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Aging boomers who can’t drive will be trapped in unwalkable cities of their own making

Judging by how pedestrian-unfriendly the average American city has become, all our aging parents apparently enjoy being prisoners in their own homes, reports the AP. Because, oops: There comes a point when you can't legally drive any longer. And if you depend on your car, that means you’ll have to … depend on your children instead. Fuck.


Passing on gas: Driving rates falling across the board

Cars -- who needs 'em? (Photo by André-Pierre Bodson.)

Cross-posted from Sightline Daily.

In a story about the decline of youth car culture, The New York Times quotes an advertising exec on the feelings of today’s youth toward the auto:

“They think of a car as a giant bummer,” said Mr. Martin. “Think about your dashboard. It’s filled with nothing but bad news.”

True dat. I’m not young anymore, but looking at my gas gauge is one of the biggest downers of my day. Though as I’ve argued before, a big part of waning interest in cars among young people stems from economics rather than cultural shifts: Gas and cars are expensive, youth unemployment is high, and young peoples’ wages are down. And besides, new licensing laws have made it more difficult and costly for many teens to get a license, while making driving a lot less appealing. (When I was 16, the lure of cruising around with friends was a major impetus for getting my license -- but today licensing laws in many parts of the country forbid teens with new licenses to drive with a bunch of friends.)

Regardless of the reasons, the latest figures show that driving is continuing to decline -- not simply among young people, but across the board.

Read more: Transportation


Slow ride: Buses are the new vehicles of youth rebellion

To entice teenagers, Ford and other automakers need to make their cars more like smartphones … They could automatically check teenagers into Foursquare when they arrive at the mall. The car could read text messages aloud for the driver. It could have built-in cameras to take pictures and videos of passengers and upload them to Facebook and YouTube, also automatically tagging who is who in the images.

- The New York Times

Hard to believe but today these guys would be total dorks. (Photo by TimothyJ.)

In Dazed and Confused, the classic ode to teenage freedom set in the mid-’70s, the majority of the action happens in or around cars; one character quips that she and her friends usually “just drive around” for fun.

I’ve always loved that film for how closely it approximates my own high school’s social world, thought it is set 30 years earlier. (I’m like the dorky redhead, except Matthew McConaughey never gave me his phone number.) But while the end-of-year hazing, kegs in parks, and frequent blazing it portrays rang as true in 2006 as 1976, the fact that cars are the, um, vehicles for all this rebellion already seemed a little vintage when I was in high school.

I could still fill up the tank for under $20 when I got my license, but burning gas to burn time was not an option for my allowance-and-summer-job budget or my millennial-generation conscience. I knew about the link between carbon emissions and global warming. Besides, I grew up in a city, and blasting “Slow Ride” doesn’t feel quite so badass when your ride is stopped in traffic.


James Cameron descends the Mariana Trench

James Cameron is apparently missing his Titanic fame, and he’s willing to go pretty far to recapture it -- like nearly seven miles straight down to the bottom of the ocean. (Hey, it worked for the ship.) Cameron is travelling in a submersible to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the lowest known point on Earth.

Cameron recently started descending 6.8 miles below the surface of the water in a vessel that he helped design, the Deepsea Challenger. The trip takes nine hours one-way, which would normally prompt a lot of “are we there yets?” but Cameron is making the voyage by himself. He’s only the third person to make the journey down the Mariana Trench, and the first to do it solo.


Human wings: The green answer to air travel

Forget subways, trains, and bikes -- those are old hat compared to what we’re about to tell you. Meet the new green form of transportation: strapping on human bird wings and flying through the air with the greatest of ease.


Mayor awesome: Against all odds, L.A.’s mayor stays green

Los Angeles' supergreen mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. (Photo by David Starkopf.)

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is about as green as they come. Since his election in 2005, Villaraigosa has instated a massive climate action plan, slashed air pollution at the Port of Los Angeles, pulled more than 2,000 diesel trucks off the roads, retrofitted more than 64,000 street lights with energy-efficient LEDs, enacted some of the nation’s strictest green building standards, championed the restoration of the L.A. river, created 51 new parks, slashed the city's water use, increased recycling, and started work on an ambitious mass transit expansion in a city that is famously enamored of the automobile.

Granted, Villaraigosa has a tendency to lay plans that will have no chance of coming to fruition before he is term-limited out in 2013: Build 1,600 miles of bikeways! Plant a million trees! And now he wants to wean L.A. from coal power by 2025. But at a time when most cities are struggling just to meet residents’ basic needs, he can be forgiven for being overly ambitious.

One of Villaraigosa’s policy centerpieces has been Measure R, a voter-approved tax that will raise $40 billion over 30 years to fund transportation infrastructure. Almost half of the money will go to mass transit. And to speed progress, Villaraigosa has convinced Democrats and Republicans in Congress to support a plan called America Fast Forward, which would allow L.A. to get the work done in 10 years, rather than 30 -- and similarly reward other cities that are taking on ambitious transit projects.

At press time, America Fast Forward is tied up in Congress, where the House and Senate are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken over passing a new transportation bill. But political high jinks in Washington aren’t stopping Villaraigosa from dreaming big. He says he’ll move forward with or without help from Washington.

We caught up with Villaraigosa this week to see how he’s managed to stay green in a time when, as a famous frog once lamented, it’s anything but easy.


Need a ride? Check out London’s mobile bike library

Photo by London Bicycle Library.

A bus and a library make most people think of boring days locked inside a school -- unless that bus holds an AWESOME mobile bike library! Meet London’s Bicycle Library: This roving bike provider lets Londoners “check out” a bike, just as they might check out a book from a public library (although the bike library requires a small deposit, too).

The librarians provide on-site expertise to teach you about the art and science of bicycles. There’s even a bicycle matchmaking service where a librarian can match you with your true love on two wheels. Given that you can choose from folding, MiniVelo, "fixies" (Fix Gear Single Speed), Ladies Coaster, Mens Coaster, cargo, and electric bicycles, there’s no excuse for not finding something that works for you.


Trainspotting: Transit vote could bring new life to a gritty city

Photo by Charlie32480.

Here’s the $8.5 billion question: Can suburbanites be convinced to care about cities again?

Urban America is hoping so. For some cities, it’s a matter of life and death. And nowhere is the question more relevant than in Atlanta, where citizens will vote this summer on a massive regional transportation initiative that would stitch together a city and suburbs that have been divided for decades along racial, economic, and political lines.

The all-too-familiar storyline goes like this: Back in the 1960s and ’70s, Americans bolted from urban centers like concert goers from a burning theater, leaving cities smoldering, sometimes literally. And while urban industrial might built the suburbs, suburbanites were content to leave cities on the ash heap of history.

Witness the 1971 vote in Atlanta and its outlying counties over creating a tax to build a regional mass transit system. The vote broke down along racial lines, says Robert Bullard, a longtime Atlantan who is widely considered to be the father of environmental justice. The largely African American city and two counties voted to support the system, while two other counties, both predominantly white, opted out. The joke at the time was that MARTA -- the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority -- was short for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”


Meet the worst Senate amendment that ever lived

It’s ba-aack -- the Keystone XL pipeline, that is. The Senate is set to vote tomorrow on an amendment created by Big Oil wearing a Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) mask. The amendment would revive everyone’s favorite pipeline -- and, while it was at it, greenlight all the other oil-hungry environmental ruination that Republicans go in for.

The Senate defeated Keystone yet again last week, but Sen. Roberts included the pipeline in amendment #1826 of the Senate transportation bill (S. 1813). And that’s not the only Big Oil party favor he stuck in this grab bag of evil:

It would mandate drilling off of every coast in our nation and in the Arctic Refuge, allow oil shale development on millions of acres in America’s west, and allow the already-rejected Keystone XL pipeline to go forward.


Goodbye-ways: The downfall of urban freeways

The golden days -- when the traffic hadn't caught up with the lanes. (Photo by coltera.)

We can say this for our Great Urban Freeway Experiment: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The time was the 1950s and '60s, specifically, and U.S. cities were watching their residents flee to the suburbs in alarming numbers. Their solution: Build giant freeways connecting city centers to the ’burbs, thereby allowing citizens to live the good life on the outskirts and commute to work in the urban core. It was an attempt to hang on to urban industrial might even as the city’s population bled (or drove) out.

When all was said and done, these freeways did salvage some downtown commerce, but they only accelerated the flight from the inner city. At the same time, they carved up historic urban neighborhoods, turned whole sections of cities into slums, and cut off many downtowns from their waterfronts. Legendary urban activist Jane Jacobs was among the first to fight the scourge of the urban highway, and by the late 1970s and early 1980s, it had become all but impossible to gain approval for new highways through urban areas.

It’s one thing to stop building urban freeways, however, and another thing entirely to tear down existing ones. For many city centers, those highways still look a lot like lifelines.