Al Gore thinks we should spend $90trn designing cars out of cities

Al Gore doing science. Image: Getty.

The World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland sounds  like a pretty crazy place to be right now. Paloma Faith is there. So is Prince Andrew. And Will.i.am showed up at a Wall Street Journal party.

But crazier than all this – crazier, even, than Pharell Williams saying at the conference today that he is "literally going to have humanity harmonise all at once" – is a proposal from ex-president of Mexico Felipe Calderon and former US vice-president Al Gore to, essentially, ban cars from every city in the world.  

As part of a presentation from the Global Commission on the Economy & Climate (GCEC), Calderon and Gore argued that the fight against global warming will necessitate new, car-free city designs: urban areas, after all, are responsible for around 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Calderon told the conference:

We cannot have these cities with low density, designed for the use of cars... We recommend those cities should have more density and more mass transportation.

Designing cars out of every city and future city would apparently require a mere $90trn in infrastructure investment. 

This isn't actually as outlandish as it sounds: after the talk, Calderon told Business Insider that $90trn will be spend in coming years building and upgrading cities worldwide anyway. The GCEC's argument is that the money should be spent on infrastructure unfriendly to cars, and on creating denser communities – essentially, undoing all the damage of the car-based city designs we've used for centries.

A GCEC report on city carbon emissions compares the footprint and carbon emissions in two cities with similar-sized populations to demonstrate their point about density. On the left is Atlanta; on the right is Barcelona. Spot the difference.

Click for a larger image.

Barcelona covers 1/26th of the area of Atlanta, has a slightly higher population – yet it produces just over a tenth of the transport carbon emissions.

So, the GCEC clearly has a point – but what's less clear is how you'd decrease the footprint of already-sprawling cities, even if you do have $90trn in your pocket.

 
 
 
 

London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.