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The Private Buses of Bogotá

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by Peter Dushenski

I first learned about Bogotá’s bus system, the TransMileno (seen below the fold), from watching Gary Hustwit’s documentary Urbanized. If you haven’t watched Hustwit’s latest film, an in-depth look at how different urban development strategies are shaping the world’s largest cities, I’d highly recommend it. The TransMileno bus system was featured for its flexibility, affordability, and unique solutions to mass transit. As someone living in a largish city currently debating how best to solve its own transportation mess, the TranMileno greatly impressed me. So when my mother announced that we were planning a family trip to Colombia over New Years, I was excited to try it out for myself.

Bogotá, at a lofty 8,612 ft above sea level, is home to 10.7 million people in the metro area. Spread across an ancient lakebed and surrounded my lush mountains, the capital of Colombia is emerging from decades, if not centuries, of political and social upheaval. To mobilize this many people is a challenge for any city, particularly one with a relatively small middle class. Former Mayor Enrique Peñalosa solved his city’s transportation hurdles with dedicated bus lanes for the TransMileno, dedicated bicycle lanes, a network of private busses, and a crazy number of taxis.

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Happy 5th Birthday CarEnvy!

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by Peter Dushenski

When did she grow to be a beauty? When did he grow to be so tall?

It happened so fast.

Firstly, I want to thank you, dear reader, for continuing to share in this experiment we call “CarEnvy.ca”. I take great pleasure in sharing the written word with you, and I consider it a privilege to have this platform upon which to do so.

CarEnvy.ca has matured and evolved throughout its existence, constantly morphing to reflect my personal development. It started in October 2008 as a for-profit (or rather, for-loss) partnership between myself and a techy friend who came up with the idea of a car blog after he started up several successful websites. We soon launched and hired a few other writers, together publishing several, largely newsy articles per day. That first iteration didn’t last forever, but it did help to launch the career of at least one auto journalist.

The next chapter saw us moving away from news and towards editorials and reviews as we finagled relationships with auto manufacturers for the first time. This was a very exciting and gratifying time. Lots of buzz, a few all-expenses-paid trips, and a smidge of status for this little project. But this chapter didn’t last forever either.

The subsequent chapter was a particularly interesting one that saw the dissolution of most of the manufacturer relationships after a few controversial articles. This left me with my integrity and sense of fun intact at the expense of some perks. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Today, 5 full years into this experiment, we reflect on this journey and appreciate how far we’ve come. From a car salesman that could only muster a C+ in English 101 to an editor of 6 writers to a government-employed “auto journalist”  with ten manufacturers lined up to a storyteller/bitcoiner/philosopher who sometimes mentions cars – it’s been a spectacular evolution. It’s been trying at times, particularly when the site was hacked and content was lost for good, but the thrills and opportunities have more than made up for it.

Five years ago, I could’ve never imagined that I’d be so comfortable putting my thoughts to paper, much less that I’d also have taken up a hand-written journal, nor spent so much goddam time tweeting. This blog has opened doors for me and changed my life for the better. And I want to thank you all for sharing in this experience.

Now, I’d like to look back at a few of my favourite articles from the past 60 months. These 5 stories are a glimpse at the journey thus far, but as I’m sure you can guess, they show little about where CarEnvy.ca is going in the future.

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Here’s To The Crazy Ones: Why Saab Mattered

01 - Saab Logo by Artem N. Barsukov @barsukov
“On an early summer morning, July ’69” — thus begins a 2000 song “One Small Step” by the Dutch musician extraordinaire Arjen Lucassen. The song is likely autobiographical. One simply cannot fake the childlike joy that courses through its lyrics. The childhood experience of waking up at 3:45 AM in a small Dutch town Hilversum to watch Neil Armstrong land on the Moon foreshadows the rest of Arjen’s life. It marks the moment when he began his lifelong infatuation with space that would later take him to writing bombastic space-themed rock operas and becoming one of the most influential figures in the world of progressive rock. Those little things in our childhood do make a big splash.

My story begins at a different time of year and in a place much less cozy than Hilversum. A gentle night in July is replaced with a snowy March morning and a postcard Dutch town is replaced with a freezing Siberian city of Omsk, where Stalin used to send German POWs during WWII. It was Sunday, March 5, 1995, it was –25o C outside, and I was 7 years old. It was in that cold Siberian city on that very day when my fascination with cars began.

Back then, I lived in a very different world. It had been just 3 years since the Soviet Union had collapsed. The Iron Curtain fell almost immediately, and a sea of Western imports flooded the country. Among these, one particular import stood out for 7-year olds like me. Like millions of other Russian children, I would get up every Sunday at 9 AM — which was quite a feat considering we had a 6-day school week — to sit in front of a recently acquired Western-made TV to watch Western cartoons. As fate would have it, on that day my weekly fix of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe happened to be followed by a car show. I never knew its name, but this was a car show that would change everything.

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58 Hours In Quebec With The Dodge Challenger SRT8 392

by Peter Dushenski @carenvy

After a dreamy night of Unibroue-induced sleep, I was up at 8:00am. Careful not to wake my parents, my brother, his girlfriend, and my hosting Gran’pa, I tiptoed across the creaky wooden floor booby trapped with slippery Persian rugs and deftly made my way towards the kitchen. I found a banana and a poppy seed muffin before settling into the living room sofa to get my bearings and slowly wake up. The late summer sun filtered in through the stained glass windows as I meditated for a moment on the following passage from Alan Watts’ 1957 masterpiece, The Art of Zen:

If we had to decide to decide, we would not be free to decide. We are free to decide because decision “happens”.

Decidedly, I took the keys to the dark gray 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 waiting on the grass out front. I creaked down the wooden stairs and slipped on my Porsche Design Adidas lace-ups before gently closing the door behind me. Only the occasional V-Twin passing by the Round House broke the steady chime of birds and rustling leaves. Pictured above, the multi-story masterpiece that is the Round House was hand-built 40 years ago by my mother’s family and is located 150km southeast of Montreal in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

With keyless entry, the car was unlocked when I reached for the handle. I settled into the manly red chair, ca-thunked the parking brake release, and prodded the 6.4L (392 cubic inches, thus the name) into a weighty hum. I pulled down the driveway, past the swimming pool on my left, and turned right onto Route 243 in search of I knew not what, but possibly a cappuccino.

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Part 2: Better Place Israel Experience Center: I Just Drove (One Version Of) Our Future

[Read part 1 too!]

by Peter Dushenski @carenvy

Driving up to the cylindrical two-story Experience Center north of Tel Aviv, bordering a lifeless ocean of unsold French cars, we parked our Mazda5 next to a pair of electronic Renault Fluence ZEs. At a normal car dealership, we would’ve waltzed in unannounced only to be molested by a pimply salesman with an ill-fitting suit. Since this was the “Experience Center”, however, the Better Place website encouraged us to book a tour in advance despite not having any clue as to what such a tour might entail.

We were penciled in for 3:00pm that Friday but Israel’s road network had other ideas. We got so dazzlingly lost trying to find the damned place that we started to wonder if the Byzantines called really complex crap “Judean”. As such, we were a solid 45 minutes late. As we tardily strode into the airy building, we were found the reception desk, explained the situation, and were promptly signed up for a private tour at 4:00pm. With a few minutes to kill, we acquainted ourselves with the spotty (but delicious) cappuccino machine. Before we knew it, we had individualized name tags and the fun was set to begin!

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Part 1: Better Place Israel Experience Center: Did I Just Drive Our Future?

By Peter Dushenski @carenvy

In the birthplace of monotheism – where the scriptures that formed the foundations of western culture tell of divine intervention and retribution – lays a truly heavenly assortment of desert flowers and blushing greenery, beautifying the once-lifeless landscape.

On our recent family trip to Israel, the vibrant flora was an ever-present reminder of the power of human will. Although Israel finds itself atop a Mediterranean desert, it’s lush and unexpectedly well shaded. It was only when we returned home to the bursting Canadian spring and the dense layers of Edmonton’s river valley succession that Israel’s precisely placed plantings looked so retrospectively sparse. Israel might have tall trees and dazzling flowers, but the majority of the country’s lawns seemed confined to the steep-as-a-double-black-diamond Baha’i Gardens in Haifa. That the country’s vegetation felt as natural as it at the time did speaks to the the desire of the Jewish people to bring as much of Old Europe to their new home as possible.

Had you visited Israel without visiting the tree-lined cities, and never seen the Bedouin-dotted patches of crusty rock that nestled between lemon and olive plantations, you’d never notice the unforgiving wasteland that lies beneath the Jewish civility. In the cities, thick, vine-covered trees shade popular streets, like Tel Aviv’s boutique-lined Dizengoff where my fiancée found her wedding dress. Between every building palm trees hide, boxed in though they are by graffiti and wrought iron window bars. If the past six decades had accomplished no more than vegetative abundance in the middle of the desert, dayenu. But there’s so much more.

There’s Israel’s automotive future. And perhaps ours as well.

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Autostoping in Denmark, or How I Hitchhiked From Copenhagen to Aarhus

Please join me in welcoming CarEnvy’s new Contributing Editor, David Little.

by David Little @dlittle21

My shoes sank into the soggy grass as I shifted my weight impatiently. An easterly wind pulled low, heavy clouds passed my peripheral gaze. But we wanted to go west.

Isabella (a Danish friend with whom I was visiting) and I were planted by the side of the highway exiting Copenhagen. To save some kroner and have an adventure, she suggested that we hitchhike the 303 km to Aarhus. I was skeptical. Back home, hitchhiking is seen as a very reckless undertaking. We Canadians will avert our eyes from the dusty, motherless roadside stranger as we drive on by, thankful for a distraction so that he can promptly be forgotten. In Denmark it’s different. Trying to dispel my incredulity, Isabella, along with her mother’s corroboration, assured me that autostoping is very common and often encouraged. Indeed, even drowsy children will extend a thumb if they happened to have missed the bus to morning classes!

So there we stood, taking 10 minute shifts to rest aching shoulders and sore thumb joints. It occurred to me, as I tried to catch the eyes of passing motorists, that this was a task of attraction and confidence. Like posturing for attention at a bar, I immediately became conscious of my appearance and demeanor: “well, how do I look? hood up or down? is my beard scary? would YOU pick me up?” With a weak sun low in the sky, I eventually settled on an affable, yet stoic squinting grin, backpack resting against my knees. In contrast, Isabella donned a demure smile, chin held high, hand on hip.

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CarEnvy’s Best and Worst of 2011

Between the Occupiers, Arab Springers, deposed despots, wobbly Euro, Japanese quake, economic stagflation, and the passing of Steve Jobs, 2011 was rocky like Banff. Still, CarEnvy managed to publish over 70 articles and complete a top-to-bottom site redesign. Not bad for a mostly-one-man-show, eh? In that time, we also reviewed 18 cars, a new record for us. So let’s recap the year that was with CarEnvy’s Best and Worst of 2011 including such categories as Worst Car We Reviewed, Best Interview, Best Press Trip, Worst Movie We Saw, and Best Car We Spotted.

Read away!

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