Is there life 3.6km below Antarctic ice?

More than 95 percent of the surface of Antarctica is covered with a sheet of glacial ice up to 5 kilometres thick and two million years old. Consequently, nearly all of the ground under the glaciers has been literally out of sight for millennia.

 

Drilling hidden Antarctic lake

But by using ice-penetrating radar and seismic studies, researchers have been able to map much of this terra incognita. In the process, they have found at least 70 bodies of water nestled between the ice sheet and the Earth. The largest of these lakes, Vostok, has become a hot scientific topic because of the possibility that it might hold life in the form of microorganisms.

Lake Vostok lies beneath Russia’s Vostok research station. The lake is huge, with an area about that of Lake Ontario, but twice as deep. However, little else is known about the lake because it is beneath 3.6 kilometres of ice.

 

How giant hidden lakes formed beneath 3.6km of ice

It is this ice that creates and preserves Vostok and the other Antarctic lakes. As the glaciers’ own weight presses down, ice at the bottom melts under the pressure and collects in depressions. The glaciers also form an insulating lid against evaporation. Hot springs that might exist at the bottom of the lakes would prevent them from ever freezing over.
That microorganisms might live in Antarctic lakes seems improbable, though not impossible. Life has been found virtually any place on Earth that has liquid water and some energy source.

But Lake Vostok represents perhaps the most extreme environment in which to find life. If no hydrothermal vents exist to pump nutrients into the lake, food for microorganisms could come only from what is trapped in the glacial ice in contact with the lake water. Also, the lake
is being squeezed by the glacier above up to 340 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level. This compression wrings out of the water nearly all the gases needed for respiration, possibly leaving lake life without a breath.

 

Similarities to conditions on Jupiter’s Moon Europa

With such hostile conditions, Lake Vostok resembles Jupiter’s satellite Europa, which very likely has an ocean under its thick crust of ice. The presence of life in Vostok would suggest that it could also exist in Europa’s also frigid depths.
A team of scientists studying Vostok has already drilled to within 120 metres of the top of the lake. However, concerns about contaminating the pristine water, which has not been open to the air for perhaps two million years, have delayed further drilling. But when these technical
problems are solved and scientists eventually do punch their way in, they will find an alien world more like another planet than anywhere else on Earth.

The discovery of living microbes just above a hidden freshwater lake 3.6km deep in the frozen Antarctic extends the range of extreme conditions under which life is known to survive.

The finding, which researchers say almost certainly indicates there is a thriving community of microscopic creatures in the ancient, pristine lake, buoys hopes that life may exist elsewhere in the solar system. It also
provides some clues about how and where to start looking.

“Our results extend the possible limits for life on Earth and elsewhere in the Universe,” said David Karl of the University of Hawaii, lead researcher on one of three studies presented in the Dec. 10 issue of the journal Science. “With each discovery of life in another extreme Earth environment we learn that much more about microbial adaptation, and survival and physiological strategies for life.”

 

The extreme conditions of the hidden Lake Vostok

In a spot nearly 10 times as far down as the Empire State Building is tall, below an Antarctic glacier, lies what researchers believe to be a natural reservoir of fresh water known as Lake Vostok. It is deeper than Lake Tahoe and has an ice-locked “surface” that spans an area as big as New Jersey.
Researchers say Vostok, named for the Russian research station that sits above it, is the largest of nearly 80 sub-Antarctic lakes that have been mapped by airborne radio sounding. It has been known for two decades, and the recent discovery is a milestone during a years-long suspicion that there might be life trapped in the lake.

Intense pressure from the overlying ice generates heat which, combined with geothermal heat from below, is thought to keep Vostok’s million-year-old water in a liquid state. The ice also serves as an insulating blanket.

Some 120 meters (393 feet) above the lake rests the lower end of the deepest ice core ever drilled — 3,623 meters (11,886 feet) below the frigid surface. There, in freshwater ice that researchers think has migrated upward from the lake, a community of microbes — extremophiles that define their own term — thrive in some of the harshest conditions imaginable.

“There’s a first principle among microbial ecologists that states: ‘Where there’s water there’s life,'” said Warwick Vincent, a professor of biology at Laval University, Canada. “Lake Vostok is the ultimate test of this principle in one of this world’s most hostile places. These new discoveries imply that the ‘life everywhere’ adage will once again prove correct.”

 

Extreme forms of life found in ice just above lake

The newly discovered microbes have gone about their business of living sans any contact with the outside world for millions of years. But after doing DNA analysis, a team led by John Priscu of Montana State University said the little critters are similar to modern-day organisms, including one called a proteobacteria. “Our research shows us that the microbial world has few limits on our planet,” Priscu said.

Vincent, who was not involved in the research, agreed with the other русское порно researchers in saying it appears the lake itself has “all the ingredients for an active microbial ecosystem.”

It may be a while before that theory is proved, however. Drilling was stopped four years ago to prevent introducing anything that might contaminate the water. Delegates from several nations met in September to decide whether and how to explore the lake, but no firm proposal has been accepted.

Regardless, the discovery shows that an extremely cold, dark environment that is cut off from a ready supply of nutrients can still support life. Sealed off from the sources of energy most other known organisms survive on, it seems the Vostok microbes live off things deposited long ago.

 

Earth life in such extreme conditions enhances the propects of life on nearby moons

The fact that organisms have adapted to living in such harsh conditions bolsters the expectation that extraterrestrial life may be waiting to be discovered right here in our solar system. Jupiter’s ice-covered moons Europa and Callisto, both thought to contain large oceans, have emerged in recent years as two of the most likely candidates.
Evidence shows that the massive gravity of Jupiter creates “tidal pumping,” a pull on the moons, that might generate heat within. Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has a surface temperature of minus 260° Fahrenheit, but the tugging of Jupiter’s gravity may well create enough warmth to keep large parts of Europa’s ocean liquid.

“Conditions on Europa are likely similar to those of the ice covered lakes, but may not be analogous,” Karl said. “If Europa has an internal energy pump, either through hydrothermal systems or via tidal pumping, then life may be better off than in Lake Vostok where microbes may be surviving off carbon and energy deposited there a million years ago.”

Vincent, the Canadian biologist who also chairs the Canadian Committee for Antarctic Research, expressed both optimism and caution regarding the search for extraterrestrial life.

“The chemistry of the waters of Europa and Callisto appears to be very different relative to that in Lake Vostok, “For example, these vast oceans (the largest in the solar system) are salty while all the evidence, including these most recent lake-ice analyses, shows that Lake Vostok is freshwater.”

 

Testing for life on Jupiter’s Moons

Scientists say convincing evidence of life on Europa may not come until robotic explorers venture below the surface.
A mission, the Europa Ice Clipper, is on the drawing boards. It would be a flyby mission designed to obtain samples of Europa’s subsurface by dropping hollow copper spheres onto the icy surface. A “hydrobot” would map the undersea terrain and look for life. The samples would then be returned to Earth. No date is set for launch. The recent hunt for life in the Antarctic is expected to help build such future probes.

“I think that the Vostok experience may help in the design of biochemical and molecular probes for the search for life elsewhere,” Vincent said. “It will also help in the design of sampling technologies, not only in terms of the challenge of sampling deep ice under conditions of extreme cold but also in the development of environmentally friendly technologies that will reduce any lasting negative impacts of human exploration throughout the solar system.”

Whatever we might find on Europa, Callisto, or any other body in the solar system won’t likely look like any conventional alien, experts agree. Don’t even expect a small fish, they say. But the mere discovery of simple microbial life elsewhere would hint at the likelihood that life is a far more common occurrence in the Universe than we humans might have once thought.

Personal Transportation Goes Green: Hybrid Vehicles

A growing dependence on foreign oil and a pattern of environmental degradation have led the government, industry, small businesses, and consumers to look for new transportation options. Hybrid vehicles, one option, have two major advantages over traditional vehicles. They are fuel-efficient and have extremely low emission rates. A hybrid vehicle combines two or more sources of power. Currently, three hybrid models are available in the United States, with several more, including an SUV and pickup truck, poised to enter the market in the next two years.

Hybrids combine combustion and electric engines and can easily compete with traditional vehicles in performance, appearance, cost, and customer satisfaction. Hybrids average at least 50 miles per gallon of gasoline by switching between their electric and combustion engines, depending on driving conditions. For example when the combustion engine is not needed for power at a red light, it shuts off and power is drawn from the battery, thereby conserving fuel. The electric engine often works simultaneously with the combustion engine, further cutting on gas consumption. Hybrid vehicles emit significantly fewer pollutants than traditional vehicles, which release high levels of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter into the air. These emissions contribute to ground level ozone and global warming. A well-designed hybrid can reduce smog pollution by 90% or more compared with the rates for the cleanest conventional vehicles on the road.

Roger Parks, a Directorate of Installation Operations employee, purchased a hybrid last year for personal use and has since logged 25,000 miles. Parks said, “It was the draw of the new technology and the environmental benefits that first prompted me to investigate hybrids.” When asked if his new hybrid vehicle meets all of his driving needs, Parks said, “I’ve been completely satisfied with my decision to buy a hybrid.” Unlike an electric car, a hybrid does not need to be plugged in to recharge its battery. Instead, regenerative breaking recovers energy and stores it in the battery, unlike the traditional car in which breaking dissipates the energy as heat. Although hybrids cost a few thousand dollars more than comparable traditional the cost can be offset by reduced gas consumption and federal and state tax incentives. The maximum federal deduction per hybrid vehicle in 2003 is $2,000.

Each year through 2006 the maximum deduction will be reduced by $500. The Maryland Clean Energy Incentive Act offers an excise tax exemption of up to $1,500 for qualifying hybrid electric vehicles. The state incentive will be available only through July 1, 2004. Hybrid vehicle sales are expected to increase steadily over the next two years, with every major manufacturer having a hybrid model scheduled for release by 2005. As more model options of become available and gas prices increase, the hybrid vehicle will become more attractive. This and the high customer satisfaction rate indicate that hybrids are here to stay.

Befriending the Earth

In the spring of 1995, I mentioned to an acquaintance who is part Native American, that I was preparing to go to a continental Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Convocation in Hot Springs, Arkansas. David said to me, “Please speak to the waters when you are there. They grieve because we are no longer able to hear their voices.”
At a break in Convocation proceedings, I was strolling with my cherished friend and colleague Roy. Leaning on the old wrought-iron railing around the steaming waters gushing from the earth, I told him what David had said. Roy bent across the rail and said, “Brother and sister waters, we greet you. We are sorry for the ways we have mistreated you all over our world. We understand what a loss we suffered when we stopped being able to hear your wise voices. Please forgive us for the way we have been, and help us learn again to hear you and the rest of the voices of the earth.”
There were several other tourists around–some openly staring–and Roy was not self-conscious. I was. While a part of me was deeply touched, another part was saying, “Oh Lord, what kind of New Age thing is going on? This is just water, for heaven’s sake. I guess we’ll be hugging the trees next.”
That response illuminates Western spirituality’s profound malaise in its relationship to the natural world. My discomfort with my friend’s matter-of-fact and reverent relating to water provides a small of the spiritual attitudes which have brought us to our current catastrophic environmental situation.
As Western spirituality has developed, its basic assumptions have led humans further and further away from any significant connection with the natural world, from the certain knowledge that we are part of it, as much as the brain is part of the body. There are several assumptions which have contributed to our fragmentation. In the Christian story, the Divine has been considered primarily transcendent–as opposed to manifest in this world–so things of the earth do not partake directly of the sacred. “God’s in His Heaven, all’s right with the world.” Humans are seen as eternal in a way other beings are not (whichever way you go, it is forever!), so we are literally holier than they. Existence is an inexorable progress to the millennium, where all will be resolved forever, so here and now matters of mundane life are essentially of no importance.
We have been given “dominion” over the rest of Creation, and we do not understand that concept as did the writers of the Hebrew scriptures. In ancient Israel, relationships were intense and a sense of the holy permeated all. Those who ruled had a sacred responsibility for stewardship and for justice. Our modern world–scientific, rational, measurable–is filled with separate objects, not fellow subjects with whom we share deep bonds. “Dominion,” to the modern mind, implies no responsibility toward the rest of the universe, which shares the gift of Creation with us. Historically–a la Francis Bacon–we have seen our intellectual and moral responsibility as to understand and control and use those objects.
The modern Creation story–evolution–has been presented as a series of scientific facts, with strict suppression of the mythic, visionary, awe-filled elements which have informed other age’s stories. Hence, our story in its current form gives us no ethical or moral guidelines about dealing with each other, the world, the universe, the Divine.
We are cut off from our sources, from each other and from the rest of creation, and we have acted like it. Religiously speaking, we may be the most impoverished humans ever to exist on our planet, scorning awe and mystery and ritual as we do. Confident that our scientific, materialist ways of being will solve our problems, we have isolated ourselves from each other, from our fellow beings, and from the Sources of Creation. And we have imperiled our very home.
Serious issues, starkly presented. Issues to face squarely, so we may move toward hope. We are indebted this morning to the thought of Thomas Berry. Berry is a Catholic priest and a historian of cultures, and his ideas will provide the core of the adult religious education class which begins on September 24.
You can see that the questions raised will require more than a Sunday morning’s airing, even more than a twelve-week course. But, if we are to be true to our affirmation of the interdependent web, we will consider them. Honestly pondering these spiritual questions of life and death is our first step toward healing.
What avenues are open to us, to go beyond the categorical, reductionist modes of thinking in which we have been educated? Not to reject the explorations of science and the advance of knowledge–but to enfold them in a larger system which truly honors the rest of the universe.
What can we do, individually, to shift our own thinking, to help others shift theirs, from objectification to connectedness? Do we have the courage to have real, intense, untidy relationships which embody deep bonds? How do we sort out the shallow, superstitious, further-diminishing solutions from the deeply spiritual ones involving new ritual and understanding? When my friend Roy talks to the waters, is he just being embarrassing in public, or is he representing the religious attitude necessary for our rebirth?
How do our family and institutional lives change? How do we teach and serve as examples to the children we love? What public stands and private practices do we, as a church, sponsor and encourage?
What personal spiritual disciplines can we find, which help us move away from separateness and the old notion of dominating dominion–toward the even older notion of stewardship and responsibility? How do we change our lives so that spiritual practice is a regular part of it?
How do we open our hearts religiously? While honoring the good we inherit from our dualistic Western religious tradition, how do we learn to live in a truly incarnational faith? How can we come to know truly that it is here and now, in these bodies on this earth, that we find the Divine?
Thomas Berry tells us, “We cannot discover ourselves without first discovering the universe, the earth, and the imperatives of our own being. Each of these has a creative power and a vision far beyond any rational thought or cultural creation of which we are capable.” (195) Let us embark together upon a voyage of discovery.

 

Part II

We are living in the third great extinction event in the approximately 4 billion year history of life on this planet. And, unlike the last two, which occurred 250 million and 65 million years ago, this one is being knowingly caused by one species, we humans. I would like to ask, and attempt a brief answer to, the question “Is there a role for religious faith in addressing the extinction crisis.” I say extinction crisis, because I believe that it is the extinction crisis that most directly implicates the moral dimension of the environmental crisis, and because if we solve the extinction crisis, we will have necessarily solved most, if not all, other environmental problems.
The proponents of doing nothing to save our non-human cousins usually advance several arguments. One is that the sun will burn out in 4 billion years. What difference does it make if everything goes extinct now or later? Next, one hears that this mass extinction is a simple consequence of the evolution of humans. We apparently have a natural tendency, like other creatures, to compete with and, if we can, to drive other species into oblivion. It’s natural. If the end result of our conduct is to drive ourselves to extinction, that to is natural, and of no moral significance.
Lastly, and by far the most common attitude, is what might be described as the uncritical acceptance of anthropocentric fascism: we have the ability to drive other species extinction; its financially profitable for us to do so; we humans don’t need or profit from these other inconvenient species; might makes right; we have no moral duty to save species whose biological needs interfere with our modern lifestyle. The essence of this attitude is captured in the quote in this week’s Boise Weekly of an Idaho Fish & Game Commissioner who said “If I can’t hook it or shoot it, I don’t have any use for it.” Sometimes, this view is defended biblically, but most often, it is just uncritically accepted. No justification seems needed.
Can the secular environmental movement counter these attitudes? I doubt it. To date, at best, the secular movement has slowed the deterioration. Because the leadership of the secular movement is overwhelmingly populated with either secular humanists or closet pagans, the closest thing the secular movement makes to a moral argument is an appeal to our duty to future generations of humans. More often, however, the secular movement attempts to appeal to our inherent selfishness, arguing that if only we would examine the facts, we would find that it was really in our own selfish interest to preserve species because some wondrous new cancer cure or other wondrous product of benefit to humans lies undiscovered, or, if we warm the planet, our costal cities will be flooded, or our ability to grow food to feed humans will be imperiled.
This approach has not worked. The general population simply does not appear to believe that the lifestyle benefits that come from destroying other species are outweighed by hypothetical future harms. And because the secular movement will not, and probably cannot, speak in moral terms, the enemies of preserving biodiversity have in large part succeeded in marginalizing the secular movement by portraying it as simply a loud minority, disingenuously trying to protect wild playgrounds for a privileged few.
For me, I can only approach this issue as a moral matter growing out of religious faith. Thomas Berry, in his book “The Universe Story,” co-authored with Brian Swimme, states that the “Earth seems to be a reality that is developing with the simple aim of celebrating the joy of existence.” This has also been my experience. When I commune with nature, whether watching a pileated woodpecker in the wilderness or watching a squirrel outside my office, I sense the joy of existence, the sacred, the divine, the holy. I do not sense ambivalence, or an eagerness or even a willingness to be sacrificed on the alter of human material ambition. The legitimacy of this experience of the joyful, divine existence of the cosmos cannot be defended logically. I should know. I have toiled long and hard trying to come up with air-tight logical arguments, and failed. One can only seek this experience, and then chose to trust it as legitimate through an existential hop of faith. I say hop, because unlike Kierkegaard, I see the distance to travel as more akin to stepping across the crack in a sidewalk, rather than leaping across some unfathomable chasm.
The mystical traditions in all religions teach us the validity of experiencing of the divine in the existence we see all around us. Once we choose to accept this reality, by faith if necessary, and acknowledge its divinity, our duty to it becomes almost self-evident. Of course we cannot liquidate it for expedient human selfishness. And of course it becomes our duty to defend these “radiant signatures of the infinite spirit” (to use Channing’s phrase) because they cannot defend themselves. And it has always been religion’s legitimate and perhaps most important function to instruct us regarding our duty to behave righteously when our inclination is to behave selfishly.
Including this moral dimension is absolutely critical to the environmental debate and the church is the only institution with the moral authority to advance these issues. Fortunately, the Western church is showing signs of its readiness to step up to this challenge, as the Thomas Berry class will amply demonstrate. A full discussion of these developments and what an earth-befriending eco-theology might look like, however, will have to await a future Sunday.

Bicycle Planning and Program Development

Success in bicycle planning and program development is based on three somewhat contrasting but ultimately complementary ideas.

1. The first is that the best bicycle planning approach is a comprehensive and cooperative one that combines work in at least these four areas:

  • Planning and design: Modifying the transportation system to encourage safe and convenient bicycling traveling to agriturismo udine.
  • Encouragement: Working to raise society’s awareness of the benefits of bicycling and the rights of riders.
  • Education and awareness: Training and encouraging bicyclists and motorists to share the road network in a safe and cooperative manner.

STILL TO COME: Enforcement: Making rules that treat bicyclists and motorists fairly and working to make sure the laws are enforced.

In the early days of developing such comprehensive bicycle plans, planners and advocates often thought it was enough to simply list the duties of all sorts of agencies and groups who should be doing something for bicycling. However, if those agencies and groups didn’t help create the plan, they weren’t likely to implement it. The best efforts directly involve people from the various agencies and groups.
Interestingly enough, some of the best work was done in Australia, beginning with early work in Geelong, Victoria.

2. The second idea is that useful do-able projects can often make a difference, even in the absence of a shared overall vision or plan. In other words, if you can get decent bike parking at the local university, go for it. If you can get a key section of trail built, do it. These projects can, if done well, generate interest in further efforts, creating that shared vision in the most direct manner: by creating a constituency and a history.

For years, bicycle advocates and local officials have surprised their friends and colleagues by created a wide variety of wonderful little projects that, in their own way, further a bicycling agenda. Here are 35 of most interesting little projects we’ve seen:

  • Physical improvements: Bike assembly areas (with bike stands and tools) at airports; mountain bike trail markers on popular routes; bike racks at wilderness trailheads; bike lockers near college dorms; short bike trail bridges made from railroad flatcars; special bike rack brackets that attach to parking meter poles; solar-powered emergency phones on trails; covered bike parking at popular cycling restaurants;
  • Programs and products: Training programs for inner-city youngsters; tandem rides for the blind; programs that spread free loaner bikes around town; pedal-powered trail maintenance crews; bike commuter mapping services; bike rodeos or “Sprocketman” assembly programs in the schools; quadracycles for the elderly; Bike days (or weeks) with special events and awareness-building publicity; Helmets promotions that reward helmet-wearers with movie tickets and ice cream; modified snowmobile trailers outfitted with bikes and helmets for use in school programs; bike donation programs for low-income residents; bike-to-work programs with guaranteed taxi rides home in case of emergency; bike theft sting operations using transmitters embedded in bike saddles; bike commuter luncheons with valet parking; discounts on services and products for those who arrive on bike; bike licensing programs that offer “family plan” discounts for those with multiple bikes

.

Businesses: Pedal-powered taxis; bike commuter centers with showers and maintenance services; bike courier services that emphasize lawful riding; bike repair stands on recreational paths; trail-oriented food stands or hostels; bike and helmet rentals at bike path parking lots; bike repair shops employing developmentally-disabled adults; bicyclist-oriented personal injury attorneys; bicycle cartographers who map recreational routes; bike locker rentals at downtown parking garages; “ride-up” windows at videos xxx restaurants.
[Note: watch for more details on this list in the near future…]

3. Third, for the best results, bicycle planning and program work must be integrated into the overall transportation planning and design process, as well as relevant programs, policies, and standards. Given the choice between replacing one specific dangerous drain grate with a bicycle-safe model and setting a policy to use only bicycle-safe grates whenever grates are needed, the latter is best. While the former is often needed, the latter shifts the bicycling advocate from fighting a rear-guard action to implementing fundamental change.

STILL TO COME: Bicycling in the Long-Range Planning Process
STILL TO COME: Bicycling in the Transportation Improvement Program
STILL TO COME: Bicycling as part of the policy environment

References:
• “Geelong Spokesman: an Interview with Jack Sach;” by John Williams; in Bicycle Forum #9; Winter 1982-3
• National Bicycling and Walking Study Case Study No. 11: Balancing Engineering, Education, Law Enforcement, and Encouragement in a Local Bicycle/Pedestrian Program; by John Williams and Kathleen McLaughlin; 1992.

Topics for further study:
• How to mix the four “E”s among a variety of agencies and groups
• The evolution of 4-E programs in the U.S. and Australia
• Mixing the four “E”s within a specific agency with a limited mission
• Tackling pieces of the puzzle: which to do first?

Ten point checklist for getting Local Transport Plans right for pedestrians

I will cover a 10-point checklist that tests whether the LTP you are producing is a good one in the view of Living Streets. In the old days, transport planning was a simple process. It involved simply transport. You are now being asked to jump completely out of your box and make all sorts of links that have not been made before. Living Streets did not like everything in the guidance. We think that some crucial elements were left out, that there are too many objectives, and so on; but the guidance also got a lot right. It is heading in the right direction. I welcome the fact that it looks at transport issues thematically rather than by different modes, because it means porn that you are mainstreaming issues like walking, which in the past were treated as bolt-on extras.

But you cannot look at the guidance on its own. You also need to ensure that you have beside you a copy of the Walking and Cycling Action Plan which was published in July. The two documents were clearly written by different people, because the guidance does not make much reference to that Action Plan. The plan is a very important document. We spent 10 years or so campaigning for a national walking strategy. We have not got one so far, but we now have this Plan, with 42 action points. That signifies the shift which we have detected in at least some parts of the DfT towards promoting walking.

What is particularly important is the link across to LTPs. The Plan contains two actions specifically about LTPs. The first is action point 4, which says that local authorities are expected to set out in their LTPs how walking and cycling will benefit access to jobs, goods and services. Action point 40 refers to cycling and walking levels – modal share journey to work and to school will be key indicators. It is important to make that link across to the Action Plan for Walking and Cycling if you want to produce a good LTP.

Now to the checklist.

The first point on our checklist is vision.

The local transport plan is not the vision in itself; what is important is evidence that that vision exists. For an example of that, you need to look no further than here in London and the Mayor’s vision. The Mayor produced the walking plan for London earlier this year, in which he said, “London is a great city for walking. My vision is to make it one of the world’s most walking-friendly cities by 2015.” The detailed actions that the Mayor is taking in London flow from that clear vision.

You need to decide whether your document is simply a bidding document. I have been a local councillor for 10 years, and I know that these documents are often produced simply because they have to be produced in order to get the money from government. I think that they should be more than that. If you are looking at producing a really top-class plan, you need to have that vision and be clear what it is.

Also be clear that the plan is not the strategy. There is a separation between the plan, which is about the actions, and the bigger, broader strategy.

The guidance refers to this in two places. It says that the plan should be “set in the context of the local vision for the area”. It also says that it should “contain evidence of a long-term strategy within which the five-year implementation plan is set”. So if you want to score highly with the DfT, this one is important.

Checklist Point 2 is involvement.

The worst LTPs are those which are extremely technical, impenetrable, dull and unexciting, and which have not involved in the process the most important people – the users.

That is often the standard situation. It is important to involve the users, and not just the usual suspects: spread your net widely and involve others. This will make the process more difficult for you, but it will be a much more interesting one, in which the outcome will be far better in the long run.

The guidance talks about a good video porno plan having been “developed in partnership with stakeholders”.

In Living Streets, we do what we call Community Street Auditing. You should be thinking about the auditing of streets in your local area. That involves getting a cross-section of local people who use the streets in different ways, and walking the streets with them, looking for the good and the bad points. That will give you a far better idea than any meeting in a community centre or feedback from a draft consultation document. Start with a clean sheet of paper, take people out and ask them openly what they think. How safe do they feel? What is it like to cross the street? They know their streets better than any of us do, because they walk them day in, day out.

The third Checklist Point is a focus on accessibility rather than mobility.

This is a diagram from the last century showing the technique of bloodletting, which at the time was a major medical practice, based on drawing out evil humours. People who wanted to go into bloodletting as a career studied it for years, and learned which veins to open to treat which conditions. Highly learned and technical documents were produced that were almost as thick as the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges. [Laughter.] Bloodletting went on for a long time after the scientific evidence began to show that it had no real basis.

I think that transport planning over the past 50 years has some similarities with bloodletting. We have been making elaborate justifications for continuing to do what the evidence suggests does not work. This probably reached its height in the 1980s with “predict and provide” – the idea that building more roads would satiate congestion. It is like feeding an addict’s craving by giving them more of the drug. It will have only a temporary effect, and in the long run will make the addiction worse. We have made a big leap forward from the 1980s, but in this round of LTPs we need to see a break from the bloodletting ideas of the past. That is why a focus on accessibility is so important.

The guidance say that they want to see evidence that the document is not about transport as an end in itself. It talks about including accessibility analysis and strategy. This is very important in principle, but the draft guidance is seriously lacking, because it virtually ignores walking and its importance to accessibility, which is vital for people on lower incomes. People’s ability to walk to local services and job opportunities is critical, and it is not mentioned. In fact, cycling is virtually ignored as well. I hope that the guidance is changed and that omission is rectified.

The guidance also talks about the Government setting the standard for accessibility with Government buildings.

This is a picture of the crossing just outside the headquarters of the Department for Transport in Marsham Street. As you can see, there is no facility for pedestrians to cross the road. People have to run across in between the buses and the other traffic. What is good is that the action plan recognises that, and the Government are saying that they will take action, including at this location. But it is important that this is also translated into LTPs. How accessible to walkers are local government buildings and local services?

Travel can become an addiction, and accessibility is the key to the cure. We have heard a lot about gambling recently, and the fear of an increase in gambling addicts. I think that the same approach needs to be taken to travel and transport. We sometimes have to think in terms of weaning people off travel for travel’s sake, and focus much more on accessibility.

Fourth checklist point, the plans should value walking as a form of transport.

As you said, Chairman, a few years ago walking was not valued as a form of transport in its own right. Things are changing, but in this round we want to see a decisive break with the attitudes of the past.

Walking is independent as a form of transport, but other forms, such as public transport, rely on walking. A bus journey is not just the time spent on the bus; it is also the bit from your home to the bus stop and from the bus to your destination. It is essential to appreciate the importance of walking for transport.

These slides show modal share, from the National Travel Survey. Not many of us are brave enough to do five-mile walks.

Or even journeys of two to five miles.

For journeys of between one and two miles, walking comes into its own. It is the method used for a third of those journeys.

But nearly three quarters of journeys of under one mile are undertaken on foot. What is worrying about that is that nearly a quarter are undertaken in a car – people getting in their car to go around the corner; and that proportion is increasing, which is even more worrying. That cake is getting smaller, because the services we need are moving away from where we live, we are having to travel further, and therefore we do not have the option of walking. Valuing walking and giving it the respect it deserves as a form of transport is vital: it is not a bolt-on extra.

As part of the action plan on walking and cycling, in the autumn, the Government will be issuing new guidance in PPS6 on access to town centres. A large number of trips are generated by people travelling to their town centres. A lot of the increase in congestion in outer London is the result of car journeys of that sort. No thought has been given to walking routes into many of our town centres. It is important to ensure that you make those links and punch those routes through.

The plan also talks about making sure that walking and cycling are sustainable in the new developments that are proposed – building them in from the beginning, rather than having to retrofit those facilities later at great expense. If large developments are happening in your area, you should build that aspect into your LTP.

It talks about the importance of walking and cycling to work as well, and working with major employers to see how more of those journeys can be made on foot. There has been a big push on walking and cycling to school; over the next few years, there will be a similar push on walking and cycling to work.

You might look at reallocating road space and the importance of walking and cycling as forms of transport. Is enough road space allocated to them?

We have heard about “people jams” in some places, where there are simply too many people for the space. Is the priority right, or can you use the LTP to make a shift?

The economic value of people on foot is often ignored. People spend money when they walk or cycle.

Walking is also about the quality of life around the places where people live. It is about meeting other people who live in your locality. It is about being isolated because people are not walking around, or making those links and turning residents into neighbours. People feel safer when other people are walking in the area, because it reduces the fear of crime.

When we are walking, we are doing many more things than simply going from A to B. We are doing all these activities. These probably have not all come into the first round of LTPs – particularly a section on sunbathing. [Laughter.] You need to think about what people are doing in public spaces, because this is where the plans for streets come from.

Talking again about the ancient art of bloodletting, I give credit to the DfT, because there are signs that they are moving forward. The Highways Agency is light years behind them. This photograph shows part of an audit we did in Bakewell. It is a beautiful little place, which gets lots of tourists. But can you see the great big motorway sign that the Highways Agency stuck on one of their little greens? That has now gone, because the local authority has now taken over responsibility for the road. They have removed those signs and put something else there.

The same has happened at the war memorial roundabout system: all the paraphernalia has now gone. We should look at streets, not just at motorways.

We should consider the condition of our streets. Our pavements are in the worst state they have been in for nearly 20 years.

There has been an eightfold increase in the number of people using Trafalgar Square as a result of the improvements there.

You should look at traffic calming. A report by the IPPR last year made a direct link between deprivation and the level of child pedestrian casualties.

Sixthly, there should be links with health.

Very few transport departments have yet linked up with their primary care trusts. One that has is Stockport, which is setting the standard. If you have not made links with people in healthcare, you need to do so.

It is quite simple: we are using our cars more.

We are walking less than we have probably ever done as a species.

Obesity has roughly tripled over the last 25 years.

Seventhly, your plan should value small projects as well as big ones.

This relates to things like signage. You cannot work out where you are from this sign in Bakewell, because it is in such a bad conditions

There are some great signs. We know what works for people walking around. This is in Belfast.

This is in Bristol, in their “legible cities” project.

This is signage that makes sense and encourages people to walk. It is small and not hugely expensive, but if it is done well, it can make a huge difference.

The action plan talks about setting up a walking and cycling fund in the LTP, and ring-fencing some of the money for small improvements to walking and cycling.

The action plan talks about walking maps.

The eighth point is that there should be outcomes, not outputs.

The outcome we want is more people on the streets. Not many local authorities are yet measuring people on the streets. They measure the cars and lorries, but not people. That is one reason why people have been ignored for so long in this process.

There are exceptions to that. Bath is a good example, where they have a system of monitoring the number of people on the streets. If we are serious about outcomes, we need to be measuring those numbers.

The ninth point is attention to quality.

It is all very well putting these things into your plan, but you should be looking at what you are going to do to make sure that the quality is there.

This is a cycle track that I came across yesterday in Camden. I thought it was extremely inventive: instead of moving the telephone boxes, it weaves its way around, which is highly confusing for cyclists, let alone pedestrians.

Finally, the local transport plans should not be solely about the engineers. As we heard earlier, there should be cross-ownership. If it simply sits with the traffic engineers, it will not make the links that are needed. There has to be a dialogue with other parts of local authorities and other public bodies locally, to ensure that bits of the local transport plan are owned by other stakeholders, not just the transport department.

From Main Roads to Mixed-Use Streets

Turning over a wobbly table.

I feel that the Artists conference will be looked back upon as a landmark event in the movement known as “new urbanism”. Seldom can I have been so richly entertained but it is the new insights into other professional worlds that I will most treasure. Chief amongst these was Phil Jones’ presentation “Research Challenges”. Phil put the engineering and road safety professions on the table and under the spotlight and after twenty minutes the table was decidedly wobbly. He introduced us to the engineer’s raison de etre. Engineers identify a failure mode. They predict its occurrence with a mathematical model and then apply a factor of safety. Next they choose design values and monitor their introduction. Finally they refine the model after catastrophe. In the case of highways their concerns are with structural failure, traffic congestion or road accidents. But there are other failure modes of the highway too, ones that aren’t considered: the visual, emotional or social impact and its contribution to physical or mental health.

Their design values contain underlying assumptions about the importance of certain geometric parameters: horizontal and vertical radii, superelevation, lane width, stopping sight distance and visibility splays. Many of these assumptions are now open to challenge from professionals and not just those of us who daily struggle to cross busy junctions. Take stopping distances for example. The Design Manual for Roads and Bridges provides values related to the speed of vehicles but with an allowance for the reaction time for the driver. Sensible standards it might be thought until Phil showed us that every country had a different stopping distance.

Crest curves are apparently decided by the case of the dead dog, in other words the ability of a driver to execute an avoidance manoeuvre upon encountering an object. Originally this was set at 4 inches (100mm) but as car heights became lower crest curves needed to be longer until the construction industry argued that this would be too expensive consequently without any reference to actual crash causation the height was arbitrarily raised to 6 inches (150mm).

Ok, but what about the visibility requirement at junctions. The set back for the minor road is required to be 9m desirably, 4.5m in difficult circumstances and 2.4m in exceptionally difficult circumstances. But the Transport Research Laboratory found for urban T junctions there was no correlation between horizontal lines of sight and accidents. In fact the real danger appears to stem from traffic speeding towards the junction precisely because it has a good line of sight.

The subjectivity follows through into the road safety audit too. The audit is based upon experience, design engineers are barred from the process, its non-reproducible, it’s a problem/recommendation model, there is no quantification of risk, it provides no means of assessing innovative videos xxx designs and no factual basis for striking the right balance. As the figures are challenged it all starts to look like a black art. One for the authors of the forthcoming Streets Manual to sort out – I just hope that they talk to Phil Jones for the real world research and Living Streets for a more human centred approach.

Neighbourhood Governance and Management: Challenge or Opportunity for Local Government?

This was a bumper conference: more and more good speakers kept appearing at the podium like rabbits out of a hat. The morning chair, Sue Charteris of Shared Intelligence, kept up a brisk pace and the remote control for the slide show couldn’t work fast enough for the man who is himself on fast-forward, Ben Paige of MORI.

Dan Corry of NLGN set the scene: the challenge for local authorities is to bring the two strands of neighbourhood management, and governance, together. Not just bringing service delivery closer to the people but facilitating the people to share in decision-making too.

The Government defines neighbourhood management as a way of joining up the different agencies, including housing agencies, working in deprived neighbourhoods and offering a single point of contact for residents and businesses so they don’t keep getting passed on. It’s giving managers at a local level the clout to sort things out.

Dan Corry argued the case for new localism and devolving powers down to neighbourhoods, because the model is pluralistic (bringing different groups of people together) holistic (seeing things from the user’s point of view, not professional silos) and can move faster than the higher tiers of government.

He also voiced the anxieties: as a tier of government, are they unrepresentative if not elected? How do they relate to the democratic role of councillors? How to get local people involved? The danger that richer neighbourhoods will operate the system more effectively, get more resources and more results. And of course new structures mean new effort and new costs. But he saw it as a great opportunity and a challenge to be taken up.

Tony Breslin of the Citizenship Foundation defined citizenship, community and neighbourhood, and in doing so raised several issues which became themes during the day. The first is that the citizenship education his organisation provides aims to build political participation by bringing politics to the people, not trying to bring people to politics. This was echoed by Richard Hewgill of the Tenant Participation Advisory Services who was a lone voice speaking for tenants, residents, ordinary people – the people who this agenda is supposed to be for.

He said that local authorities used to tell tenants what was good for them. There was some evidence of change but still a lot of cynicism. “We don’t want to be seen as customers. Residents don’t really have customer choice. There has to be a meaningful partnership”. And he told the professionals: “Don’t do training for tenants to teach them to speak your language, the professional gobbledegook”. I.e. break down the barriers that stop people participating in local government rather that trying to teach a few to mount them.

The cynicism of the professionals and council officers who say, “When we try to consult the public, they just want to watch television” was palpable. Richard Hewgill argued earnestly for more imaginative and genuine effort to work with people. “Don’t write people off just because they don’t come to a meeting. My Housing Association has just drawn up 15 ways to communicate and even then it’s not exhaustive.

“Negotiate the structure, agree the rules of engagement and stick to it. Don’t promise what can’t be given. Treat everyone with respect. Everyone has a right to be heard.”

Polling can make you cynical: Ben Paige of MORI provided the evidence the cynics already knew: people want their council to listen to them and put that far above wanting the council to actually tackle problems or act on what people say. 26% of people say they would like to be involved in community partnerships but only 2% actually do. “We are lazy as a nation. Just accept this” he said. But he echoed Richard Hewgill in saying that councils need a more radical and committed approach. Consultations need to be followed with information on what’s been done as a result. The public can spot short term initiatives which serve the politicians or officers. They are switched off when decisions are taken behind closed doors. He pointed to NDC (New Deal for the Community) areas as giving genuine community participation and leading to genuine results.

ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) civil servant Joe Montgomery of the tackling Disadvantage Group agreed that NDC is delivering: “You can achieve a lot where the machinery is on the ground”, he said, “but it is a big financial commitment”. NDC achievements challenge the idea that people don’t really want to get involved, but also raise the question of funding.

Star speaker Hazel Blears, Home Office Minister, supported the idea raised by several speakers that the learning and the funding needs to be mainstreamed. “We know what works; now we need to embed that learning for the long term”. She said the Government was simplifying funding streams and letting go of purse strings. Now the challenge was for local authorities to let go further to neighbourhoods. She conjured up a picture of what’s gone wrong: of government having withdrawn into the town hall leaving people ignorant and disengaged. “The old view, that people need managing, led to mistakes. Experts, particularly planners, imposed solutions, like streets in the sky and slum-clearance”.

There were impressive reports from local authorities – Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Rochdale, who have tried neighbourhood management and found it works. Kerry Bolister of Wolverhampton City Council explained the ingredients of their success: the neighbourhoods are not ward-based but designed to tackle deprived areas; the management teams are freed from day-to-day service delivery; they are not reliant on temporary funding streams; they are strategically involved in services and offer a one-stop-shop for enforcement.

In short, the future is looking bright but not easy.

Giving Walking the Va Va Voom

This was the challenge set for Living Streets Director Tom Franklin when he spoke at a conference of tranport communications professionals yesterday. He pointed that in the United States – as this picture shows – up to 80% of new developments don’t include pavements, making walking a virtual impossibility. In the UK, we need to make walking the easy, attractive, and appealing option.

In his presentation, Tom argued that the transport ‘industry’ was too focused upon increasing travel for the sake of it. In future, transport planners would need to focus more upon taming taffic and weaning people away from their cars. He also made a plea for transport communicators to embrace the ‘active travel’ agenda, made urgent by the rise in obesity.

He said, “Is it possible to exhort people to do things they might otherwise not? Well the motor industry clearly thinks so, which is why it employs footballers like Thierry Henry to give its cars the ‘va va voom’. That word has recently entered the Oxford Dictionary, meaning “The quality of being exciting, vigorous, or sexually attractive,”, yet spending too much time sitting in our cars doesn’t give much va va voom – it leads to ever-increasing congestion, a deficit of physical activity, and blighted streets. 

”The challenge for transport professionals in the future will be to find ways to reduce the need for people to travel long distances for basic necessities. This will mean promoting the benefits of walking, ensuring that new developments are designed in ways that make walking easier, and concentrating on small projects which make streets and public spaces more pleasant rather than the large-scale long-distance infrastructure projects.”

The conference, which was organised by the Waterfront Partnership, was jointly sponsored by Living Streets.