Italy Catches the Biking
A bill before the Italian Parliament that would provide new funds for bicycle
transportation has cleared the Commission on Constitutional Affairs and is
expected to be approved by the full Parliament shortly. The measure would
allocate $180 million (U.S.) for the construction of new bike routes and lower
the VAT (value added tax) on bikes to 9 percent. Even without the legislation,
bicycle production in Italy is expected to skyrocket from 2.6 million in 1997
to 4.5 million this year.
In an effort to seize public space back from the clutches of cars, concrete
and commerce, a British group called Reclaim The Streets (RTS) has been
throwing spontaneous "street parties" since 1995. The group's
asphalt ambushes have descended upon busy streets, major intersections, and
even stretches of highway. In an instant, a flood of people transforms a
traffic artery into a surrealistic playpen. The location is kept secret until
the day of the party, when thousands gather at a meeting place. They proceed
en masse to the chosen locale, where some means of blockading the street has
been devised, often two old cars deliberately crashed into each other. The
space is then declared a "street now open." Signs go up that say
"Breathe." A van rigged with a powerful sound system is parked in
the middle of everything, pumping electronic music. Out of nowhere comes the
traveling carnival of RTSers. Since its original 500-person party, the RTS
virus has spread across Britain and to cities as far away as Sydney, Helsinki,
and Tel Aviv. The last major London party-held in April 1997-drew 20,000
people to Trafalgar Square.
-The Toronto Star
Another status symbol sport utility vehicle will join its gas-guzzling
brothers as Porsche and VW enter the market in '02.
- New York Times
Puts Squeeze on Diesel
The British government has become the first in Europe to tax diesel more
heavily than gasoline. In his annual budget speech in March, British finance
minister Gordon Brown raised fuel taxes by more than 6 percent above
inflation, including an extra penny per liter on diesel to reflect growing
concerns about the impact of emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulates.
Brown also increased the difference between the tax on normal grade diesel and
ultra-low-sulphur diesel ("city diesel") with the intention of
driving the normal grade out of the market.
Kills Three on Virginia Road
A grandmother and her two granddaughters were killed on a Charlottesville,
Virginia, highway when a car in the adjacent lane suddenly shifted lanes,
sending them spinning out of control and into the path of oncoming traffic.
The driver of the other car later claimed a bug flew into her eye.
Dial M for
Singapore police pledged yesterday to confiscate the mobile phone of anyone
seen using one while driving after a car driven by one such distracted
motorist slammed into a bus stop, killing three women. Talking on a mobile
phone while driving is illegal and carries a $103 fine, but police have found
an increasing number of people chatting behind the wheel. At least 221
motorists were fined every month this year.
Ahead for Car Makers
Two developments are darkening the Ford Motor Company's outlook heading into
the next century. The main problem is that the world's automakers have the
capacity to churn out 70 million vehicles a year-about 30 percent more than
the world's drivers want to buy. And the overcapacity problem is not likely to
be cured by simple market economics. For example, a country like South Korea,
with a population of 46 million, sees it as a matter of national pride to have
three domestic car manufacturers. "We are talking about onerous cultural
and political issues here, and the long-term outlook for solving them
stinks," says analyst Gary Lapidus. of Sanford Bernstein. Ford may be a
terrific company, but even a King of the Road can't put on much speed in the
current global traffic jam.
Rights (Of Way)
When Cuban leader Fidel Castro let the latest wave of political prisoners
emigrate to Canada, one asylum-seeker, Guillermo Sambra, 27, was moved to
comment on the ordered calmness at Toronto intersections. "The automobile
has the force. It's made of steel and the people are just flesh and
bones," Sambra said. In Cuba, Sambra explained, cars barrel through
intersections and expect pedestrians to get out of the way. "But
here," he said of Toronto with awe, "the person has the right to go
-The New York Times
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