The Car of the Future, Part 3: Get around. Not too fast. Mostly walk.

The previous segment of this series left off discussing how lifestyle choices, infrastructure, and a new economic thinking must work in tandem to change the overall trajectory from a car-first to a people-oriented mobility Zeitgeist that can lead to a reduction of the current global automobile fleet of 1.2 billion to no more than a billion by 2040.

Let’s take a look at what a future inspired by this kind of a human-scale, integral transportation epoch might look like.

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Downtown Freiburg, Germany: Rebuilt after WWII with carless mobility in mind

We’re all familiar with the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” It’s a good one for sure, as it doesn’t deny the fact that we live and will continue to do so in a material world while at the same time laying out an easily understood list of priorities to guide us in becoming less wasteful (a fourth “R” — Refuse — as the lead-off would be an appropriate addition). Similarly, the phrase “Eat food, Not too much, Mostly plants” coined by author Michal Pollan conveys a ranking of eating habits that connects personal well being with best practices for the planet in a non-dogmatic, progressive, and easy to digest (pun!) way.

An equivalent motto for a realistic yet meaningful transportation transformation would be “Get around. Not too fast. Mostly walk.” On both policy and personal levels, it acknowledges and honors our human desire for mobility (get around) while prioritizing modes of transportation that may be slower but are more sustainable (not too fast) and encouraging the most nimble and healthy way of moving about (mostly walk) whenever possible.

Here’s a look at preferred transit modes and their role in pushing the lifestyle, infrastructure, and economic trifecta toward a post-auto world, stacked by proportional impact, from lowest to highest.

Naturally, leading the list is the carrier with the smallest footprint — our feet.

  • Walking
    Lifestyle: Healthy, Social, Simple, Flexible, Free
    Infrastructure: Human-scale, Accessible, Self-Regulating, Safe, Durable
    True Cost: Pavement, Maintenance

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Next, there’s walking on wheels, like…

  • Skating/Scooting
    Lifestyle: Healthy, Simple, Affordable, Speedy
    Infrastructure: Human-scale, Accessible, Self-Regulating, Safe, Durable
    True Cost: Equipment Materials & Production, Pavement, Minor Street Maintenance

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Followed by pedal power, such as…

  • Bicycling: Personal/Commuter/Cargo/Share/Taxi
    Lifestyle: Healthy, Affordable, Mobile, Utilitarian
    Infrastructure: Bike-scale, Compact, Safe, Fluent, Minor Traffic Regulation
    True Cost: Bicycle Materials & Manufacture, Pavement, Minor Street Maintenance

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For urban, regional and long distance mobility there’s mass public transit, such as

  • Electric Light Rail/Bus/Subway/High Speed Rail
    Lifestyle: Active, Comfortable, Reliable, Communal
    Infrastructure: Compact, Integrative, Manageable, Low Footprint Per Capita
    True Cost: Vehicle Materials & Manufacture, Electricity, Infrastructure, Maintenance

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ICE Munich Germany

Depending on geography and culture, other clean or energy-efficient modes may fill important transit niches, such as water taxis in Venice,

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ferry service in Istanbul,

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or gondolas in Medellín.

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As mentioned earlier, there is a place and need for motorized personal vehicles. There are, of course, electric bikes, scooters and motorcycles, which of all motor vehicles fit best into settlements designed for proximate and sustainable living. However, given that cars are on occasion necessary and legitimate means of transportation, let’s turn our attention to the ways in which they can be utilized most integrally in a pedestrian, bike and transit oriented grid.

First off, size matters. Smaller cars weigh less, take fewer resources to produce, are more fuel-efficient, provide better visibility of pedestrians and cyclists, and don’t take up as much space.

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If the car can be electric-powered and small enough to seamlessly blend into a pedestrian zone, the better.

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Rethinking the meaning and function of a car is a big part of an overall infrastructure that is more fluid, clean, and light. For example, there is no reason for cities and towns in warmer climates to not be primarily serviced by golf carts, as is the case on California’s Catalina Island.

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photo: Rosa L. McArthur

If a bigger car is needed for storage or multiple passengers, the ideal usage is a fully occupied carpool.

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In the same vein, car sharing makes a lot of sense in dense urban environments where parking space is limited and most people don’t need a car on a daily basis.

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The Car of the Future

Ultimately, if we are to counter the dangerous current trend lines of climate change and shrink the existing global automobile fleet, the number one priority throughout all facets of civic life must be to reward car-free living and the physical and mental spaces that support it.

While some of the changes will be dictated by economic reckoning,

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we can do a lot to prepare for a successful transition through the right architecture,

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re-envisioning existing spaces,

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building people-centric communities,

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and sometimes just horsing around…

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

However, in a world obsessed with innovation and technology, we shouldn’t forget that some of the most prudent and functional solutions to our problems have been around for a long time.

We’d be well advised to take our clues from cities and towns that have thrived since the middle ages,

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and instead of reinventing wheels look to the ones that have propelled us successfully throughout the last century,.

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In the end, it’ll be the passion, imagination, and inspiration of citizens in automobile-dominated cities across the globe

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that will sow the seeds for the car of the future!

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The Car of the Future is a 3-part series excerpted from a photo feature originally published at Medium. All photos by Sven Eberlein, except where noted otherwise.

Part 1: Why the world needs FEWER not better cars
Part 2: Reducing the fleet through personal, infrastructure & economic change

U.S. Bikeshare Programs on the Rise

Creating more walkable and bikeable neighborhoods means fewer cars on the road, easier access to public transportation, and healthier communities.

Creating more walkable and bikeable neighborhoods means fewer cars on the road, easier access to public transportation, and healthier communities—all important ecocity goals. Metropolitan areas around the world are working to encourage bicycle use by taking actions such as increasing cycling-specific infrastructure and establishing bike sharing programs.

Bike sharing is gaining popularity in American cities as a tool for providing convenient and low-cost transportation for traveling short distances, reducing traffic congestion, and improving air quality and public health. Bikeshare systems feature networks of docking stations where riders can check out bicycles for short periods of time, typically with cards activated through per-use rates or annual memberships.

San Francisco is among the growing number of U.S. cities with successful bikeshare programs, and Bay Area residents may soon start to see new bikeshare stations popping up and an increasing number of bikes on the road. In April, four Bay Area mayors announced a proposal which if approved will expand the Bay Area Bike Share program tenfold — from 700 to 7,000 bikes — by 2017.

Several other U.S. cities are also working to expand existing bike sharing networks or launch new systems. Philadelphia launched its long-awaited bike sharing operation Indego this spring, and Birmingham will become the first city in the Western Hemisphere to have its bike fleet include “electric-assist” bikes that help with pedaling in hilly terrain when it implements its new bikeshare program this fall.

Bike sharing has exploded in recent years, but ten years ago, the idea was nowhere close to being at the forefront of urban transportation planning. That changed when in 2005, the Velo’v bike share system was launched in Lyon, France. A few earlier bikeshare systems existed in the U.S. and Europe, but the Lyon program was one of the first to bring together and scale the elements of purpose-built bikes, dedicated docking stations, smart cards, and a fee structure that encourages short-term rentals. That program’s success and popularity led many other cities to establish similar systems. There are now more than 850 bikeshare programs in operation worldwide.

Washington, D.C. became the first major city in the United States to implement a modern bikeshare program in 2008, followed by Denver in 2010. There are now 54 active bikeshare programs in the United States, a number which continues to grow.

In addition to the environmental benefits of reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality by removing cars from the road, bike sharing alleviates road congestion and pressure on parking supply. It also encourages expansion of public transportation (by making bus and subway stops more accessible with short bikeshare trips) and promotes healthier and more active communities, particularly when bikeshare travel displaces car trips. Bike sharing programs can reduce the personal cost of urban transportation by offering an affordable public option, making urban bike travel available to a broader range of people.

According to a 2015 research survey and analysis published in Transport Reviews, “Bikeshare: A Review of Recent Literature,” convenience and distance between users’ homes and the nearest docking station are significant factors in bikeshare use. One example from the 2015 analysis cited that Montreal residents living within 500 meters of a docking station were 3.2 times more likely to have used the city’s bikeshare system than those who lived further away. For lower-income users, the opportunity to save money compared with other transportation options was also an important factor.

Continued political support for bike sharing in many U.S. cities has supported the recent bikeshare boom. Business models and funding structures vary greatly from program to program. Among U.S. cities, bikeshare programs are generally owned and managed either by the local jurisdiction (Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare), a nonprofit organization (Denver B-Cycle), a for profit company (Miami Beach’s Deco Bike), or a hybrid between these models. A young and rapidly evolving transportation service, new strategies and best practices are emerging as bikeshare projects are implemented.

The bikeshare experience is also improving with technological advancements that improve functionality. Many modern systems are characterized by automated credit card payments, the use of GPS systems for bicycle tracking, and mobile and web applications that show the availability of bikes and dock spaces in real time.

According to a 2012 best practices guide prepared for the Federal Highway Administration, successful and sustainable bikeshare programs should work hand-in-hand with other efforts to accommodate and encourage cycling, strive for participation among low-income populations, and be integrated with other public transportation options. The 2012 guide also cited examples of jurisdictions that were experimenting with programs such as reduced-rate memberships to facilitate access to bikeshare programs for low-income and minority communities.

Bikeshare programs are changing the way that people think about personal mobility and urban transportation. As they continue to expand and evolve, they will likely become a permanent part the of transportation picture in many cities. To explore a full list of American bikeshare programs and a bike sharing world map, visit http://bikeshare.com/map/.

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Sources:

http://journalistsresource.org/studies/environment/transportation/bikeshare-research-growth-user-demographics-health-societal-impacts

http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2015/04/bike_sharing_comes_to_birmingh.html

http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/pdf/Programs_Promote_bikeshareintheus.pdf

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01441647.2015.1033036#.VVe3iPlViko

 

The Beauty of Venice, or How to Be An Ecocity Without Trying

On my way to the Ecocity World Summit in Istanbul back in 2009 I decided to detour through Italy. My parents were living in Vicenza at the time, providing the perfect excuse for a day trip to nearby Venice. While I’m aware that Venice is a unique city with a fair share of its own problems — from garbage and sewage issues due to the volume of tourists each year to flooding caused by a combination of natural cycles, a sinking foundation and rising sea levels due to climate change — being there felt like I had already arrived in the ultimate ecocity before ever getting to the conference.

With every step I took through the streets and alleys of this pedestrian paradise I was struck by how much of its urban design serves as an example that ecocities aren’t some kind of Utopia but have in fact been in existence for centuries.

The following photo essay documents the journey to this city of the past, present, and hopefully, the future.

Venice (Italian: Venezia, IPA: [veˈnεttsia], Venetian: Venesia) is a city in northern Italy, the capital of the region Veneto. The population estimate of 272,000 inhabitants includes the population of the whole Comune of Venezia; around 60,000 in the historic city of Venice (Centro storico). Venice has been known as the “La Dominante”, “Serenissima”, “Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Water”, “City of Bridges”, “City of Canals” and “The City of Light”. Luigi Barzini, writing in The New York Times, described it as “undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man“. (Wikipedia)

The first thing one encounters upon approaching Venice is the irrevocable reality of having to give up one’s car. It’s like checking your coat at the door…

Venice is Europe’s largest urban car free area, unique in Europe in remaining a sizable functioning city in the 21st century entirely without motorcars or trucks. (Wikipedia)

Once you walk across modern Ponte della Costituzione into historic Venice, your entire field of perception changes…

Whether you look down the alleys…

into the canals…

through the tunnels…

or up in the air…

This town is made for the SENSES!

It is quite amazing what happens to your entire sensory system when not only you but everyone else experiences life away from the car.

I hear the sounds of footsteps and conversation…

and I smell the scents of fresh produce and bread…

I see and touch endless colors and shapes…

One thing I noticed was how many people had their laundry hanging out to dry. Obviously, this is not exclusive to Venice but when you ask yourself how Americans can get such a high per capita carbon footprint compared to Europeans, it’s those little things that add up. Why waste money and energy on wasteful machines when the great dryer in the sky is right there?

(btw, if you’re one of those Americans who isn’t grossed out by these photos, check out Project Laundry List.)

Buildings are high occupancy and high density in true ecocity fashion…

because you know, density is not a curse word when you include beauty, imagination and mother nature in your design…

Parking is for lovers…

Public transit is for movers…

and even waste disposal has its appeal…

The locals are full of grace while the tourists aren’t…

Venetians are a modern people…

who can dream big…

yet remain true to their roots where it makes sense…

I know there’s only one Venice (sorry CA & FL), and some of the particular features of this city are neither possible nor desirable to recreate in other places. However, even without the canals this is a great model that could serve city planners everywhere as they envision the 21st century city in which residents tread with a low carbon footprint.

Here are just a few key features of Venice that should be part of any modern urban plan:

  • Urban villages that are closed off to cars except a few key transportation routes.
  • Multi-occupancy buildings and architecture that are aesthetically pleasing, with rooftop gardens and other integrated natural elements that inspire a sense of belonging and community.
  • Access by proximity: all essential services are within walking (or biking) distance.
  • Open spaces interspersed with high density residential and commercial corridors.

While the canals in Venice serve not only as transit routes but as natural green spaces that enhance the quality of living in densely populated cities, there are other ways to create these green zones. In fact, most urban areas have natural waterways and green zones but they’ve been paved over. Projects like Cheonggyecheon River restoration in downtown Seoul, South Korea, or the Cordornices Creek Daylighting Project in Berkeley-Albany show how even the most paved over cities can become more “Venetian” if only we unveil and honor the natural ecosystem they were built on. And since continued urban sprawl is not an option for the future of mankind, we may as well rediscover the joy and beauty of city life.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o

Originally posted at A World of Words
All photos by Sven Eberlein

A Recent History of Bike Lanes in the U.S.

As frustratingly slow as Ecocity change seems to be at times, good people are working on good projects all the time. Look no further than the streets of San Francisco at the astounding development of bike infrastructure there. In the past 5 years designated bike lanes, bulb-outs and the like have exploded. Riding “The Wiggle”–a winding path that avoids the steepest hills between downtown and the Panhandle–has gone from a terrifying race through speeding traffic on Market, Oak and Fell streets, to a much saner and more accessible protected bike lane route. The signature green paint and share-os of bike lanes seem to multiply every week.

San Francisco’s rapid development of cycling infrastructure is no accident, and is not simply the work of Bicycle Coalition lobbying. The Fog City is part of a network of cities organized by the Department of Transportation called PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project. The Green Lane Project creates a bridge (and funding opportunities) for bike advocacy groups and city governments to work together to improve urban biking conditions. Selected cities receive up to $250,000 of financial, strategic and technical assistance from the project for building protected bike lanes.

In cities across America, investing in bicycle transportation is transitioning from an add-on catering to few cyclist hobbyists to an essential component of citizen transportation. In the last two years, the number of protected lane projects in the country has nearly doubled, reports Streetsblog. According to the Green Lane Project, 48% of all trips in the U.S. are 4 miles or less–a perfectly acceptable cycling distance for most riders. Protected bike lanes not only protect riders, but shave been shown to reduce traffic crashes for all street users by 34%. Dividers, bulb-outs, and other road development “help to make drivers more aware of their surroundings and more cautious.”

The payoff on cycling investment continues beyond the safety and enjoyment of the cycling experience to addressing pressing needs for urban transportation in the coming years.

“When you have a swelling population like the USA has and will have for the next 35 years, one of the most cost-effective ways to better fit that population is to better use the existing grid,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at a recent Green Lane Project gathering. Bikes are part of the solution to a highway trust fund that is “teetering toward insolvency” by August or September, he said.

Six U.S. cities–Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, San Francisco and Washington, DC–began the Green Lane Project in 2012. This April the partner cities expanded to include Atlanta,  Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

To celebrate the new city partners, the Green Lane Project has released a short film highlighting the advances in cycling infrastructure of the last few years. Enjoy!

The Rise of Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S. from The PeopleForBikes GLP on Vimeo.

The Rise of Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S. from Green Lane Project on Vimeo.

A Talking Head Dreams of a Perfect City

Osaka’s robot-run parking lots mixed with the Minneapolis lakefront; a musician’s fantasy metropolis
By DAVID BYRNE
Originally published in the Wall Street Journal

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New Orleans on a rainy day. National Geographic Stock

There’s an old joke that you know you’re in heaven if the cooks are Italian and the engineering is German. If it’s the other way around you’re in hell. In an attempt to conjure up a perfect city, I imagine a place that is a mash-up of the best qualities of a host of cities. The permutations are endless. Maybe I’d take the nightlife of New York in a setting like Sydney’s with bars like those in Barcelona and cuisine from Singapore served in outdoor restaurants like those in Mexico City. Or I could layer the sense of humor in Spain over the civic accommodation and elegance of Kyoto. Of course, it’s not really possible to cherry pick like this-mainly because a city’s qualities cannot thrive out of context. A place’s cuisine and architecture and language are all somehow interwoven. But one can dream. Continue reading “A Talking Head Dreams of a Perfect City”