August 29, 2013

Seven Ways to Keep Your Teen from Texting While Driving

"One in four (26%) of American teens of driving age say they have texted while driving, and half (48%) of all teens ages 12 to 17 say they’ve been a passenger while a driver has texted behind the wheel."

These findings are from a 2009 report from the Pew Research Center. That's a lot of distracted driving in an age group already notorious for its bad driving record.

Of course, when you're 18, you're invincible, and immortal (that's why armies like to draft young people). Four out of five young adults claim they can safely text while driving. Moreover, there is - sometimes intense - pressure from friends to stay connected at all times.

So our job as parents is to convince our children that, even though they see it happen all around them, it's really not a good idea to text and drive. In fact, it's illegal in most states. But that doesn't seem enough of a deterrent. So it's up to us: parents need to mount an in-house ad campaign against texting while driving. Here are some ideas on how to go about it.

August 25, 2013

The Netherlands, 2136 AD

The land area that comprises the Netherlands is partly a gift from the rivers of which is forms the delta, and partly hard-won from the sea, through the building of dikes, poldering, and the incessant pumping of water (you didn't think all those classic Dutch windmills were built to be pretty, did you?).

Half of the place is below the current sea level (-6.76m at the lowest point), and the Dutch think it's reasonable - indeed, prudent - to spend 1-2 billion euros per year to shore up their defenses agains rising sea levels, in a nationwide multi-decade plan called the Deltaprogramma.

Nobody here has time for climate change denial: global warming is treated as a given. This perspective pervades news coverage, discussions at talk shows, and education. For instance, the map below was developed by Red Geographics for use in schools. Dark blue areas indicate regions currently below sea level; light blue shows regions at risk at a sea level rise up to 7 meters (23 ft).

Dark blue: land below current sea level. Light blue: land 0-7 metres above sea level.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying the Dutch are environmental saints. Sure, they bike. But they've got their own western-sized footprint. Shell (which started out as Royal Dutch Oil) is still a large employer. They drive more than they need to. They still get less energy from wind than they should, considering how much wind they have at their disposal. But at least global warming is firmly acknowledged as a reality in the national discussion.

I have just discovered a young-adult book by Evert Hartman, Niemand houdt mij tegen (Nobody can stop me). This is an adventure in the 22nd century, when half of the Netherlands has turned into sea, the remaining population is squeezed on the remaining land area, and immigration is a serious issue.

Sixteen year old Richard is present at the arrest of two Belgian girls, who have entered the Netherlands illegally. He decides to help them, together with Wesley, who is a clone. Hartman foresees self-driving cars that navigate a network of tunnels. Below a partial translation of the chilling opening pages. Hartman wrote this novel in 1991.

August 24, 2013

Short holiday for cellomomcars.com

Starting August 25, 2013, cellomomcars.com domain name is going on a short hiatus. This doesn't mean I stop blogging.
I hope to re-instate the re-direct from cellomomcars.com by mid-September, until then please access the blog directly at www.cellomomcars.blogspot.com.

This is partly a result of my inept blog management, partly a confuse-a-spammer experiment. Thanks in advance for your understanding.

August 20, 2013

Ten Ways to Calm Car Traffic

Delft, the Netherlands, is a rather venerable town: think of its medieval origins, its ties to the royal house, its rise as a trading power in the 17th century, its artists, writers and scientists. But its 100,000 residents don't think about that stuff too much while going about their daily business.

For my parents, a lot of that business was done by car. When I was growing up, my dad would happily negotiate the narrow canal-side streets, park on the very edge of the canal, or else on the expansive market square between the New Church and City Hall. Buses would pile into the same market square to disgorge hordes of tourists following umbrellas. Trucks would come in for deliveries, causing traffic jams in the one-way streets. I didn't realise it at the time, but it probably stank of exhaust - none of it unleaded.

In the late 1970s, the city of Delft decided to do something about the noise and the pollution. Since then, it has been a pioneer on a long but inexorable path to reclaim life from the effects of car traffic, especially in the medieval city core. It started innocently enough: the city centre was divided into four quadrants, and you couldn't drive from one to the other directly, you had to drive around. You could still bike everywhere.

Then, some streets (mostly those with shops) were declared pedestrian zones. Other measures were put in place to put private cars in the position where it belongs: as a transportation mode of last resort, in as much of the city as possible. Over time, Delft was transformed into a much more pleasant place, more vibrant than before, safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and with much lower carbon emissions.

The cool thing is that through all this, the city has remained accessible for everyone. While cars have certainly taken a second place, they are by no means banned entirely. The city has worked very hard to find ways to share its roads safely, while giving priority to green traffic. Here are ten policies that help make it happen.

August 15, 2013

The Netherlands: Bike-Friendly By Law

In the Netherlands, riding a bike to get from here to there is such a part of the psyche, that the Dutch don't even consider themselves a cyclist nation: it's an integral part of daily life. I have pointed out that the country's bike-friendliness comes from the fact that just about everybody bikes. That solidarity has always been there, but in the past decade it has been reinforced - strogly - by a change in traffic laws.

Photo Murdockcrc

When I was taught traffic rules in a Dutch fifth grade, the rules of thumb were simple: "Faster traffic has right of way". And "Traffic moving straight forward has right of way". That last bit meant that if you were on the bike path between the sidewalk and the car lanes, any car making a right turn crossing the bike path had to stop and wait for you to pass.

Rules are not that simple any more: inside cities, often the car has the lowest priority. And in the last decade or so, the law is tilted significantly in favour of slow traffic, in an acknowledgement of a plain physics fact: that if a collision should occur, the heavy guy always wins.

August 11, 2013

Review: 2013 Škoda Roomster

This summer, we made a new friend: Jasmin is a warm-hearted, many-sided person with a sunny disposition, and quite without fear. She currently lives in Prague, but her life story spans three continents. She speaks three or four languages fluently, and will engage in a lively conversation about almost any subject you care to bring up, in several languages at once if necessary.

Jasmin had made the trek from the Czech Republic to the Netherlands, accompanied by her diminutive shih-tzu puppy Gracie, in Jasmin's Škoda Roomster, stopping here and there on the way to visit Jasmin's many friends.

Photo Cellotrixx via Wikimedia Commons

The Roomster is a worthy match to Jasmin: it also is versatile, up for anything, and offers plenty of room inside for friends. With its slightly raised seats it embraces you with an easy welcome. In the front, the wraparound windows give you a good view around. Children rejoice: in the back, the windows are actually taller than in the front, defiantly going against the current trend of the disappearing side window.

August 1, 2013

Why I Love High-Speed Trains

The California High Speed Rail Authority plans to install a network of fast trains, including a trajectory that will carry passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles (about 400 miles) in less than 3 hours. By 2029.

I can't wait till 2029 - I mean, by then I could be a grandmother! So, having vowed to have a car-free vacation this year, I've booked this summer's family holiday travel on a few fast trains that are already running.

There is a pretty dense network of high speed lines in western Europe (high speed means top speeds of at least 200 kph, or 124 mph), and an equally dense of slower but still fast trains in eastern Europe.

Getting connected from the Dutch corner is still difficult: you have to take Thalys to Paris, then transfer from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon to catch the southbound high speed trains, not a trivial task if you're toting luggage at rush hour.