Cars News and Reviews Reclaiming Cities From The Car- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

Something gives me the feeling we're living in watershed years. Fossil fuel companies are smarting. That's nothing new: fossil fuels are prone to booms and brutal busts through their history. What is new is the relentless rise of what used to be called "alternative" energy, but what is set to become the energy source: Renewables are slated to be the main game way sooner than you may think.

In another realm, the power of the nation state is waning. You only have to look at trade agreements like TTIP and the TPP to see evidence of the rising power of transnational corporations. And when coal kings put a billion dollars into an election, you can see how so many have proclaimed the death of democracy.

But there's pushback. Most notably, mayors have decided to not wait for their national governments to start moving toward a zero-carbon future. They are supporting each other through collectives such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the Compact of Mayors and other organisations.

And they are moving to circumvent the national gridlock.

In one notable example, they are starting to reclaim the city streets from the dominance of the car. Cars and car culture have managed to - let's be blunt - ruin our cities. Downtowns are clogged with traffic, to the point that ambulances and firetrucks can't do their live-saving work. Tailpipes emit a cocktail of toxic fumes that are a danger to public health. Highways have fractured cities into divided neighbourhoods. Cities stink, in more than one way.

And yet, cities are attracting more and more people. Accomodating them requires thinking out of the box: in particular, mayors and city councils need to think outside the box with four wheels..

Recently, Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, has laid out a bold plan to “give Parisians back the space that cars have taken from them.” She is going to turn roads along the Seine into pedestrian zones. She will remove 55,000 parking spots from Paris' streets every year. And even before the VW diesel scandal broke out, she already had a scheme in place to ban all diesel cars from the city by 2020.

“We are leading a more global fight against the monopoly held by cars in our city and in our lives,” she declares. “We want to create a peaceful city, free from the hegemony of private cars, to give public transit, bicycles, and pedestrians their rightful places. Reducing car traffic will help make Paris more pleasant and more full of life.”

Across the Atlantic, Enrique Peñalosa has garmered fame - or notoriety, depending on your outlook - by pushing back on car dominance in Bogotá, starting with the outlawing of parking on the city's sidewalks, which he regarded as a sign of a "lack of democracy".

Peñalosa's traffic policies are explicity driven by a sense of social justice: "A bikeway is a symbol that shows that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important as a citizen on a $30,000 car." He has lots of pithy things to say about taking back the city from the car, and they seem to resonate with people all over the world, as I keep running into his quotes. The one that particularly resonates with me is this:

"Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people."

By that standard, Tokyo is doing pretty well: Children as young as eight navigate the subway system by themselves, and when school comes out the subway trains are crowded with school uniforms. This not only means an invaluable way for the young people to exercise independence, it also keeps thousands of their parents' cars off the crowded roads.

From "Japan's Independent Children"

Even in the United States, the bulwark of car culture, a subtle shift can be perceived by those who look. Last year Paul Trombino, the head of Iowa's Department of Transportation, has quietly made history by calling for a stop on the building of new highways in the state.

And Sylvester Turner, the new mayor of Houston (Houston!) has said, in his inaugural speech, that the city needs a whole new approach to transportation. Merely building new highways isn't going to do the job of moving more people: Turner cites the case of the Katy Freeway, which is now 26 lanes wide in places and still gets hopelessly snarled, neatly demonstrating the law of induced demand.

New York City sidewalks have always been heavily used by pedestrians, but they have had to share the space with garbage bags, hawkers and, most recently, mountains of snow deposited not only by blizzard Jonas, but also by snow ploughs clearing the streets, which still means mostly the car lanes.

In response, New York council member Helen Rosenthal has made the common-sense but stunning proposal to clear sidewalks and bike paths before car lanes: “As we move towards Vision Zero, we'll have to think about the order of operations to move away from a car-centric perspective.”

As they say, Shift Happens.



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Cars News and Reviews Smog kills- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

There are places that are traditionally visited by a dense fog so often, that printers capitalise on it and offer tourists a postcard which is all grey with the words "Greetings From X" emblazoned on it.

It's funny when it's fog we're talking about (except, of course, if the postcard is actually appropriate for your vacation). It is not so funny when it's smog. Because smog kills. It's pretty bad when it's a veil that's thrown over your city on hot days. But when it's so thick you can't see through it, it is a real killer. Who needs cigarettes? All you have to do is go out for a breath of air, as the Tom Lehrer song goes.

The World Health Organisation is about to issue a stark warning about the lethal levels of air pollution in the world's largest cities. An article in the Guardian reports,

"According to the UN, there are now 3.3 million premature deaths every year from air pollution, about three-quarters of which are from strokes and heart attacks. With nearly 1.4 million deaths a year, China has the most air pollution fatalities, followed by India with 645,000 and Pakistan with 110,000."

The culprit is smog, a toxic brew of emissions from coal burning for heating and power generation, dust from construction sites, pollution from industrial processes, and emissions from transport, mostly from vehicles that use diesel.

When it comes to spewing out deadly small-particle pollution, who needs cheating software like Volkswagen put into its diesel cars? In places like the US and Europe, "clean" diesel comes with a sulphur content of 15 and 25 parts per million, or ppm, respectively. In China, diesel is supposed to contain fewer than 300 ppm sulphur, but almost always has more, and it's the sulphur that gives most of the particulate matter (PM) pollution.

Places like Indonesia unabashedly state that diesel contains 1250 ppm sulphur. That's one hundred times more than the new standard proposed for diesel in the US. The reason that Volkswagen is not being sued in Asian countries is that there, it doesn't install the PM scrubbers that are required for its diesel cars. They are not required. More than that: the high sulphur content of the diesel would poison the devices that are supposed to keep the air clean. So why install them at great expense?

I have made the case that in places where the PM pollution from other sources is much higher than from diesel cars (such as many ex-urban areas in the United States), the latter are okay to use, especially since their much higher fuel efficiency means significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions per mile.

But large numbers of diesel cars piled close together in megacities still spell trouble. Think of London, which is home to a large number of diesel cars, trucks and buses. It is well known that Oxford Street has dangerously high levels of PM pollution, and the city is now moving to replace its fleet of double-deckers, currently running on diesel, with electric versions.

High fuel prices, Low Emission Zones (e.g. Rome), exclusion of older and dirtier diesel cars, banning half the private cars (e.g. Delhi), none of that seems to help enough to keep pollution to acceptable levels. Even before the VW diesel scandal, European mayors were already moving to ban diesel engines from their cities altogether.

It's almost as if the "D" designation on a car is equivalent to the label on a pack of cigarettes: "Warning: use of this product leads to damage to your health and that of those around you." If Europe was in love with the diesel engine, consider the recent developments a divorce.

The advent of electric cars will facilitate that transition. Automakers all over the world have seen the writing on the wall. In the next few years, expect them to start offering EVs that are affordable and have a reasonable range, 200 km and up. One example of a recent debut is the Chevy Bolt (200 mile range).

Sure, if all those EV's were powered by electricity from coal-fired power plants, it would still not help the climate a great deal. But at least their tailpipes would be clean of particulate and other toxic emissions, relieving cities of the blanket of smog. Let us hope that the energy transition away from fossil fuels will happen sooner rather than later, so that smog is generated nowhere, and the carbon emissions of this new generation of EVs will be truly zero.



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