Some clarity on the Clarity

Honda fuel-cell vehicle: Not marketable, practical, or environmental

Technology Review asked me to comment about the hype over the new Honda fuel-cell car, which the company optimistically calls "the world's first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production." The key word here is "intended." Here it is: ----- Would you buy a car that costs 10 times as much as a hybrid gasoline-electric, like the Prius? What if I told you it had half the range of the hybrid? What if I told you most cities didn't have a single hydrogen fueling station? Not interested yet? This should be the deal closer: what if I told you it wouldn't have lower greenhouse-gas emissions than the hybrid? Other than the traditional media, which is as distracted by shiny new objects as my 16-month-old daughter, nobody should get terribly excited when a car company rolls out its wildly impractical next-generation hydrogen car. Too many miracles are required for it to be a marketplace winner.

Notable quotable

Houston gets real about rail

“I’ll say it loud and clear: No longer is the city of Houston waffling on rail. With gas headed to $8 a gallon and oil to $200 a barrel, we have to rethink Houston as the happy motoring paradise.” – Houston City Council member Peter Brown, after the council approved the addition of five light-rail lines

Humans have a hand in Midwest flooding

Photo: Mark Hirsch How much responsibility do humans have for the floods disastrously deluging the Midwest? Of course the rain poured for days, but it fell on plowed-up prairies, drained fields, altered streams, no-longer-wetlands, and developed flood plains — all unable to absorb precipitation to the best of their natural ability. Between 2007 and 2008, more than 160,000 acres of Iowa land (mostly covered with deep-rooted, water-absorbing grasses) was taken out of a federal conservation-reserve program to be farmed (mostly for corn). Near St. Louis, Mo., nearly 30,000 homes have been built on land that was submerged by flooding in …

Dancing to the beat of a different summer

NYC unveils plan to open huge swaths of roadway to pedestrians and bikes — temporarily

On Monday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a new event called "Summer Streets." For three Saturdays in August, pedestrians and cyclists will enjoy exclusive access to a contiguous stretch of city thoroughfares running from the Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd Street. No cars allowed.    

Screwing the goose that lays the golden eggs

Better cities, better growth

The Overhead Wire directs us to a Christian Science Monitor write-up of a new Brookings report on how we might want to support metropolitan economies: “If you’re going to get serious about the economy, then you’ve got to get specific about how you’re going to leverage metropolitan economies,” says Bruce Katz, director of the metropolitan policy program at Brookings. Even though America’s 100 largest cities generate two-thirds of U.S. jobs and three-quarters of domestic economic output, much of the policy coming from Washington — and from the presidential candidates — is still rooted in a Jeffersonian ideal of hamlets and …

Sax and the City

Found poetry on walkable cities

This blog often addresses the importance of walkable cities and towns, localities that are really there -- that have a sense of place. A friendly acquaintance of mine, Jacqueline Smay (wife of popular music guru David Smay, who authored SwordfishTrombones) tossed off this charming note that is more powerful than any statistic: ... it was cold but not bitter out, Union Square was glittering with lights and ringing with the sounds of competing street musicians, and the sidewalks were crowded with a mix of very late theatergoers, tourists, street people, street performers, local chi-chi store staff closing up for the night, dejected Giants fans, and elated A's fans. Everything felt very shiny and bustling and wide awake. Outside a smoke shop on the corner of Powell a couple blocks up from Market, a two-man band composed of two young white guys, one with guitar and one with drums, was playing an improbably terrific version of "No Woman No Cry." Really, they had no right to be as good as they were. The streetcorner was crowded with tourists and miscellaneous wanderers, including a grandma out and about with her two six to eight-ish granddaughters; the girls were dancing deliriously in their teeny girl-power t-shirts and pastel Crocs while their grandmother beamed. And right in front of the musicians, a middle-aged homeless black man was dancing with a middle-aged Asian woman all done-up for a big night out in a black, crepe dress with white lace and a long, swoopy duster and loads of makeup. They danced together a bit and then she spun out on her own, and he turned to the crowd, flung his arms out, and shouted, "She's beautiful! She's alive! She's alive and she knows it!"

Segway sales at an all-time high

With gas prices rising, more people are busing, scooting, biking — and riding the electric scooter we all love to mock. Yes, sales of the nerdarific Segway have risen to an all-time high, as more folks deny transportation fashion in the interest of gas-saving comfort. The two-wheeled, electric scooters get up to 25 miles per charge, have a top speed of about 12.5 miles per hour, and have, just once, caused the Leader of the Free World to take a tumble. Of course, the Segway-owning segment of the population is still extremely small, and with the scooters selling at $5,000 …

Honda produces new fuel-cell car

Honda Motor Co.’s hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity rolled off the line Monday and will be leased to high rollers in California. The Clarity — an update of Honda’s original FCX, a handful of which were leased in 2005 — runs on hydrogen and electricity, emits only water, and is twice as fuel-efficient as a gas-electric hybrid. Actresses Laura Harris and Jamie Lee Curtis, filmmaker Christopher Guest, and Little Miss Sunshine producer Ron Yerxa will be among those leasing the Clarity this year; Honda hopes to lease 200 of the cars within three years and, if all goes well, have them mass-produced …

Google plugs in

Notes from a plug-in hybrid conference

Silicon Valley came to Washington this week to talk about plug-in hybrids at a great conference organized by with Brookings. The combination of tech visionaries, electric cars on display, Washington heavy hitters such as John Dingell, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and even a couple of film stars, Peter Horton and Anne Sexton of Who Killed the Electric Car?, made for a great meeting. Here are my notes from the standing room only event ...

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