Month: July 2009

Commentary, Traffic calming

What real demotorization looks like

Photo by Mary Teresa Giancoli, Crisma Imaging

In May, Cap’n Transit highlighted this quote from J.H. Crawford:

Once the last car disappears from the street, it becomes a playground for people of all ages. This can be seen any day in Venice or Fes. Peace, safety and tranquility settle over the street, and a rich and vibrant social life takes the place of the stink, noise, and danger of cars.

This playground can now be seen on Governor’s Island. On Sunday we went with some friends to visit the island; one friend wanted to hear Judy Collins perform.

We had last been to the island in 2003, when it was first opened to the public. It’s a lot friendlier now. The ferry is relatively frequent and fast – except when it has to take on a full load of passengers on a weekend evening. Many of the houses have been turned into art exhibition spaces, and there is a creatively designed miniature golf course. There are multiple vendors of food and drink. These are especially necessary because the supply of potable water appears to have gone away with the coast guard.

Most excitingly, there are bike rentals. This gave me and my son the opportunity to ride a bike at the same time. We haven’t done it in Queens because I don’t feel safe with him on a bike unless I’m on foot to give him my full attention. On Governor’s Island, for $30 an hour a friend and I were able to rent a two-person surrey. It had seats for our kids in the front, and they loved it. We rode around the entire island in half an hour, and spent the other half hour visiting various sights along the way.

What is especially nice is that there are almost no motor vehicles on the island. Judy Collins’s equipment van was there, and a few other trucks for carrying large loads. There are several electric vehicles, including a few bus kinda things that seated about fifteen people, and shuttled them to far points on the island. The entire National Park Service appears to be suffering from severe muscle atrophy, since they seemed to be incapable of going five feet without getting into electric golf carts. On the whole, they were pretty easy to ignore, though.

Once we ignored them, what a feeling! In pretty much any park in the country, if you’re on a path that’s wide enough, you can’t escape the feeling that some self-important jerk will want you to move out of the way at short notice so he can trim some hedges or deliver a load of charcoal briquets. On Governor’s Island, we could walk all over without worrying about that. We could ride the surrey around the island and go as slow as we wanted without the possibility of being rear-ended by two tons of metal.

We had that peace, safety and tranquility, and that vibrant social life, that Crawford describes. Now that’s demotorization!


Translation, metonymy and motors

Yesterday featured a Copenhagenize post about “Demotorization as a lifestyle choice.” Blogger Mikael was particularly enamored of the word “demotorization” used by Associated Press business writer Yuri Kageyama in January to describe a trend where “many twenty-somethings in Japan aren’t interested in owning a car today.”

I wholeheartedly approve of this trend, and I get the feeling it’s happening here in the US as well, although maybe not enough to be noticed. (My mother tells me that my grandfather bought the first mass-market Japanese car sold in the US, for what it’s worth.) I want to pick a few nits with the word “demotorization.”

Kageyama is actually stretching the truth when she says that this is “A lifestyle choice automakers are calling “demotorization.” Newsweek’s Akiko Kashiwagi tells us that they’re actually calling it “車離れ”, pronounced “benare.” I don’t know much Japanese, but it looks like a more literal translation is simply “moving away from cars.” The word “demotorization” is a coinage of Kageyama, who describes herself as a poet first and a writer second.

Kageyama was building on metonymy, a process where words can stand for things that they’re associated with; a commonly given example is of a waitress who tells her colleague, “The ham sandwich at table 12 just spilled soup all over himself.” In that example, the ham sandwich was standing in for the customer who had ordered it. In the US, motors and other car parts often stand for the entire cars, and so do roads and streets. In coining the term “demotorization,” Kageyama was building on the common metonymic use of “motor” to refer to cars.

I’m all for poetry in journalism, but weird things happen when you negate metonyms. I’ve just read Frommers Great Escapes from NYC Without Wheels, and I have to tell you that all of these escapes in fact involve wheels. Similarly, although Mikael posted a video of cycling in Japan, I think it’s fair to assume that most of the twenty-somethings in question will still be taking motorized trains and buses. I don’t think the distinction is academic, because while I can imagine a technologically advanced/safe/comfortable society without private cars, I have much more difficulty imagining one without motors. When I first read Mikael’s post, I was genuinely confused as to whether these Japanese twenty-somethings were giving up all motors, or just those in private cars.

I think Kageyama’s main purpose in coining the word “demotorization” was to tell us that her fellow Japanese have coined a term for this trend, and Mikael clearly felt the need for such a term. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there’s a great hunger out there for a nice short word for this concept. Getting people out of their cars is a widely shared goal of environmentalists around the world, but all we have in English to accurately describe it are clumsy multi-word phrases. With all due respect to the poet, I’d like to see a word that doesn’t imply giving up motors. Any suggestions?


Some background on the Kayes Bridge article

Last week on the World Streets blog, sustainable transport advocate Eric Britton writes,

John Ernst, a long time sustainable transport colleague and ITDP Vice Director, Southeast Asia, writes that he finds World Streets pretty good value thus far, but he regrets that most of our content thus far seems to be focusing on what is going on within the advanced edge of the OECD region. …

What can I say in response but yes indeed — so what if we now put our heads together to bring in content from other parts of the world . . . after all, that?s where most of the people are and where the future is going to play out in the mega-numbers.

So let me share this with you as a challenge. And what do we need from all these places? Well, news on trials and innovations to support more sustainable transport where they are actually up and working, honest reporting on everything, and even from time to time when it is exemplary, information for our excellent and consistently troubling Bad News Department. …

As part of this necessary outreach we have decided that the Streets theme for the month of August will be Sustainable Transport in Africa: Advancing the Agenda. About time, eh?

I wholeheartedly agree. I do not contribute directly to World Streets, but I share the same overall goals: to advance sustainable transportation worldwide. This is why I reported what I saw on my trips to Santo Domingo, Oxford and San Juan, and why I translate articles from around the world.

Reading Eric’s post, however, I realized that I had never written about transportation in Africa, although I’m one of the relatively few Americans who have visited the continent. So I chose an article in French about Mali and translated it. I plan to continue paying attention to Mali and reporting on what I hear from there.

You could do the same thing. Even if you’ve never been to Africa, all you have to do is post a link to an article about Africa. You don’t have to know anything about a place to share an interesting story. Sure it helps if you can read French, Portuguese or Arabic, or Amharic, Bambara or Xhosa, but there are plenty of African countries that have news sources in English.

How do you find these stories? Well, if you’re in New York, Paris or London, chances are you’ve got someone who knows all about the transportation system in Accra, Bamako or Dar es Salaam living within a ten mile radius. That’s probably the best way, and it would probably help your work to reach out in that direction.

Social networks being what they are, you may find it daunting to make such connections between now and August. So we’ve got Google News Search, which is a fantastic tool for research. A quick search on “bus tanzania” gives this article about a bus rapid transit funding dispute in Tanzania. That article in turn is full of useful keywords (such as “Dar Rapid Transit Agency”), which can lead to more articles that can be synthesized to give an understanding of the project.

Wikipedia says there are 53 countries in Africa, from Nigeria down to the Seychelles. If every sustainable transportation blogger chose one or two countries, we could probably get a story about most of them within a short period of time. Who’s up for the challenge?


Foreign exchange: an economic opportunity goes bust

ECHANGES – Un d?bouch? ?conomique en panne, Mohamed Gueye, Le Quotidien, July 6, 2009.

The demolition of the Kayes bridge hurts Senegalese businesses

For almost two months, traffic between Senegal and Mali has been disrupted by the demolition of the bridge that crosses the Senegal River at Kayes. Strangely, even though this situation is hurting Senegalese businesses that trade with Mali, the political leaders in Senegal seem indifferent, as though walled in by a silence of marble.

The Kayes bridge in Mali has been cut off for almost two months, and the situation will not change much in the next three months. Meanwhile in Senegal, traders who work with their neighbor to the east are beyond worried; some are feeling despondent. One, who does a lot of business in the country of Amadou Toumani Tour?, says, “In Senegal, no matter what level of government, we don’t hear anyone concerned about this situation which is hurting many sectors of the economy. For quite a while, the flow of goods to Mali has slowed to a trickle, as has the flow from Senegal to Mali. A request for information from the Port of Dakar, which maintains warehouses in the Malian capital of Bamako, has gone unanswered.

We had to go to Malian officials to get to the bottom of the story. That’s where we received confirmation that the Kayes bridge over the Senegal River has been demolished by the government of Mali, in keeping with their policy of maintaining solid infrastructure in the country. The old bridge had become dilapidated, and the government had decided to replace it with a more solid one. In the meantime, only the railroad bridge remains in place to transport goods and passengers on the train. But the performance of these shuttles, particularly concerning passengers and small goods, has been so unreliable since the railroad was privatized in the early 2000s that many people, particularly traders, have never wanted to be dependent on them. On top of that, the Transrail corporation, which operates the Dakar and Niger Railroad, is regularly hit by strikes, which only adds to its paralysis.

Our main customer in the UEMOA

This situation has left companies who trade with Mali in a weak position, and they receive no comfort from the authorities. Most of the truckers, Malians in particular, have suspended their activities to avoid having to transload their cargo to other carriers. Passengers who insist on traveling this route are forced to disembark near the bridge, cross by boat, and board another vehicle on the other side of the river. If that sounds like a hassle for the passengers, it is impossible for businesses transporting goods. Some have simply decided to put the brake on their activities until the situation becomes clearer. Many of them have observed that Mali is a natural market for Senegalese goods. In addition, the economic balance between Senegal and Mali favors our country so much that the government should have made the reestablishment of truck routes between the two countries a top priority.

To support these claims, the Foreign Trade Analysis Report (NACE) published by the National Agency for Statistics and Demographics (ANSD) stresses that Mali is the primary export goal for Senegal in the subregion. It takes in 53.7% of Senegalese products sold in the subregion, and 75% of Senegalese exports in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA). The goods are mostly petroleum products and cement, which earned the country 213.2 billion Central African francs [$460 million] in 2008, but Mali also buys fish and industrial products from Senegal. Senegalese imports from Mali, by contrast, are absolutely insignificant. The balance of trade leans heavily in Senegal’s favor. For proof, the ANSD only recorded 271 million CFA francs [$585,000] in imports from Mali. We can conclude that the Malians may not be as motivated to restore connections between our two countries because, in the end, it would not help their trade deficit.