Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Plan B: The New Mobility Agenda ( Mission Statement)

Plan A, with its stress on supply, vehicles and infrastructure has been favored for decision-making and investment in the sector over the last 70 years. It is well-known and easy to see where it is leading. Responsible for something like 1/5 of all greenhouse gas emissions, costing us a bundle, draining the world's petroleum reserves . . . Plan A is a clear failure. Time for Plan B.

World Streets is not exactly what one would call a neutral source. We have a very definite position on transport policy, planning and investment, the result of long experience of working with and observing the sector in its daily operation in cities around the world. It would not be true to claim that these views are unique to us; indeed they have been distilled over the years as result of contacts and work in collaboration with farsighted colleagues and policymakers in many places. They are shared, at least in good part, by many of our most distinguished colleagues.

It is only appropriate that I clearly state the underlying philosophy of this new sustainability journal in no uncertain terms right here at the outset. Our position on this is clear: namely, that we face a major planetary emergency that requires immediate high priority action at the very core of public policy, and that we have the means available to make the difference. But until now we are not addressing the issues at the level of intensity required. We need a plan of action. So let's have a look.

The New Mobility Agenda in brief

The main reference point for all that you will read in these pages is the long-term program, the New Mobility Agenda, an international collaborative effort focusing entirely on transportation in and around cities. It has been in operation since 1988 with continuous interactive presence on the internet as one of the pillars of the collaborative knowledge-building process that is behind it. And this is what we have concluded:

Virtually all of the necessary preconditions are now in place for far-reaching, rapid, low cost improvements in the ways that people get around in our cites. The needs are there, they are increasingly understood -- and we now know what to do and how to get the job done. The challenge is to find the vision, political will, and leadership to get the job done, step by deliberate step.

But we have to have an explicit, coherent, ethical, checkable, overarching strategy. Without it we are destined to play at the edges of the problems, and while we may be able to announce a success or improvement here or there, the overall impact that your city needs to break the old patterns will not be there. We really need that clear, consistent, omnipresent, systemic strategy.

The Agenda provides a free public platform for new thinking and open collaborative group problem solving, bringing together more than a thousand leading thinkers and actors in the field from more than fifty counties worldwide, sharing information and considering together the full range of problems and eventual solution paths that constitute the global challenge of sustainable transport in cities.

Managing the transition: Basic principles

And it must be understood that the shift from old to new mobility is not one that turns its back on the importance of high quality mobility for the economy and for quality of life. It's just that given the technologies that we now have at our fingertips, and in the labs, it is possible for us to redraw our transportation systems so that there is less inefficient movement (the idea of one person sitting in traffic in a big car with the engine idling is one example, an empty bus another) and more high-efficiency, high-quality, low-carbon transportation that offers many more mobility choices than in the past, including the one that environmentalists and many others find most appealing: namely, getting what you want without having to venture out into traffic at all. Now that's an interesting new mobility strategy, too.

Here you have in twelve summaries the high points of the basic strategic policy frame as we see it: principles that we and our colleagues around the world have diligently pieced together over the years of work, observation and close contact with projects and programs in leading cities on all continents under the New Mobility Agenda. (If you click here you can see in a short video (four minute draft) a synopsis of the basic five-point core strategy that the city of Paris has announced and adhered to over the last seven years. With significant results.)

1. Climate-driven: The on-going climate emergency sets the base timetable for action in our sector, which accounts for some 20% of greenhouse gasses. At the same time GHG reduction works as a strong surrogate for just about everything else to which we need to be giving priority attention in our cities, chief among them the need to cut traffic. Fewer vehicles on the road means reduced energy consumption, less pollution in all forms, fewer accidents, reduced bills for infrastructure construction and maintenance, quieter and safer cities, and the long list goes on. What is so particularly interesting about the mobility sector is that there is really a great deal we can do in a relatively little time. And at relatively low cost. Beyond this, there is an important joker which also needs to be brought into the picture from the very beginning, and that is that these reductions can be achieved not only without harming the economy or quality of life for the vast majority of all people. To the contrary sustainable transport reform can be part of a 21st century economic revival which places increased emphasis on services and not products.

2. Tighten time frame for action: Select and gear all actions to achieve visible results within 2-4 year time frame. Spend at least 50%, preferably 80% of all your transportation budget on measures and projects that are going to yield visible results within this time frame. Set firm targets for all to see and judge the results. No-excuse transport policy.

3. Reduce traffic radically. The critical, incontrovertible policy core of the Agenda -is BIG percentage cuts in vehicle miles traveled. If we don't achieve this, we will have a situation in which all the key indicators will continue to move in the wrong direction. But we can cut traffic and at the same time improve mobility. And the economy. That's our new mobility strategy.

4. Extend the range, quality and degree of integration of new mobility services available to all: A whole range of exciting and practical new service modes is needed if we are to keep our cities viable. And they need to COMBINE to offer better, faster and cheaper mobility than the old car-intensive arrangements or deficit-financed, heavy, old-technology, traditional public transit. We need to open up our minds on this last score and understand that rather than being stuck in the past with a 19th century version of how "common people" best get about, it is important to move over to a new paradigm of a great variety of ways of providing shared transport mediated in good part by 21st-century information communications technologies.

5. Packages of Measures: As distinguished from the old ways of planning and making investments what is required in most places today are carefully interlinked "packages" of numerous small as well as larger projects and initiatives. Involving many more actors and participants. One of the challenges of an effective new mobility policy will be to find ways to see these various measures as interactive synergistic and mutually supporting projects within a unified greater whole. A significant challenge to our planners at all levels

6. Design for women: Our old mobility system was designed by, and ultimately for, a certain type of person (think about it!). And so too should the new mobility system: but this time around it should be designed to accommodate specifically women, of all ages and conditions. Do that and we will serve everybody far better. And for that to happen we need to have a major leadership shift toward women and, as part of that, to move toward full gender parity in all bodies involved in the decision process. It's that simple.

7. The shifting role of the car: State-of-the-art technology can be put to work hand in hand with the changing role of the private car in the city in order to create situations in which even car use can be integrated
with a far softer edge into the overall mobility strategy . These advantages need to be widely broadcast so as to increase acceptance of the new pattern of urban mobility. The new mobility environment must also be able to accommodate people in cars, since that is an incontrovertible reality which will not go away simply because it would seem like an ideal solution. We are going to have plenty of small and medium-sized four-wheel, rubber tired, driver-operated vehicles running around on the streets of our cities and the surrounding regions, so the challenge of planners and policymakers is to ensure that this occurs in a way which is increasingly harmonious to the broader social, economic and environmental objectives set out here.

8. Full speed ahead with new technology: New mobility is at its core heavily driven by the aggressive application of state of the art logistics, communications and information technology across the full spectrum of service types. The transport system of the future is above all an interactive information system, with the wheels and the feet at the end of this chain. These are the seven-league boots of new mobility

9. Play the "infrastructure joker": The transport infrastructures of our cities have been vastly overbuilt. And they are unable to deliver the goods. That's just great, since it means that we can now take over substantial portions of the street network for far more efficient modes.

10. Frugal economics: We are not going to need another round of high cost, low impact investments to make it work. We simply take over 50% of the transport related budgets and use it to address projects and reforms that are going to make those big differences in the next several years.

11. Partnerships: This approach, because it is new and unfamiliar to most people, is unlike to be understood the first few times around. Hence a major education, consultation and outreach effort is needed in each place to make it work. Old mobility was the terrain in which decisions were made by transport experts working within their assigned zones of competence. New mobility is based on wide-based collaborative problem solving, outreach and harnessing the great strengths of the informed and educated populations of our cities. Public/private/citizen partnerships.

12. Pick winners: New approaches demand success. There is no margin of error. So choose policies and services with track records of success and build on their experience. (And there are plenty of them out there if you are prepared to look and learn.)

Where to from here

To move ahead in time to save the planet and improve life quality of the majority of the people who live in our cities -- no, they are not all happy car owner/drivers; get out there and count them; you'll see -- we need to have a fair, unified, coherent, and memorable strategy.

There may be other ways, better ways one would hope, of facing this emergency. If so we are ready to learn, let us hear from you. This is the challenge to which World Streets and the New Mobility Agenda are addressed.

Eric Britton, Editor, World Streets, Paris, France

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  1. I'm working in India as a transport and sustainability consultant. I shifted independently with my family from a job as a planner in London.

    Whilst Gandhi can seem a long way from where middle class India is headed right now and he is often not remembered for some of the most far-sighted views that he held, there is one ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL ADDITION to your list of 12 strategic goals that we owe to him. "Be the change you want to see in the world".

    I would like to see more transport experts leading by example and, no matter how difficult it is, using public transport, walking or cycling in the cities in which they live and visit. I know a lot do already, but all should. We should also be videoconferencing as a default.

    In the developing world this is especially important as public transport, walking and cycling are universally seen as 'poor man's transport' (and I mean 'man' not 'woman' or 'child'). I think transport experts can unwittingly reinforce this impression by promoting green travel and then leave conferences in chauffer driven cars. It is a lifestyle issue that shows how far we have to go to effect real change.

    I am cautiously optimistic. More people were prepared to listen to Ken Livingstone, the ex-Mayor because he actually used public transit and now the new incumbent Boris Johnson cycles. We need to create a culture shift to use green modes everywhere in the world. If transport policymakers and practitioners don't start leading by example I don't believe politicians will follow - they certainly won't believe we have a genuine message - and, subsequent to that, neither will the general public.

  2. One problem with adopting a short timescale is that certain strategies of undoubted longer term benefit can actually increase emissions in the short term.

    I refer to the commonly suggested strategy of "sticks" and "carrots" with the carrots coming first. If the carrots involve providing extra buses, say, then these will raise emissions if motorists don't switch to them till after the sticks come in.

    Putting the sticks before the carrots is difficult to market to people who may find themselves deprived of the means to make essential journeys. And given the complexity of travel patterns it is hopeless to expect to introduce the carrots and sticks simultaneously.

    Simon Norton
    Cambridge England

  3. As climate change gathers momentum and in many areas gains acceptance as an actual problem, my business activities have taken me out of the realm of sustainable transport and back into what I might term normal, everyday transport. It turns out that this ‘real world’ has not changed much. The love for fast cars with lots of toys is still there. The knowledge of alternatives is thin, trains are always late, full and dirty, buses are for passes and running is done in an air conditioned environment you drive to.

    This has led to interesting conversations, so let me share the company car discussion. I have argued against company cars for many years, as I have found that by letting people drive personal cars for business they look at low fuel usage, they drive slower and they get smaller cars. But one of the companies I work with is looking at company cars and has ordered some Japanese pickup trucks with crew cabs. For the uninitiated these are pickup trucks with four doors and five seats, so really a car with a wheel barrow on the back.

    These vehicles come with leather, sat nav, big engines, automatics, big on fuel and road space usage. However, they offer one big advantage – they are considered commercial vehicles so there is no tax on them. Now how can I argue against that?

    Against that same background governments are bailing out the car manufacturers whilst thousands of other businesses are failing all around us, they are incentivising people to buy new cars (which will be used more as they are comfortable and reliable) and they are giving tax benefits to driving fuel guzzlers. Governments also back the bicycle sharing clubs – give me an example of a success here – they get involved with the car sharing clubs – give me an example of a real business success here – they encourage people to use public transport – even I cannot afford to travel by train in the UK anymore in many cases and I try hard.

    The challenge is to make the alternative to the flash car as exciting and enticing as the flash car was. Simply saying it is good for the environment may catch on, but probably not before the sea levels have risen several inches. World Streets needs to catch on before my feet get wet.


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