The Neighborhood Car? Is it Time?

This is a guest post from Hans Noeldner, a trustee in the village of Oregon, Wisconsin, a rapidly growing bedroom community of about 8,300 near Madison, Wisconsin. Hans' first piece on the rules of downtown revitalization can be found here and his piece on the "Declaration of Dependence" can be found here.

Today he writes a letter to his fellow members of the Wisconsin Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming (GTFGW). It seems to me that the theme of “unwinding” vehicular one-upsmanship is pertinent…

Note, these are exactly the kind of stories we are looking for for the new TOD:Local segment, please submit them to Glenn or the eds box!

Dear GTFGW – Transportation Working Group (TWG) members:

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Imagine for a moment that we extrapolate into the future, from the relatively modest cars most people drove twenty-five years ago…to the 5,000-pound SUVs and 6,000-pound pickup trucks that dominate our suburbs today…to the vehicles that might cluster ‘round our soccer fields and school drop off zones after another ten or twenty years of “healthy” economic growth:

(You will have to click here, it's a flash module...and click “CST” and “MST” at the bottom.)

NOTE: this is not a joke – in fact there are several “trucks” very much like this one in the Village of Oregon, Wisconsin, although not jacked up so high. I can assure you they are seldom if ever used for work or even to tow stuff. Perhaps you have experienced how frightening it is to ride a bicycle on public roads and streets with machines like this whizzing by. If the prospect of many more such vehicles in the future seems unlikely to you, ask yourself whether people in 1982 would have believed we would drive what are driving in 2007. God help us if the GTFGW is unwilling to confront this kind of conspicuous consumption and vehicular one-upsmanship.

Policies that UNWIND and reverse motor vehicle “size creep” should be one of the top priorities for the TWG. A logical starting point would be to review and recommend maximum size, weight, and speed limit standards for ultra-compact “Neighborhood Cars” – i.e. vehicles designed for urban use that would look like this (albeit with the stipulations outlined below):

As important, the TWG should recommend preferential licensing, parking, and roadway standards which maximize the advantages of Neighborhood Cars. If a nine-foot length standard were adopted, for example, two or three Neighborhood Cars parked perpendicular to the street could fit in a “standard” nine-foot by 18-foot parallel-parking stall. I cannot overstate the environmental and economic benefits of doubling available parking in traditional downtowns and walkable neighborhoods by merely repainting lane and stall demarcation lines. Standards similar to the ones that prioritize handicapped parking – i.e. Neighborhood Car parking near the front doors of destinations – would send a powerful signal to motorists to “do the right thing”. And these short vehicles would also increase roadway capacities and traffic flow – without ANY infrastructure changes!

Yet there are more advantages. Small, short, speed-limited Neighborhood Cars would help make existing streets user-friendly for non-motorists. There can be no doubt that significantly more people would be willing to bicycle in Neighborhood Car traffic than among big pickup trucks and SUVs, or that fewer pedestrians would be afraid to cross the streets. When it comes to vehicular intimidation, size really does matter!

The Neighborhood Electric Vehicle concept is a good starting point, but the TWG should consider the TYPE of energy used for propulsion separately from factors like the basic physics of rolling resistance and the basic spatial arrangements of motor vehicle “habitat”. Consider the logic of weight limits for Neighborhood Cars. Given equal engineering efforts, the energy consumption of a 2,000 pound vehicle will always exceed those of one that weighs 1,000 pounds. Similarly, given the most efficient drive system available, direct & indirect emissions from a vehicle that is driven as fast as 40 MPH or 60 MPH will always exceed those of a comparably-sized vehicle optimized for (and driven at) speeds of 25 MPH and less. And naturally emissions go WAY down when our streets become more user-friendly and more people choose to walk and bicycle rather than driving. (This is basic psychology!)

Before closing, I note that Neighborhood Car policies, like many of the other policy recommendations the GTFGW is devising, would work best if adopted nationally or regionally. Perhaps Wisconsin could be a leader in this area.

If any of you consider the Neighborhood Car concept promising, I will further expand on it and circulate during the next 1-1/2 weeks.

Yr Hmbl & Obdnt Svt,
Hans Noeldner

I wonder if the WTO would not intervene if too many local government bodies start to make laws that limit the size or fuel-source of motor vehicles.

It seems like the "global players" all want to ignore global climate change and peak oil, while ensuring that the Free Market is manipulated in such a way as to provide an edge for high-consumption, high-pollution products.

I worked for a large US corpration (you might guess which one from my name!) and persuaded them to let me have a Smart car as my company-paid-for vehicle.

All my American colleagues knew I drove it, were fascinated by the huge miles per gallon, ease of parking, low running costs, sheer convienience etc. but not one was interested in owning or driving such a car.

I have heard literally hundreds of differnt reasons from Americans why they couldn't or shouldn't drive one - none of which made any sense at all!


My personal experiences line up pretty well. People often think that a small and light car must inherently be a coffin on wheels and no physics or statistics based argument will convince them otherwise.

Moral arguments fail completely too. They give no consideration that heavier vehicles do more damage in pretty much all respects (car crashes, pedestrian hits, road wear, blocking visibility [assuming the vehicle is equally high], etc).

RE: "Cars R Coffins"

This is a website run by the guy who came up with the slogan "Cars R Coffins." He refers to all cars, of course.

The shirts and hoodies and such he sells have the slogan along with an image of a coffin on wheels with the license plate "666" on it. They are pretty cool.

The coffee shop by that name here in Minneapolis also has a bike shop.

Check out the shirts and stuff -- pretty cool!

The way to perpetuate a world in which moral arguments fail is to endlessly repeat the message, "Moral arguments fail completely too".

We could contend that moral arguments are futile in reference to a whole range of topics - racism and sexism, universal elementary education, graft and the purchase of elections, etc.

Hans Noeldner

"Civilization is the presence of enlightened self-restraint"

Interesting story! I don't need a car at all--sold my 97 Nissan Maxima V6 over a year ago and haven't looked back since. I'm enjoying riding my rusty US-made Huffy 3-speed. Then again I live in Oakland and work in SF which are both bike-friendly.

Now, here's a story I'd rather have the teller post and i'll see about getting him to. I met a Honda govt relations rep at a recent California climate conference. he's from Los Angeles and told me about a neighborhood vehicle program he started, partially to combat global warming.

His whole street pitched in to buy a scooter, to get groceries and such. Everyone's listed on the insurance for that scooter and chips in for it. Isn't that cool? Very collaborative.

I really don't see the need for everyone to own a stupid car, they take up space, pollute, cost a lot, etc. So anyway, that's a nice model for anyone else considering it.

The response I've gotten from riding cargo trikes and pedicabs as neighborhood family and work vehicles has been much the same.

At times I attract a small group of curious folks and enthusiastic affirmations. But relatively few people find a way to ride bike or trike for much of their neighborhood transportation needs.

The list of excuses is huge.

Recently my wife took a job a few blocks from home. I am embarrased to say that I now need to fit in some transport of my kids and on a tight schedule and so I've chosen to take the car (a Honda Civic Hybrid)on some days. The fact that the car is technically a Low Emission Vehicle ad gets relatively good mileage makes me feel better, but I still feel a bit odd driving.

I do find that I am less sore now than when I was riding every day, hauling 200 - 400 pounds of tools and supplies, and sometimes more. My muscles have some time to recover.

Even so, I find that the american imagination is in bondage to the corporatist narrative. We behave as though we would die without the consumerist comfort bubble. And now that has become mostly true.

The complication is that the consumerist comfort bubble requires inputs that make it a suicidal way of living.

Neighborhood vehicles and SmartCars and the like are good ideas, but we will change only when we are forced out of the current paradigm. By then it is likely to be too late -- possibly it already is.

The Eremozoic Era -- "The Age of Loneliness" as E.O. Wilson calls it -- is descending upon us as we destroy the ecosystem that supports our species. Things will be very noisy for awhile, then they will get very quiet and lonely for anyone left hanging around.

My hope is to continue the effort toward sustainable living and hope that ever more folks will do so also. Maybe it makes no difference, but maybe it does.

More bikes and scooters are popping up on our streets, and ever more people are biking to work in Minneapolis. So that's something encouraging to me.

Hi beggar,

I am further up the coast and while the main biking season will shortly be ended by rain and cold and the summer uphere did not exist it still hasn't been bad because I finally got my wife to ride a bike. This after 30 years of coaxing ...we bought a tandem!! A great device very fast with less drag and two motors. Congratulations on the cargo bike, how is it on hills? I am thinking of building a trailer for the tandum .. should attract comment for a day or two I think.

While I am as 'into bikes' as I can be, what caught my eye was your statement:

The Eremozoic Era -- "The Age of Loneliness" as E.O. Wilson calls it -- is descending upon us as we destroy the ecosystem that supports our species. Things will be very noisy for awhile, then they will get very quiet and lonely for anyone left hanging around.

Anyhow I think it will be anything but lonely, if the comparison between the 1950's and now is indicative. I keep waiting for things like TV and such to break down so everyone will have to come out of their houses and be sociable again. I am old enough to remember playing with kids kiddycorner from my grandmothers house while their parents sat on my grandmothers porch and socialized. People actually came out of the house, in summer anyway, for the entertainment of the street... And if the only people that are finally left are a few survivors, they will be survivors because they have grouped together so personally that they will be anything but lonely. What it will be like, to borrow a movie (and song) title is, 'The Way We Were',in-- The Epipalaeolithic Era-- "The Age of Stone(groove)";)

Keep on cycling and have your patch kit handy!

Hey CR,

I ride cargo trikes and pedicabs -- three wheeled pedaled things. I ride trikes made by Organicengines and they can be seen at

Just click on the SUV link to see the Sensible Utility Vehicles.

RE: the Eremozoic Era refers tro the fact that we are in an anthropogenic extinction process, and a rapid species die-off at that.

Wilson and other scientists point out that we have destroyed the thin quilt of habitat that covers the planet to the point that over half of all species will be gone by 2100, and the planet's water, soil, and atmosphere will be so changed prior to 2100 that earth will be a hostile environment for whatever is left of our species.

The idea is that we will not have a peaceful pleasant descent into a groovy stone age, but a very violent descent into extinction. Put together all of the weapons of war, the toxic technological fabric we have woven as our cocoon, and a surge of human violence, and we have the makings of a very lonely place to be within 50 or 100 years.

The Eremozoic Era seems to me to be the most likley outcome. Even so, I like the notion of an Epipalaeolithic Era better. Nature is full of fun suprizes, and this may be our best hope.

I do find that I am less sore now than when I was riding every day, hauling 200 - 400 pounds of tools and supplies, and sometimes more. My muscles have some time to recover.

Have you considered an electric assist system? I've been doing some research trying to find a system and Crystalyte brushless hubs seem to come out on top wherever I look. I'd want to ditch the PbA batteries though, and go with NiMH or LiFePO4 (LiFePO4 should just about last forever 1000+ cycles to 80%). The "Roadrunner" is the best for power assist, the "Phoenix" would be enough to turn your trike into an EV with the 4840 controller (48V40amp = 1920Watt or ~2.5HP). I don't have any experience with these systems yet, but I know someone on TOD does, if they'd like to weigh in.

RE: electric Assist

Good question, Substrate!

Eventually,I'll probably add electric assist. My trikes are front-wheel-drive lean steer models, so an in-hub assist could work.

Meanwhile, I may look into an NEV (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle)such as the GEMCar as an alternative. The reason for going with a full NEV is that I could get a small truck design that would serve very well for my typical trips and load0hauling needs. I put on 10 to 20 miles a day in 5 mile increments.

But using my wife's already-paid-for Hybrid works OK for many things now.

If I hook up with the right folks, it would be fun to set up a local cooperative shop with various options available: sort of a shared fleet of sustainable transportation alternatives for individuals and local businesses.

I imagine a few cargo bikes and trikes, pedicabs, and a couple of small NEVs as a practical shared fleet....? Ideas?

My old van gas guzzeler is parked most of
the time, now that I have an EV. It is three
-wheeled, classed as a motorcycle, here in
Oregon. It was originally designed as a 4
door passenger car, but with the back seat
removed I can haul about 8 cubic feet of
stulff. I am not sure of the weight limit;
they specified 500 pounds, but I wonder.

It is a ZAP model Xebra ( google it) It is
rated at 40 miles per charge. It cruses at
30 mph, with a rated top speed of 40 MPH. In
Oregon, its Electric Wheels, Inc, in Salem.

It fits right in with our solar space heating
, solar water heater, and a partial capacity
solar electric system. All of these are
described in books I have written on "How To". Look
under Ralph W. Ritchie

Finally I understand the feeling of staring
at someone's axel, if that's the right word.
Small cars take more guts to drive. I cry
every time I pass a gas station- for the
customers, that is.


Well, I live in Germany, and ride a motorcycle, and there are a couple of reasons I wouldn't want a Smart (not talking about the roadster or the four door - neither interest me, but each is a different style not having much to do with the original).

The first is simply the small size - you just can't carry much, and to the extent it carries a bit more than a motorcycle, that 'bit more' just isn't that significant in comparison to having a larger vehicle.

The second is the utter lack of practicality that any two person vehicle has when you need to carry three people. Obviously, this problem is not restricted to the Smart, but that doesn't dismiss the problem. It isn't a family car.

Third, and this may be subtle - the Smart is only fuel efficient when compared to vehicles an American is accustomed to. In Germany, the Smart continues to be considered a fairly wasteful vehicle in regards to its size - in part, because it is so tall. There are a number of larger vehicles (Audi A2 - no longer in production, or the VW Lupo) which have significantly better mileage.

The Smart is a neat car, no question, and it certainly has its place in an urban setting, as long as you know where the original vision of the Smart comes from - from the same man that developed the Swatch. That's right, the Smart was originally conceived of to be a cheap throwaway consumer product, one which would be an accessory to a hip urban lifestyle.

Driving a Smart is many things, but the fact remains it was intended to be was a statement about how fashionable the driver of it was - the same sort of thing that seems to propel American Prius sales. However, it is reasonable to guess that Toyota was surprised by this quirk of the American market (along with dramatically rising fuel prices due to a couple of hurricanes), while for the Smart, it turns out that one of its largest customer bases here are home health care nursing agencies - the vehicle is easy to park, is cheap and fuel efficient enough to be economical, and is fairly well built for longer term service. From hipster accessory to oldster life support - the strange career of the Smart is likely to take another turn in the U.S., but I have yet to imagine what it will be. If I want to be Kunstlerian, it will be one of the last gasps of the commuting lifestyle - it just seems so 'practical' to keep driving instead of changing how we live.

How many years before peak if we had always used oil in a conservative rather than a spendthrift manner? I am guessing that we might have stretched out the oil savings account another decade or two, allowing an even larger population to experience the inevitable.

Much of the thinking about post peak life seems to take the view that the decline will be smooth, a continuation of a symmetric curve, full of adequate substitutes that are somehow magically created out of resources that we do not have. My view is that we will experience a discontinuity, more like a stock market crash, and will return rapidly to a base line (long term trend) from which the oil age allowed population to temporarily diverge, which base is closer to 1 billion rather than the present 6.5+billion.

Thinking about electric cars and mass transit looks like me to be a drop in the bucket when the entire industrial age comes crashing down, and most of what we use for survival is no longer usable. The recent news report of the consequences of an internet attack on electric generating systems resulting in months of shutdown, might be an example of what a discontinuity looks like.

If we hadn't used the oil so carelessly, we might not have such a large population to be at risk.

I don't understand the logic that using oil carelessly resulted in greater population. If you are talking about modern agriculture, I am sure that those who would otherwise starved to death would disagree with the characterization as "careless". Please explain.

To add to my comment about the relative ineffectiveness of being conservative in the big picture, I would like to point out that had we used oil more conservatively in transportation, we would have used the savings somewhere else. Why? Because the oil was there and we are human. If you don't spend your income on gasoline, and spend it instead on something else, that something else took energy to create. To boot, getting around on less energy encourages more getting around, so there goes some more of the conservation.

The hydrocarbon savings account was limited. Using it more conservatively would not have changed that simple fact. The nature of technology is to use resources faster than they would have been used without technology. In effect, most technology is just knowledge applied to resources resulting in increased use of resources in elevating human living standards. Had we not tapped the hydrocarbon savings account we still would be living as we did before we started using coal, complete with that level of population and with similar living conditions.

I think things unfolded, and are unfolding more or less the way nature dictates. It probably was inevitable that the industrial age occurred. It is just as inevitable that we will return to pre-industrial age living conditions as the cause of the industrial age (exploitation of stored hydrocarbons) is depleted. The cycles of nature are far more powerful than the machinations of man. It just so happens that we are at the peak of a very large cycle, about to experience a sharp "return to the mean", complete with overshoot. In all of human history (past and yet to be written), the industrial age will turn out to have been a random blip in an otherwise relatively flat line.

I don't understand the logic that using oil carelessly resulted in greater population.

It created surplus food, rather than just sufficient food.  Without the surpluses, the population would not have grown as quickly and there would have been fewer people alive when production peaked.

If you are talking about modern agriculture, I am sure that those who would otherwise starved to death would disagree with the characterization as "careless". Please explain.

Modern agriculture is a great thing, because it creates urbanization and social arrangements where education is a greater advantage than raw numbers and people have fewer children and invest more in them.  If we could have spread this around the entire world as fast as it came to the OECD countries, the world population might only be 3 billion today and the problem would both be more manageable and not move as quickly.

Had we not tapped the hydrocarbon savings account we still would be living as we did before we started using coal, complete with that level of population and with similar living conditions.

You are assuming that the only way to apply knowledge is to non-renewable resources.  All it takes is one read through "Direct Use of the Sun's Energy" by Farrington Daniels (1965) to show that things could have been very different, and we could have been running much of the world on RE by the present day.  Plant life didn't peak and crash after it invented chlorophyll, and we don't have to either.

Rode my bike to retrieve my daughter after school on Friday. A mom approached me, head of the PTO in this district, and she says, "oh how nice you're doing the right thing for the enviro". I bit my lip, instead of going into my this town is business as usual, retail sales, mcmansions, I digress. We waited outside school another 10 mins. before the kids were dismissed. My daughter and I are walking out of the parking lot and I see her older son (age 15 with driver permit) idling all this time (10+ mins.) while waiting for her! 2 weeks into a driver's permit and he already learned that idling is OK?

I saw an organic shop getting a delivery from a fairly large truck which was idling the whole time. Is that what they call offsetting?

For a place like Oregon, Wisconsin, a small-ish village well away from Madison, the nearest city, I wonder what use a speed-limited 9-foot-wheelbase vehicle could really be.

Outside of the minuscule area occupied by the village, there is no place to go except on two-lane rural highways with 45 or 55mph speed limits. I certainly wouldn't want to drive such a vehicle in high speed traffic. Physics dictates that the shorter the crumple zone, the higher the acceleration in a crash, and the higher the acceleration, the greater the potential for injury. And a micro-car cannot but have a very short crumple zone indeed. After all, that's part of the very point of the speed limitation, and no quantity or design of airbags can possibly change it. (If a larger vehicle is actually statistically less safe at the same slow speed, that probably just indicates very badly designed airbags, or another issue such as massively excessive potential to overturn.)

It follows that one would be purchasing, insuring, and storing yet another vehicle, at a time when the economy is looking rather sick (see Stoneleigh's regular posts at TOD:Canada.) But this extra vehicle would be imprisoned within some hundreds of acres occupied by the built-up part of the village.

We should call it a go-nowhere car, I guess. I suppose it would operate on the principle of the Priuses that Congresscritters and movie stars step into and out of at the photo shoot, until the cameras go away and they get into the massive SUVs and motorhomes that are their real vehicles.

Try as I might, I just can't make economic or even social sense of this. And I doubt, politically, that anybody's going to get the general speed limit on rural two-lanes reduced to 25 or 30 mph any time soon, nor are they going to pay yet more taxes to create a duplicate, low-speed highway system. And unless somebody has another idea, that's what it would take to release these things from their tiny prison.

PaulS. The USA now imports over 2/3rds of its oil and gasoline, and we have only a small supply in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve-enough to replace all our imports for less than two years. Which sounds fine until you realise that our military can;t fight without diesel and jet fuel and over 90% of the people in the US can't get to work without a car. We have less than 1 days supply of oil and gasoline in the system as a reserve.

Any kind of disruption is going to force rationing for National Security purposes almost immediately. An electric car or a liquified natural gas car will have no rationing. Even a hybrid will go twice as far as a straight IC engine.

Just a couple of weeks of a significant cut-off with rationing will prove very quickly who is more prudent. Bob Ebersole

we have only a small supply in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve-enough to replace all our imports for less than two years.

Ummm.. you meant 2 months right? Which is less than 2 years I grant you :) The US SPR has a max. capacity of about 700 million barrels

john milton
my arithmetic sucks. Thanks for double checking!

The Straights of Hormuz are only about 15 miles wide, and about 30% of the world's oil supply passes through them daily in tankers that are not US owned or controlled. One speedboat full of plastic explosive sinking a tanker will cause paralysis of world's oil dependent countries. More pipeline attacks in Mexico to cut off revenue for the Mexican government, or an attack on Venezuela by our mad dog government is likely to cause severe shortages quickly.

We are now importing 68% of the liquid hydrocarbons we use. During the first two OPEC embargoes we imported 30% of the oil we used. Ever since Ronald Reagan took the solar panels off the White House roof in 1979, we've had governments who have ignored the problem. They've scorned energy conservation and allowed OPEC to flood the US with cheap imports to distroy the US independent operators and the energy conservation that was beginning to have a great effect on permanent demand.

Being a patriot isn't waving a flag, telling everone how patriotic you are and spouting a bunch of nonsense about "my country, right or wrong". Being a patriot is doing the right thing for the country even when its against your personal interests.
The Major oil companies and independents showed patriotism when they built the Big Inch and Little Inch pipelines to get oil to the East Coast and tore up their own pipelines for the steel snd valves in 1942. Lyndon Johnson was a true patriot when he cut his throat with the Dixiecrat Democrats and got Civil Rights legislation through Congress in 1965.
By those standards Reagan, both Bushes and Clinton are traitors. I just hope it doesn't destroy the world because they fiddled away while we became so dependent on imported crude oil Bob Ebersole

Hybrid cars such as the Prius function as normal cars and are safe to drive on highways, so they are certainly an option for people to stretch gasoline.

The type of limited-speed, limited-use vehicle described in the keypost, OTOH, is not safe to drive on a highway. In places like Oregon, it is only going to get people around within the village. That's such a short distance that unless one is quite infirm, a car is not absolutely necessary, though it is often handy. Since Oregon is small, most people work elsewhere - primarily in Madison, about 12 or 14 miles up the road. A glorified golf cart is not going to get them to work safely - and even less so in winter when the roads are snow-clogged and/or slick. (That's forgivable for now - most of the alternate-transportation posts around here blithely ignore the existence of snow and ice.)

As for a major disruption in oil supply, that will - no matter what - make it tough or impossible for a good many people to get to work. Hybrid cars may help with global warming, but not so much with supply disruption. The JIT - Just In Time - approach guarantees that the oil infrastructure will shrink with demand, leaving everything on exactly the same razor's edge that you have already described, just with the numbers scaled down.

And even all-electric cars may not be immune. Every time a squirrel hunts for acorns, somebody seems to lose power for a bit. Every time it rains, many people lose power for more than a bit. Keeping the power on requires constant repairs to a fragile, ill-conceived system. Those repairs take staff, electrical components, and so on. And these days, all of that operates on a razor's edge JIT basis, just as with oil. Except that with a serious oil shortage, make that not Just In Time, but, instead, Just Isn't There. So even without formal electricity rationing, the all-electric-car ration will be, oops, it took all day to get the people and supplies in place and restore the power, so now you're stranded at work with a dead battery.

P.S. you didn't really mean liquefied natural gas, the stuff that goes in insulated ships at umpteen degrees below zero, did you?

The solution to "just isn't there" may be to keep the commute to under 50% of battery capacity.  This accomplishes two things:

  • Stretches the battery life (for lead-acid batteries, which are what's affordable today) and
  • Makes certain that you can still make it home.

Of course, if there's no power at work you probably won't be going there in the morning.  Staying home until the juice comes on is the most sensible thing, and then the recharging problem is moot.

What are the crash statistics on the horse-and-buggy Slow Moving Vehicles that some Amish and Mennonite folks still use in places?

All of this blather about crumpling and crashing is so much BS.

Every week I hear a report of teens killed in car crashes. Car crashes are one of the leading causes of teen deaths in the USA. (Maybe the leading cause of death for teens in the USA.) These teens are driving vehicles that are too fast and too dangerous for most of them to be driving. Most of our cars are too fast and dangerous for adults to be driving as well.

If air travel had the safety record of car travel, all airlines would be grounded immediately. (I thought former Secretary of Transpo Mineta said this, but could not find the quote.)

We need slower and smaller vehicles for most uses. We need vehicles that consume less, pollute less, and ensure greater safety for everyone through lower speed and lighter weight.

Because we can go fast, we feel a need to live fast. We can never, ever live as fast as our cars can go and still be healthy and whole.

The worst thing that can happen on a highway is vehicles moving in the same lane at vastly different speeds. Crashes involving cars and horse drawn buggies are especially ugly.

Now, since nobody really can create a good estimate of the number of Buggy Miles Traveled, the actual fatality rate might be very hard to guess. After all, there are no odometers, and no gas or diesel pumps to provide surrogate estimates. But no matter, think smithereens and blood everywhere. In some places in Ohio (such as Highway 39 east out of Sugarcreek), they try to alleviate the problem a little by putting very wide paved shoulders on the highways. Alas, when fuel is costly or unavailable enough to make glorified golf carts fly, the taxpayers are going to be poor, and they won't bear the heavy expense.

Now, if you think you're going to slow all traffic everywhere to 25mph, go for it. But I think you'll be going nowhere politically. Very few people are feeling so overburdened with spare time that they are looking to spend any of it creeping across the landscape in that manner. And the lifetime chance of dying in a car crash is only a negligible 1%,which is not a deterrent, as a drive on almost any highway will attest.

As to the teens, the real problem seems to be that we license them to do too much too soon. Some tasks just require physical maturity of the brain. Maybe we shouldn't be handing out full licenses at age 16 or 17 unless we have a reliable test to show that the maturity is there.

You're probably right about air travel, simply because air crashes are spectacular and get people all worked up. Plus most people don't fly much, laying the cost on Somebody Else, making it politically easy to vastly overspend on "safety". In aviation, I think it's past a billion dollars per avoided death these days, so we enslave thousands for life to save just one. On the roads, I think it's still under $100,000 per avoided death, because most crashes involve only one or two people, and everyone is acutely aware of road taxes. We could save a lot of lives by diverting some money out of aviation "safety" and into road safety.

'Physics dictates that the shorter the crumple zone, the higher the acceleration in a crash, and the higher the acceleration, the greater the potential for injury.'

Hmmmm! ... QED ... The 'classic' American response to Smart cars!

For whatever reason, and you have given several, you and every American I have ever discussed Smart cars with don't want to understand the situation.

Just for a bit more info ... Smart are built, and sold by, Mercedes and have been designed with safety in mind. The main design differences between a Smart 'For2' and an ordinary car is that it is missing the back seats and also incorporates a lot more safety features than most cars.

I think you will find that 'business as usual' isn't a valid future strategy after peak oil ... however I can understand your inertia, it's the normal human response.


There is an excellent online video of a SMART car crash test into a concrete abutment. The car takes a licking and keeps it's driver safe.

Many small cars have excellent crash ratings; but the reptile American POV does have a point. It's only when these small cars hit stationary objects that they're safe. If they meet an oncoming supersized road hog that they get crushed into a popcan size.

No amount of safety designs can make vehicle occupants survive against something 2x to 3x it's weight coming from the opposite direction.

That's why we need to put a weight limit on vehicles; and just start ratcheting it down.

Cash in pocket does not give one the right to pollute others to death or crush others to death with supersized houses and vehicles.

I find the SMART car comments by expat interesting. When we were hiking in Scotland a few years back we wanted a Smart car but car rental place only had Mercedes A class cars. We found it high up and basically like our Chevy Sprint/Geo Metro but with much worse milage (around 7L/100km with a standard). I'd never buy one. The Smart is useless for my family; but the Japanese kei class cars are sensible and I've love to see the Challenge-X project replaced with Challenge-Y by taking a Kei class car and putting a series hybrid into it with a 5hp max for the IC engine.

My view of Scotland (as an "American" Chevy Sprint driver) is that they simply didn't have the supersized polluters we have over here; most cars were small - but I would hesitate to call them efficient as I doubt that many of them could touch the milage of my Sprint with it's 1L engine.

I was pleased to see that some people are still keeping Sprints going. There is the ForkenSwift car and another one where the driver is using pulse-and-glide driving to get upto 120 mpg in his Sprint.

It goes to show that a 15 year old car can likely top 100 mpg in regular driving if the 1L engine was replaced with a 45 hp electric and a 4hp IC battery charger engine as pulse and glide (as the fuelathon cars used it) benefits from having engines only run full-throttle where their efficiency is signif. better.

I was born in November, 1951 and raised in Houston, Texas with family roots in the oil and gas business

When I was a kid, very few families had more than one car. It was the result of a number of influences. First, highways became a real part of the transportation infrastucture only after 1950 when Eisenhower started the interstate highway system. There was less travel in general and people mostly took the train which had lots of local routes and stops. The sacrifices of WWII followed by the Marshall plan and the Korean war absorbed much of the productive capacity of the earth, and war is incredibly wasteful.
The Second World War was preceeded by the Great Depression, where the country as a whole had a decrease in wealth of 30%, and the whole world had become much poorer, and very little infrastucture, including roads and bridges was built. The fact is that cars weren't very useful before the 1950's and the road building of the Interstate highway system.

What happened?

My personal theory is that mass communication started reaching people. Before the advent of sound in movies, and the popularisation of the rich lifestyle portrayed in the movies, consumerism wasn't the dominant faith of America. Many, if not most people's imaginations are dominated by visual images. When the motion pictures became prevalent, people became able to visualise the automobile and their lives if they owned an automobile. And the 1950's took this propoganda a step further-television brought imagery of life with a car into the home 7 days a week, while with movies it was presented to people once a week. The imagery worked, by the time I graduated from high school most families had one car, and many had two. Buses and streetcars became seen as having less status, because only poor families didn't have cars. In other words, automobiles were changed by broadcast television to a status symbol.

People still lack the ability to visualise a future without a personal vehicle transportation because of the imagery we see daily on our entertainment medium. What we must do to change the future is show high status individuals owning vehicles that are not internal combustion engines running on gasoline. Get people like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet using cars that are hybrids. Famous sports stars or outdoorsmen using vehicles that are quick and silent,electric four wheelers for deer and hog hunting because they are quiet and aid the sportsmen in stalking and beautiful high status women saying that they prefer a man with a car with zero carbon emmissions because it shows men who care about the earth, while at the same time portraying villans as guys who drive big SUV's. This happened when the US changed car buying habits in the late 70's and 80's from rich people driving Cadilacs and Lincolns to high status individuals driving Mercedes Benz. So anyone writing scripts for movies and TV's take note. Also, rich guys who are considered investment gurus, show them your car that's been converted to LNG and your LNG compressor pump that lowers your bill to $0.70 a gallon. This will do more to change the country away from liquid fossil fuel than any speech or exhortation. Bob Ebersole

Might work. But nothing works faster than pricing. When gas starts getting really expensive, people will conserve. And people's attitudes will change. The government can force it, but it's not politically acceptable.

Pricing will make the most difference. A carbon tax, a gas tax could be part of that pricing, but it would have to be minimal to be publicly acceptable. A large tax would not be needed for long anyhow as prices within the next few years should skyrocket.

I have lived in relatively walkable communities in Minneapolis, but they were not so convenient that it didn't require a bus ride to get groceries. I went to the more expensive grocery store that had paper handle bags which allowed one to carry them on the bus and walk two blocks home.

I am trying to think how I would live, particularly as a single gay man, without an automobile. My social life consists largely of potlucks held in member's homes across the Twin Cities. My work is 20 miles from home. I could imagine working 2 miles from home as I know of a possible option.

Our transit system consists of one light rail line 11 miles in length, quite successful in some respects, and a bus system I was glad to be rid of.

How at this point could we rebuild a streetcar system? How expensive would it be? It was approximately $800 million for one light rail line. I should think twenty or thirty would make a really viable system. Which North American cities actually have viable public transport? NYC, Boston, Toronto. Any others?

Couple of comments.

The French build tram lines for 20 to 25 million euros/km.

New Orleans is quite livable without a car (assuming one has a seat reserved with friends for hurricane evac) in several neighborhoods (all have a good % gay). Pre-K, 28% did not have a car.

Post-K, New Orleans has minimal public transit, but it is quite livable. Most of my trips are 3 miles or less, and few (except airport) are more than 5 miles (University of New Orleans is 6.x miles away is only other destination I can think of).

Best Hopes,


Things will change but not in a sticky way.
We all know the people who came thru the great depression who have a leaking old toilet that uses gallons of water with every flush; but who are focused on saving water when they wash dishes as they had to so long ago.
The psychology shows that people will adapt and conserve; but as soon as the pressure is up will revert back to their old spendthrift ways.

Our goal has to change. Not living apart from the planet; but with it and we must be concerned as per the Boyscout Motto I learned many decades ago - leaving this world a better place than when we came. Dumping pollution, toxic wastes and insolveable problems (nuclear waste) onto future generations while gobbling up whatever energy we can grab has got to stop.

Consumerism has failed, capitalism has left this planet a destroyed shell of what it was. The corpse is still twitching but it's time for a new path. I hope that David Korten is right; but deep down I think that he's hopelessly optimistic. May the age of the dominator age be over.

Automobiles certainly were (and are) a status symbol.

And they were more than only that. For the first time ever, people were freed from the stifling narrowness of lifetime confinement to a walking-distance radius in a village, without moving into the crime and disease infested urban cores, which had previously been the only way to escape the 'idiocy of rural life'.

I keep seeing hints around TOD about Peak Natural Gas. I wonder how many CNG cars we could really support before the price of natural gas per BTU rose to match the price of oil? Is it a niche thing, like used french-fry oil, that can't really scale?

IIRC, Kunstler made the point that we fell in love with the car during the Great Depression: A great many people packed everything they owned into their vehicles, and moved where there was work.

It was that, it was the baby boom and GI housing, it was people finding that whereas they used to be well equipped to live anywhere, suddenly all the houses being built would be impossible to survive in while walking. I've even seen a very cogent point that it was a tax policy on "Accelerated depreciation" that basically created the geography of suburbia:

Get people like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet using cars that are hybrids.

I hear you. It would work very well, I think.

Tom Hanks reputedly drives an eBox from AC Propulsion.

Just before he drove off, silently, in his new eBox, Hanks observed, “There are three electric cars sitting on the moon, and now another one in my garage. The eBox makes even more sense in Los Angeles than in the Taurus-Littrow Valley of the moon. I can drive all weekend, hauling dogs and helping my friends move, and the only reason I'll need to stop at a gas station is for beef jerky and lottery tickets."

Arthur Robey
Thanks for the post. You are preaching to the converted.
My understanding of our situation is that the planet can support 1 billion people without oil. We now have 7 Billion. The surplus is a by product of Oil. (The black blood of Satan.)
The population will self correct although the correction will overshoot.

1.3 Million years ago we were down to =- 30 individuals. (This is why there is so little genetic variation in the population.) That population had a survival advantage over the other contemporary humanoids. They were infested with schizophrenia. A little madness is creative.
If the population correction overshoot is severe enough I expect that we will make a similar transition. We are not immune to to Mr Darwins attention.
We are not going to come out of this as humans.
See you on the other side.

You speak of individual permutations of unproven theories as if they were fact. 1 billion is one estimate. Estimates vary widely - anywhere from 50 million to 50 billion, IIRC. Methodologies range from depending on solar panels to factory farming to nuclear war to grain production to pollution to global warming to nut+berry forage to depending on a certain amount of ritual sacrifice to appease Gaia so that she doesn't get angry.