What’s our challenge? Simple: the system’s broke

What's our challenge

What’s our challenge

– Mahatma Gandhi Judged from a planetary or Kyoto perspective, or from an individual or public health perspective, or an economic perspective, or … or … our present arrangements for transport in cities are seriously damaged. They are the product of another age, another system of city, another way of organizing daily life.

As things stand today in city after city around the world, they threaten health in the city and on the planet. They are dangerous. They are costly. They are disruptive. They are thoroughly dysfunctional. And they are howlingly unfair.

All this is a huge problem of porno — but we prefer to think of it instead as “problematique,” a word we see more often in French and which is used to describe the broader context or fabric of the problem. Or in this case the interlinked nexus of problems, shortcomings and inefficiencies that together constitute our patently unsustainable transportation arrangements in cities in general, and in your city in particular. Let’s have a look at this in steps:

1. Simple really. The system’s broke

“Automobiles are often conveniently tagged as the villains responsible for the ills of cities and the disappointments and futilities of city planning. But the destructive effects of automobiles are much less a cause than a symptom of our incompetence at city building. The simple needs of automobiles are more easily understood and satisfied than the complex needs of cities, and a growing number of planners and designers have come to believe that if they can only solve the problems of traffic, they will thereby have solved the major problems of cities. Cities have much more intricate economic and social concerns than automobile traffic. How can you know what to try with traffic until you know how the city itself works, and what else it needs to do with its streets? You can’t.”
– Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities

Well, when it comes to our present arrangements for transport in cities, that which we are calling the “old mobility,” the answer to this is a quite long one. Just to hit the high spots . . .

The present (car-based) system is dangerous, injurious and menaces our health as one of the most debilitating public health menaces of our era.
It provides poor value for money – for individual car owners as well as others. And for the taxpayer in terms of bang per public buck.

It is socially unjust and discriminatory to the poor, racial minorities, women, children, the unemployed, and people with physical disadvantages. To all those who cannot or should not be driving a car (a very large number, in fact). And to those who choose not to drive a car.
It consumes and wastes resources on an intolerable scale.
It pollutes to the extent that it is endangering the planet’s ecosystem
It puts the national economy, the international economy and your and my economy at risk by total systemic dependence on a cartel of oil suppliers. (And pours money into the coffers of non-democratic societies and cliques.)
Despite the fact that it costs an arm and a leg, both toindividual citizens and tothe community as a whole, the system is steadily degrading in environmental, performance and economic terms year after year.
It implicitly accepts assurances advanced by the principal industrial and energy suppliers, as well as many transportation specialists, specialist administrators, etc., that technological progress will take care of the problems in the long run. And that we not therefore need concern ourselves with the problems today.
Worse yet — and this is the final nail in the coffin — there are as things stand today no grounds for hopefulness. . . unless there is a major underlying paradigm change (which is not in sight).
Moreover, when we take the measures that are being discussed in most places under the cover of would-be solutions, we can see that in most all cases they are indeed either

not going to offer the needed relief in the critical target period (which we define somewhat arbitrarily as the 24/36 months directly ahead) and . . .
worse yet, in almost all cases are actually going to contribute to increasing the scale of the problem, in the longer run, that they are purportedly targeting (i.e., by creating more new infrastructure, bringing more vehicles on the road, etc. etc.).
Furthermore, and with only few exceptions, when measured in terms of spending and measures with teeth, it all but ignores anything that might actually provide an alternative to present arrangements: whether in terms of demand management, non-motorized transport, new services and innovative private providers, and transport substitution though better planning, clustering of activities, or new technologies.

Is that true for every city on the planet? Fortunately no, but it does do a pretty good job at characterizing the majority in the advanced economies and even more catastrophically in cities in the developing world. And is it true for your city? Well, we have to leave that to you to judge.

So, we can see that we have a system (of sorts) and we for sure have a problem. What next? A solution? Not quite. Let’s take a look first at the nature of the problem as it stands today here in cities across the globe.

Note: Just to be sure that this is more than a personal and idiosyncratic summary of problems and eventual solutions, we have placed this before several authoritative international fora of transportation and environment specialists from more than fifty countries around the world. And while there was, as you might well guess, abundant criticism and qualifications – many of which have been incorporated into this draft – the bottom line was that this analysis is generally on track.
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2. Why “Dysfunctional Transportation” is a major public health threat

There can be little doubt that the best way of gauging the seriousness of the mounting problems of our present dysfunctional transportation arrangements – and hence the need for fast and effective remedies and adjustments — is not so much from the usual purely transportation lens, or public works, nor even that of “environment” or land use – though all these are, of course, critical components of the challenges we need to resolve. Rather, we should above all be prepared to look at this from a public health perspective. It is only from this vantage that we can begin to appreciate the full range and degrees of severity of the problems that we are, in fact, resolutely refusing to face. And it helps us to remember that what all this is in the final analysis about people – and not about vehicles, or roads. or throughput, or, or. . . It’s about people and quality of life. ANd of course heatlh.

Public health Impacts: Public health broadly defined – as it must be – is heavily impacted by the dysfunctional parts of our transportation arrangements in every city in the world. Here are a rough dozen broad areas in which these impacts are being felt, and which therefore should make it clear why this is a challenge that needs to be addressed immediately as a very high priority for the city and its region.

Let us start here with those that are most commonly associated with the ‘public health’ rubric, and then go on to list briefly yet others which in fact belong here as well.

Traffic Deaths and Injuries: We need to achieve major reductions in traffic deaths and injuries, most of which occur in or because of cars. We can do this if we chose to (and if you need a real world example check out the results of the French example of the past two years which have been sensational and entirely a function of political will and commitment from many levels of society).
Air pollution: Clean air must be a priority for the health of our citizens and their children – more than 50% of air pollution comes directly from cars. (Let’s cite the example of what is normally mentioned as a “good example,” Toronto. Closer to 75% of air pollution there comes from traffic, and where at present the number of respiratory deaths due to road air pollution has been charted at 1800 for 2003 alone. Look at the stats for your city. They have to be comparable if not worse.)
Other forms of toxicity and pollution Pollution from the transport sector takes other forms as well which also threaten public health significantly. Among them leakage of fuels and oils in normal operations or road traffic accidents, threats to underground water quality, various residues from vehicles, and others.
Traffic noise is a significant and increasingly targeted public health problem too. And while we are at it, there are also such intrusions as odors and light pollution, each of which eat away at the health of those who are directly affected.
Destruction of urban form and quality of life: Roads and traffic are the lifeblood of a city — but too much of both threatens the city’s livability in many ways.
Life Styles: We increasingly need to promote healthier, more active life styles. And in the process cut back on obesity for children and adults
Time Pollution: This is the first thing we all see and feel. As a result of our dysfunctional transportation arrangements, we are all spending far too much time stuck in traffic. This is taking away from the time we should be spending with our families, with our own personal development, on our neighbors, doing important work. The stress that is related to this significant timedeprivation does little to improve our health or that of our families.
Personal economics: We are spending significantly more on our transportation habit as individuals than we need to. All of us, car owners and others, can get around better, faster and more safely — and for less money than most of us currently are putting out. And this too is a public health problem.
Total system costs, including subsidies, hidden and visible: Indeed, if we add up the annual cost to society of these — let us call them “transport dysfunctonalities” — we have a very, very large number indeed in most of our cities, which at the very least should get our fullest attention. Overall, we need to find ways to get more bang per buck for the huge amount of money we spend on transport (so that we can free it for more important uses such as education, health, culture and more).
Medical resources: Our dysfunctional transport arrangements are putting unnecessary pressure on our hospitals and public health programs — crowding them with patients and problems who really should not be there, and taking scarce resources that are much needed for other uses).
Passive citizenry: The present transportation paradigm defines the citizens of a city as passive agents, whose choices are largely made by “experts” and others who shape the system. But 21st century democracy requires an active civil society. For this to happen in the realm of mobility, a new paradigm of governance and action is required.
Climate modification. .. and finally back to Kyoto: Everybody needs to do their bit to cut back on global warming. Rather than decreasing emissions by grams each year to get us back to 1990 levels — itself a proposal so timid as to warrant deep soul searching — our cities, all of them, are steadily doing worse every year when you look at the bottom line (e.g., CO2 emissions resulting from increased traffic volumes). Moreover, there is no end in sight. If we cannot somehow come up with something that is consequential and that will get these basic trends back in line, it will just continue to get worse year after year and the planet, your city and your country and more will all passively go to hell in a handbasket.
Does this bring us to the end of this list? Far from it, but working with this as a opening step –which you will be able to take it much further for your own purposes

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3. What do you do when everyone else is sitting on their hands?
To figure out where we have to go, let’s first make a quick detour to list some of the things that are being consistently touted here and there as solution elements, but which are not… at least if you consider, as we think you must, that these are very high priority problems that quite simply cannot wait.

You don’t start to plan and build another yet another highway
You don’t even give priority to a new metro.
Never mind anything like PRT, monorails or other such wondrous solutions to someone else’s problems (maybe).
You let someone else devote time and money to building long-term scenarios (remembering what Lord Keynes said about the long term).
You don’t wait for fuel cells or new automotive technologies to dig you out of these pits in the decade or more ahead.
Nor do you wait for all those industrial groups that are making rather good money out of present arrangements to step forward with anything that is going to change the basic transportation problematique (which is after all their problematique, thank you very much!).
You might pray for World Government to solve your problems (but don’t hold your breath).
What this means is truly simple: and that is if you want the problem to be solved, you the concerned citizen have to roll up your sleeves, get together with your neighbors, have a close look at what is really going on unencumbered by all you are being told you cannot do to solve the problem, open up the debate, get public attention, mobilize real on-street expertise, and go to work yourself. Remember this. No one else is going to do it for you.

The Politics of Transport in Cities

The Politics of Transport in Cities

The Politics of Transport in Cities

News from Transaid: Inspiring women to take charge of their own health and increasingly their own transport Update from Caroline Barber, Head of Programmes, Transaid

africa woman on bicycleThe organisation I work for (Transaid) were involved in an initiative to train female drivers and transport officers from a cooperative in Accra so that they could manage the transport of agricultural products to market themselves. This was back in 2007/2008. The programme had some success but there were a number of challenges, for example perceived issues of security for women drivers on long distance vehicles, the carrying capacity of the vehicles (which were sourced as a donation) were also probably too small to really drive down the transport costs enough. In time some of the coops decided to turn the vehicles into tro tros (mini bus taxis and hire men to drive them).

So we had lots of learning, but I have wondered recently with huge influx of mobile phones in the last decade (that would support with security but also coordination of loads and importantly backloads) how much more effective the initiative could have been if implemented now.

I also wanted to share some interesting developments on the “Emergency Transport Schemes” (ETS) we have been involved in. We are working on a programme called MORE MAMaZ in Zambia (focusing on mobilising access to maternal health services in five districts) and funded by Comic Relief/DFID. Working with Health Partner’s International, Development Data and Disacare the programme is a follow on the original MAMaZ programme. We have a range of Intermediate Modes of Transport based on what communities already use, accept culturally, can maintain and that are suitable for the terrain.

In Mongu in Western Zambia where there is deep sand we use ox and carts. In an interesting development from the first phase we now have a number of female ETS ox and cart operators. They are not just taking women to health facilities during labour but taking groups of women for ANC/PNV visits and also to mother’s waiting homes in some instances.

In Serenje we have one female bicycle ambulance rider who took two women in labour at the same time on her bicycle ambulance – one lady in the trailer and one actually on a the parcel rack. Clearly not the most comfortable way to travel but if there was no other choice… When we started the original programme people told us that women are not strong enough to operate the transport, or they can’t travel alone. Clearly someone forgot to tell this remarkable female ETS rider who did it anyway!

In Madagascar we are working on a USAID funded programme, known locally as MAHEFA and implemented by JSI. Again we have seen some communities in the north east have selected female riders – we are using wheeled stretchers where the terrain is mountainous or challenging. In a recent review we were told that the women in some communities are more active as the stretcher carriers, that they coordinate with the women and children and take them to facilities when need.

Here’s to these inspiring women talking charge of their own health and increasingly their own transport !

World Transport Policy & Practice. Vol. 21 No.4. Feb. 2016

india-woman-busThis issue of WTPP reminds us that India has been in the news a lot in re­cent months mainly for its poor air qual­ity, deaths and injuries on the roads and the serious damage this does to quality of life, family life and the economy. In the 23 years of World Transport Policy & Practice (WTPP) we have not car­ried enough material by Indian authors and want to use this editorial to encourage more submissions from that country.

We would like to explore the underlying fac­tors that have produced such a large loss of life and decline in quality of life and also to explore the links between transport and poverty alleviation. We know that Kolkata has one of the world’s oldest tram systems, a metro, an urban railway and river ferries but we hear very little about how these assets are being put to use to encourage higher levels of use and lower level of car use. We hear about the abolition of die­sel fuelled vehicles and car rationing by odd/even number systems in Delhi but we don’t know how effective these have been. We also hear very little about pedestrian and cyclist facilities in Indian cities and the contribution they can make to air quality, reducing congestion and alleviating pov­erty. So please contact us!

First time here? Let’s get started:

First time here

First time here

As you will quickly see this is a very large, complex, and at times almost kaleidoscopic collection of ideas, materials, references, links and working tools. We’re often told that on first appearances it looks sufficiently daunting to send more than one first-time visitor scurrying away for calmer ground. We think that would be a pity if you are interested in our topic since there is a lot of useful material here, and hence have prepared this little introduction in an attempt to make it easier to get to know and start to use all that has been brought together here.

Top menu:
If this is your first visit, we suggest you start by working your way across the small top menu, taking it from left to right across the dozen or so links that you will find there. And even if you do no more than scan that page, it should start to give you a feel for the contents and structure of all that has been gathered here for your good use.

Left menu:
This menu requires JavaScript If you do not already have it installed, you can do this by clicking to http://java.com/en/download/index.jsp. It is free, safe and takes less than five minutes to install. The actual organization and content of the menu will, hopefully, be self-explanatory.

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Language help: (The small world syndrome)
From its outset in 1988, the Agenda as been created to provide a free turntable for the exchange of information and ideas for people working on these issues in many countries around the world. And since this is a world of many languages, it is important that we be able to access materials in languages other than our own of those we master. To this end we have for many years steadily tried to incorporate the best and most convenient free translation technologies into the site and are working procedures. At present this works at two levels.

On most of pages of the site that have been posted relatively recently, you will find in the internal menu to the top left a small translation tool, which if you click it will provide you with a rough machine translation of the content of that page into the indicated language. (These links work with Yahoo Babelfish – go to http://babelfish.yahoo.com/ for details.)

Click here for additional information on the use of machine translations.

Translating into English:

(The following routine is for Mozilla Firefox. If you can work it out as easily for IE please let us know and we will post it to the group.)
Go to “1-click translations”, then place your cursor on “English” and drag the link to your browser’s toolbar.
Then whenever you need to translate a foreign language webpage you’re viewing (Google Translate presently accommodates more than thirty languages), all you have to do is click the English link on your browser tool bar and there right in front of your eyes will be a workable if rough translation of the text.
You can translate any part of a page by selecting that part before you click.
For one-time translation shots, all you have to do is place the page’s URL in the indicated slots at
It’s that simple and will take you less than five minutes. So benvenuto, bienvenido, bienvenue, dobrodošli, Willkommen, etc.

And from Language X to Language Y:

But what if your working language is not English? Well, it becomes a bit more complicated but not a whole lot . Here is how it works if you use Firefox. (And yes, there has to be a better way to do this. than the following but here is how I created a work-around for myself. If you know better please do let us all know so that I and others can make use of it in their individual and group work.) Off we go:

Call up your browser and pop http://translate.google.com/translate_tools?hl=en into the URL navigation slot.
You will note that the last letters of the URL in the search box are: “hl=en&sl=en” (“en” for English of course)
Now change the two “en” pairs to call up the translate page but now in your working language: For example if you work in French it should read: To adjust for your main working language, all you have to do is substitute for the “en”: es for Spanish, du for Dutch, de for German, pt for Portuguese, ru for Russian, etc., etc. (But of course you will already know this for your main working language).
Once there all you have to do is slide the links for the languages you wish to have access to in your browser toolbar.
And there it is each time you needed. Once you do it, you will never look backwards.

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Print Hints
Since printing websites is often a messy and frustrating business, we thought it would be useful if we place “print page” tools in the event you wish to have the full contents of that page in front of you for more leisurely reading. And certainly on your Blackberry or iPhone screen. This can be useful for, as is often the case here, the pages may be too long to be comfortably read on most monitors. All it takes now is a single click and you have it on your desk. (And of course both you and I will be very careful about printing only what we need. Frugality is indeed part of the New Mobility Agenda.)

You will also find that the print page tool works in the translations as well. Back to top Knoogle: The New Mobility Combined Search Engine
Knoogle 1.2 is the first iteration of a power search engine specifically tailored to help policy makers, local government, researchers, NGOs, activists, consultants, concerned citizens and the media to search the web efficiently and at the same time to keep up with the work and activities of the leading international groups, programs and sources leading the field of sustainable transport and sustainable cities. (You have to be somewhere on that list.)

* Click here to go to Knoogle and the New Mobility Knowledge Sharing program.
The main usefulness of a Knoogle search is that it focuses on scanning information coming from more than five hundred carefully selected programs and sources that we view as leading the way in their work and competence in our heavily challenged sector world-wide. As a result it provides not only less but also much better focused information than you will find from the usual Google search. (The name combines the two basic components that make it work, KNOwledge and goOGLE, into a single memorable (?) word (pronounced “kah-noogle”).

But no matter how useful it may be, if you do not have convenient access to it each time you sit down to go to work then it is going to be somehow laid aside. There is a remedy for this which works as follows. If you go into Firefox (or certainly way to do this in Internet Explorer as well but I do not happen to know it, but if you do get back to us and we will share this information with the rest), and call up you will see the search engine on your screen. Then all you have to do is place your cursor on the Firefox tab, click the left mouse button, and slide the Knoogle tab up to the Firefox bookmarks toolbar. Now that you have the right there as part of your everyday browsing routine, we invite you to use it and to let us know what you like about it and how we might go about improving it.

Searching the New Mobility discussion groups:

There is significant content in the thousands of messages that have been transmitted through the dozen or so discussion groups which have been set up to support a major program areas that constitute this site. It is unfortunate that this content is not lost and that it is in fact possible to efficiently search the individual fora. To do this all you have to do is call tab on the internal left menu, and once there you will see the Search slot. Just to the left there is a Help link which is also useful.

Before actually starting to make use of the group mail facility, we recommend that you have a close look at the Welcoming Note at  Back to top Communications Speed: if you are lucky enough to have it, broadband is of course the preferred way to access the extensive content of this site. That said, most of the content is also accessible through dial-up connections..

The New Mobility Bridge:
Interactivity is important for us. Gathering information from useful sources is one thing, but communication is quite another and there comes a time in which you will need to take contact with people or sources, and this is where the new and usually free to communications tools that transit over the net become important.

The New Mobility Agenda is based on some strongly shared ideas about society and technology, and confidence in the ability of those who care about these things to make use of our available tools to “get together” to refine and advance their ideas and in the process move them toward implementation. And given that those who share these interests are not found in a single place — to the contrary as it happens they are widely spread out over the surface of these sweltering planet — a major key for turning ideas into palpable realities is our ability to communicate with each other. For these we need a bridge, or bridges of some sort to help us span these otherwise debilitating differences.

Click here for more on the New Mobility Bridge and associated communications tools.
And here for an informal one minute video introduction, Workspace Ergonomics The content of most of the pages and stored materials at this site tend to be pretty extensive. This makes them difficult to comfortably access certainly on Blackberries or iPhones, or if you are sitting down for a long and creative session you may even find the small screen of a portable not as comfortable as you would like it to be effective. On the other hand given the fact that in many cases the materials are first references and not something you really wish to print out willy-nilly (we have to keep our eye on the trees as well as the forest), it is just good ergonomics (good for you) and good sustainability practice (and good for the environment) to be able to view at least a full-page and preferably two on your main working monitor.

If your budget can afford it and you wish to get full efficient access to a multi-page item, we certainly suggest you consider a 22-inch monitor. Not too long ago they were ruinous, but today you can get a pretty good one for something on the order of $300.

This may be a more important decision than you think especially if you have not had this experience in the past. As more or less normal human beings we have only a certain amount of patience, with technology and with ourselves, and if we are confronted with a long document which we have to ceaselessly scroll through small screens to read, you and I know we are not going to want to do this very often. Impatience sets in and the message, just in case it may have been important one, gets lost. That is not a victory for technology, nor in fact for sustainability since it just happens that we really must be able to communicate to each other efficiently and effectively if we are going to create an agenda for change.

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Updating the site
This web site consists of the more than a thousand pages, some of which very recent and others which have been prepared and put into place over more than the last decade. This obviously leads to a certain unevenness here and there both in terms of quality and in continuity of argument. We make an effort to ensure that the main pages which drive the site are kept fully up-to-date, but at the same time some judgment is required on the part of the reader to keep the various bits and pieces in perspective. We appreciate your willingness to pitch in with your flexibility and good judgment, and hope that what you do find here justifies this effort.

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Questions, ideas, sugggestions? See how to get in touch to talk all this over by clicking here. We pick up the phone, answer the mail, open the door and try to help our sustainable friends and colleagues wherever they are.