2013 Work Program Highlights

In the following you will find brief introductions to the selected major policy areas around which we intend to focus and organize our work program over the year ahead. For more you are invited to click the title lines in each case, which will take you directly to the full set of materials and articles thus far developed on that broad topic area under our work program since the first issues of World Streets appeared in the opening days of 2009.

For the record:  Since end-2009 World Streets has emerged as  a prominent public  voice of sustainable transport  — and  the New Mobility Agenda as a proven independent international peer network for knowledge-management and idea-sharing, with a solid track record, serving local government, policy makers, activists, operators, consultants, researchers, NGOs and perhaps above all students and citizens who wish to better understand the full texture of the sector and the opportunities for doing something about it.  (See what our readers have to say about this here.)

(Note: World Streets also offers several capable search engines which you can see just to your right .)

Contents

  1. World Streets
  2. The Beautiful City
  3. International Advisory Council
  4. Thinking about China
  5. Thinking about Africa
  6. Signals, Perception, Behaviour
  7. Good morning, Madame Mayor
  8. The Equity Agenda
  9. Women, gender parity and why
  10. Zetabytes/Open Systems
  11. The Sharing Agenda
  12. The Art/Science of Slowth
  13. Economic Instruments
  14. Future of the Car in the City
  15. 2013 No (More) Excuses

1. World Streets in 2013

In its first three years of existence World Streets has published more than one thousand original articles, has spun off more than two dozen international partner blogs and social media sites, and is accessed by more than two thousand readers who have signed up to be kept informed regularly of new postings. . And our readers appear to appreciate us, as you can see here. http://wp.me/psKUY-2BK

Over the course of 2013 we shall be continuing on the same broad lines that have been clearly set out here, but in the hope that we will be reaching more readers in more countries and cities around the world.  The Work Program that you see here can be taken as a fair guide of a number of the areas in which we intend to concentrate our efforts in the months ahead.

One significant difference from our work under this program  up to now is that in 2013 we will be targeting and preparing chapter by chapter the content of a book which is intended to present and synthesize in one place “the best of World Streets”. The working title for this publication which is slated for early 2014 is “The Third Transportation Revolution: Cities, Indolence, C0mplexity and . . . Equity”.  Our readers will be able to follow this process over the course of the coming year, during which time we will be presenting a number of the key arguments behind the book to critical audiences in a broad range of cities and institutional settings.

To get an idea of readership this morning, a typical start of day, you may wish to click the following for a full size world map of recent visitors. (Our present inability to service our Chinese readers is frustrating, but we are confident that that too will be worked out in time. We are also hopeful to see much more coverage of Africa in the year ahead.)

mmap-ws-21dec12

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2. The Beautiful City

A beautiful city is not necessarily a city of great buildings or impressive and costly infrastructure.  It is a city that offers a beautiful experience to the people who live there in their day-to-day lives. It is a palce in which we can see people and have some kind of contact with nature.

It is perhaps above all a quiet city.  And a safe city.   A city in which you know your neighbors and purveyors of goods and services used in daily life. A city in which it is easy to get around by foot, bicycle or various forms of public transport. A city of streets and neighborhoods that work, with good mixed-use so that the people who live there can find much of what they need and want within a short walk or bicycle ride. A beautiful city is a place in which independent local businesses flourish and are able resist the competition of imported chains and malls.

From the vantage of sustainable transport, our beautiful city is one that is walkable and bikeable under comfortable and safe circumstances, in which the air is clean to breath, in which people on the street watch out for each other. In which women and children can get around safely and with dignity.

Enrique Penalosa put it well when he said: “I don’t judge the success of a city by how many people own cars. I judge that city by how many rich people take the bus.”

Every city, no matter how poor or troubled  today, should and can aspire to be a beautiful city. And it is to that goal that World Streets is firmly dedicated.

—> The Beautiful City

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3. The International Advisory Council

The International Advisory Council on Sustainable Transportation  has been one of the basic building blocks of our work program since first established in 2005. This group is above all distinguished by its quality, its relevance and commitment to the challenges we face in and around our cities, and their great diversity. Spanning all continents, disciplines and ages, from distinguished elder statesmen to energetic young people just a few years out of school but already actively involved with these challenges in the field. The present and the future. And a good (but not as yet good enough) number of highly qualified women leading the way with their work and vision.

The members of this fine group are our principal points of reference in our work. It is our hope that with this efficient, informal and above all personal framework of collaboration and eventual exchange our work over 2013 will not only profit from their energy, experience and counsel, but that we will as always be hearing from them from time to time to challenge our thinking and remind us of issues and places to which we should be giving more attention.

- – - > Click here to view the current  members of the Council

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4. Thinking about China

Why China?

The drive to sustainable transport and sustainable cities in China is one of the central focuses of the World Streets 2013-2015  work program just getting underway (it would have to be, wouldn’t you say?).

Because, whether we like it or not, China is in many ways the future of our planet.  The enormous magnitude of the push of the country’s population into cities is creating problems of time spans and dimensions never seen before.  As 1 result of these enormous and growing pressures planners and policymakers in institutions across the country are genuinely looking for solutions to the problems being created by an overloaded urban transportation system.  Unfortunately up to now their first reaction seems to be to take actions out of a very old playbook, not all that dissimilar to policy and investment approaches which over the course of the second half of the 20th century literally destroyed quality of life in cities across America.

But there are enough cities and enough creative minds working on the problem that we are in just the last few years starting to see quite a range of interesting ideas being experimented with and in places implemented, with wide variations in terms of their success.  So, I think it is fair to say, that great country is presently in a stage of looking for new approaches and new solutions, so I think there is every reason to keep a close eye on what is happening there.  They are in a learning stage, but at the same time have access to such enormous resources that in many cases their actions are out running their understanding of the issues and trade-offs.

china-Beijing Jiaotung University-smallerIt is our good luck to be in a position to work with a number of colleagues in cities and government agencies across China.  We look forward in the year ahead to seeing how our ideas and approaches, which are pretty well summarized in the various publications of the New Mobility Agenda and of course World Streets, may turn out to be useful in offering some new clues and eventually new approaches.  So for all these reasons we are putting the challenges and realities of urban transport in China at the very top of our list of priorities for 2013.

Thus far our informal watching brief on China is organized in two parts:

  • What World Streets has had to offer thus far – Click here
  • And from our Facebook page of this title – Click here

- – - >But stay tuned. More to follow here

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5. Thinking about Africa

In a fair world it should be unthinkable to ignore the needs of close to one billion africa-girls-in-trafficof the poorest people on the earth living in its second-largest and second most-populous continent. A part of the world with already one-third of the population living in cities, most of whom in slums, and with the flow of people from the country side continuing at record rates.

The transportation arrangements in most people’s daily lives in Africa come in several flavors, few of them appetizing: ranging from world-class traffic jams making it close to impossible to negotiate the streets of the larger cities for hour each day, to at the other extreme no provision for vital survival transport (water, wood for fires, food) for the remainder of the continent.

This collaborative project is setting out to create a base of information on people and groups who are working to bring new affordable and effective ideas to improve mobility and quality of life for all. With special attention to the unmet needs of women and children.

You can follow this open project through its Facebook group site at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Thinking-about-Africa-Transport-Efficiency-and-Equity/183396531766673 and here on World Streets at: http://worldstreets.wordpress.com/category/region/africa/

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6. Signals, Perceptions, Behaviour: Questions, Blurs & Clues

In transportation circles, most often in Europe but not uniquely there, we often hear the term “behavior modification”, which is usually brandished as something brain2that somebody else has to learn to do and cope with. More often than not this matter of behavior modification when it comes to how, when and where people drive cars, but we can also hear about it with reference to pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers and street denizens. And as we can see from the results, this matter of behavior and modification turns out to be quite a challenge.

Let us consider briefly the case of the sensory and choice network of an average driver. Neurological studies show that a driver responsible for a moving vehicle has to receive and somehow process something like two hundred perceptional signals per second as the dynamic information background against which he makes his choices and actions at the wheel. Some of these signals are very evident, such as clearly delineated visual events in ones direct field of perception on a clear day.  Others can be far more subtle and out on the extreme limits of perception — conscious and otherwise. But they are all out there – sight, sounds, smells, vibrations, taste, and touch, as well as awarenesses of balance, sense of time, temperature changes, acceleration, pain, and a few more  — and together make up the central nervous system as the broad, chaotic and ever-changing backdrop to the choices and the reflexes and reactions thus engaged. Two hundred!  Each second!

It is useful to have all this in mind when it comes to making informed policy decisions and determining actions in our sector.

When we think about it this way, there are several useful thoughts from both a personal safety and public policy perspective that come immediately to mind. The first is to make sure that the drivers of these hurtling masses of steel and plastics are not distracted or sensory-deprived in any way by alcohol, drugs, distractions, fatigue, aggressive personality and the other usual troublemakers.

But a second measure is even more salient, and that is the importance of slowing down traffic in areas where there are pedestrians, cyclists, older people, children and others who are not necessary on the windscreen of a speeding vehicle with the limited scope of vision that necessarily comes with it.

We shall be inviting contributions and looking into these matters in the context of the attempted more to more sustainable transportation systems in cities over course of 2013, in an attempt to figure out how all this hooks into and influences public policy and private practice on the street.

One point that it immediately brings up, and that is the importance of bringing in the skills of behavioral psychologists and other social scientists into the usually engineer-dominated world of transportation planning and decisions.

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7. Good morning, Madame Mayor

At the end of the day most of what needs to be done in practical terms to move to a more sustainable transport system will be the result of awarenesses and decisions that are taken by local government.

That is the reality, but behind that reality is a real quandary, and that is that mayors and city councilors are in almost all cases not really experts when it comes to new thinking about transport and mobility — and worse yet,  almost always gravely overstretched with the other concerns of their office and obligations to the residents and voters of their city.

How to breach that gap?  That is what Good morning, Madame Mayor is all about. And we shall be building on this line of reflection over the year ahead.

—> Good morning, Madame Mayor

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8. The Equity agenda

There is, to the best of our knowledge, not a great abundance of scientific proof as yet available which corroborates our thesis that equity is to our mind the most powerful building block and core qualification and test for a sustainable and just transport system.  Not only sustainable and just, but also efficient and economic. (Easy to say but how do you measure and manage it? What is your yardstick?)

Our 2013 work program will do what we can to advance the equity/transport  agenda over the year ahead. Hopefully the early work done in 2012 in Finland and Estonia will be further extended in various ways over the year, while we shall try to encourage  other country groups, public agencies and research programs to take their own look into this promising policy concept. (You may also want to keep an eye peeled to the flow at http://www.facebook.com/EquityTransport)

—> The Equity Agenda

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9.  Women, Gender parity and why

We have from the beginning of our work on the New Mobility Agenda in the mid eighties given a lot of thought and weight to what happens when consequent  numbers of women get involved in all stages of the transport planning and decision process – - and by large numbers we means representation that approaches full gender parity — say at least 25% of those involved. We might say that this has not been a particularly popular position with many of our colleagues, political and technical, and thus tends to be largely ignored if not actively resisted.

The core of our theory is this: when consequent numbers of women get involved they also tend to talk to each other in a sort of parallel conversation.  These can lead to some different perspectives and recommendations, and given the importance of their parity makes them very hard to ignore. We intend to keep pushing on this part of our agenda in 2013.

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 10. Zetabytes/Open Systems

A zetabyte is a measure of a quantity of information or information storage egg-light-small - Copiecapacity equal to 1021 bytes or 1,000 exabytes. It is as you can see a pretty big number, and recently the world of information technology finally found a use for it as the total communications load of all appliances and the internet for the first time passed the one ZB threshold in a single year.

ITS or Intelligent Transportation Systems (sic) was like a small house in the American prairie beginning two decades ago, to which every year someone adds another room, so that today — and your conference is living proof of that — you have a very large and definitely rambling house indeed.

Zetabytes, on the other hand, is what happens when you take the roof off the house, knock down a bunch of restraining walls and open the whole thing up to the sky.

To us in our work it is a wake-up call for sustainable transportation — about all that is out there in the all-but unexploited — or at least until now massively insufficiently exploited — world of information/communications technology which is now available to us to create more accessible and better cities, and fuller and fairer lives. The other half of the mega technology coin being that of active citizenry — call it open society.

In the “old days” transportation policy decisions were taken by experts, more often than not with (hopefully) deep technical qualifications in the particular mode, service area or technologies targeted. There was virtually no attempt to bring citizen knowledge and competence into the planning and decision process, other than the occasional knee-jerk presentations and “public consultations” late in the planning process and with little impact on the final decisions and actions.

In recent years this is starting to change, and in an increasing number of places we are seeing serious inroads being made as the systems are starting to open up, lead by active citizens, bringing in the competence, energy and knowledge of the community at large. We shall be keeping a close eye on these developments over the year ahead.

—> Open Systems/Deep Democracy

[ext to follow]

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11. The Sharing Agenda

The concept of shared transport is at once old and new, formal and informal, but above all one that is growing very fast and changing in many respects just as fast as it grows. Something important is clearly going on, and next year we shall continue to  look at this carefully, in the hope of providing a broader strategic base for advancing not just the individual shared modes (e.g., car-share, ride-share, bike-share, , taxi-share, street-share, time-share, etc.), but of combining them to advance the sustainable transport agenda of our cities more broadly.

Are we at a turning point? Is sharing already starting to be a more broadly used and relevant social/economic pattern?  Is there an over-arching concept which we can identify and put to work for people and the planet? And what do you need to look at and do to make your specific sharing project work? You are looking at our 2013 work program.

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12.  The Art/Science of Slowth

“Slowth” is a New Mobility transport planning concept, usually deployed in congested urban environments, where transport is recalibrated for lower top speeds, but the result is shorter overall travel times across the entire system. An important element of the slowth strategy is the use of techniques that reduce start and stop driving, including the strategic elimination of unfunctional traffic lights and stop signs.

Strategically reduced top speeds can lead so multiple advantages, including great traffic safety, smoother traffic flows, greater regularity in terms of trip times, noise reductions and considerable improvements in terms of fossil fuel savings. Also, slower traffic is more social and civic, qualities that also should be favored by local government.  This is a powerful model which urban planners and traffic engineers, with a few notable exceptions, are only recently starting to take seriously.

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13. Economic Instruments

These are powerful policy tools, which can get real results but from which policy makers run away with fear in their dear hearts.   That’s a huge mistake.

As a key to a more sustainable development the use of economic instruments for environmental policy has been on the agenda for more than two decades; it was the Brundtland report which put them on the agenda (World Commission, 1987). With its plea for a sustainable development, the Brundtland report recommended the increased use of economic instruments.

Here is a quick shopping list of some for the economic instruments to which we shall be giving attention and reporting on when useful over the coming year: Prices, Taxes, Road user charges, Tolls, Road pricing, Congestion charges, Rebates, Credits, Fines, Externalities, Costs/benefits, Electronic toll collection, Variable pricing, Distance based charging, Full cost pricing, Penalties, CO2 tax, Revenues, Green taxes, Energy taxes, Fuel pricing, Polluter Pays Principle, Pollution tax, Externality tax, variable insurance charging, etc.

Everyt tinme you apply an economic insturment there will be seomene who screams. But that is what govenance is all about. As and Enrique Penalosa said some years ago: “They are supposed to scream”.

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14. Future of the Car in the City

This open collaborative thinking exercise will stretch out over 2013 and 2014 and will focus on a single question. But one of many parts. What is the “modern motor car” going to look like in the decade immediately ahead?  Will it be  more of the same?  Or will it mutate into a very different form of mobility?  Who is going to own it?  And how is it going to be used? Where and when will it be driven (and eventually parked)?  Will it be piloted by a warm sapient human being, or will it be driverless? Will it still have wheels, doors and tires?  Will it continue to be a fossil fuel and economic menace to well-being?

What will be its impact on the environment?  And what will be the impact of the “environment” on it? On public safety? On quality of life for all.  Will it be efficient, economic and equitable? Who will make them and where?  Is it going to create or destroy jobs? And how fast is all of this going to occur?

We are calling this future and for now quite unknown car an xCar. We define an  xCar as a motorized vehicle, most often with four wheels, capable of carrying people and goods, and most probably for the decade ahead (the only one we really care about in this exercise) with a human being at some kind of wheel to guide it.  Our job in the coming year will be to give it some shape and dimensions tot this mprpotant topic, to whicih most of our citeis are for now at least entierlyu unprepared.

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15. 2013: No (More) Excuses

No Excuses: A Tale of Cities, Indolence, Complexity and Equity

A first announcement of this book + conference + workshop collaborative project has just been posted to http://wp.me/psKUY-2Il.

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# # #

Mind Play

Complex Disorganized Systems

[Details to follow]

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Worst Practices Department

The Worst Practices Department (also known as the Failure to Learn from Stupidity Department ) has its place in World Streets and the world more generally because when it comes to transportation there has never been a shortage of flakey ideas. But what we are looking to draw attention to here are not just the little stuff that may be the joy of an intrepid inventor or group of supporters, but the kinds of recalcitrant wrong-headed mega infrastructure projects that often keep popping up in many parts of the world, sold hard by their sponsors and (if I may) fellow travelers -;) The Facebook group is invited to pitch in, drawing zany, even pernicious ideas and projects to our attention. What is surprising is just how many of them are, and how hard it is for some of the worst and most costly ideas (they often go together) to be put to death in a peaceful way.  Welcome aboard the leaking ship Worst Practices.

—> Worst Practices Department

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