July/August 1998, p.14

Auto-Free World

Italy Catches the Biking Bug
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.
-Pianeta Press

Asphalt Ambushes
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

SUV Army Grows
Another status symbol sport utility vehicle will join its gas-guzzling brothers as Porsche and VW enter the market in '02.
- New York Times

Britain 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.
-T&E Bulletin

Insect 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.
-Daily Progress

Dial M for Mobile Murder
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.
-USA Today

Congestion 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.

Human 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 first."
-The New York Times

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