Monday, January 18, 2010

World Streets / Haitian Streets: Part I.
What to do once the emergency has been met.

No city, no place in the world can hope for a fair future if it does not have safe streets that work for people in their day to day lives. Streets are the circulatory systems of our towns and cities, They are not "roads" which tend to be treated as more or less isolated conduits down which we try to channel as many vehicles as fast as possible. No, streets are rather highly idiosyncratic, hugely varied human spaces in which people move and mill around but also do a lot of other things as well. Roads are for vehicles, streets are for people.

The strategic context of city transport policy and practice in Haiti:
A thinking exercise

Soon it will time to start to lay the base for transport policy and practice in post-trauma Haiti. In fact now is the time to start this rethink. Fully aware that others are getting to work on this, World Streets has decided to make its voice heard as well on this. The following posting is the first in a series, both by our editor and others who will surely be stepping forward, to develop a broader open discussion of how to build sustainable transportation into Haiti's cities.

We start here by looking at what we believe to be the broader context within which the issues of transport, mobility and access need to be understood and sorted out.

The importance of safe streets: But in their rightful place: We all know the old one that to a man with a hammer all problems look like nails. So of course we have to make sure that all that we think is important is properly understood in the broader context of the needs and priorities of the people in that place. Alanna Hartzok of Earth Rights Institute sent us this morning their list of priorities for rebuilding Haiti. Putting on my hat as an development economist, let me share with you my own revised read of the situation.

The overall priorities as I see them then, in some kind of rough order . . .
1. Public safety
2. Potable water
3. Access to basic food supply
4. Sanitation
5. Habitat
6. Jobs, income opportunities
7. Appropriate transport (safe, affordable, clean, available to all, sustainable)
8. Low cost first-line health care
9. Public schools
10. Reforestation

And not even one nanometer behind these:
1. Land reform
2. Agricultural fields (rice and root crops) and appropriate technology
3. Transparent public finance
4. Wind and solar energy
5. Dairy farms (goats, cows)
6. Cotton and hemp fields for fabric and building material
7. Mangosteen, mango, pineapple, papaya, trees
8. Nut trees/ coconut trees, ground nuts (peanuts)
9. Cooperatives.
10. Small industries
Debt Forgiveness: A critical step to help Haitians build a better tomorrow will be to convince global creditors to cancel Haiti’s $890 million international debt. This I believe should extend to all debts held by the poor. After bailing out the biggest banks on the planet we are not talking about huge numbers here. Doing so will help make sure that every possible future dollar goes towards rebuilding a stronger Haiti, not to servicing old debts.

United Nations Trusteeship Council: To all of which I have to add a much stronger role on the part of the much-neglected Trusteeship Council which needs a far more aggressive mandate for overseeing the next ten or twenty years in democracy and peace. In many parts of the world we have for far too long been fooling ourselves about the importance of that trip to the polls as a guarantor of democracy. The facts speak for themselves. True democracy requires a full stomach and a safe walk to the polling place. And there are times in life when we all can use a little help from outside.

International Partnerships for Sustainable Transport: And in this, our partial bailiwick, I hope that our collaborators around the world will now turn their eyes and hearts toward Haiti, not only for a bit of help from our wallets today but more actively in the months and years ahead. Already and in part in reaction to the great chaos that soured COP15 in Copenhagen last month, a broad range of groups and programs are already beginning to get together lay the base for more effective international collaboration in our field, and World Streets is but one small example of this. The OECD's International Transportation Forum is also an important force for international collaboration and support. The new International Partnerships for Sustainable Transport ( already groups brings together come fifty of the most active international, bi-laterals, NGOs and other actors in our field. Others are emerging and hopefully will be regularly introduced and tracked in the pages of World Streets.

So let's all of us get together to work on the fair transport agenda for poor Haiti. Because if we do not do it, what will happen? More of the old mobility thinking and investments that are far from the most important priorities of the people on the street? We can't let that happen. Can we?

Eric Britton

PS. I warmly recommend that you also read the following Comments just below. Very interesting and useful.

Haitian roads too: Which is not to suggest that roads and transport to and from cities and towns is not a significant economic and sustainability challenge in itself. In addition to the largest cities of Port-au-Prince, Carrefour, Cap-Haitien, and Petionville, there are in Haiti a hundred smaller towns which, in this author's view, require a consistent sustainable transport approach to their internal circulation challenges. But once you get beyond the limits of the central areas, a new transportation challenge takes over, one that is of great importance in Haiti where the links to the country side have greater economic and social significance . And while there too there is plenty of room for the values associated with sustainability, the basic strategic approach is very different. Another but related policy paradigm. But to each their métier.

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  1. Jeffery J. Smith, USASunday, 17 January, 2010

    My suggestion, were anyone listening, would be for the US, UK, et al, to swear off "aid", a mere salve to our conscience. Instead, the US, UK, et al could make every single import from Haiti totally duty free, sans tariff, no matter where its nation of origin, for a decade. Resultant development would be as close to overnight as humanly possible.

    Then, if Haiti were to raise the rate of its tax on land (every place has one, Georgists should note) and actually collect it, then the US would extend the duty free window; 100% recovery would merit a 20 year window.

    Then, if Haiti were to actually spend the revenue to benefit the populace funding truly useful services and/or a dividend, then the US would make the policy permanent.

    Jeffery J. Smith, USA
    President, Forum on Geonomics;

  2. >> My suggestion, were anyone listening, would be for the US, UK, et al, to swear off "aid", a mere salve to our conscience. Instead, the US, UK, et al could make every single import from Haiti totally duty free, sans tariff, no matter where its nation of origin, for a decade. Jeffery Smith<<

    I sincerely hope no one is listening to your callous suggestion. I take it you don't know anybody there. These two forms of assistance are not mutually exclusive, and abolishing tariffs, for all its benefits, won't be much help to many thousands who are dying as I type this.

    Walt Horn, USA

  3. Jeffery J. Smith, USASunday, 17 January, 2010

    Sorry for the confusion, Walt. It is uncanny how political revel in putting the most negative spin on anything possible. You might benefit from listening to some of the people I know there. There is aid, emergency aid, person to person or group to group, then there's institutional aid, debilitating and corrupting. The question, as I understood it, was not what we as normal humans can contribute (of course, help out, goes without saying), but what geoists can uniquely contribute. Like Hazel Henderson said, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

  4. Dave Holladay, GlasgowMonday, 18 January, 2010


    In the UK the Postal service runs around 40,000 bikes, and a 7 year renewal cycle means that about 6000-7000 bikes are replaced every year. Many go out to Africa through various routes. The French postal service also uses sturdy cargo carrying bikes - what happens with their renewal programme?

    Could we perhaps divert the postal service workbikes that are being renewed out to Haiti?

    Work bikes tend to be a) robust b) have drum brakes and c) of relaxed geometry which in turn makes them easier to ride with flat or no tyres. Unlike a motor vehicle sent as 'aid' the bike requires no further import of fuel (and consequent need to secure the bunkering facilities) and can carry almost 20 times its own weight, as well as packing to a high density in a shipping container - you get a far greater transport capacity from a container filled with bikes than one with 1 or 2 motor vehicles.

    Bikes can also help to resolve the local unrest by giving the people wanting aid to be delivered a role in its delivery, and if you can accept some 'leakage' the bikes will filter in to driving the local economic recovery moving people and produce around.

    If you need mechanics then recruit from the youth-bike projects which have won back kids from a route into delinquency - offer them a trip to help Haiti - an adventure with hard work but guaranteed to deliver a 'lifetime' memory.

    I'm debating on how to make this a punchy letter to some key newspapers - how about it?

    Dave Holladay, Glasgow

    PS the other issue I noted was the dependence of portable power generation on imported fuel. Baxi make a Stirling Engine-powered unit and as this is an external combustion engine it can use any source of heat which can be focussed onto the right part of the cylinder(s), an so it can generate power as long as you have something to burn.

  5. Eric. thanks for this message. we contribute to MSF every year. why not start a new chapter of DWB (designer without borders) to help haiti's recovery? your initial efforts were on track - at some point when haiti starts to rebuild, it will be critical that they create sustainable solutions.

    Jeff Olson, R.A. - Principal
    Alta Planning + Design
    10 Clark Street
    Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 USA
    ph: 518.584.6634 fax: 518.584.6639
    Creating active communities where bicycling and walking are safe, healthy, fun, and normal daily activities

  6. Dave Holladay, UKMonday, 18 January, 2010

    There is one detail which could be spelled out more clearly or even added to the list - transport, the glue that helps to bind in the links to education, water, moving the crops to the people, so that each crop requiring a particular growing regime can be grown in places where that can be established in a sustainable way (without having to force changes on the soil, or 'push water uphill').

    That transport should also be, as far as possible, capable of operating without any imported fuel or materials, and to that end the bicycle fills that role in a very effective way - it requires considerably less infrastructure than motorised transport, and in the crudest form, as seen in Africa, it operates with no requirement for tyres or brakes (imported consumables).

    Not only that but proven by the recovery process of Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, the bicycle can be running and fully functional as a transport system as soon as the wheels hit the ground - no need to consider fuel bunkering (and the inherent security issue - given the break down of public order) and special equipment/spares to keep the fleet running. Bikes can get running repairs by the roadside. The UK's mail service renew their fleet on a 7-year rotation - that's around 6000 bikes per year and I'd guess the French do likewise along with other operators of cargo bikes. A cargo bike fleet could mobilise the fit population otherwise likely to create a problem and distribute the supplies in a large number of small shipments, less vulnerable to having the delays or diversions/hold-ups that will impact on a large shipment on a single large vehicle.

    Dave Holladay, UK

  7. Haitian Streets after the emergency: Introduction to an Informal brainstorm

    • Comments invited to to the group via :

    • References: Oops. Your help invited to prepare a good list here. Our own print materials are for the most part old, and in large part look at what can be done with bicycles. Anyone who may have more good up-to-date references will be more than welcome to share them (with URL).

    What is this:

    I would like to brainstorm on this with whomever out there may want to pitch in. The working notes assume some familiarity with city transport conditions in very poor countries. I attach a first good note just in from Dave Holladay of Glasgow which to my mind certainly belongs on our final idea shortlist.
    Just to be sure that we have our future street work in the big picture, I also attach below some notes that appeared in yesterdays' positing to World Streets in support of the Medecins sans Frontières brave work to deal as best possible with the emergency. As with the following, there are intended merely food for thought and for comment, discussion and improvement. In an attempt to get a running start on what needs to happen on the streets of Haiti's cities.

    Here to get us going are my first imperfect thoughts.
    1. Keep it simple. (Not least because there is a lot there they can work well with)

    2. Work with what you have. Don't try to get fancy, expensive or introduce a lot of new infrastructure.

    3. Don't fix what is already working pretty well (i.e., once you have fully understood, we then work with what we have and figure out how to make the best of it –which is we get it right will be very good indeed.

    4. Strong Points: Here are the strong points that should NOT be shouldered aside in any ill-considered attempt to "modernize" or otherwise follow the dominant western mobility model.
    a. Congestion: Heavy density on many streets forces traffic to go slow – That's perfect. Do what is needed to keep it slow and safe
    b. Confusion: Highly varied mixed use – Walkers, Animals, bikers, peddlers, street life, motorized two wheelers, buses, taxis, vans, trucks – keep it mixed (and keep it slow and safe)
    c. Danger: Taxis, Tap-Taps, buses, trucks, motor bikes as public or shared transport providers – There is a lot out there and it is carrying many people every day. It may be unsafe, dirty, dangerous, polluting chaotic and at times life threatening. But one way or another it accomplished an important job every day and the city and the people would be badly deprived of these lively services if they were to be swept away. Keep it, improve it and give attention to making it better in all these key areas (and bear in mind that you can't do it all overnight).

    5. Firing order: Favor, protect and support in this order:
    a. Pedestrians (targeting above all safety and comfort for women and children walking to school)
    b. Bicyclists (non-motorized)
    c. Peddlers and other street people
    d. Shared transport providers (taxis collectives, small buses, Tap-taps, etc.)
    e. Local delivery services
    f. Parking (i.e., none for cars)
    g. Cars – do what is needed to provide high quality mobility without favoring or supporting individual car ownership (in cities)
    h. Community participation in system design and policing
    i. Enforcement

  8. Lake Sagaris, ChileMonday, 18 January, 2010

    Hi Eric

    This is an interesting initiative and I made a donation to Medecins this morning, as you suggested. The only thing I would add, indeed highlight, in these observations, is the tremendous value of tricycles in conditions of emergency such as this, particularly where the fuel supply is running low, or funds are insufficient to purchase, or road conditions mean getting around by vehicle just worsens conditions by increasing congestion, air pollution and potential for accidents. Tricycles are extremely important for taxi-ing people around, and the experience with bicycles adapted as ambulances and first aid services in Africa is really valuable in this kind of context. They can also carry a lot of weight, and help move food and other supplies over short distances with great efficiency, and through very decentralized distribution systems that don’t require driver training or other components that may be scattered or less available in emergency situations. Also at speeds that don’t increase the injuries, by adding traffic accidents to already existing problems. Young people can manage them, safely, adding more “helpers” to the recovery effort.

    Moreover, they are excellent for dealing with garbage and, depending on the presence of expert recyclers, can contribute significantly to restoring some semblance of order and hygiene in such difficult circumstances.

    Above all, active transport modes are fast, flexible, clean and easily implemented in situations of this nature…

    Lake Sagaris, Chile

  9. Walter Hook,, ITDP, USAMonday, 18 January, 2010

    we are also interested in helping out in haiti. we worked there for years with the hospital albert schweitzer. we are looking into what we can do exactly.

    Walter Hook, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), USA

  10. Transportation and street networks must be considered as multi-functional elements of a resilient infrastructure. This has been well described above.
    All sectors, investors, relief efforts and political entities must agree, that the only way to gain social, environmental, economic and physical returns on our investments will be to build now to withstand future catastrophic events.
    If the Haiti response remains pro-active, we will build systems that protect us from the future not simply repair our past.
    If this and future disasters are not seen as catalysts for permanent change from the first stages of response, the world will remain stuck in the ever recurring pattern of repairing what is already broken and urbanism will indefinately remain a funtion of emergency management - not the realization of our aspirations.
    Crisis by crisis, city by city, only infusing emergency response with resiliency will change the vulnerabilities of urban infrastructure for future populations.
    Whatever streets look like, whatever vehicles they accomodate the transportation infrastructure must be concieved to improve day to day quality of life for all Hatians today and everyday into the future.
    Most of all, if emergency infrastructure investments cannot withstand and respond to the next local crisis to a far greater degree, we are knowingly harming future victims of natural disasters in the cities we are trying to repair.
    Haiti will be a global catalyst toward a resilient mindset. Like in no other country, the international community, partnered with the spirited Hatian people, can build an identity for a Nation of common interests and mutually benificial relationships. This will reflect well on us as a common people unless we collectively fail to inspire confidence in the Nation and in one another. This is why the world has a stake in doing the right thing now - to change band-aid reconstruction patterns and set an example to then follow every time we are faced with these issues in our own countries.

  11. Dave Holladay, UKSunday, 07 February, 2010

    From: Dave Holladay []
    Sent: Sunday, 07 February, 2010 08:40


    I'd point out that the Swiss Army (Switzerland has a lot of high 'hills' called mountains) had a standard issue bicycle issued from around 1900 untiil the mid 1970's. It was 'sturdy' (heavy) in order to carry the soldier and their kit and had just one gear - with no freewheel. When the hill is too steep to ride you push the bike and although I've yet to see any quantitative research in this I know that when pushing a bike the walking action (impact of feet on ground, cycling variation in height of centre of gravity of pedestrian and load) are greatly smoothed out making it considerably less effort to walk, especially when transporting a load. I can walk steadily at 5.5 to 6 mph pushing a bike (Eric will probably now go out and try this!)

    The result of this is that a) you can walk faster when wheeling a bike than without (it is a sort of mobile zimmer frame for anyone with an injury - and I know of some amputees who modify their bikes to use as form of scooter when they cannot ride them), and b) you can carry considerably heavier loads over distances than a simple pedestrian, with 80Kg being about the limit for a fit, trained, pedestrian, but 250Kg being proven by the Viet Cong whose soldiers each carried this sort of load on bicycles being walked (you don't have to ride them to make them useful as a mode of transport) South along the Ho Chi Minh Trail (sic) which consisted largely of bomb craters and broken bridges. The US army discovered to their cost, whan over 50,000 tons of supplies was delivered without infrastructure, or fuel (2 things in rather short supply in parts of Haiti) and almost immune to any of the issues that block motorised transport of bulked up loads.

    As one who has (and still does) cycle in hilly places (Bradford, Glasgow - and visiting San Francisco and Seattle which have some fairly impressive hills too) I'd suggest observing the way people there ride bikes, and transport in times when human or proper horse-power were the only options. We travelled along the contour lines (old roads follow contour routes and did not waste energy smashing holes through hills, as the builders had to use their own energy to move the muck) and where a hill needed to be climbed, by large flows of traffic, the permanent routes were carefully laid out to present a steady and manageable gradient - there is just such a road alignment which is still partly used from Hebden Bridge to Keighley in Yorkshire, it was built by prisoners of war (Napoleonic), set your heavy horses off at a steady rythym and they just keep climbing. Generally it is only (and famously in New Zealand) where planners on another continent designed the road layout and insisted on it being built as planned to we have the spectacle of 'impossible' streets - what's the name of that road folks?

    The Viet Cong, once they had unloaded their bikes, removed the bamboo extensions to the handlebars and seat posts (used to control the loaded machine), and rode the bicycles back North for more supplies) This it strikes me is a modus operandi which is well suited to a location where supplies come in to the coast and need to be delivered inland and uphill, with the empty bicycles returning downhill.



    Henryka Manes wrote:

    Just came back from Haiti and going back in a few days.

    It seems to me that the people involved in this discussion have not been to Port au Prince yet. The city is full of high hills, the reason bicycles have not taken root is because only those who train for the Olympics can use them in Port au Prince. The range of where one could go is very limited given the terrain.



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