The End of the Road: Part2


INTRODUCTION.  (Joseph ; Amy)

I’m Joseph and I’m a car dealer. I feel like I’m introducing myself at an addiction support group. President G. W. Bush’s recent admission that we’re a nation addicted to oil was not the first time I noticed. I’ve been in the business for 25 years. I’ve been on the planet 52 years. Nothing in my business is new.

I was born in 1956. That’s right about the time that the Interstate Highway system and suburban migration changed the American landscape. Each family was capable of owning its own personal transportation device, a car.

People were moving around fine without cars. I was born in New York. Mobility takes many forms there. People take busses to trains to subways and perhaps a taxi. Ferries still carry cars and people but just imagine how many people used to use ferries to and from Manhattan Island. There weren’t very many bridges to Manhattan until planners were convinced that they’d be full of cars.

I live in the Pacific Northwest now and enjoy my visits to Seattle, perhaps because it reminds me a bit of home. I love the Puget Sound. I had considered moving to Seattle when I moved west but the traffic congestion also reminded me of home and one of the primary reasons I was leaving in the first place. I was spending too much time in the car and I think that’s low quality time.

Americans have romantic notions of cars. Even though they drive on ugly roads, past ugly mills and factories, billboards and strip malls, they try to imagine the glory of the Open Road. We are great at pretending. Any moment now I’ll see a beautiful landscape, roll down the window and let the wind blow back my hair. Snow covered peaks and Sonoma desert sunsets are captured on TV and I’m sure I’ll see one around the next bend. Our expectations are not created by life. They are created mostly by television.

© Andy Singer

It’s sad but true that most of the wonders Americans feast their eyes on are seen from the car. We don’t hike those peaks and we don’t camp in the desert and we don’t fish those rivers. We satisfy ourselves with a drive through Vermont in the fall.

Is this because we don’t care?  Or are we afraid?  Isn’t this because we have developed a full-blown, relatively unfettered capitalist culture that says we must always be pursuing growth, becoming bigger and better, have more than our parents, that the silver medal is simply not good enough?  In other words, do we have a culture that allows us to get out of the car and enjoy nature anymore?  We are barely retaining art, music and physical education in our schools, life is increasingly competitive; what is this teaching us about the most nourishing aspects of life?

Is it materially better to view those leaves from behind a windshield than sitting before a TV screen? Are people meant to view beauty or experience it? Do we spend so much time working to afford mobility and modern convenience that we’ve no time left to savor an experience. Must we substitute a snapshot of it?

Is a vehicle a means to an end, in this case literally meaning to get us from here to there? Other things can move us and that’s both literal and figurative. A vehicle is a tremendous metaphor.

This is America. Here we proudly claim we’ll fight and die for freedom. We find mobility and freedom synonymous. This attachment extends wholeheartedly to our cars, our right to buy what we want and drive what we want.  It’s changing; people are seeing the wisdom of more fuel efficient cars, but that psychology is absolutely tied to the price of gas, artificially low right now and within a few years absolutely going to turn around and sock us.  Peak oil is here, and few understand that gas prices are artificially low currently, and for only a brief moment.  Still, the car culture is cult-like. Speak out against cars and you’ve got enemies from big oil to the Big 3, not to mention the truckers, classic car buffs, motor-heads and bikers. They’re everywhere. Now I think we could include Tahoe driving soccer moms too.  We just can’t seem to imagine any other way of doing our daily business.

Ok Joseph, lets start right here, and I will do my best not to be coy and simply feed you lines.  I am a parent and I work, right now from home.  I drive A LOT.  But I don’t love my car, and I expect many women in my situation would say that.  Driving exhausts me. I can remember the thrill of learning to drive, but doing so every day, especially the multiple, repetitive trips to get my children, take them to events, drop one off and pick up the next, all the while driving right back up the hill I live on about 15 minutes from the heart of the city, well I hate it.  Not only is it boring and mindless at middle age, it is uncomfortable as well as guilt producing, because I know that with multiple trips I am wasting gas.

But I put up with it like everyone else, because until recently I have not seen what my alternatives are. You make it sound as though we all have luxury vehicles that we adore driving as much as possible.  My car is a work horse, and any luxuries it has, such as heated seats, I feel entitled to due to my various aches and pains – which most of us have by now (I am 51.)  I live in a city that has a flat downtown but a hilly suburban residential area on almost all sides.  My knees prevent me from biking (we tried a bike rack, I can’t lift bikes, ok so I need to work out more and get stronger, yet another ride into town to the health club for that.)  The bus service comes remotely near where I live two times during the day:  7:45 a.m., and 3:45 pm.  There is simply no way I could get by on those times.  This is an argument for investing in new mass transit, not “shovel-ready” projects that do not shovel us forward!

We live in a frenzied, competitive time, and the current recession has only made us all desperate.  We make trade-offs.  Driving is the cost of having work that allows me to put my children first, and being at home means I am not close to where I need to shop during the week. Of course I try to conserve trips; I bet most of us do.  We are not just tired; we really do not want the expense or the moral guilt from using gas.

I tried a hybrid; I really wanted to do the right thing.  It was an uncomfortable car, and it did not get the fuel economy the company claimed it would.  I feel terrible driving a regular, internal combustion car, and terrified about the major event that comes in a few short months, when my son turns 16 and we hand him the keys to the car.  (Note:  by the time this book went to print, those keys were a given.)

I don’t want your ideas to be unpopular.  I have learned a great deal from you, and am convinced by your concerns.  But you do seem to make it sound like the way out is easy, even quick.  I dare to hope again, even after the painful lessons brought home by such urgently imploring illustrations in, for example, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

I believe the future depends on each one of us making the right choices, and that we are out of time to simply leave the solutions to our children.  We already lost that battle; I was learning about pollution in grade school and was taught it had to be handled by us when we grew up. Right. I do have faith in our project and I think so many people want to do the right thing.  It’s a matter of educating – our task here – so that people can come to see alternatives as I have now.

© Andy SingerI imagine I could be the most unpopular man in America to suggest that it’s the end of the road!  But that is what I am here to say.

That’s right. It’s all downhill from here. We are past due when it comes to changing our models of mobility. We’ve fouled the air and water with our inappropriate, destructive methods of movement. We must change now because the rest of the world is about to follow that model and that would be suicide.

I put my 177 pounds into a 4000-pound vehicle to move me efficiently from here to there. Inappropriate and unnecessary. It’s got the power of 300 horses, but most of the time I could make the trip on one horse. Inappropriate and unnecessary?  Overkill.  Folly.

It’s got the technology to protect me from a hundred different threats from numerous directions. Of course, I could kill and maim so many others with it by hitting pedestrians or a school bus. But I’m not alone. Not only is my personal safety covered, much of the transportation infrastructure and regulatory policy is designed to carry my weapon (car) safely and efficiently.

I have an incredible amount of comfort within my weapon. I’ve Beethoven or The Beatles filling the air in crystal clarity. I’ve heated leather seats, automatic climate control, automatic cruise control, automatic lighting and even my windshield wipers do my bidding without my asking.

I’m not sure which came first but it’s clear that our vehicles are our living rooms today. People are working, moms and dads, all the time to pay for their vehicles that average 10% of income. If one works all the time, there’s no time to be in the living room. So now our phone is in the car, our kids watch movies in the car, our many beverages have a place of their own there and our meals are consumed while we race from here to there.

I absolutely telephone, write checks, drink hot chocolate and even eat my lunch on the run.  I know these things are wrong, but I do not do them out of carelessness or callousness.   I do them because as a working mother who wants to be there at 3:15 for her children, everything I do, from work to volunteering to exercise to doctor appointments and shopping is fit into so few hours.  Why not wait for the weekends?  Sports and more sports, with my children.

How did this insane lifestyle evolve?  Though I love it, I hardly work just for fun.  I work because we have three children to put through college, despite my husband’s fortunate salary and because of course our 401K is in smithereens.  I work because I am driven to make a contribution and give back what my education and privileges have allowed me to become.  But all this and parenthood too has meant driving is not a mere matter of convenience.  To me it often feels like survival!

I am not saying you have put up a “straw man” argument, because I cannot argue in general with the materially self-indulgent nature of our American culture. In fact I think in many ways we have been lulled to sleep by it.  But I do think that we also want to do better, that we have been deprived of zero emission cars for decades, and have not seen our alternatives.  You are helping us wake up to possibilities; especially to the urgency and the possibilities of the moment.

Our love of cars and convenience has created the convenience store phenomenon. That’s what we call those stores that have terrible selections of the unhealthiest products at incredibly high prices. Doesn’t this sound like addictive behavior to you yet?

Oh yes, I was talking about folly. I was talking about the end of the road.
I imagine that we’re all conservative on some levels. We conserve our air and water, put nuts away like squirrels and know that inappropriate, destructive behavior is unsustainable. The way we’ve evolved our transportation systems and networks has been anarchic. We could not see today’s vehicles when we designed roads years ago. We didn’t have the best transportation planners, engineers and designers working on the project. It’s been a haphazard development, and some might claim that to be the reason things are so good.
But the result is a system of roads and expenses that support them that I believe to be at the end of its useful life. Roads can be decommissioned, utilized during a period of transition and saved as a neighborhood museum. Industries can re-tool. Priorities can be re-set.
Some people will be sad and some angry at the end of the road.  Sadness comes, perhaps, from nostalgia, from the hearts of the romantics still wedded to their cars and roads. Anger comes from those who perceive that someone is taking away their weapon, or freedom, or comfort or power.
Some people are always looking down. They are proponents of the myth of scarcity. There’s not enough. It’s ending too soon. How will we deal with our shrinking pot of finite resources?

© Andy SingerI suppose the points I am making do come from a sense of scarcity.

But not just of peak oil, which I am well aware of and care about tremendously.  Nor do I want to be yet another American who lives a life, however hectic, at the expense of others all over the world.  Yet life, even our freedoms, come in context.  I am bringing up my family in a country that does, in its competitive culture, take my time, my peace, even my ability to act upon my deeper values, away from me.  I sound like a relatively wealthy victim, I know, with a lovely middle-class house and lifestyle.  I do experience our American culture as so wildly competitive now that children lose their childhoods to incredible pressure way too early.  But I am not ready to trust some radically new lifestyle.  So keep talking, but don’t be too cynical. Show me the way out.

Other people are looking up. They see an infinite number of options, solutions, ideas and alternatives. That’s the optimism I remember from school as the essence of being American. We don’t look down and say, “Too bad, there’s not enough oil. When oil burns it’s killing us. Let’s just burn it and fight over it anyway.” I was taught that we’re smarter than that. I was taught we are adaptive and rewarded by our bullishness.
That’s right, just like on Wall Street, there are bulls and bears. On these streets, Main Streets, the mean streets, real streets, we’ve got some serious change coming. Embrace the end of the road, embrace the change and ride it. Know that it’s coming and be a part of the solution. I don’t know about you but after 52 years, I’m ready to do the right thing and stop going along, just another part of the problem.

I want to embrace this idea; I will embrace it.  But it is overwhelming. I still hold back on the hope that we can save this planet for my children and my future grandchildren, and yours. I would be lying to say I am without fear and doubt. I would not have signed on to this project with you, if I had no optimism in me.  I have indeed seen the difference one person can make, and what a whole group of organized people who are prepared to work and sacrifice for the greater good can accomplish.  Perhaps we are just planting seeds here, but I want more than that.  Because our planetary and cultural challenges are absolutely dire, I want to see a difference now, before it’s too late.

I may have to rely upon your optimism while mine builds, and while I write to try, with you, to convince others that we can do this thing.  Because I do agree with you, it is the end of the road as we know it.   And I will start by saying I am up for experiments, but I am afraid.  Of what?  Change.

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Motor Mania

For the pleasure, an old cartoon from Disney studios. Goofy stars as a Jekyll and Hyde character, Mr. Walker/Mr. Wheeler. When he’s a pedestrian he’s mild-mannered and rational; when he’s a driver he’s mad and bad. Enjoy and don’t forget to have a look at our You Tube channel.

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Peak Oil and the ARRP

© Susan VaughanMini Peak Oil Library

On Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009, the New York Times published a story about new global oil finds, with the title: Oil Industry Sets a Brisk Pace of New Discoveries. That would make September 24 seem an inauspicious day for members of San Francisco’s Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force to present their final report to members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee.

In fact, the total number of barrels estimated to have been found equals only about 10 billion (globally people consume about 84 million per day, around 22 million in the U.S. alone). And that 10 billion, said task force chair Jeanne Rosenmeier, pales in comparison to past discoveries; discoveries of new oil fields peaked in 1962, and oil analysts acknowledge that in order to extract the oil found recently in the Gulf of Mexico, the price of a barrel of oil would have to be $60 or more — on September 25, 2009, according to MSNBC, the price of a barrel of oil was $66 on the New York Mercantile Exchange — as new discoveries are no longer the “light sweet crude” that has been so easy or inexpensive to extract for decades.

Peak Oil is defined as the point at which demand and supply meet, the amount of oil extracted from the surface of the Earth begins an inexorable path downward, and the price of a barrel of oil (and therefore a gallon of gasoline) begins an inexorable path upward. It is anyone’s guess when that moment will arrive globally (it arrived in the United States in 1970). Predictions range from 2010 to 2013 to a plateau starting around 2020. But no serious analysts are doubting that it is on the near horizon or that humanity needs to make preparations to transition from ways of life now dependent on oil — which has been inexpensive to extract from the surface of the Earth since 1859, when oil was first tapped on industrial levels, up until now – to ways of life independent of cheap energy.

A few years ago, an energy analyst with the United States Department of Energy, Robert Hirsch, produced a report famous in peak oil circles, The Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigations, and Risk Managment. Still, few elected officials or bureaucrats are talking about the inevitable arrival of expensive oil (and natural gas), and what it means for the survival of our species let alone the western lifestyle. Thanks, then, to San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi who sponsored the creation of San Francisco’s task force.

As the task force report explains, the arrival of peak oil (and natural gas) means much more than just more expensive gasoline, as so much of the 20th century’s “green revolution” and the vast increases in food production have been based on fertilizers made from natural gas, and soils tilled with gasoline-run tractors and gasoline-run harvesters. This realization — and the fact that this fossil fuel-based “green revolution” is in large part responsible for the exponential increase in the human population — should stir fear in the hearts of all able-minded adults. What’s to happen when one of the most basic necessities of humankind — food — becomes prohibitively expensive for the 6.4 to 7 billion people currently on the planet because of the increasing cost of oil?

© Susan Vaughan

© Susan Vaughan

New England’s Lowell Mills, Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution

There’s no doubt in my own mind that the arrival of peak oil will mean, at the very least, the end of the Industrial Revolution based on fossil fuels (let’s hope we do not step up our coal mining) and very likely the end of the Industrial Revolution period (“renewable” sources of energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal now provide Americans with less than one percent of all our energy needs), and that we’re going to have to figure out how to go back to more local and regional production models for everything from food to clothing.

© Susan Vaughan

TIGER: Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery

© Susan Vaughan

In the meantime, I’d like to see local officials beginning a conversation with state and national officials — and getting some of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money (H.R. 1, the stimulus package passed by Congress, and signed by President Obama, in early 2009) dedicated to preparations for peak oil and not just thrown willy nilly at “shovel ready projects” — as appears to have happened along Geary Boulevard in San Francisco where, a few years from now, this artery is scheduled to be transformed by Bus Rapid Transit anyway.

© Susan Vaughan

And on an individual level, I’m rededicating myself to gardening, as the report recommends that San Francisco step up its local food production.

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Thank you to Susan Vaughan for allowing us to publish this interesting post. It was published at first on Carfree-Talk:

Book Review: Bicycle Diaries

“All this talk about bike lanes, ugly buildings, and density of population isn’t just about those things, it’s about what kinds of people those places turn us into.”  - © Kelly Nelson

“All this talk about bike lanes, ugly buildings, and density of population isn’t just about those things, it’s about what kinds of people those places turn us into.” - © Kelly Nelson

David Byrne, a founder of the band Talking Heads, has been biking for transportation for decades, in New York City where he lives and while visiting foreign cities. (He brings a folding bike when he travels.) His new book Bicycle Diaries recounts his experiences bicycling in various cities: Berlin, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, London, Manila, San Francisco and Sydney. Don’t expect a bike travelogue though. The book would more accurately be titled “Diaries of an Artist Who Bikes.” It contains a wide range of musings (can dogs deceive themselves?) and wonderings (does every culture have its own palette?) as well as encounters with artists, musicians and strangers on the street. It is a thought-filled, swirling read. And if you flip the pages front to back you’ll see a tiny bicycle scoot across the bottom of the page.

The most bikey parts come in the introduction, the New York chapter and the epilogue. Byrne started biking in the early 80s when it was a geeky, uncool thing to do but he found it exhilarating. Still does. Byrne, in his fifties, clearly enjoys having a bike-seat view of street life and urban landscapes. “It’s the liberating feeling—the physical and psychological sensation—that is more persuasive than any practical argument,” he writes to explain why he rides. He does use cars on occasion but says of driving, “The romance of being ‘on the road’ is pretty heady, but a cross-country ramble is a sometime thing. It isn’t a daily commute, a way of living, or even the best way to get from point A to point B.”

Byrne has applied his artsiness to the world of biking by organizing a public forum in 2007 that featured helmet designers, lock breakers, writers and singers (detailed in the New York chapter) and by designing one-of-a-kind bike racks (shown at the end of the book).

After reading Byrne’s description of Berlin—“No cars park or drive in the bike lanes, and the cyclists don’t ride on the streets or on the sidewalks either. There are little stoplights just for the bikers, even turn signals!”—I’m itching to go there and see it for myself. And that is the gift of this book: it makes you want to go some place new, bring a bike or rent one there, ride around and take your own photos, write your own journal.

Kelly Nelson

Tempe, Arizona USA

Bicycle Diaries / David Byrne / Viking, 2009

Bicycle Diaries / David Byrne / Viking, 2009

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The EVolution of the EV Revolution

My wife Zan Dubin Scott  and I are activists for electric cars. We didn’t mean to be, but we were kind of forced into it.

Back in 2002, I chanced upon a website where people were talking about electric cars.  The things they were saying sounded almost too good to be true. These were not the low speed EVs sometimes derided as golf carts, these were full function, highway capable cars, trucks and SUVs. I had recently installed a 3 kW solar photovoltaic system on my house, so all of my electricity was now generated by sunlight falling on my roof. Since I had always tried to reduce my gasoline usage, it seemed a perfect solution to buy a car that could run on those very same kilowatt-hours. As it happened, only Toyota was willing to actually sell their EV, the versatile RAV4, a small SUV. After our first test drive, we jumped at the chance, bought one and took possession of it on winter solstice 2002.

We were now running our house and our car on sunlight, no pollution well-to-wheels, no more of our money going to foreign countries for oil, and just as important, none of our money paying for the bombs and bullets that were killing our soldiers. We thought everyone would follow our lead. The future felt bright in spite of the turmoil in the world at the time.

One week later, we were informed that Toyota was stopping production on their EV. The electric vehicle program was unceremoniously shut down, leaving thousands of eager customers in line for a car that was no longer available.

Here we were with first hand knowledge of a technology that could literally change the world for better in massively significant ways; elimination of all pollution connected to driving a car and most of the pollution connected to running a household; keeping hundreds of billions of dollars from leaving the country to purchase foreign oil, money that could instead be used to hire workers to install solar panels and windmills; and finally, eliminating the need to fight wars over oil. We’ve never fought a war for electricity, and we never will.

Yet the one piece of the puzzle that could make all of this happen, the vehicle that ran on electricity, was taken away. Given that we, along with a few dozen other Californians, knew this truth first hand, we decided to become activists and fight the car companies over the crushing of their cars. It was very clear to us that the whole world needed to understand this truth, and as soon as possible. Being naive, we had no idea how hard it would ultimately be.

There followed three years of protests in the hot sun and the pouring rain, around the clock in some cases. Whatever it took. We protested in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego in front of car dealers, state regulators and, as depicted in the documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, we protested for 28 straight days around the clock in front of GM’s training facility in Burbank, CA.

Our efforts got picked up here and there, including in the LA Times, Washington Post and the New York Times. And when the film premiered in June of 2006 the whole story was finally revealed in great detail. It was then that everything changed.

The film resonated with Americans who had been brought up on rumors of magical additives and super-carburetors that had been quietly bought up and hidden from the public, all to keep everyone from reducing their need for oil. Well, rumor or true, those paled in comparison to a car that not only ran without any gas at all, but also ran quicker, ran quieter and didn’t pollute one bit. “Zero Emission Vehicle” they called it, ZEV for short. These cars represented everything the carmakers despised. They required virtually no maintenance and lasted a long time, and considering that the auto industry gets about 40% of its profit from parts and maintenance, the car industry wanted nothing to do with them.

As thousands, and then hundreds of thousands of Americans saw the film, word spread that this technology did indeed work. It worked so well in fact that years later, the original cars from the California experiment were still running exactly the same as when they were new. With no maintenance and no deterioration, and the ability to run on domestic fuel with no pollution, people were starting to pay attention.

Then the hammer came down – $4/gallon.

I had thought maybe $3/gallon would do it, but I was wrong, we blew right through that price and SUVs kept rolling out of the car lots. But, when the magic $4 was announced as the nationwide average, you could feel the shift. The price continued to go up and people began to hurt a lot. The pundits speculated on the ultimate price, while the most pivotal Presidential election in our lifetime was heating up. The high price of fuel, coupled with a growing recession, mortally wounded a domestic auto industry saddled with bloated, inefficient vehicles.

We now find ourselves in a different world from just a few years ago. The Obama administration is intent on reducing pollution from dirty fuels and also reducing our dependence on foreign oil. As external costs are internalized in the price of oil, and the scarcity of peak oil is fully understood, the cost of gas and diesel will rise dramatically.

Coincident with this, we now find that every carmaker on the planet is in development on plug-in vehicles of all shapes and sizes. From powerful motorcycles to small city cars, from blindingly fast sports cars to trucks capable of hauling 60,000 lbs, all manner of plug-in vehicles are racing to get to market first. We find start up companies in Silicon Valley competing with the “Crumbling Three” of Detroit. There are even start-ups rising Phoenix-like out of the ashes of GM facilities in Indiana. And all of them are competing with well-funded companies out of China and India. China is even publicly announcing that it will lead the world in EV production, a shot across the bow of Carlos Ghosn’s Nissan who lays claim to the same goal.

On the ground, our little protest group had morphed into a grown up advocacy organization with 15,000 active members and a sophisticated working board that helps federal and state regulators and legislators devise incentives to get plug-ins to market. We are the go-to organization for media the world over when they want to report on this movement from the perspective of the consumer, because we are those people. We have been using this technology for six to ten years and know what it means to drive a car that doesn’t pollute, doesn’t make noise and doesn’t put our country at risk. Soon, all our friends and neighbors will get to experience what we’ve been experiencing, and this time, there’ll be no attempted murder of a technology, just sweet revenge.

By Paul Scott

Paul Scott, a lifelong environmental activist, co-founded Plug In America (PIA) in 2005 to galvanize support and advocate for the manufacture of Electric Vehicles and plug-in hybrids that reduce America’s dependence on petroleum and improve the global environment. As one of the nonprofit organization’s most visible leaders, he is regularly interviewed by media coast to coast and works with auto industry officials, consumers and local, state and federal policymakers to advance clean car technology.

Paul helped create Don’, PIA’s predecessor, a grassroots group that single-handedly prevented some 1,000 production EVs from being destroyed by the auto companies that manufactured them. His work with both groups has included strategic campaign research, planning and execution. He is among the key figures featured in “Who Killed the Electric Car?” the 2006 documentary distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Paul works professionally as a consultant for SolarCity, a solar installation firm. He owns a Toyota RAV4 EV, which he drives on sunshine generated by the photovoltaic panels on his own roof in Santa Monica. He is President of the Electric Vehicle Assn. of Southern California and Vice President of Plug In America.

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Public Transport Can Compensate Job Losses in the Car Industry

© Andy Singer

© Andy Singer

Public transport is a significant provider of jobs. For instance, in Europe, public transport operators alone create one million direct jobs.  Every direct job in public transport is linked to four jobs in other sectors of the economy. Public transport creates 25% more jobs than the same investment in building roads or highways. At a meeting of the Policy Board of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) hosted by De Lijn from 13 to 16 October 2009 in Ghent, Belgium, worldwide leaders of the public transport sector called on governments to invest in the public transport sector.

“Public transport provides green local jobs. In many cities, the public transport network is one of the major employers, and such jobs cannot be delocalised,” said Alain Flausch, President of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP).

Public transport empowers the economy in general. In addition to the creation of sustainable, green and local jobs, public transport strongly supports the local economy by, among other things:

– Reducing congestion: congestion costs a minimum of 2% of the national GDP and between 2 and 8% in the European Union, which represents EUR 200bn.

– Alleviating the burden of energy costs: energy consumption for transport per inhabitant is four times lower in cities where the majority of trips are made by public transport and sustainable mobility. It helps economies to reduce their dependency on fossil fuel and improves their balance of payments.

– Reducing the cost of transport for the community: 50% less in terms of proportion of the urban GDP, in cities with a high share of public transport, walking and cycling; and

– Creating added value: every euro of value created from public transport is linked to a further value creation of EUR 4 in the total economy.

The magnitude of the current financial and economic turmoil shows that it is a systemic crisis calling for an in-depth change. This is the right moment to trigger a societal change and abandon the car-dependent lifestyle.

“It is time for a new mindset in the transport approach. A car-based economy is simply not sustainable. We call on governments to invest in the public transport sector as a sustainable lever of the economy,” said Hans Rat, Secretary General of UITP.

Brussels – October 20, 2009

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Keep Calm & Ride On

© Jennifer Renninger

© Jennifer Renninger

“I’ve always loved those Keep Calm and Carry On posters (who hasn’t?) so I made a new version for my husband (a biking junkie). Turns out others liked the sentiment as well!

This is a 6 x 9 inch print (appox.) on an 8.5 x 11 inch archival matte paper, signed and dated.

Loving shipped enclosed in a cello sleeve, packaged in a stay flat mailer or tube, depending on the size you purchase. If at all possible, delivered by pedal power, but more likely than not, your local postman.

By the way, if you’d like to read the story behind the original ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters please visit this site:

It’ll be well worth the trip!”

Posters are available in Green or in Grey. Please visit:

© Jennifer Renninger

© Jennifer Renninger

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End of the Road: Oil Addiction is Ripe for Intervention

Once again, sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles are outpacing car sales. Have we already forgotten $4 a gallon gas, plunging SUV values and presidential warnings of oil addiction? Are we driving down the road to renewed prosperity, or further dependence?

In their forthcoming book “The End of the Road,” local authors Joseph McKinney, president of Oregon Roads Vehicle Leasing and Sales, and co-author Amy Isler Gibson write that these price fluctuations reflect the challenge of adjusting to a long-term trend of decreasing oil supply, global warming and increased pollution from the unbridled rise of gas guzzlers. They also question the Obama administration’s plans to fund vast transportation infrastructure projects that will encourage continued dependence on the car and result in a continued strategic dependence on foreign oil.

Instead, the authors argue, we must redesign our roads for cleaner, more efficient, humane passage, with complete streets designed as boulevards for walking, biking and public transportation. Central to their argument is the need to dethrone the car and replace it with neighborhood electric vehicles if we are to reclaim our urban core dominated by the infernal combustion engine.

But why now, when prices are so low? Because they aren’t. In 1998 the International Center for Technology Assessment pegged the true cost of gas between $5 and $15 a gallon. Such external costs as government subsidies for oil companies, pollution-related health care, infrastructure needs not funded by gas taxes, military expenditures to maintain oil supplies, environmental protection and cleanup were borne by society, but were not factored into the price at the pump. Add inflation over 10 years plus two new wars, and the current true cost of a gallon of gas is even higher.

Because the price of oil does not include external costs, it is priced as a subsidized commodity, lower that what the free market would determine, perpetuating our addiction. As oilman T. Boone Pickens notes, this has led to the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world.

In 2007 Lane County residents paid out $637 million to countries such as the United Arab Emirates, currently building the tallest structure in the world. While we baked in gas lines last summer, Dubai residents skied their indoor winter playground.

President Obama agrees that we are oil addicts, claiming “… admitting to oil addiction without following a real plan for energy independence is like admitting alcoholism and then skipping out on the 12-step program.”

That demand will slacken with higher gas prices was proved last summer. People drove less, making beneficial changes such as walking, riding a bike, carpooling and trip chaining. But as the need for public transportation grew, service was ironically cut due to higher fuel charges.

I am an educator by training, but I don’t have faith that education can thwart addictions. Like an addict, we’ll do what we can to get our fix, even if it means turning food into bioethanol, raising the cost for ourselves and threatening the source of sustenance for those with marginal incomes.

Blame evolution for our predicament. Psychologists tell us that our brains are hard-wired to respond to threats that are close at hand. We don’t immediately see our mileage cut in half or twice the pollution for short distance trips with a cold engine.

In 1980, when oil imports accounted for about 30 percent of our needs, presidential candidate John Anderson called for a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax. Had we adopted that tax, the resulting decrease in consumption could have cut pollution-related health care expenses and reduced taxes that support military spending, now half the world’s total, most of which is dedicated to protecting Middle East oil supplies. Additionally, we would have raised about $100 billion per year to fund increased mass transit, additional bike routes, alternative energy, and improved roads and bridges.

But our addiction spoke, we rejected Anderson’s proposal as well as his candidacy, and we now import more than 60 percent of our oil.

So, we are left with the ever-present problem of how to raise the price of the drug to discourage the addict’s use. This will take an intervention from the top of our government to reverse an addiction to oil that threatens our nation’s health, wealth and security. And it will take our collective will and some inconvenience as we make personal changes necessary to achieve energy independence. But without this leadership and our acceptance, the addict will not change his ways.

By Jim Wilcox
2.12.09/ Appeared in Eugene Register Guard: Thursday, Feb 12, 2009, p. A9

Jim Wilcox is executive director of the BikeLane Coalition, which works with businesses, government agencies and nonprofit groups to increase cycling for short distance inner city travel. He was recently appointed to the Lane County Roads Advisory Committee.

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Book Review: Horace Afoot

© Kelly Nelson

It’s a book about identity, small town life, existential wonderings and the closing and opening of hearts. © Kelly Nelson

“I hate internal combustion engines and the civilization that has been built on them.”

So declares the narrator on the first page of the novel Horace Afoot. It’s a book about identity, small town life, existential wonderings and the closing and opening of hearts. It’s also the story of an anti-car man trying to live in a car-dominated society.

Horace lives in a small American town where corn grows in the summer, snow piles up in the winter and everyone owns a car except for Horace who walks.

His anti-car perspective creates some amusing scenes. While walking along a tree-lined residential street, Horace watches as a passing car screeches to a halt after the windshield is pelted with rocks. The driver leaps from his car calling the unseen kids “bastards” and seeking retribution. Horace does not reveal the where abouts of the kids who he considers to be a “band of little Luddites” who “are only trying to preserve the tranquility of their street by discouraging people … from driving down it.”

In another scene, a lawn care guy stops by and offers to mow Horace’s overgrown yard. “I’ll hire you,” Horace says, “on one condition. That you do everything by hand. No power mowers. Nothing that has a motor.” The guy takes a look, shakes his head and drives away.

The author, Frederick Reuss, pokes at car culture with his choice of words: cars are “growling boxes” that are “groomed” and “tucked into garages.” Chevy, I learned, is a variation of the word chivvy which means to harass. (I think of that now—harassment—when a Tahoe or Suburban roars past me on my bike.)

Although there are death threats, arrests, rapes, a murder and burglaries in this book, it moves with a quiet slowness, at a walking pace.

Horace, as a character, can be described as an intelligent, literary iconoclast and as an odd, repressed loner. He has no family, friends or career. He has legally changed his name at least three times. He telephones strangers and asks them about happiness, illusion and St. Bernard dogs. Town folks see him as a lunatic, a loafer, an untrustworthy weirdo. I’ve made the diagnosis that he has Asperger’s syndrome: he’s smart, verbal and socially skittish. I wonder: do carfree characters in novels tend to be depicted as unusual and out of step?

As the book unfolds, Horace starts to connect with people: he befriends a dying librarian and reads aloud to him in his hospice bed; he gives money to a small-time cocaine dealer so she can start over again, somewhere else, away from her hoodlum boyfriend. He takes a job at the library. He gets a pet. Please, don’t have him buy a car, I thought nervously. There had been suggestions along the way: there’s a scene where middle-aged Horace drives a car for the first time and an acquaintance tells him, “One of these days you’re going to get sick of walking, and when you do I want to be right there to help you pick out a brand new car.” By the end of the book, Horace has changed his name again but not his carfree ways.

Kelly Nelson

Tempe, Arizona, USA

Horace Afoot

Frederick Reuss

MacMurray & Beck, 1997

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Taking Back the Streets one Bicycle at a Time

© Andy Singer

© Andy Singer

In Detroit, there are cars. And then there is something known as “non-motorized transportation.”

That means bicycles, y’all.

Believe it or not, people in the Car Capital of the World love their bikes. And there is a huge movement to create a culture here that is friendlier to two wheels than four.

One such project would develop about 400 miles of bicycle lanes throughout Detroit. All it would take is some paint, new signs and a little cash, said Scott Clein, who heads the Detroit office of Giffels-Webster Engineers.

The firm, along with other key partners, mapped out every one of those miles with the city’s cooperation and a Michigan Department of Transportation grant. Clein and a support staff spent 18 months on the project, studying Detroit and trying to connect its waterways, landmarks and neighborhoods.

These paths have the potential to draw the creative class – artists, singletons and young couples – to the city, Clein said. It also might improve our collective health (Detroit typically ranks as the Top 1or 2 on obesity lists).

“Bikes are all about freedom. It’s about access. And that’s what makes a city great,” Clein said.

Detroit has the room for cyclists, Clein argues. Its major roads, like Michigan Avenue, have a stunning nine lanes. That is because the city once had cable cars and modes of transportation that needed space. Plus, Detroit used to have more than 2 million residents filling its 140 square miles.

Today, the population is around 900,000. Traffic is minimal on some roadways. And there is a growing number of people across Detroit that want places to walk, bike, skate and blade across.

Plus, if Detroit wants to become the next Portland, it needs to be more feet friendly, Clein said.

The city adopted the NonMotoroized Master Plan a year ago. But putting it into effect takes money, something the city cannot spare.

There is hope at the grassroots level. Over the past weekend, an estimated 2,000 cyclists came to the city for the 8th annual Tour De Troit – nearly double the number that showed up last year. Its goal is in part is to raise funds for the Corktown-Mexicantown Greenlink, which could link these key communities to the Detroit riverfront.

One great example already exists. The Dequindre Cut Greenway, an urban recreational path, officially opened in May. The 1.2-mile greenway, developed through a public, nonprofit and private partnership, offers a pedestrian link between the Riverfront, Eastern Market and many of the adjacent residential neighborhoods. Formerly a Grand Truck Railroad line, the Dequindre Cut is a below-street level path that features a 20-foot-wide paved pathway, which includes separate lanes for pedestrian and bicycle or rollerblading traffic.

I’m convinced the bike paths will happen. But if you’re on the fence, consider this: Each year, Metro Detroit’s commuters spend more than 50 hours sitting in traffic, wasting 34 gallons of gasoline per person.

Time to strap on a helmet and ride.

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