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5 GUESTS "Mobility"

We get around our towns and cities in all kinds of ways - on foot, by train, by bicycle, by bus. And, of course, by car. And, more and more, our transport systems connect together.

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2010/08/05

"Think Electric" Michael Kanellos

What is your ideal means of getting around?

An electric convertible. Electricity does more than curb carbon dioxide emissions: it completely changes the experience of driving. In a gas burning car, you feel the car struggle to accelerate and get up to speed. The engine whines, fumes increase and the car's acceleration slows down as speed increases. In an electric car, going from zero to thirty or fifty or sixty almost seems effortless: you hit the accelerator and electric cars just zip. The lack of noise also eliminates one of the irritants of gas cars. In the Leaf, the loudest sound on my test drive was the sound of the tires rolling on the pavement.

And if I couldn't afford an electric car, I'd get an electric bike.

How do you think we should approach mobility in terms of looking after the environment?

Planning is perhaps the biggest contribution individuals can make toward environmental driving. If you have a meeting 30 miles away, try to organize two or three of them on the same day. Carpool with co-workers whenever possible. Americans should also invest more in public transportation. It always amazes me that when Americans come back from a visit to Seoul or Tokyo, they rave about the subway and train systems. If we had the efficient kind of public systems we see in Asia, more Americans would skip the hassles of parking and driving.

Could you give some examples of recent advances in mobility/transport technology that help reduce the impact on the environment?

The momentum behind electric cars has been stunning. Turn back the clock to 2005. Most major car companies believed that electric cars cost too much and wouldn't be able to attract consumers. Range anxiety, cost, the state of battery technology, the difficulty of selling the concept of "commuter cars" to consumers all seemed like daunting challenges. Ethanol and biodiesel cars seemed far more promising. Since then, consumers have become entranced with electric cars and nearly every manufacturer has laid plans to sell them. Commuter cars don't seem as odd as they once did. A few weeks ago, I test drove an electric car from an American manufacturer. Strangers on the street took pictures of me. I felt like the man of the future.

Further out, new public transportation concepts, like networks of maglev personal transporters, show some promise. And don't write off biofuel. Algae companies may be able to prove in a few years that algal biodiesel can be economical.

And as a cyclist, increased interest in bikes and commuting by bike has become a huge boon for urban centers. The less you have to worry about parking, the more fun life can be.

What can each of us as individuals actually do to get around in a responsible, sustainable way?

1. Think about buying a bike.
2. When driving, plan your excursions.
3. When buying a new car, consider electric cars.
4. And if your tempted by an SUV or a truck, think for a moment: how may times will I need a big car to trudge through snow? Can I just rent one for those ski weekends? Considering the higher insurance rates and gas you will consume, maybe renting those when you need them might even be cheaper.