November/December 1998, p.15

Auto-Free World

Rickshaw No More?
The Governor of Jakarta, Indonesia, has once again banned the cycle rickshaw, called a "becak," from the region's roadways. Although a similar ban in 1992 had no effect on traffic congestion or crime rates and was opposed by becak drivers themselves, government officials still contend that the human-powered becaks create congestion, are a source of criminality and are inhumane. Officials ignored polls that showed strong public support for the use of the becak. Instead, the Governor caved in to pressure from the highway lobby, among other anti-becak groups. The small minority who favor the ban use motorcycle taxis, motorized becaks, taxis and private cars - all of which contribute to Jakarta's having the third worst air pollution in the world. - Sustainable Transport

Bikes as a Fringe Benefit
The Norwegian energy company Oslo Energy celebrated a banner year by offering its 1,350 employees a chance to buy 21-speed bicycles at a steep discount. At 1,000 Norwegian Kroner ($136), the price was right for 85% of employees who took the deal. Company executive Morten Schau cited their long tradition of sponsoring bike racing, adding "of course we hope that many people will use the bikes to commute to and from work, and that this will also benefit the general health of our employees."
- International Bicycle Fund News

Take a Free Ride to Prosperity
Unable to afford more new roads, mired in debt and losing residents, last year the Belgian city of Hasselt did the unthinkable. It rejected building a third ring highway, converted one existing ring highway to a pedestrian and bicycle "freeway," and made its bus system free. One year later, bus ridership is up 800%, the population decline has been reversed, and the city has attracted so much new business that city debt is down and taxes have been cut. To celebrate, Hasselt's mayor announced a free bicycle program.
-Car-Free Times

Pairing Blue Jeans and Bicycling
As Eastern Europe "goes West," the bicycle is often scorned as a symbol of leaner times, while the car, among other Western icons, is glorified. Car Busters, a new resource center for the European car-free movement, is tackling the image problem by designing a full-color poster (in a dozen languages) to be posted in the streets throughout Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, these growing cities are already beginning to feel the car's bite. In Budapest, Hungary, downtown traffic is up more than 50% since 1991. The city is gradually eliminating free parking to stem the droves of drivers.
- Car Busters Bulletin

Pre-Schooler Pintos
What's got four wheels, lots of colors and can explode into flames without notice? Jeep Commando and Barbie Beach Buggy (for your 2- to 7-year-old child) of course. Fisher Price, having sold around 10 million of these battery-operated kid cars since 1984, was pressured into recalling the toy after consumer advocates documented at least 150 "car fires."
No worries though, toy-makers won't let kids go wanting - now there's even the "Four Wheelin' Jeep Walker." "They'll learn how to drive while they learn how to walk!" exclaims the ad copy. The tot-sized SUV comes complete with a phone and snack tray. long until kindergartner road rage?
-News reports & Spiegel catalog

Cars 1, Bikes 0
China took another step in the long march toward Western car culture when the city of Beijing banned the country's major transportation mode - the bicycle - from busy East Xisi Street.
Officials think the extra lane (which will move about half as many people) will untie daily traffic jams. With a global auto glut on the horizon, American car makers are banking on moves like this to open up once car-scarce markets from India to Eastern Europe to Africa.
-Daily News

Cars a Top Three Killer by 2020
Vehicle crashes will be the world's third leading killer by the year 2020, according to the annual World Disasters Report, issued by International Red Cross agencies. Only heart disease and clinical depression will claim more lives. In its first century, the automobile has directly caused 30 million deaths. By 1990, traffic crashes were killing 500,000 and injuring a staggering 15 million people per year. The death toll in the West is receding, thanks in part to huge limited access highways, auto safety regulations, driver training and seat-belt laws. But now developing countries, under pressure to "modernize" via more autos, account for 70% of the world's road fatalities. This number is rising, along with attendant costs of around $53 billion a year.
-World Disasters Report 1998

(Car)-Free for a Day in France
A one-day traffic ban on September 22 in 35 French cities gained worldwide attention. Environment Minister Dom- inique Voynet, a member of the Green Party, was most responsible for the experiment, which barred cars from some central city areas from 7 am to 9 pm. Voynet declared the day a chance for citizens to "rediscover the pleasures of walking, cycling, scootering and riding buses and subways - and breathing cleaner air. [Today is] a point of departure for taking back our cities." Many Parisians agree - a recent poll found 71% believed car traffic now "intolerable," and 69% called for closing downtown areas to cars. Paris, which offered 1,000 bicycles for rent at City Hall, saw traffic volumes drop by 15%, even though closed streets (about 37 miles) comprised less than 4% of the area's total roads. The French government said it wants the car-free day to be an annual fixture and an example for other European Union countries.
- Reuters

Read the latest news about this issue.