Green Transportation

Moving toward a transportation system that fuels healthy people and a healthy planet.


MAX licence plateI like to be a law abiding guy. I want to be a good example, plus the police only give you so many mulligans before they stop giving warnings and start giving tickets. Then again, I really hate dumb laws, and there are plenty of traffic laws which made good sense once but have since reached their sell-by date. I hope I live to be 90, because I want to be able to say “I told you so” in 25 years, when all new cars are streamlined and efficient, and front license plates are reserved for Jay Leno's Garage and 4th of July parades. Front plates were fine on Model Ts, and they don't hurt much on most 20th Century automobiles, but someday they'll be as quaint as engine cranks and manual chokes and exterior rear view mirrors.

But meanwhile, the law is the law, so I wrote this letter to the head of our state's DoT., Matthew Garrett, Director, Oregon Department of Transportation.

Dear Mr. Garrett,

I am requesting an exemption to Oregon Vehicle Code ORS 803.540(1)(b) for my vehicle license number MAX MPG, primarily because the front license plate reduces my fuel economy by three miles per gallon. Please see attached photo.

Many Oregon custom car owners skirt this rule in one fashion or another, by mounting their front license plate behind their windshield or recessing the plate to fit into their grill or hood, or (as I’ve done for the last 100,000 miles) by not mounting the front license plate at all. It has never been a practical issue for me, and I’ve never had an officer ticket, warn, or even comment about my infraction, but as a law abiding driver (and hopefully, as a good example to other drivers) I would like an exemption, variance or waiver so I can hold my head high when discussing the features of my design.

My objective in building this custom car was to achieve 100 miles per gallon in a practical highway vehicle. Thanks to its light weight, small size, and streamlining, my car cruises at 55mph at 100 miles per gallon, which is pretty spectacular in this day and age. The streamlining is the most important factor in this equation, and clean airflow over the car’s nose is essential for drag reduction. The front license plate disrupts the airflow at the very front of the car, and increases aerodynamic drag all the way from nose to windshield. Also, the turbulence generated by the license plate interferes with airflow to the radiator, which may cause overheating problems or may require me to enlarge the cooling air opening below the plate, which will further increase drag.

Here are my best arguments for why this car does not need a front license plate, and is indeed better off without one:

Many states do not issue front license plates, and Oregon deals with visitors’ vehicles with no apparent difficulty. I understand the advantages of a front license plate for the convenience of, for example, parking enforcement, but the folks who write the tickets are used to walking around to the back of the car when they must. Besides, my car is very small and it’s not much of a walk.

This car is white, and does not need a reflective front plate to be visible in another car's headlights.

While I have no intention of striking a pedestrian or bicyclist, neither does anyone else and it does happen. My car is one of the safest cars ever made as far as outside parties are concerned. This car weighs a modest 1300 pounds and every facet of the front of the car is rounded. If a front license plate is mounted, the plate will be the only sharp object at point of impact.

Seriously, the front license decreases this car's fuel efficiency by 3% (5% when mounted upright) at freeway speed. If every car were as streamlined as mine and every car lost three miles per gallon with a front license plate, front license plates would be against the law. I’m not asking you to outlaw front license plates, I merely ask you to make an exception for mine, so I can continue my pursuit of high fuel efficiency without feeling like a scofflaw.


James D. McCornack

Of course, the day will come when I do ask them to outlaw front license plates, but the rest of the car industry will have to catch up with MAX first. Meanwhile we'll see if MAX can get a permission slip.


Photo by Tesla MotorsThis article was posted on the Tesla blog on Oct. 4, 2013.

Earlier this week, a Tesla Model S traveling at highway speed struck a large metal object, causing significant damage to the vehicle. A curved section that fell off a semi-trailer was recovered from the roadway near where the accident occurred and, according to the road crew that was on the scene, appears to be the culprit. The geometry of the object caused a powerful lever action as it went under the car, punching upward and impaling the Model S with a peak force on the order of 25 tons. Only a force of this magnitude would be strong enough to punch a three-inch diameter hole through the quarter-inch armor plate protecting the base of the vehicle.

The Model S owner was nonetheless able to exit the highway as instructed by the onboard alert system, bring the car to a stop and depart the vehicle without injury. A fire caused by the impact began in the front battery module – the battery pack has a total of 16 modules — but was contained to the front section of the car by internal firewalls within the pack. Vents built into the battery pack directed the flames down towards the road and away from the vehicle.

When the fire department arrived, they observed standard procedure, which was to gain access to the source of the fire by puncturing holes in the top of the battery's protective metal plate and applying water. For the Model S lithium-ion battery, it was correct to apply water (vs. dry chemical extinguisher), but not to puncture the metal firewall, as the newly punctured holes allowed the flames to then vent upwards into the front trunk section of the Model S. Nonetheless, a combination of water followed by dry chemical extinguisher quickly brought the fire to an end.

It is important to note that the fire in the battery was contained to a small section near the front by the internal firewalls built into the pack structure. At no point did fire enter the passenger compartment.

Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse. A typical gasoline car only has a thin metal sheet protecting the underbody, leaving it vulnerable to destruction of the fuel supply lines or fuel tank, which causes a pool of gasoline to form and often burn the entire car to the ground. In contrast, the combustion energy of our battery pack is only about 10% of the energy contained in a gasoline tank and is divided into 16 modules with firewalls in between. As a consequence, the effective combustion potential is only about 1 percent that of the fuel in a comparable gasoline sedan.

The nationwide driving statistics make this very clear: there are 150,000 car fires per year according to the National Fire Protection Association, and Americans drive about 3 trillion miles per year according to the Department of Transportation. That equates to one vehicle fire for every 20 million miles driven, compared to one fire in over 100 million miles for Tesla. This means you are 5 times more likely to experience a fire in a conventional gasoline car than a Tesla!

For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid, and at Tesla Motors safety is top priority.

Elon Musk

Below is Tesla's email correspondence with the Model S owner who experienced the fire, reprinted with his permission:

From: Robert Carlson
Sent: Thursday, October 03, 2013 12:53 PM
To: Jerome Guillen
Subject: carlson 0389

Mr. Guillen,
Thanks for the support. I completely agree with the assessment to date. I guess you can test for everything, but some other celestial bullet comes along and challenges your design. I agree that the car performed very well under such an extreme test. The batteries went through a controlled burn, which the internet images really exaggerate. Anyway, I am still a big fan of your car and look forward to getting back into one. Justin offered a white loaner, for which I am thankful. I am also an investor and have to say that the response I am observing is really supportive of the future for electric vehicles. I was thinking this was bound to happen, just not to me. But now it is out there and probably gets a sigh of relief as a test and risk issue — this "doomsday" event has now been tested, and the car safety design and engineering works.

Rob Carlson

On Oct 3, 2013, at 12:29 PM, Jerome Guillen wrote:

Dear Mr. Carlson:
I am the VP of sales and service for Tesla, reporting directly to Elon Musk, Tesla's CEO.

I am sorry to hear that you experienced a collision in your Model S two days ago. We are happy that the Model S performed in such a way that you were not injured in the accident and that nobody else was hurt.

I believe you have been in contact with Justin Samson, our service manager, since the accident. We are following this case extremely closely and we have sent a team of experts to review your vehicle. All indications are that your Model S drove over a large, oddly-shaped metal object which impacted the leading edge of the vehicle's undercarriage and rotated into the underside of the vehicle ("pole vault" effect). This is a highly uncommon occurrence.

Based on our review thus far, we believe that the Model S performed as designed by limiting the resulting fire to the affected zones only. Given the significant intensity of the impact, which managed to pierce the quarter-inch bottom plate (something that is extremely hard to do), the Model S energy-containment functions operated correctly. In particular, the top cover of the battery provided a strong barrier and there was no apparent propagation of the fire into the cabin. This ensured cabin integrity and occupant safety, which remains our most important goal.

We very much appreciate your support, patience and understanding while we proceed with the investigation. Justin keeps me closely informed. Please feel free to contact me directly, if you have any questions or concerns.

Best regards,
Jerome Guillen, VP, WW sales and service 


The technology used for gauging street use may now be employed to keep track of a shift to alternative modes of transportation — specifically, walking. Pedestrian use is one of the key forms of transportation that larger cities are focusing on. With more people walking and biking in heavy traffic, it’s becoming more important to keep them safe.

In an article by Jeff McMahon for Forbes, Stephen Smith of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute states, "We’ve heard about detection technologies that enable to us to detect bikes, and we’re looking at buses and pedestrians. We have the detection technologies that allow us to model pedestrians, vehicles, bikers and transit in an integrated way." 

Through the use of these detection technologies, pedestrian use of the streets can be tracked and people can be kept safe from drivers that tend to speed or run through red lights. "Automated speed-limit control will slow cars, making streets safer for pedestrians," said Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein. He also noted that fatalities have declined 60 percent at intersections equipped with red-light cameras.

At the Complete Streets Symposium Klein stated, "People should feel like there might be a camera right on every corner. And some people might say well gosh that sounds like a police state. But we have too many kids in particular and people from all walks of life who are hit by cars. We’ve got to change that. More than 38 percent of Chicagoans travel in something other than a personal car, typically by bus, train, bicycle or on foot. The city plans to increase that number to 50 percent by 2030 by making streets friendlier to alternative modes."

With an increase in foot traffic and cyclists in busy cities, the need for more detection technologies will be necessary, not only for the alternate transportation folks, but also for drivers. So if you’re a walker or a cyclist, keep a close watch for other drivers who might not being paying attention at intersections. 


Miata conversionI'm driving a new car to the other Mother Earth News Fairs this year (the one in Seven Springs PA next weekend, September 20-22 and the one in Lawrence KS October 12-13). It's not exactly a new car, but it's new to me; it's what my dad used to call a “cold rod”, and...

You're familiar with hot rods, right? You take the engine out of an old car and put a bigger engine in its place; you get higher performance but lower mileage. A cold rod is where you take the engine out of an old car and put a smaller engine in it; you get higher mileage but lower performance. In both cases, and old car is chosen because A) old cars are lighter, simpler, and easier to modify than new cars, and B) you are more likely to find an old car which is economically suited to such a modification, as indicated by squirrels living in the air cleaner, or clues in the CraigsList ad, such as “engine needs work” or “ran when parked”.

This particular cold rod is a '91 Miata with a '96 Geo Metro three-banger under the bonnet. The builder, Jim Fujioko, has moved on to a more practical high-mileage Miata with a Ford Festiva engine. At 63 horsepower, the Festiva provides significantly more oomph than the 55 horse Metro, plus it was a much easier installation, so Jim gave me a deal on the Metro Miata, thus saving me a whole lot of work.

To quote my late dad again, You can do anything you want, you just can't do everything you want. I want to make a Metro-powered MAX with Miata running gear (I'll explain why in some other Update) and Jim's car has the hard part of that job done for me already – all I'll have to do is swap his work into a MAX chassis and cover it with a MAX body. Meanwhile, I'll gain the experience of driving a civilized high-mileage car across the country, and I'll have a direct Before/After comparison for when it gets MAXified. We'll get to see how much of MAX's 100 mpg comes from the driveline, and how much is thanks to light weight and streamlining.

Gosh, I wish I could drive two cars at once, but MAX is staying home this trip. I had hoped for a co-driver so we could drive MAX and MeMi (cars get names around here and this one was too easy, it's pronounced Mimi) in formation to the Fairs, but it turns out that most folks have responsibilities and can't just hit the road for five weeks.

I'll be on stage from 2:30 to 3:30 Sunday at both Fairs, talking about MAX and MeMi and other high mileage projects, and I'll open the floor to questions and comments from fairly early on. We have plenty to talk about.


AtlanticOur route on this trip has bypassed, for the most part, major cities: but not in Canada. Our ride now took us through Hamilton, Ont., (population 520,000), Mississauga, Ont., (population  714,000), and Toronto (population 2.615 million). Toronto, as well as other cities, has a wonderful system of bike routes, but having now ridden on them I actually felt safer riding on the streets with the automobiles. On the bike routes you have bicycles, walkers, joggers, roller bladers, and others. People are going many different speeds, passing around, cutting through, and pulling in and out without signaling or checking for the location of others.

Once past Toronto we rode along the northern side of the St. Lawrence seaway through many beautiful towns filled with very friendly people. Many of the buildings and houses are painted with their own unique colors and decorations. It would have been very easy to spend a day walking around and looking at everything, but alas, our time was limited, and we always needed to keep moving.

In some areas along our route the road was interrupted by water inlets; rather than building an expensive bridge with room to let boats pass underneath, Canada has chosen provide ferry services. These ferries are considered ‘part of the road system’ and are free of charge.

One area that was quite interesting was the ‘loyalist’ part of Ontario. During the War Of 1812 between England and the United States many individuals that supported ‘the crown’ crossed the St. Lawrence Seaway from the US to Canada. In this area we saw many British flags on display, numerous business with the name ‘loyalist’ in them, and even traveled on the ‘loyalist highway’.whoopi stand

Originally we planned on continuing up the St. Lawrence seaway and skirting Montreal, QC, on the south, but, after some discussion we decided to cross into the U.S. at Cornwall ON, ride along the northern part of NY, then cross back into Canada at Rouse’s Point N.Y. Our thought was to come back into the U.S. at the northeastern corner of Vermont, then through a small section of New Hampshire, and finally through Maine to the finish at Bar Harbor.

Nine weeks of bicycle riding had finally gone by, and we were heading out for Bar Harbor, Maine, on the last day of the ride. As at the beginning of the ride, no amount of planning or thinking about this day prepared me for what I was feeling. Happiness at getting back to family and friends, sadness that the daily routine we had established was coming to an end, and curiosity at how my life will respond to the things I seen, the people I had met, and stories I had heard.

With our family cheering us on we pedaled toward Sand Beach in Acadia National Park. The ride itself was a blur as the entire focus was on getting our first glimpse of the beach, which did occur at high noon. With a beach full of people staring at two guys pushing loaded bicycles across the stand and into the water our journey from beach to beach had come full circle.

I do want to thank everyone that supported us on the trip through prayers, blessings, and personal comments. Without your constant encouragement this trip would not have been the success that it was. And, a special thanks to Tom's wife, Dixie, and my wife, Margie, for holding down the home front and giving us the summer to make our dream come true.

Take care, and talk at ya’ later.


If you've had ideas pop into your head for improving your local urban infrastructure, take the opportunity to express them this PARK(ing) Day.

Rebar, an art and design studio in San Francisco, came up with this event, which encourages citizens to turn metered parking spaces into public parks on Sept. 20, 2013. (When someone feeds a meter, it essentially turns that parking spot into a public park for the duration of the paid time.) According to a press release from Rebar, “PARK(ing) Day invites people to rethink the way streets are used and promotes discussion around the need for broad-based changes to urban infrastructure.”

In the same press release, Rebar principal Blaine Merker expresses his satisfaction with the success of PARK(ing) Day — an annual event since 2005. “What has been really gratifying is that PARK(ing) Day, which began as a guerrilla art project, has been adopted by cities and integrated into their official city planning strategies. A relatively modest art intervention has changed the way cities conceive, organize and use public space.”

PARK(ing) Day’s popularity has spread internationally. It offers activists and citizens a chance to come together and brainstorm ideas on how to improve urban living. “PARK(ing) Day is an ‘open-source’ project initiated by Rebar, but built by independent groups around the globe who adapt the project to advance creative, social or political causes that are relevant to their local urban conditions,” according to Matthew Passmore, co-founder of Rebar. Many groups even use the occasion to talk about a wide array of social needs they want to address.

In a National Public Radio (NPR) interview in 2006, Matthew Passmore describes exactly what PARK(ing) Day is all about: “We're going to roll up with our team of bicyclists, unroll some sod, set down a tree, put down a couple park benches, feed the meter and open the park to the public. And we'll have signage inviting the public to put quarters in the meter if they'd like to extend the life of the park.”

You can come together this PARK(ing) Day with like-minded people and discuss your ideas on changes you'd like to see happen to local infrastructure. So set up camp in the nearest parking space, feed the meter and invite others to participate.


Whether it’s your children, your nieces and nephews, your cousins or the neighbor’s children, encourage these kids to walk to school on October 9, 2013. National Walk to School Day is coming up and while it promotes healthy activity and less commuting by car, there’s more to it than you might think. Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is keeping kids safe on their way to school.

SRTS was originally used in Denmark where in the 1970s children’s safety while walking or biking to school became an issue. With the program a huge success, countries all over the world began their own SRTS programs.

The first SRTS program in the United States began in 1997 in Bronx, N.Y. when it was clear that designated routes for children walking to school would help keep them safe. Without designated safe routes children that are either walking or biking to school run the risk of being hit or caught in the middle of other accidents, and possibly being abducted.

In 1998 with the help of Congress two SRTS programs were implemented through the United States Department of Transportation. Over the next couple of years it took off and SRTS programs spread across the United States. There are now SRTS programs in all 50 states that provide support to over 14,000 schools. SRTS programs support children walking to school or biking from urban and rural communities and from families with different levels of income.

For National Walk to School Day this year, send your kids to school on foot or by bike and support the SRTS programs that keep them and other children safe on their way to school. If the schools in your area aren’t registered, it’s not too late. You can still register with SRTS, get your community involved, and even plan an event in just seven days.

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