Posts Tagged ‘Carfree


Occupy All Streets: The Role of Carfree Cities in a More Sustainable World

A film by Joel Crawford

Occupy All Streets: The Role of Carfree Cities in a More Sustainable World from J.H. Crawford on Vimeo.


Cycles for a richer society

When it comes to promoting cycling Sweden ranks fourth best in the world. Is this something to be proud of? Maybe, but its not very ambitious. Fourth best might be OK. I mean we’re not the worst, yet.

The annoying thing is that the knowledge base needed to be the best or as good as the best exists in Sweden, both among some politicians and many planners. Examples of how the urban environment can be improved for both pedestrians and cyclists is close at hand in those countries that are better than us. Investments to promote walking and cycling are not expensive. They provide great value for money when compared with other infrastructure investments. The missing ingredient, the one that means that Sweden doesn’t quite achieve the same high standards as lets say Holland for cyclists is lack of political will. The right noises are made but not implemented.

The main difference between cycling policy in Sweden and the Netherlands is quite simple. In Sweden you can easily and safely cycle around the cities. In Holland urban planning in recent decades, has made the bicycle quite simply the easiest way to get around in cities. Although it is easy to get around by bike in Sweden the easiest way to get about is often by car. For some reason, people choose to travel by car more often than necessary probably just because it is so simple. In Holland city planners have worked actively for years to give cycling a comparative advantage.

Why is this important? Is not it enough with the attitude we have now? The answer is no. for several reasons, but here there is only place to name a few of them. Each journey by bike gives an economic gain to society. Where as every trip by car is subsidized, heavily subsidized if it occurs within an urban area. Congestion charging at the levels presently discussed hardly affects this. If we want people to use one mode of transport over another, subsidies are a policy tool that demonstrably work. Although its important to subsidize the modes that you want to promote. Climate change, poor urban air, noise and insecurity are all external costs that are wholly or partially incurred by car traffic in cities. It is through taking care of the car’s victims that society subsidizes cars.

Most of the problems facing cyclists in Sweden are caused by cars. Cars travelling at unacceptably high speeds in urban areas and cars parked on narrow streets. On urban streets where people live and go about there business, the maximum speed should never exceed 30 kilometres per hour. Today many of our streets are empty, so why reduce the speed on a deserted street? Simple, when the speed of the traffic is lower, people start using street spaces again.

There is a much livelier street life in Holland than there is in Sweden. The Dutch initiative where cyclists are given a comparative advantage over motorists have benefited everyone, including the small minority who do not cycle. Dutch cities are pleasanter places to be in. And because it’s pleasant, people spend more on the street. They’ve managed to put life back into the cities, which among other thing increases personal security. Dutch cycling policy has had a variety of positive social feedback.

This said Holland has not declared war on motorists. The number of cars per thousand inhabitants is only marginally lower in the Netherlands than in Sweden (457/475). The difference is that in Holland motorists are also cyclists. Dutch motorists take the bike in the city because it is the fastest and easiest way to travel. All places are still accessible by car if you have to unload something. But its not that simple. Cyclists and pedestrians have the space they need in Dutch cities, cars get the space that’s over, and not vice versa as in Sweden.

Fourth best is pretty good but not good enough.

Ian Fiddies
Friends of the Earth, Transport Committee

This is a translation of the original article first published in Swedish in Göteborgs Fria Tidning


“Sustainable” Swedish city bans Mobility Week cycle demo

It seems a bit strange to be commenting on a Swedish newspaper article in English but here goes just because I find this in some weird way comically fascinating. If you can’t read the article let google do the job for you but for the lazy reader I’ll summarise.

In April, talk about being out in good time, a group comprising of a broad coalition of Gothenburgs NGOs notified the police of a planned cycle demonstration on the 18th of September. The planned protest has just been refused permission (I hate the word permission, do I need permission to get angry?) on the grounds that it would disrupt the traffic.

This gets a place in the local paper, as it should, but what strikes me is that nobody involved seems to remember that what has just happened is that a peaceful organised cycle parade with bands playing along the route during “The European Mobility Week” has been banned by the police.

European Mobility Week happens every year between the 16th and 23rd of September. It coincides with the international Car Free Day on the 22nd. Cities all around the world turn off the cars for a day and rediscover themselves. Gothenburg plays lip-service to Mobility Week but have stopped doing anything to give us a chance to see what a difference the cars make when they’re not there.

In Brussels the city will close all it’s roads for all cars. In Budapest we can expect a new world record for most riders in a Critical Mass. In Gothenburg a fluffy cycle demonstration up and down one street. The famous Avenue has been banned by the local police. Makes my blood boil!

But lets remember that every cloud has a silver lining. Gothenburg’s willingness to hang themselves out on the international stage for repressing the European Mobility Week might just draw attention to the plans in the city for a nice new urban motorway next to the other urban motorway that gets a bit full sometimes. This international recognition might just have more effect than a fluffy cycle demo. One never knows.

Ian Fiddies


27th September 2010


Destination Earth

This is an old clip I stumbled upon. Somehow it seems fitting today, I mean it’s now that we need reminding that oil companies only want to make our lives better.


The look of hate

To say that most of us want to be loved is hardly controversial. There is a joy in being loved but there is also an immense satisfaction to be had from being hated. The satisfaction of catching someone’s gaze across a crowded room and meeting a look of absolute loathing directed singularly at me and only me. A look of such detestation that the memory of that moment will almost certainly stay with me for the rest of my life and rekindle a warm and poignantly pleasurable sensation every time I think about it.

The moment I have in mind happened at one of the many sideshows at the COP15 conference in Copenhagen last December. I think the correct term was “side event” but I prefer to call them side shows. These side shows were a varied distraction from the main conference and to a large extent organised by representatives of big businesses, usually on the theme of how big business was going to save the environment by getting bigger and doing even more business. The event that I will always remember was organised by ACEA the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. The subject was how the car makers were actively working for the good of the planet or some such greewash.

The look of direst loathing I received was from no other than the illustrious representative of ACEA during the questions and answers bit at the end. To be honest I hadn’t really been on my best behaviour, not that I’d been heckling or anything, that’s not my style. I fell asleep. Worse I fell asleep while the illustrious representative of ACEA was speaking and woke up again when he stopped. This was not done on purpose but with reflection it could have been. There is hardly a better way to disconcert a speaker than by starting to snooze during their oratory. No my sleep was genuine, probably brought on by the string of very late nights and perilously early mornings that accompanied the Copenhagen conference. The free wine at the walking buffet before the show may have also played a part in my uncontrollable drowsiness. Having said that, a speaker, who with passion, presents a subject that they totally believe in and burn for will always keep me awake. Unfortunately nothing of that kind was on the menu that particular evening in the Bella Centre.

Dropping off during the show was of course not enough to generate that look of hate. No no, to gain my status as the most despised person in the room I had to wake up and ask a question. The look started to form on the man from ACEA’s eminent mug when the bloke who’d been snoring at the back during his discourse stood up and introduced myself as a representative for Friends of the Earth Sweden. (I’m not sure if I really was snoring but one can always hope for the best.) I explained that I was based in Gothenburg. At the very heart of the Swedish car industry and that some Swedish trade union members were expressing a fear. A feeling that the motor industry was in a state of decline and that some of the most advanced industrial technology and skills would be lost unless production was redirected to produce something that the world needs more than just more and more cars. The loathing grew visibly when the greeny mentioned trade unions.

My question was simply this. What message should I take back to Sweden with me for my friends in the car makers union. The answer I got was a look of hate. A look of hate accompanied by a reassurance that the car industry has a bright and rosy future. That there always will be a rising demand for more and more new cars and that anyone who even considered anything else was quite simply naïve.

I hope that this is a comfort and a reassurance to the crew at Volvo.

Ian on Twitter

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