Monthly Archives: April 2015

Car Country: An Environmental History …

 Car Country: An Environmental History

Christopher W. Wells, Foreword by William Cronon

“Relatively few academic geographers have focused their research and publishing directly on the automobile and its geographical implications for life in the United States. Yet nothing over the past century has had a greater effect on America’s geography than the public’s evolving dependence on the motor car, and, as well, the motor truck…. Christopher Wells’s opus will excite more geographers to focus on automobility as a fundamental factor underlying the American experience.”—John A. Jackle, The AAG Review of Books

For most people in the United States, going almost anywhere begins with reaching for the car keys. This is true, Christopher Wells argues, because the United States is Car Country—a nation dominated by landscapes that are difficult, inconvenient, and often unsafe to navigate by those who are not sitting behind the wheel of a car.

The prevalence of car-dependent landscapes seems perfectly natural to us today, but it is, in fact, a relatively new historical development. In  Car Country, Wells rejects the idea that the nation’s automotive status quo can be explained as a simple byproduct of an ardent love affair with the automobile. Instead, he takes readers on a tour of the evolving American landscape, charting the ways that transportation policies and land-use practices have combined to reshape nearly every element of the built environment around the easy movement of automobiles. Wells untangles the complicated relationships between automobiles and the environment, allowing readers to see the everyday world in a completely new way. The result is a history that is essential for understanding American transportation and land-use issues today.

Christopher W. Wells is associate professor of environmental history at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

University of Washington Press

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Gridlock fears as cars hit record number …

The Times, 10 April 2015, Graeme Paton Transport Correspondent

The number of vehicles on British roads has increased by more than 10 million in the past two decades amid fresh warnings over gridlock.

Figures from the Department for Transport show a record 35.6 million cars, vans and HGVs were registered in the fourth quarter of last year, a 1.7 per cent increase on the year before — the biggest annual increase since 2007.

In 2014 there were more than 40 per cent more vehicles than in 1994. The increase has been driven by a rise in delivery vans because of the internet shopping boom and more cars being bought.

Traffic on main A-roads and motorways was slowing down, with almost a quarter of all journeys subjected to delays in February this year, a 5 per cent rise on the same month in 2012.

Major road network upgrades are due to cost £15 billion over six years. Edmund King, the AA president, said this was a “sticking plaster approach”.


Choke Point

Too many vehicles, too much pollution, not enough action

The Times leader, 10 April 2015

 So much for the Bradley Wiggins effect. Britons may be keener than ever on cycling, but they remain hooked on cars and increasingly dependent on vans. The causes include inadequate public transport and the boom in door-to-door delivery for internet shoppers. The effects include road congestion that is worsening faster than new road-building can ease it, but congestion in itself is a mere inconvenience. The pollution it creates costs lives. It is a public health emergency that the next government must take seriously. If it did it would be the first to do so for nearly half a century.

New figures from the Department for Transport show that Britain’s roads are 40 per cent more crowded than in the mid-1990s. Meanwhile today’s official forecast is for air pollution levels so high, especially in parts of the southeast, that even perfectly healthy people are advised to cut back on their exercise. Industrial pollution from the continent and traces of Saharan dust are among the culprits, but they are minor ones. To blame our bad air on others would be as foolish as ignoring it altogether.

The Social Progress Index this week ranked Britain 87th in the world for air quality. The tiny particles that foul our urban air kill 30,000 people a year excluding premature deaths attributable to nitrogen dioxide, a main pollutant from diesel engines. The root cause is indolence: no central government has grappled in earnest with air pollution since the Clean Air Act of 1968, and no local government has seized control of the issue since Ken Livingstone introduced London’s congestion charging 12 years ago. Boris Johnson in particular has failed to lead, waiting seven years to act. Last month he announced the introduction of an “ultra-low emission zone” for the capital, but it will not come into force until 2020. By that time thousands more will have succumbed avoidably to pollution-related illness.

A link between airborne pollution and heart disease is well-established, although a recent study found that it could take as little as two hours’ exposure to typical pollution levels on London’s Oxford Street to induce a measurable stiffening of human arteries. Like tobacco smoke, particulate pollution from traffic also causes lung and bladder cancer and is classified by the WHO as a carcinogen. Large-scale studies over the past two decades have linked exposure to particulates and nitrogen dioxide to cognitive impairment in children, heightened risk of type 2 diabetes, weakened immunity and even fractured DNA in sperm.

A main cause of Britain’s worsening air quality has been excessive subsidies for diesel engines on grounds of fuel economy. They emit less carbon per kilometre than petrol-driven vehicles, but four times more nitrogen dioxide and 22 times more particulates. In Delhi, diesel engines more than ten years old are being outlawed. The next British government should stop incentivising diesel and encourage the electrification of fleet delivery vans instead. It should close the loophole that allows the removal of air filters from diesel lorries, ensure that no new schools are built within 150 metres of major roads and create a network of ultra-low emission zones urgently rather than content itself with one in five years’ time.

Air pollution kills too many and appears to dull the brains of many more. If it didn’t, tackling its causes with the vigour deployed against tobacco would surely be a no-brainer.