October/November 1999, p.27

Auto-Free World

'Oil Slick' Awards
Carfree Times, a web publication (www.carfree.com), regularly bestows "Oil Slick" awards for dubious distinction in promoting automotive alternatives. The two from the Times' Spring issue are beauts: Award #1 went to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, which recently ran a contest to encourage the use of public transit. First prize? An automobile. Award #2 went to British member of parliament Alan Meale, who was driven three kilometers from Peterborough railway in a stretch limo. Purpose of the trip: to deliver a speech about how "the way we travel is damaging our towns, harming our countryside and already changing the climate of the planet."
-Carfree Times

High-Mileage Moms
We know that suburban sprawl increases drive time for Americans, but a new report reveals that women bear the brunt of this burden. In its study "High Mileage Moms," the Surface Transportation Policy Project reports that the average woman now spends nearly 17 days a year behind the wheel - more time than the average parent spends dressing, bathing and feeding a child. Women are the drivers in two-thirds of all trips to ferry others around. The majority of women (61 percent) make at least one stop after work, compared with less than half of men (46 percent). The study also reveals that from 1990 to 1995, the yearly drive time of Americans of both sexes increased by more than 40 hours.
-Surface Transportation Policy Project

Sad Stats for Baby on Board
Motor vehicle accidents are the third-leading cause of injury-related death for children under 1 year old, according to a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 15% of infants in the study died in car accidents - more than died from fire, drowning, or choking on food or foreign objects. Homicide and suffocation were the number one and two causes of death, respectively.

Idling Cars
In an article on the virtues of car-sharing, World Watch magazine points out that most cars spend most of their time parked and taking up space, instead of doing what they were built to do. The average car in the Netherlands, for example, is used for an hour and 12 minutes per day, and sits unused for 23 hours. "The price tag for 100% convenience - a car that is always available on demand - is that it sits idle for 95% of its life."
-World Watch

To Drive or Not to Drive: The Most Important Environmental Choice
"The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices," a new book published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, reveals that many of the better known good/bad environmental quandaries - such as paper bags vs. plastic or paper coffee cups vs. ceramic mugs - are actually irrelevant. The environment loses a little each way, but the overall impact is slight. On the other hand, the book points to a number of areas where our choices have a large environmental impact-and the number one choice is driving vs. taking public transportation, walking, or biking. Or as T.A. puts it: One Less Car.
-USA Today

Going Nowhere
In Bangkok, Thailand motorists each spend an average of 44 working days a year at a standstill in traffic. The average speed of a car in the city has fallen to that of a horse-drawn carriage.

Hundreds for Transit, Thousands for Parking
At first glance, the Commuter Choice provisions of the newly passed federal transportation legislation-the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, or "TEA-21"-appears to be a boon for transit. The law amends the federal tax code to allow employees to set aside up to $780 per year of their salaries before taxes to pay for transit. These provisions are particularly welcome in transit-friendly towns such as New York or Portland. But a closer look reveals that employees, if they prefer, can instead set aside up to $2,100 per year for "qualified" parking expenses. This unequal subsidy will do little to encourage commuting alternatives - as the law professes to do - in auto-oriented cities such as Atlanta or Houston.

Low Cost of Gas
How cheap is gas in the U.S.? It's so cheap that for the first time ever, the IRS has lowered its standard mileage reimbursement for business use of a personal car. Effective April 1, the rate fell from 32.5 cents per mile to 31 cents.
-Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Now Hear This
One of the negative consequences of traffic is noise. Comparing Sudanese tribesmen to Americans, one study discovered that the tribesmen, living in a natural environment with no traffic noise, had little or no hearing loss as they grew older. Eighty-year-old men had hearing far better than thirty-year-old men who grew up in noisy cities. According to another study, "most urban noise results from traffic; studies in London found that traffic produced a higher noise level than any other source at 80 percent of all the sites measured." A 1997 German study found that nighttime traffic noise not only disturbs sleep but also encourages psychosomatic illnesses and shortens the period of deep sleep.
-Auto-Free Times

Read the latest news on this subject.