May/June 1999, p.14-15

Auto-Free World

Court Rules for Cleaner Air

The Federal Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled on March 3 that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements for highway project approvals violate the Clean Air Act. The ruling appears likely to stop funding for major road projects in a number of metropolitan areas that have failed to revise their regional transportation plans to meet motor vehicle emission targets set by states under the Clean Air Act. The decision mandates compliance with requirements enacted in 1990 to hold transportation agencies accountable for air pollution from automobile use across America. The appeal from the EPA’s transportation planning rules was filed by the Environmental Defense Fund. The Court struck down a rule allowing planned highway projects to be guaranteed future funding many years in advance of construction even if the transportation plan for the metropolitan area no longer meets Clean Air Act requirements when construction funds are to be spent. This hugely important decision will insure that federal funds may only be spent on highway projects that do not interfere with a metropolitan area’s pollution cleanup plan.

—Environmental Defense Fund

Gas-Powered Toys Pollute Big

After finding that snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles are major polluters in some cities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to write the first emissions standards for the machines. The EPA estimates that snowmobiles and ATVs produce about 15 percent of all hydrocarbons emitted by mobile sources such as cars and lawnmowers. The agency expects that share to rise to 19 percent by 2010. The new rules could add several hundred dollars to the vehicles’ retail prices. The nation has 1.3 million snowmobiles, and an additional 1.7 million ATVs.

—AP/St. Paul Pioneer-Press

Sprawl Feeds Road Rage Death Rates

Where you live influences the likelihood that you will be killed in an aggressive driving crash, according to a recent study by the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP). Analyzing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Data, researchers found that areas with high rates of deaths due to aggressive driving are marked by weak transit systems and development that discourages walking and biking, forcing people to drive everywhere they need to go. By contrast, areas with lower rates of aggressive driving deaths are older and have grid street patterns, sidewalks and more developed transit systems. STPP points out that much of the literature on aggressive driving focuses on anger management and tougher law enforcement, but almost none of it recommends avoiding the situation — driving — altogether.

—STPP

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Add sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to the evils that highways spread. A study investigating a syphilis epidemic that peaked in 1990 found that eleven North Carolina counties bordering Interstate 95 had syphilis rates twice those of other counties in the state. Researchers said this was the first interstate transportation-related STD study in the U.S. Similar studies in Africa, India and Southeast Asia have found links between major highways and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

—American Journal of Public Health

Bikes Reward Kids in Newark

Police in Newark, N.J., have found a new way to dispose of unclaimed stolen or confiscated bicycles: give then to deserving schoolchildren. The new cooperative program between police and the local school district rewards youngsters who have exhibited leadership qualities, performed good deeds or distinguished themselves academically.

—Newark Star-Ledger

Do Seat Belts Kill Cyclists and Pedestrians?

The government of Ireland is trying make roads safer by increasing seat belt usage. But Irish cyclists are pointing out that the introduction of compulsory seat belt use in Britain was accompanied by an average 175-per-year increase in fatalities among cyclists and pedestrians. The explanation may be the same theory used to explain why compulsory seat belt legislation in some countries has led to a rise in car accident deaths: belted drivers may be increasing speeds out of a false sense of security.

—Car Busters

Toyota Touts Traffic Trees  

How does a car manufacturer claim it’s helping to fight global warming? If you’re Toyota, you spend eight years developing a tree that can absorb more carbon dioxide, thus allowing you to sell more cars with a clearer conscience. “The trees will be planted wherever it is climatically possible, a Toyota spokesperson said. “The plan is to see them growing everywhere in the world.” (With a Land Cruiser parked beneath each one, no doubt.)

—Car Busters

Carjacking Victims Fight With Fire

To combat South Africa’s growing epidemic of carjackings, a lawyer has invented a flame-throwing device that incinerates would-be assailants. When a driver spots an approaching thief, the driver steps on a switch near the accelerator, causing a wall of flame to shoot out from both sides of the car. “I don’t think [attackers will] be killed, but their hijacking days will be over,” says inventor Chari Fourie. “Best of all, there is no damage to the paint-work or any part of your car.” Drivers who lean on the switch too long, however, could set their car on fire. South African police say the Blaster is legal as long as it is used for self-defense.

—The Wall Street Journal

Model Cycle Station is a Winner

California’s Long Beach Bikestation recently won an “Environmental Excellence Award” from The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which gives 13 of the awards each year to recognize environmental leadership and innovation. Bikestation is a one-stop-shopping location aimed at cyclists — offering secure bike parking and storage, rentals, repairs, sales and locker rooms. The year-round hub also has a wealth of cycling and transit information, and a cafe. Palo Alto reportedly plans to open a Bikestation, thanks to the success of Long Beach.

—U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer’s Office

Our Expensive Gas Addiction

The International Center for Technology Assessment reports that while the retail price of a gallon of gas is now about 85 cents in the U.S., the real cost to the U.S. economy is between $4.74 and $12.82 a gallon. Researchers concluded that the U.S. spends between $558.7 billion and $1.69 trillion per year to support the production of gas. Nevertheless, the report notes that these costs represent “the largest portion of the externalized price Americans pay for their gasoline reliance.” For more information see www.icta.org.

—Car Busters

Alarming Experience

A businessman in the Ukraine who had just bought pagers for his entire staff was so alarmed when they all went off at the same time that he let go of the steering wheel of his car and plowed into a lamp post. The message on all 50 pagers read: “Congratulations on a successful purchase!”

—Car Busters

Killer Air

An Environmental Defense Fund report estimates that 360 of every million people living in the U.S. will develop some form of cancer as a result of airborne pollutants, with the rate in New York coming in at four times the national average. EDF found that cars, trucks and small businesses are responsible for more air toxins than previously thought, finding that motor vehicles account for 60% of the risk of cancer and non-malignant ailments from air toxins. Not surprisingly, four of the five leading hazardous chemicals covered by the study are found in motor vehicle emissions.

— Boston Globe

Those Sneaky SUVs

Don’t look now, but SUVs have snuck into Grand Central Station. This passer-by looks just a little bit peeved. Car-makers cranking out fuel-gobbling Sport Utility Vehicles have figured out a new way to avoid meeting mileage standards - build a big car, call it a hybrid and then categorize it as a light truck. Currently in the light truck category, for which the feds require a 20.7 mpg average, are SUVs, pickups and minivans. Rather than improve the mileage of those bigger vehicles (from the abysmal average of 15mpg), auto makers are lumping in new so-called hybrids, whose better fuel economy boosts their light truck average and protects them from federal fines. Already on the hybrid bandwagon and riding through this loophole are DaimlerChrysler, BMW and Toyota. Presumably the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would have to revise its truck definition to prevent continued evasion of fuel economy standards.

—USA Today

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