You have been warned

A couple of car-culture blurbs for Monday. First, a report by Eric Pfanner in the Times:

Quick, what’s more dangerous: automobiles or cigarettes?

The European Parliament proposed last Wednesday that car advertisements in the European Union carry tobacco-style labels, warning of the environmental impact they cause.

Under the plan, 20 percent of the space or time of any auto ad would have to be set aside for information on a car’s fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, cited as a contributor to global climate change.

So, should we prepare for warnings along the lines of, “Driving this car may damage the health of the planet”?

The real goal is, as usual for Brussels, to scare the industry into “voluntary” submission — but also to counteract automakers’ more-is-better message. Perhaps they need some scare, though: Wendelin Wiedeking, the chairman of Porsche, was quoted by Mark Landler in an article covering the Frankfurt Auto Show as saying “We need to be a little realistic. People need transportation; we’re not all going to start riding bicycles.”

* The same Frankfurt Auto Show package of articles includes a ho-hum piece by Keith Schneider on Seattle’s livability initiatives (from the same mayor proposing a 50% widening of the waterfront freeway). “The result is that cleaner, greener, safer cities are attracting legions of new employees and residents. But municipal leaders in Seattle and elsewhere say they are determined not to turn their cities into warehouses for the vehicles that come with all the newcomers. However, there’s also this:

This November, residents of Seattle and other Puget Sound communities will vote on whether to raise the sales and vehicle excise taxes to generate $7.8 billion for road construction and $10 billion to build 50 more miles of light-rail lines and other transit projects.

Contrast that 56.2%-for-transit figure with the “casino capital” bill advanced by the Illinois Senate, as analyzed by Julie Hamos:

Within SB 1110 is funding for “transit capital”, pegged at $425 million in new state funds – only 1/10th the amount included for roads. This is quite a contrast to the last capital bond program in 1999, when roads received twice as much as transit – not 10 times as much!

* Word leaked last week that the administration is investigating privatizing the city’s parking meter operation, which brings in about $22 million in revenue each year. Unlike downtown garages or even the Skyway (which is paralleled closely by the Bishop Ford freeway), parking meters serve other social purposes besides revenue. Apparently, aldermen agree; from Fran Spielman’s story in last Monday’s Sun-Times:

Aldermen were intrigued by the idea. But, they were also concerned about the loss of control — over jobs, benefits and, most of all, parking meter rates.

“We saw that in the Skyway. Fees went up. If we lose control of that, the citizens have nobody to complain to. That’s like complaining to General Motors. They’re not going to listen to John Q. Citizen,” said Transportation Committee Chairman Tom Allen (38th).

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) called privatization of city assets a “slippery slope.Where do you stop? At what point does a for-profit hospital want to run our clinics?”

Parking meters, unlike the downtown park garages, reach deep into the neighborhoods (where they are often the only pay parking option) and serve (or could serve) policy purposes broader than simply raising revenues for the city. This move would come just as the city, prodded by some neighborhood groups, is embarking on significant and revenue enhancing price-optimization strategies (in fact, San Francisco estimates that it can quintuple revenues through better management) which would be stifled by this action. Worse yet, privatizing before the upside has been milked takes what could easily amount to $50 million in additional annual revenue and puts it in the bankers’ hands.

A private operator won’t have the same incentives to work with neighborhoods — to, for instance, put down free bike parking spaces in lieu of paid car parking (as in Brooklyn or Montreal, which also adds some scooter spaces).

And then, of course, there’s the fact that taking out second mortgages left and right is not exactly a sure sign of an organization’s fiscal health. Contracting out operations or management (writing in new incentives for higher yield — like how energy auditors get paid out of the net energy savings) could achieve the same end, but the net rewards would still accrue to the public instead.

* Fran Spielman also reported last week on Alderman Tom Tunney’s talking-while-driving ticket:

[Ald. Tunney] question[s] why officers in an “understaffed police district” with serious unsolved crimes are “assigned to pull people over solely for cell phone violations.”

Um, well, maybe that’s because cars kill more people in your ward than guns do, Alderman.

* Speaking of cars killing, Alan Durning continues his excellent Bicycle Neglect series of articles with an investigation of bicycle safety, finding naturally that not bicycling kills more people than the alternative. The good news: urban cycling is getting safer, at least one study shows that cycling is 40% safer than driving (using a strange per-hour measurement), and the cardiovascular health benefits of cycling vastly outweighs (by a factor of four) any health risk from crashes. Indeed, every minute spent walking or cycling adds three minutes to an individual’s life. In other words, don’t think of time spent walking; think of time invested walking, since that time will pay back interest later in life. (Quite literally, in fact!)

The bad news: cycling is three (per trip) to ten (per passenger km) times more dangerous than driving — although, to be fair, driving, in turn, is 10 times more dangerous than mass transportation (buses, trains, planes), and walking is three times still more dangerous than cycling per trip.

Still, bicycling could be much safer — and by making it safer, societies stand to gain immensely in terms of health, safety, environment, and energy security, not to mention livability. Indeed, Dutch cyclists are ten times safer per passenger-km; in other words, as safe from harm as American drivers. He also underlines that the key to this isn’t blaming cyclists for not wearing helmets — in other words, personalizing the problem of safety — but in taking collective action: facilities, law enforcement, education, and getting more people [and fewer cars] on the streets (a.k.a. “safety in numbers“).

(A quote from aspiring-Brit Noah Raford that “in numbers” article: “From a public policy standpoint, from a safety standpoint, the message is, if you want safer streets, have more people on them.”)

Reminds me of Tom Friedman last week: “But actually, the greenest thing you can do is this: Choose the right leaders. It is so much more important to change your leaders than change your light bulbs.” Al Gore’s wecansolveit.org echoes the sentiment:

When we solve the climate crisis, it will be because of regular people like you and me. It will be because we, along with our neighbors, co-workers, and friends around the world, took a stand and demanded that our leaders make stopping global warming a top priority.

* Speaking of collective green action, the national Step it Up rally — intended by author Bill McKibben to create a mass movement around climate change — returns on 3 November.

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