford it.

But even as millions of people in places like China and India, who are just arriving into the middle class, aspire to car ownership, those who have been in the middle class for a while are starting to look beyond.

[blue lline: new private cars]

[red line: car-share customers]

These people tend to live in high-density places where public transport is good, roads are friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, and where space is scarce. In Germany, for instance, the number of people signed up for car-share programs in a given year will soon be larger than the number of people buying new cars. It helps that the dominant car-share programs are offered by BMW and Daimler.

I can get into that. When we are with my dad in the Netherlands, our go-to transport is our bikes. That gets us all around Delft, a city of 100,000. Parking is expensive, and getting into the medieval downtown core is much easier and faster on a bike than by car. On top of that, residential parking spaces are few, and minuscule. Getting in and out of the car is often a matter of bending your body into impossible configurations to sidle out of the crack afforded before your car door bangs into the next car. All in all, bikes are easier to use. For going out of town, I love to take the train.

It is only for visiting relatives who live outside the immediate town centers that we take a car, especially when my dad comes along with us: at his age, he wouldn't do very well on the two wheels offered by a bikeshare. Today, I brought away some boxes filled with items for the local recycle store, and I used the car for that. (That is to say, my aunt's car).

The cello is a bigger deal. But if I took the bus to the music school downtown for the weekly lesson, I wouldn't have to pay for parking. CelloPlayer would have the youth discount on the public transport pass, so it would be even cheaper for me not to have to drive my child to cello lessons. What a deal.

If I lived here I'd be using a car-share too.



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Cars News and Reviews Electricity, cars, and Norway- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

This is the Geirangerfjord. It's one of the most popular sites to visit on Norway's coast, and it's not hard to see why. The surrounding mountains are stunningly beautiful. The walls are improbably steep. Which means that there aren't too many people living on those near-pristine slopes.

Photo by Frédéric de Goldschmidt

The fjord also illustrates how Norway can become a zero-carbon society.

Electricity generation.

Firstly, the tall, steep walls of Norway's fjords are ideal sites for electricity-generating hydropower plants. Commonly called "white coal" when I was growing up, hydropower is a near-zero emissions supply of electricity with the highest EROEI (energy return on energy invested) of any renewable energy.

Norway regularly generates more electricity than it consumes, exporting its surplus energy to neighbouring countries.

"Green battery".

The fjord's walls are not only beautiful on the surface, inside they are full of tunnels. Sealing off a water-filled tunnel can create a reservoir of water that, when released, can give an instant boost to power generation. This is great for backup power for neighbouring countries like Denmark and Germany, helping to smooth the variations in output of its growing renewable energy sector. One bonus of this proposal is that it doesn't have the risks of nuclear energy, which is frequently proposed as the backup power for renewable energy for those times that the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing.

Electric fleet of cars.

The Norwegian government is encouraging the use of electric cars

through incentives. EVs enjoy an exemption of almost all taxes; this is a big deal since, as in all Scandinavian countries, Norwegian vehicles taxes on ordinary cars are stunningly high. The deal is further sweetened by such perks as free parking in all public spaces, and a waiver on tolls. Just about the only thing they don't do is deliver daily gravad lax to EV owners.

Not content with being the current EV capital of the world, Oslo has decided to raise the bar: they want all new cars sold in Norway to be zero-emissions by 2025. And since the cars will be powered by hydro, these will be truly zero-emissions vehicles, not merely zero tailpipe-emissions.

Now, if they get Statoil, Norway's oil company, to stop pumping crude off the Norwegian shore, Norway would be the perfect knight, the Sir Galahad who will lead our fight against climate change. We need one.



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