New Auto*Mat video teaser

Auto*Mat is an organisation and a movie. The movie is about the organisation, which is based in the city of Prague, Czech Republic. It also discusses the love for the automobile and the thinking of people in early 21st century Europe. The organisation is the movie. The two are inseparable. We make the movie, we watch the movie and we live the movie.

Find more about Auto*Mat actions here

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Yes Men crash BMW Gala

Leonardo Di Caprio, Bob Geldof and and Mikhail Gorbachev were among the dignitaries momentarily blocked by protesters as they tried to enter BMW’s high-octane “Cinema for Peace” charity gala in Berlin las February.

“We aren’t leaving till BMW stops making cars,” declared Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (also known as “The Yes Men”) as they planted themselves in the middle of the red carpet wearing ridiculous inflatable costumes. “Cars are killing the planet, and charity events that greenwash their image aren’t helping.”

Despite “tight security” (provided by Flash Security, one of the event’s sponsors), the two men were able to waddle through a gap in the fence unnoticed. They made it halfway up the red-carpeted grand staircase of the Konzerthaus Berlin, where they sat down and refused to move. Confused celebrities had to navigate around the six-foot-diameter balls for about five minutes until Flash’s tall, blond security guards clumsily removed them by force. The protesters sustained a few bruises and a bloodied nose but were otherwise unharmed.

Although BMW does have an electric car, most of their business is in phallus-enhancing gas guzzlers. The acquisition of petroleum that is used in BMW’s cars has been identified as the source of ongoing wars in several parts of the world, making them an unlikely sponsor of an event calling for peace.

In addition to ongoing violence over the acquisition of oil, burning petroleum in BMW engines is accelerating climate change, which already kills 150,000 people per year and by 2050 will make a billion homeless (according to one UN study). Historically, mass displacement of people has resulted in war, which means that if BMW wants to avert war, they should stop making cars. After that they can more honestly celebrate peace with lavish charity galas.

“This is yet another case where we treat the symptoms but ignore the disease,” said Yes Man Mike Bonanno. Andy Bichlbaum continued: “If we don’t fix our system and start regulating these companies, they will just keep on destroying the world and throwing parties while it burns.”

The Yes Men were already in town to launch their new film “The Yes Men Fix The World” at the Berlin Film Festival when they heard about the unrelated “Cinema for Peace” event and could not resist throwing a wrench in the works.

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Carfree Holidays

"During holidays, abandon your car! And forget about it for ever..."

"During holidays, abandon your car! And forget about it for ever..."

Great advice for the holidays.

By Titom, a regular illustrator for Carbusters magazine. More of his work here.

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Naked by bike in brussels – Cyclonudista 2009

Every year a “World Naked Bike Ride” or Cyclonudista is held in different cities all over the world to show the fragility of cyclists in traffic and ask more (political) attention for cycling as a sustainable way of transport in cities.

In Brussels it was a sunny day, which resulted in many naked cyclists, taking most people in town by surprise, creating mixed reactions and lots of photo and video attention. See our video:

Dutch/French with English subtitles.
Filmed in Brussels on Saturday 27 June 2009.
Camera and editing by Bas Ruyters.

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Free Transportation Program

I work for a company that has more than a thousand employees. Approximately eight hundred of them are located in two buildings in the same neighbourhood only half a mile away from each other, and both really close to a bike path.

In 2007, when I noticed that more and more of my work colleagues were interested in my commuting choice, I decided I should do something to encourage more people to bike to work.

CELEPAR bike commuters

CELEPAR bike commuters

The project started when I joined the company’s CIPA (an internal comity responsible for employee’s health and safety, compulsory to every Brasilian company). We were able to use the intranet and corporate email to help us develop educational campaigns, organise visits to different departments, and distribute flyers.  It was the first phase of the project called Survey.

Before carrying out any effective measure toward cycle mobility in the company, we designed a questionnaire to evaluate the feasibility for the company and whether or not there were people interested in it. It contained a set of closed-ended questions (e.g.: commuting distance, travelling time and costs) and open-ended questions (e.g.: pros and cons for biking, street safety). We also recorded some video interviews where the employees could speak more freely and we could gather some suggestions and critics.

All this process took almost six months. The results were promising and we were anxious to start the second phase.

Most employees support cyclists

Most employees support cyclists

From the collected data, it was possible to acknowledge that the majority of the employees supported the project, even those who said that would continue to use their car. However, bike commuting wasn’t an appropriate choice for all those who were interested. During this phase we determined our target group and developed some strategies to encourage a more efficient use of the bicycle. It was time to ride.

Almost one year later the program was launched. Besides the employees who spontaneously began to use the bike during the first two phases, it was time to get people to ride.

We organised bike tours with groups of more than 30 people among employees and relatives. The route was made exclusively by bicycle. It was an excellent opportunity to enforce bicycle as a valid means of transportation and address legal issues, basic bike fitting, and riding techniques.

We also started a “Ride Buddy/Mentor” program (similar to CommuteOrlando) helping people to choose the best route, fitting their bike and riding with a mentor for novice cyclists.

Although our study indicated that the company staff supported this mobility program, there was no incentive to maintain and expand the program from the board of directors.

Even so, there are new employees adopting the bicycle. On sunny days, more than 15 bicycles can be seen leaned against the company garage’s wall. And they aren’t always the same ones. It is good to see more and more bicycles than the measly two or three bikes parked there before the program.

The importance of the program has been recognised outside the company. Last year it was accepted in the Towards Carfree Cities Conference in Portland, USA. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it. And this year, it will be presented at the 17th National Congress of Transit and Transportation (CNTT-ANTP) held in September here in Curitiba, Brazil.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Ulrich Jager, a mobility consultant from L & J Mobility who strongly supported our project since the very beginning.

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What’s New, Waste-o-crat?

Welcome to Car Culture

Welcome to Car Culture

Insanity, they say, is redoubling the same old efforts while expecting different results.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what’s going to be “new” about the post-bankruptcy auto industry?

I always say that it would take a committee of experts to conceive a more wasteful arrangement than our autos-über-alles transportation system here in the USA.  Indeed, profitable economic waste — maximum foisting of saleable parts and services — is the whole point of the thing.

Over at the “new” Ford, they are getting more blatant than ever about this.

In a report on how Ford designers are using virtual characters and “mindset segmentation” to focus their manipulative efforts, The New York Times for July 16 conveyed this quote from “Murat Yalman, Ford’s director of global advanced product strategy, is a strong supporter of an approach that personalizes the ideal buyer for everyone involved in a vehicle’s development”:

“We had done lots of models based on rationality, but now we are recognizing that emotions play a much more dominant role than we ever admitted,” Mr. Yalman said. “In buying a car, you have to fall in love.”

He added: “We now focus quite a bit on aspirations and dreams.”

These can be embodied in products. “Think of someone who has a really high-end parka in which you could climb Mount Everest. But the person only wears it on the train to work.”

Straight from the horse’s _____.

Michael Dawson

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Carfree Drawing

© Lucile Gomez

"A long time ago, human beings were devoting such a strong cult to these things, that they offered the lungs of their children as a sacrifice."© Lucile Gomez

Here is a beautiful carfree drawing from Lucile Gomez. You can follow her work in French on her website:

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Carfree London?

Imagine the plot… an evil tycoon or dictator plans to destroy the planet by pumping out carbon dioxide until irreversible climate change takes hold and we all drown, starve or kill each other in wars over scarce resources. Who or what could save us?

What’s that in the distance?

Is it a giant shield to deflect the sun’s energy?
Is it an electric car?
Is it the promised bionic duckweed-powered perpetual motion transportation machine of the future here today?
Is it Superman?

No! It’s a carfree London.

Move over Clarke Kent, today’s heroes are James Woodcock and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Their recent research in medical journal The Lancet (too radical for the academic transport press?) examined various scenarios designed to reduce CO2 emissions from transport in London by 80%, in line with the British target enshrined in the Climate Change Act of 2008.

They found that a carfree Greater London with significant land use changes to reduce trip distances – facilitating a shift to active travel – and challenging transport energy efficiency improvements are required to reduce emissions by 83% on a 2000 baseline. Unfortunately for the ‘technology will save us’ brigade, business as usual with moderate efficiency gains would deliver a cut of only 11.5%. A third scenario of a carfree inner London with ‘hybrid suburbs’ would enable a maximum reduction of 55%.

As well as ignoring Londoners’ air travel and emissions associated with commuters and tourists from outside London, there are a host of optimistic assumptions in the modelling of these scenarios, ranging from de-carbonisation of energy supplies (vital for electric cars to deliver net carbon savings), measures to limit population growth in the south-east of England and implementation of policies to support active travel. So the message is clear: a carfree Greater London is required, but is just one of the policies we need if serious about reducing CO2 emissions from transport, currently the only sector in which they are still increasing.

Boris, will you be the superman who banishes the car and saves us from ourselves? Perhaps your near miss with a Luther Industries truck and parked car has focussed your mind somewhat? Over to you…

Simon Field

Note: please contact me if you would like a copy of the full text from the Lancet article.

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Planet Walker: 22 Years of Walking, 17 Years of Silence.

“How do I fit into a sixty-mile-per-hour world when I am traveling at three?” - ©Kelly Nelson

“How do I fit into a sixty-mile-per-hour world when I am traveling at three?” - ©Kelly Nelson

In 1972, at the age of 26, John Francis gave up driving. He also stopped riding in cars and trucks, on motorcycles and buses, trains and planes. No motorized vehicles at all. He would walk instead.

His decision roused strong reactions in the small community north of San Francisco where he was living.
“I like getting around too much to give it up,” his live-in girlfriend said of driving.
“This is only a phase you’re going through,” said his mom.
“We are getting ready to have a baby so it’s nothing we could do,” said a female friend.
“You think you’re better than me. Isn’t that right?” asked a hostile neighbor.
“You are just crazy. One person walking is not going to make any difference in reducing air pollution or oil spills,” chimed onlookers.
“Hell no, that ain’t crazy. If you don’t want to drive cars then you shouldn’t,” said a male friend.

Francis became a quirky local character, someone who would set out a day early to meet friends for a movie in a town 25 miles away.

Then he decided to stop speaking.

This was seen as even weirder than giving up fuel-powered transportation.
While some, including his parents, questioned his sanity, others started calling him a saint and a hero: his walking wasn’t just tramping around, it was a pilgrimage. He began carrying a banjo and a journal to paint and write in. “Walking is in me to do,” Francis writes. “Birds are born with wings. I was born with feet.”

This book details his eleven years living and walking in California and Oregon and his seven years walking silently across the country, stopping in Montana to earn a master’s degree in environmental studies, stopping again in Wisconsin to take doctoral classes in land resources. It is a picturesque depiction of a cross-country trek in the days before e-mail and GPS. It’s not altogether clear how he paid for things and foot surgery, a huge event for a walker, is mentioned only briefly. He does bike ride at times, usually when he’s settled in a place, waiting out the winter or attending school, but it’s not his first choice: “It is not the same as walking, moving slowly on the ground, feeling every rock and stone.”

My favorite moment in the book comes when the Coast Guard offers him a job (he had started speaking again). He is in New England at the time and tells them he can start the job in two months after he has biked all the way to Washington D.C. and they say okay. Once there, he tells them he can take business trips of no more than 300 miles (the distance he can bike in three days) and they agree to that too. Imagine a world where all employers support and adapt to vehicle-free lifestyles!

In the final chapter, Francis devotes only two paragraphs to his decision to start using cars again. (His wife and kids get a mere two sentences.) As he tells it, he realized that his “decision not to use motorized vehicles had become a prison.” It’d be better for his family and his work, he thought, to use fuel-powered transportation again. So after 22 years of walking, he started traveling in cars and planes.

As someone who has lived carfree for ten years, I wanted to hear more about this decision and how his life changed once it became motorized. And I wouldn’t have minded hearing about how he met his wife and how they set up a life together.

This book, illustrated with more than ninety drawings by the author, resounds with the message that there are things you see and experience when walking that you miss when traveling by car.

Kelly Nelson
Tempe, Arizona USA

By John Francis
National Geographic, 2008, 288 pp.

Additional Information:
Planetwalk, the non-profit organization Francis founded, aims to promote “earth stewardship and peace through pilgrimage.” On the website you can read about his yearly week-long walks as he retraces his cross-country trek this time with GPS, vehicle support, an Internet technician and a plane ticket back to California where he lives.

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Rickshaws under threat in Dhaka

A Rickshaw ©Maruf Rahman

A Rickshaw ©Maruf Rahman

A recent parliamentary decision in Bangladesh further extends the rickshaw ban across many parts of Dhaka. This anti-people initiative was taken apparently on the basis of some prejudices against fuel free transportation, rickshaw in particular, without any regard to proper scientific investigation.

It is hoped that authorities will eventually see the importance of fuel-free transport. Given the small modal share of automobiles and the many problems they cause, there should be no provision for creating more auto-only roads within urban areas, and all existing auto-only roads should be converted into mixed-use roads by properly integrating public transit with other modes.

Lessons can be learned from the Mirpur Road Demonstration project before proceeding with transport planning, where fuel free transport (rickshaws and rickshaw vans) were banned. This case showed a very different direction from that of current transport initiatives in Dhaka. The answer lies in the “After Project” report of a government-mandated study into the project, which showed a number of key congestion indices with respect to before and after scenarios including:

No travel time gain for fuel-dependent vehicles was achieved due to the rickshaw ban. Bus travel has worsened following the rickshaw ban; passenger travels by bus has become slower than by rickshaw. An increase in congestion due to taxi operators reluctant to take short trips, causing significant increases in waiting times for passengers. The economic impact of the fuel-free transport ban has been devastating; figures show losses as high as Tk 1.52 billion (€10 milliard) per year in the area. Overall, the banning of fuel-free transport has deteriorated accessibility of the majority of road users by cutting access to side roads, destroying the continuity of the transport system, and hampering door-to-door mobility of passengers. In government sponsored studies the overall net impact of rickshaw ban was disproportionately in the negative side.

It may be mentioned here that after failure of the rickshaw ban in the demonstration project of the Mirpur Road, the World Bank has set the standard of extending further bans on the condition that: “Any future support from the World Bank would be possible only if it can be demonstrated that aggregate positive impacts of NMT-free conversion on transport users and transport providers outweigh the aggregate negative impact”. We hope it will set the minimum standard for all decision makers and transport professionals in Bangladesh prior to embarking on any potentially regressive transport policy.

Yet policies continue to give car owners absolute priority, while ignoring the fundamental principle of any transport project appraisal, that is, that net user benefits of any transport intervention must exceed net loss. The double standard of providing absolute priority to a tiny minority of car owners, while at the same time restricting environmentally friendly and efficient rickshaws, not only has no scientific basis as far as congestion management is concerned, also infringes on the fundamental rights of the vulnerable rickshaw drivers to earn a living by legal means. Moreover, such ban will increase sufferings of the most vulnerable road users, such as, women, children and disables by depriving them from having their most suitable means of transport.

A mother and a child on a rickshaw ©Maruf Rahman

A mother and a child on a rickshaw ©Maruf Rahman

As people’s representatives, we hope to uphold the fundamental principal of social justice and transport policy appraisal on the basis of economic efficiency and social equity and revoke further ban on rickshaws and reintroduce them where they were previously banned without further delay.

Mahabubul Bari

International Expert on Transportation Infrastructure

Ministry of Infrastructure , Republic of Rwanda

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