In order to understand what needs to be done to create healthier lives and a better performing set of transportation arrangements, World Streets has from the very beginning made a consistent distinction between what we call “Old Mobility” vs.”New Mobility.” The difference between the two is simple, straight-forward . . . and substantial.
Old mobility was the dominant form of transportation policy, practice and thinking that took its full shape and momentum starting in the mid twentieth century, at a time when we all lived in a universe that was, or at least seemed to be, boundless and free of constraints. It served many of us well in many ways at the time, albeit with numerous and notable exceptions, though we were blind to most of them most of the time. It was a very different world back them. But that world is gone. Gone and it will never come back.
The letter that follows is, as you will quickly surmise, not an actual communication from one elected official in one case, but rather a composite, a distillation of experience that I have had over these last years of trying to push the sustainable transportation agenda in many parts of the world, almost always in conjunction and in dialogue with mayors and other city leaders. As you will see, it is not that they are uniformly adverse to or not interested in the concepts behind sustainable transportation and sustainable cities. It is just that they have a great many other things on their mind, including staying on top day after day of the considerable challenges of managing their city — and, in not very long, running once again for reelection. This is the political reality of which those of us who would be agents of change must be aware, that politics is the art of the possible. Now let’s turn the stage over to our mayor: Continue reading
Equity? Hmm. This, it turns out on inspection, is not quite so easy a concept to get across. In English, and after two days of discussions with a wide variety of groups and people here in Helsinki, it’s already tough enough. And I have learned, it’s even more challenging in Finnish. Here are some late night thoughts on this word that I share with you here in the hope that it may inspire comments and clarification. So here you have my notes, more or less in the order that they came to mind late in the night. Continue reading
If you get it, New Mobility is a no-brainer. However, while the New Mobility Agenda is a great starting place, it is not going to get the job somehow miraculously done just because it is the only game in town when it comes to sustainable transport. There is plenty of competition for all that space on the street and between the ears. We have a few potential sticking points here that need to be overcome first. Let’s have a quick look to get this exchange off the ground. After some years of talking with cities, and working and observing in many different circumstances, here is my personal shortlist of the barriers are most frequently encountered in trying to get innovative transportation reform programs off the ground, including even in cities that really do need a major mobility overhaul. Continue reading
A collaborative network activity such as World Streets needs to find its own best combination of Sir Isaiah Berlin’s variant on the Greek parable of the Hedgehog and the Fox (“the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”). Given the huge information overload with which we live in this highly strung twenty-first century, it is absolutely critical that we play the hedgehog and stick rigorously to our topic. But… at the same time the many sided reality is that our topic by its very nature requires us also to be a fox. Thus are the contradictions and challenges of maturity. Continue reading
From the New York Times, 22 June 2011: “Former Vice President Al Gore sharply criticized President Obama as lacking leadership on climate changein a magazine essay published online Wednesday, saying his policies had been little more effective than those of President George W. Bush. In the 7,000-word article in Rolling Stone, Mr. Gore said . . . ” Continue reading
It all started innocently enough with this newspaper article that appeared in the Press Trust of India on April 26. But when posted to the Sustran Global South peer forum for comment, the floodgates opened. For full background on this vigorously discussed, even polemic proposal, we invite you to check out the discussions at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sustran-discuss/message/6637
From: Simon Field [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] The Guardian interviewed UK Transport Minister Philip Hammond last week: you can read Andrew Sparrow’s piece in full here: Throughout the interview you will see that Hammond refers to carbon as the problem, largely ignoring or dismissing other concerns about the car. Read More via Network Dispatches
What’s happening on the new mobility scene in France in 2011? Here you have, in French but with good subtitles, an interview by one of the outstanding political innovators in the field of sustainable transport policy and practice in France. Roland Ries is serving his second term as mayor of Strasburg, and at the same time heads up the national transport political group GART. He also, by the way, as a member of the French Senate drafted the law defining carsharing in France, thus opening up a part of the way to more and better carsharing nation-wide. Spend three minutes with this short video to get a feel for what the leading edge in France is thinking and doing about transport in cities. You will quickly see that this is a world-level message. Play it for your mayor and talk to her about it.
Dear British Friends and Colleagues,
Forgive me if I am being naïve, but based on what I am reading and hearing it strikes me that there is a major crisis abuilding for sustainable transport in Britain in the months immediately ahead — as a result of the coalition government withdrawing funding from a lot of mainly small and local (since they really have to be small and usually local and focused if they are to succeed) sustainable transport initiatives This strikes me as a caring if distant observer as unfair, unsafe and unwise. Continue reading
Dear Mrs. Mayor,
If you are considering a public bicycle project for your city, may we respectfully urge you to take a page out of New York City’s book on transportation innovation in the context of a previously car-based city. So before your project starts exposing hundreds, thousands of innocent people to the daily dangers of untamed traffic, think first to plan and build those key hundreds of kilometers of protected city cycling provision for the men, women and children of all ages who will be taking to your streets. After all, that’s your job.
The editor, World Streets
. . . and not allow oneself to get caught in every political elephant trap and querulous carping of those not in office. But there are times when it is necessary to shine the spotlight on a really mean-spirited, disingenuous idea or statement about the important matters which bring us all here. This is one of those cases. We introduce you to a very short video in which Britain’s new transport secretary talks very clearly about his investment priorities and intended policies. Very disturbing to World Streets.
This is the first shared posting from India Streets, a sister program to W/S that is to open for publication on 1 November. At this point the site is still in Beta. Your visits and comments for improvement are most welcome.
Politicians are reluctant to confront the economic and environmental costs of transport. The task: to reduce the demand for mobility. I probably don’t write about transport as much as I ought to, and that was brought home to me at an event on The Future of Transport in Leuven in Belgium, at which I was also a speaker. There’s a case for regarding transport as a climate emergency, given that it accounts for about a quarter of Europe’s carbon emissions, and that in the last decade (unlike pretty much every other sector) emissions from transport have continued to grow sharply. And before I continue, even if you’re a climate sceptic, this represents a significant policy issue: the transport sector (at least, the non-human powered transport sector) is 97% dependent on fossil fuels. As these become scarcer, more expensive, and more prone to interruption, we will have an incipient social and economic problem which is serious enough to prod policy makers. … Read More
Climate and climate policy are more than moderately complicated issues, as we all are well aware. But at the end of the day we know too there are a certain number of basic underlying truths that shape these issues and outcomes, which one either grasps or one does not. And in this regard, there can be little doubt that the most single powerful single lever available for slowing down climate damage is carbon-reduction — and by far the most powerful way to achieve this is through a well-fashioned carbon tax. You put a price on carbon emissions, a high price preferably, and you can be sure that they will come down. Economics 101. But say this to a hundred bright people, and 99 will immediately, without losing a beat, look you in the eye and start to list all the reasons why this cannot be done. Wrong! It can be done. Continue reading
One of the amazing/complicating things about the world of mobility in cities is that it is one of those slices of daily life where everything touches something else and then something else again. Which means that nothing ever obliges us by standing still long enough so that we can fix it fast, once and for ever. It’s all about process.
So here is a report from today’s New York Times on a pretty exciting waterfront project here in Paris for which World Streets’ editor was interviewed this week and about which, when you get right down to it, is pure New Mobility Agenda. As you can see he managed to patch in some of our common concerns here (see closing section below), along with some words on the importance of value capture and tax reform, followed up by a good closer from Todd Litman in Vancouver. You will recognize and I hope appreciate it.
Sustainable mobility: Step by step. Step by consistent persistent step.
Strong environment reporting from the UK.(From the editor)
To move to sustainable transport in our cities, we need to create a strong citizen consensus for change — a tough call since the issues and necessary remedial approaches tend to be quite complex and unfamiliar to many of us who are so accustomed to what we see out on the street every day that it effectively tends to freeze our minds. While there have for years been examples of outstanding environmental reporting, the mainstream media by and large have not yet been brought around to our side. However this is changing, and while certainly more slowly then one would wish we are increasingly hearing from a growing culture of investigative journalists and commentators who are showing that they are ready to dig in and deal with these complexities.
Step 1: Say good-bye to Old Mobility:
“Plan Zero” – also known as “old mobility” – with its stress on supply, more vehicles and more infrastructure as the knee-jerk answer to our mobility problems, has been the favored path 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. Aggressing the planet, costing us a bundle, draining the world’s petroleum reserves, and delivering poor service for the majority . . . Plan Zero is a clear failure. It’s time for Plan A : The fifteen steady steps to sustainable transport and a sustainable city. Continue reading
Courage. Not all that terribly hard actually, and certainly not impossible. The leading international edge of policy and practice in our field have over the last two decades developed the tools, experience and technical competence needed to cut fossil fuel dependence by 50% in one year. And if we can do that – if we can come even within shouting distance of this great and obtainable goal – that is going to change everything. But to get the job done we are going to have to challenge our brainpower and collective ability to influence leadership, policy decisions and investments in our chosen field. Lazy folks, bought souls and fatalists kindly abstain.
Donald Shoup has extensively studied parking as a key link between transportation and land use, with important consequences for cities, the economy, and the environment — and that is exactly why World Streets is pleased to welcome this thought-provoking contribution on parking as an instrument for creating great streets and cities that at once offer quality of life and an economy that works.
The Price of Parking on a Great Street:
- By Donald Shoup, Professor of Urban Planning, UCLA
How Can Curb Parking Contribute to Making a Street Great?
A city can (1) charge performance based prices for curb parking and (2) return the revenue to the metered districts to pay for added public services. With these two policies, curb parking will help to create great streets, improve transportation, and increase the economic vitality of cities.
Performance Parking Prices
Performance-based prices can balance the varying demand for parking with the fixed supply of curb spaces. We can call this balance between demand and supply the “Goldilocks principle” of parking prices: the price is too high if many spaces are vacant, and too low if no spaces are vacant. When a few vacant spaces are available everywhere, the prices are just right. After the city adjusts prices to yield one or two vacant spaces in every block (about 85 percent occupancy), everyone will see that curb parking is readily available. In addition, no one can say that performance parking prices will drive customers away if almost all curb spaces are occupied.
Prices that produce an occupancy rate of about 85 percent can be called “performance-based” for three reasons. First, curb parking will perform efficiently. The spaces will be well used but readily available. Second, the transportation system will perform efficiently. Cruising for underpriced curb parking will not congest traffic, waste fuel, and pollute the air.
Third, the economy will perform efficiently. The price of parking will be higher when demand is higher, and this higher price will encourage rapid parking turnover. Drivers will park, buy something, and leave quickly so that other drivers can use the spaces. Cities can achieve all these goals by setting curb parking prices to yield about an 85 percent occupancy rate.
Local Revenue Return
Performance prices for curb parking can yield ample public revenue. If the city returns this revenue to pay for added public spending on the metered streets, citizens are more likely to support the performance prices. The added funds can pay to clean and maintain the sidewalks, plant trees, improve lighting, bury overhead utility wires, remove graffiti, and provide other public improvements.
Put yourself in the shoes of a merchant in an older business district where curb parking is free and customers complain about a parking shortage. Suppose the city installs meters and begins to charge prices that produce a few vacancies. Everyone who wants to shop in the district can park quickly, and the city spends the meter money to clean the sidewalks and provide security. These added public services make the business district a place where people want to be, rather than merely a place where anyone can park free if they can find a space. Returning the meter revenue generated by the district to the district for the district’s own use can help to convince merchants and property owners to support performance prices for curb parking.
Suppose also that curb parking remains free in other business districts. Everyone complains about the shortage of parking, and drivers congest traffic and pollute the air while they search for curb parking. The city has no meter revenue to clean the sidewalks and provide other amenities. In which district would you want to have a business?
Performance prices will improve curb parking by creating a few vacancies, the added meter revenue will pay to improve public services, and these added public services will create political support for performance prices.
Parking Increment Finance
Most cities put their parking meter revenue into the city’s general fund. How can a city return meter revenue to business districts without shortchanging the general fund? The city can return only the subsequent increment in meter revenue–the amount above and beyond the existing meter revenue–that arises after the city begins to charge performance prices. We can call this arrangement parking increment finance.
Parking increment finance closely resembles tax increment finance, a popular way to pay for public investment in districts in need of revitalization. Local redevelopment agencies receive the increment in property tax revenue that results from the increased property values in the redevelopment districts. Similarly, business districts can receive the increment in parking meter revenue that results from performance parking prices.
More meters, higher rates, and longer hours of operation will provide money to pay for added public services. These added public services will promote business activity in the district, and the increased demand for parking will further increase meter revenue.
Performance Parking Prices in Practice
Some cities have begun to charge performance prices for curb parking and return the meter revenue to its source. Redwood City, California, sets meter rates to achieve an 85 percent occupancy rate for curb parking downtown; the rates differ both by location and time of day, depending on demand. The city returns the revenue to the metered district to pay for public parking structures, police protection, and cleaner sidewalks.
Merchants and property owners all supported the new policy when they learned the meter revenue would pay for added public services in the downtown business district, and the city council adopted it unanimously. Performance prices create a few curb vacancies so visitors can easily find a space, the added meter revenue pays to improve public services, and these added public services create political support for the performance prices.
Redwood City’s Parking Ordinance To accomplish the goal of managing the supply of parking and to make it reasonably available when and where needed, a target occupancy rate of eighty-five percent (85%) is hereby established.
The Parking Manager shall survey the average occupancy for each parking area in the Downtown Meter Zone that has parking meters. Based on the survey results, the Parking Manager shall adjust the rates up or down in twenty-five cent ($0.25) intervals to seek to achieve the target occupancy rate.
Revenues generated from on-street and off-street parking within the Downtown Meter Zone boundaries shall be accounted for separately from other City funds and may be used only within or for the benefit of the Downtown Core Meter Zone.
Sections 20.120 and 20.121 of the Redwood City Municipal Code
Most cities keep their meter rates constant throughout day and let occupancy rates vary in response to demand. cities can vary their meter prices to keep occupancy about 85 percent. The goal is to balance supply everywhere, all the time. Most cities also limit the length at meters so long-term parkers won’t monopolize the curb spaces. But after Redwood City adjusted meter guarantee the availability spaces, it removed limits at meters.
This unlimited-has turned out to with drivers who can for as long as they pay. The demand-meter rates create the most convenient spaces, and long-term tend to choose the cheaper spaces in off-street lots.
Other cities have also begun to adjust their meter ensure the availability of curb parking. The U.S. Department Transportation has awarded grants to Chicago, Los San Francisco to test performance prices for curb Washington, D.C., has already started them. Pasadena Diego return meter revenues to enhance public services metered districts.
We can call the balance between demand and supply the “Goldilocks principle” of parking prices.
Any city can use a pilot program to test Goldilocks prices for curb parking. All the city has to do is allow business district that requests a pilot program to have cost the city anything, because the meters pay for Dirty and unsafe streets will never be great, so the initially use the meter revenue to pay for clean-and-safe.
Many communities may value clean and safe more highly than free but overcrowded curb parking. community is clean and safe, the parking revenue urban amenities such as street trees, underground public transit improvements. Parking on a great street may not be free, but it will be convenient and worth the price.
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About the author:
Professor Shoup is a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He has been a visiting scholar at Cambridge University and the World Bank, and has served as Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA. His influential book, The High Cost of Free Parking, is leading a growing number of cities to charge fair market prices for curb parking, dedicate the resulting revenue to finance public services in the metered districts, and reduce or remove off-street parking requirements. His research on employer-paid parking led to passage of California’s parking cash-out law, and to changes in the Internal Revenue Code to encourage parking cash out. He can be reached at shoup@ucla.
This article was adapted with permission of the author from a chapter in Planetizen Contemporary Debates in Urban Planning, edited by Abhijeet Chavan, Christian Peralta, and Christopher Steins. Washington, Island Press, 2007, pp. 52–56.
John Whitelegg, Editor of World Transport Policy and Practice, offers up a lead editorial in the latest edition of the Journal which was published today and is freely available here. His proposal makes particular economic sense at a time of great economic uncertainty, and of course not only in the UK. His core recommendation: (a) Cancel systematically all public investments that do not pass the sustainability test. What goes? (b) £10 billion for unnecessary road building. (c) £32 billion for uncalled for high speed rail. And (d) elimination of all but a handful of domestic aviation subsidies and investments. And with those frugal savings, the new government team can really go to work to guarantee the sustainable transport agenda.
Here we have an unusually perceptive piece from a specialist in chaos theory who helps us make sense of the “alternative fuels” proposals and claims. It is good to have his hardheaded expert view on the potential of alternative fuels in our future transportation arrangements. But it is important too that we reflect on his dark bet on a pessimistic, high-technology future: in which he sees us as stumbling from crisis to crisis, in response to which we manage each time to come up with last-minute ad hoc “solutions” which leave us as still basically operational, but not all that much more. That I am afraid is the bleak face of the future, unless we are able to find the vision and leadership to do otherwise.
Peak Oil Investments I’m Putting My Money On:
If the measure of success for alternative fuels is the ability to continue to live in suburbs and commute in multi-ton boxes of metal on congested freeways for hours each day, then alternative fuels will fail. No alternative fuel has the existing infrastructure, supply potential, energy density, and low environmental impact that we would need to replace oil without changing our unsustainable lifestyle.
Peak oil may mean the end of bigger and bigger cars driven farther and farther on more and more congested roads. Peak oil may mean the end of suburban life as we know it. Yet life as we don’t know it does need not be a vision out of Mad Max. Peak oil will mean changes, some for the better, some for the worse.
The surest change peak oil will bring is less driving, in fewer vehicles that are filled closer to capacity. Those vehicles will use less oil (or alternative fuels) per person-mile. We’ll also find ways to satisfy the desires and needs that we currently satisfy with travel without traveling.
The first eight parts of this series looked into alternative fuels. I concluded that no alternative fuel listed could replace oil as we use it today fast enough to replace dwindling oil supplies. Conventional biofuels cannot be produced in enough quantity, and making hydrogen is an inefficient use of electricity or natural gas. Electric vehicles are too expensive or have too little range. There is not enough natural gas and there is too little fueling infrastructure to make natural gas vehicles practical on a large scale. Gas-to-liquids makes sense for stranded natural gas, but there are too many other high value uses for natural gas to make a large dent in declining oil supplies. Coal to liquids does too much environmental harm, and algae needs too much more technological development to achieve its promise in time.
The biggest problem with alternative fueled vehicles, however, is not the alternative fuels, the problem is the vehicles and how we use them.
Oil was a one-time bonanza of a readily available, easily transportable, durable, energy-dense liquid. With oil, humanity won a natural resources lottery ticket. Like a lottery winner who blows cash that could have lasted a lifetime in a few months, we now need to realize that we’ve spent most of our winnings. It’s unreasonable to expect that we’re going to win another such jackpot before we have to start watching our fuel budget again. The main question is how soon and how deliberately we will make the necessary adjustment. Will we act like the lottery winner who uses his last hundred thousand to tide him over while he looks for a job? Will we keep partying to the bitter end, until one day we wake up, hung over in the gutter? Will it be something in between?
The Methadone Economy
Switching to a drug analogy, most alternative fuels are the methadone to treat our petroleum / heroin addiction. Methadone is given to heroin addicts in treatment because it mitigates withdrawal symptoms and can block the euphoric effects of heroin, morphine, and similar drugs, reducing the urge to use.
Alternative fuels can be sufficient to allow our society to function, but we’re not going to feel the highs we felt when the oil was flowing freely. Alternative fuels cannot take us back to a “normal” pre-peak oil state because our use of petroleum over the last few decades as been far from “normal:” it has been one long, fossil-fueled high. We will eventually kick the petroleum habit with the help of alternative fuels not because alternative fuels are better than petroleum and can bring us something that petroleum cannot, but because our supplier will be getting smaller shipments over time, while the number of fellow junkies knocking on his door will keep going up with big increases in petroleum demand from emerging economies.
There are several competing visions of a future powered by alternative fuels, ranging from wildly optimistic to gloom-and-doom, with variations depending on how effectively the prognosticator thinks we can replace fossil fuels with alternatives.
A high-technology optimistic vision includes smoothly running efficient pods in mass transit systems powered by renewable energy. High speed bullet trains network the land, making overland air travel unnecessary. The low-technology optimistic vision involves a peaceful return to local economies where food is grown locally, and increasing local interdependence fosters strong local community ties, and people grow happier as they become more connected to the land and each other. The low-technology pessimistic vision is a free-for-all scramble for dwindling resources like the vision out of Mad Max referenced above.
I’m long on optimism about technology, but short on optimism about our will to make the necessary sacrifices to implement that technology quickly or efficiently. I’m betting on a pessimistic, high-technology future. In this future, we manage to cobble together a hodge-podge of last-minute, jerry-rigged solutions to keep the economy functioning at a basic level, but not at all smoothly or evenly. In it, we lurch from a crisis caused by financial melt-down, to a crisis caused by peak-oil to one caused by climate change. We’ll tackle each crisis with incredible ingenuity, staving off total chaos, but at the cost of mis-allocated resources and a deteriorating standard of living. We hold out in the belief that after just this one more fix, the world will be back to normal and we can stop worrying. But that day will never come.
Forward thinking planners in some municipalities and communities will work on implementing true, long-term solutions. But they will not have enough money or resources to do more than ameliorate the next crisis. The large-scale, system wide solutions of better mass transit, algae biofuels, and continent-wide electricity transmission of the high-technology optimistic vision will be implemented too slowly, on too small a scale to achieve the economic stability the techno-optimists hope for. But these half-built systems will still bring considerable benefit, and keep the succession of crises from being the complete disaster that would come with a complete lack of planning.
This is the Methadone Economy. Alternative-fuel oil replacement therapy is necessary because oil supply will not keep pace with demand; we must replace oil or do without. But alternative fuels are not oil, and will require more effort devoted to energy production to produce the same effect. The Methadone economy will function, but it won’t give us the highs we got from the cheap, concentrated, easily accessible energy of oil.
A future characterized by thoughtful, long-range planning seems unlikely to arise from the same political class and voting public that has not meaningfully prepared for anything but good times in decades. The first IPCC report was released in 1990, and it made clear that human activities were substantially increasing levels of greenhouse gasses which would warm the planet. Two decades later, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. We had the first warnings about peak oil in the 1970s oil crises, but only now are we starting to put serious political and economic capital into searching for solutions. When the pre-2008 global debt bubble was on, NINJA (No Income No Job no Assets) loans were welcomed by politicians praising financial innovation and its ability to bring home ownership to people who could not previously afford it.
The Methadone Economy may sound gloomy, but I see it as the most optimistic vision possible given the political reality we see around us. More pessimistic visions abound, but if you expect them, you’re probably better off investing in guns and physical gold than you are investing in the stock market.
I see three major investment themes in the Methadone Economy.
First, there is the knowledge that long-term solutions will be implemented, although not completely and at insufficient scale. Investors in contractors who specialize in mass transit and high-speed rail should do well, as should the longer-term alternative fuel solutions discussed in earlier articles of this series. Vehicle efficiency improvements will find rapidly growing markets as fuel becomes more expensive.
Second, band-aid solutions will thrive. Bike lanes, electric scooters, buses, and any other transportation solution which can be implemented with only small changes to existing infrastructure. Road pricing schemes and the software technology to help people coordinate ride sharing. The clever use of a few resources will always win over grand schemes when there are few resources to spare.
Finally, the Methadone Economy is an economy where we cannot expect long term growth. More likely, we will see periods of anemic (and occasionally robust) growth punctuated by periodic crisis-driven declines. This will be mirrored in the stock market, and so investors in the above two solutions should do well to hedge their overall exposure to the market.
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About the author:
Tom Konrad, PhD., CFA is a regulatory consultant and financial analyst specializing in renewable energy and energy efficiency. In his consulting role, he testifies on behalf of clients before public utilities commissions and state legislatures to promote clean energy. In addition to AltEnergyStocks.com, he writes about clean energy and economics as a freelancer. He has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Purdue University, where he wrote his thesis on Complex Dynamics, a branch of chaos theory. His study of chaos theory led to his conviction that knowing the limits of our ability to predict is much more important than predictions themselves.
Fair enough. We all want choices. That is no more than human nature, But when it comes to transport policy and practice in the United States at the highest level, the idea of real choices is no less than a revolutionary statement. Right from the mouth of President Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, who continues to surprise and delight. (But now, vigilant citizens, let’s see where the $$$ go. There is no such thing as passive democracy.)
US Transportation Secretary on Biking, Walking and ‘What Americans Want’
By Leora Broydo Vestel, as printed in the Green Inc. — blog of the New York Times.
We propose that you check into their site from time to time. The Times has become a leading international voice for sustainable transportation. (We need more of them.)
The United States transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, recently caused a stir when he proclaimed that bicycling and walking should be given the same consideration as motorized transport in state and local transit projects.
“It’s what Americans want to do,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, of his emphasis on the role of bicycles and walking in good transportation policy.
Supporters, who continue to post notes of adulation and thanks on Mr. LaHood’s Facebook page, say the acknowledgment of biking and walking as legitimate modes of transportation is long overdue.
Critics, conversely, believe the secretary is taking the country in the wrong direction.
Mr. LaHood, formerly a Republican congressman from Illinois, spoke with Green Inc. about his reasons for introducing the new policy, the impact it will have on transportation financing, and why bike paths are a good bang for the buck.
Q. Bicycling and walking advocates had a very positive reaction to the policy change. But here at Green Inc., we heard mostly from critics who said it showed you were “delusional” or reflective of some sort of “Maoist” bent. What’s your response to the response?
A. My response is that this is what Americans want. Americans want alternatives. People are always going to drive cars. We’re always going to have highways. We’ve made a huge investment in our interstate highway system. We’ll always continue to make sure that those investments in the highways are maintained.
But, what Americans want is to get out of their cars, and get out of congestion, and have opportunities for more transit, more light rail, more buses, and some communities are going to street cars. But many communities want the opportunity on the weekends and during the week to have the chance to bike to work, to bike to the store, to spend time with their family on a bike.
So, this is not just Ray LaHood’s agenda, this is the American agenda that the American people want for alternatives to the automobile.
What’s happened around America is people are buying bikes and they’re using them for recreational purposes on the weekend and there’s no better family way for people to spend a weekend than riding their bikes on these biking trails.
This is what Americans want and we’re accommodating their needs to really find places to recreate. And what could be healthier than taking a 30-minute walk, which is recommended by every doctor in America, or hopping on your bike and riding four, five or six miles and enjoying the great outdoors?
Look, this is a win-win. This is a way for people to get out of their cars, a way for people to recreate, a way for people to get good exercise, and it’s what Americans want to do.
Q.In announcing the new policy, you used pretty forceful language, saying it was a “sea change” and “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of nonmotorized.” The actual policy, however, is more benign in tone, saying, “well-connected walking and bicycling networks is an important component for livable communities, and their design should be a part of federal-aid project developments.”
Do you stand by your initial characterization of the policy?
A. I think that livable and sustainable communities is a game changer. It’s a game changer because it’s what Americans want. It’s a game changer because people do want to get out of congestion, they want to get out of their cars, they want to be able to enjoy the outdoors, they want to be able to recreate with their families.
And so it’s a game changer from the point of view that it’s a major component of livable and sustainable communities that provide alternatives to automobiles. And some of it is transit, some of it is light rail, some of it is street cars, some of it is good buses. But certainly a big part of it is the opportunity to bike or walk to the grocery store, to work, to the drug store or just spending time with the family and getting some good exercise.
Q. In terms of the way federal transportation dollars will be spent on the ground, is this a zero sum game? Does more money for biking and walking mean less money for motorways?
A. We’re always going to take care of our highways. As I said, we have a state-of-the-art interstate system that’s been developed over three or four decades. We’re not going to give up on our roads. We know people are always going to drive cars. They’re going to use their cars for long distances.
But as we develop our livable and sustainable communities program, biking and walking paths will be a major component of it. And they will get some significant dollars.
Q. In response to the policy change, a member of Congress said he didn’t understand how you get a bang for the buck out of a bicycle project. Why do you think they’re a good investment?
A. You don’t have to get a bang for the buck in every form of transportation. Certainly, transit, it provides a good bus or light rail or other kinds of transportation services. But, they don’t make money doing it.
This is a good bang for the buck because it provides alternatives to people, and good exercise, and for people who are very health conscious and for people who want to spend time with their families.
This is a win, win, win. It incorporates a lot of different opportunities for people and it’s a good bang for good health, and a good bang for a different form of transportation, and it’s what the American people want.
Q. Was there any particular reason you wanted to introduce the new policy now?
A. It has more to do with the fact that we’re rolling out our livable and sustainable communities as we travel around the country and I also was at a huge bikers’ conference in Washington, D.C., and we wanted to give them the chance to really understand that all of their hard work over a long period of time has finally paid off. There’s an administration in place now that has taken to heart their request for more walking and biking paths.
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Let us see if we can put this into perspective. Now, while it is very good to hear America’s Transportation Secretary taking an active, even enthusiastic stance in favor of bicycling and walking, and while it is great if not entirely unexpected news that the cyclists and pedestrians groups are strongly and vocally supporting this policy change (because it is indeed an important policy change), we also need to bear in mind that this is a small step.
What we need is for the Secretary to embrace the full range of the options which are opened up by the New Mobility Agenda, all of which need to be understood individually and, now comes the hard part, orchestrated in each place into a fully tailored unique mobility package so as to provide fair transportation for all the people who live and work in that place.
I ask myself this: what is it that we can do, you and I and others who care, in order to broaden the palate of transportation options which are needed in order to provide full and fair service for the entire population, bearing in mind that in most places more than 50% of the people who live there cannot or should not be driving their own car. I guess we just have to keep working on it. (We will !)
A book entitled “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” by someone named Edward Tufte somehow landed on my desk in the middle 1980s and in a way it changed if not my whole life, at least a lot of my perceptions about the use of statistics and graphic images to convince, to propagandize, to beguile or simply to explain with balance and clarity what is really going on out there in the real world. And the indomitable author is still hard at it. Challenge yourself graphically. Read on.
Everyone knows that statistics (can) lie, and certainly for those of us who are interested in public policy and communications it is important we have a sophisticated understanding of what this is all about. That book, The Visual Display, was by a professor at Yale University, who at the time had an interesting collection of departmental affiliations, which as I recall included statistics, computer science, political science and . . . graphics and design. An unusual combination for sure, and if you can start to familiarize yourself with his work, you will never regret that you opened those first pages.
I hope that this interview, which appeared two weeks ago in “On the Media”, a program of National Public Radio in the United States will make you curious to know more about Tufte and his work. Let me enthusiastically recommend his 1990 book “Envisioning Information”, and for the rest you will find out pretty much everything you would need to know in terms of his publications from Google and Wikipedia. For my part I have just ordered his latest, “Beautiful Evidence” (Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press. ISBN 0961392177).
One interesting aspect of his work that I discovered years ago was that when it was time to publish his first major work (Visual Display), he was so concerned about the quality of the graphic presentations that, after numerous discussions with publishers, he decided to go back home and start his own publishing house, Graphics Press. This scrupulous attention to detail says something very important about the author. Let’s listen to the professor in interview for a few minutes.
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Minister of Information
You can listen to the interview here:
Edward Tufte is perhaps the country’s foremost evangelist for the clean, clear and rich presentation of complex information. The Obama administration’s stimulus package is flooding the economy with 787 billion dollars for employment and public works projects. Put the two together, as Obama did earlier this month when he nominated Tufte for the stimulus advisory board with the hopes that the public will have a fighting chance of understanding where the stimulus money went and what it’s doing.
The Obama administration’s stimulus package is pumping 787 billion dollars into the U.S. economy for public works, job creation and, yes, national broadband access. But showing exactly where that money is going is a Herculean task.
Earlier this month, the White House appointed Edward Tufte to the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board to make sure the website Recovery.gov does the job. You may not have heard of Tufte, but you’ve probably reaped the benefits of his work. A long-time Yale professor, author, consultant and data designer, Tufte has inspired a generation of innovators with his ideas for the efficient, clean and rich presentation of information.
He’s a fan of The New York Times website, the iPhone and, most of all, the lowly sports page, with its tables and stats a reader can grasp in an instant.
But he’s in a constant war with the average website, cluttered with scroll bars, logos, jargon and meaningless graphics.
EDWARD TUFTE: They make the simple complex [LAUGHS]. The design hand in there is from the marketing department, and it’s unfortunate because our eye-brain system is so powerful, in one long glance, maybe a 12-second glance at something, probably 120 megabits of information goes to our brain. And there’s no reason we have to be looking at impoverished materials because we process material at enormous rates.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, so come now to your White House appointment, which is kind of a tough nut.
EDWARD TUFTE: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: The data among different agencies doesn’t necessarily conform. They have different ways of measuring appropriations and expenditures, and it’s really hard to get a fix. There’s not only apples and oranges, but there’s grapefruits and strawberries and kumquats out there. What’s a graphics guru to do?
EDWARD TUFTE: Probably the first thing that most people do when they go to the website is they type in their zip code, and up pops up all the stimulus projects in their area. And what’s interesting about this, it’s a huge database and the particular viewer has no interest in 99 percent of it, but via the zip code they can make it special for them, as can everybody else.
BOB GARFIELD: You know, I spent a little time recently on Recovery.gov, and to me, you know, it doesn’t look bad at all. It looks like a particularly good explainer section put together by a particularly good newspaper. You know, I think that it does a pretty good job of directing me to the larger picture and also the one in my own backyard.
EDWARD TUFTE: Terrific, that’s great.
[BOTH AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD: When you look at Recovery.gov, do you just see a thousand problems to be solved that I’m not seeing?
EDWARD TUFTE: What I would most like to do is to make some additional things that are worthy of the zip code map and the data. One idea that I’ve been thinking of is called a flashlight map, and so you see a kind of dark blue United States with nothing on it, and then the dots, the little lights come on as each project started. That shows the spatial distribution, over time, of the stimulus projects.
I love that you picked up the metaphor that it was like a newspaper. The first thing I said about a year ago when I met with them for the first time is that their model should be a first-rate news website.
BOB GARFIELD: Ah-ha, so the reason I’m not seeing so much to find fault with is ‘cause you’ve already been tinkering with this for months before your official appointment.
EDWARD TUFTE: Once we got the news metaphor and got the intense mapping, that’s halfway there. I wouldn’t give it an A yet. There’s, you know, still a ways to go, and I know some of them, and I hope to, you know, find a few more.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, so Recovery.gov is looking pretty good. You have achieved some of the clarity that you’re looking for. Other government agencies are just woeful, I mean, woeful.
EDWARD TUFTE: Yeah, the Fed’s websites are not very good. The great dream of this – I think there’s one chance in ten that it might happen – is that Recovery.gov would become a model for all government funding, so we’re now talking trillions, not this piddly 787 billion. [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: As the reporting of data becomes a more effective way for the government to communicate what it’s up to, it seems to me also an opportunity for the politicians in the administration to go, huh, why can’t we use this as a really powerful political tool and skew the very data that you’re trying to clarify?
EDWARD TUFTE: This is not going to be a propaganda engine of – no – –
BOB GARFIELD: Let me put it to you a far more direct way.
EDWARD TUFTE: Mm-hmm.
BOB GARFIELD: If Karl Rove were the – still the White House political operative and he had the opportunity to use cherry-picked data to sell his administration’s policies, it sure would have been nice for him to have a really sweet interface.
EDWARD TUFTE: I had once the rather shocking experience that Karl Rove mentioned the ten most wonderful books that he ever read and, of course, it had Machiavelli, and so on.
But it also had, to my mixed delight and, and a little bit of horror, my book with the catchy title The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. [LAUGHS]
Political practice today too often skips right by evidence and has preconceived and endlessly naïve views about causality and how policies work. The government’s job is to try to solve problems, and I am interested in helping them solve the problem of clarifying the stimulus and also understanding the, the consequences of the stimulus.
I’m going to do the best I can and put it out in the world, and, and we’ll see what happens.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. E.T., thank you very much for coming.
EDWARD TUFTE: Okay. [LAUGHS] Good, thank you.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Edward Tufte is author most recently of Beautiful Evidence.
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Edward Tufte is a data display guru who is widely known for criticizing the way most people use power point to communicate information. Here is what Wikipedia has to say: “He is an expert in the presentation of informational graphics such as charts and diagrams, and is a fellow of the American Statistical Association. Tufte has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. Tufte lives in Cheshire, Connecticut. He periodically travels around the United States to offer one-day workshops on data presentation and information graphics.”
Tufte goes on to comment:
The chart, or statistical graphic, is also a map. And a strange one at that. It depicts the advance into (1812) and retreat from (1813) Russia by Napoleon’s Grande Armée, which was decimated by a combination of the Russian winter, the Russian army and its scorched-earth tactics. To my knowledge, this is the origin of the term ’scorched earth’ – the retreating Russians burnt anything that might feed or shelter the French, thereby severely weakening Napoleon’s army.
As a statistical chart, the map unites six different sets of data.
• Geography: rivers, cities and battles are named and placed according to their occurrence on a regular map.
• The army’s course: the path’s flow follows the way in and out that Napoleon followed.
• The army’s direction: indicated by the colour of the path, gold leading into Russia, black leading out of it.
• The number of soldiers remaining: the path gets successively narrower, a plain reminder of the campaigns human toll, as each millimetre represents 10.000 men.
• Temperature: the freezing cold of the Russian winter on the return trip is indicated at the bottom, in the republican measurement of degrees of réaumur (water freezes at 0° réaumur, boils at 80° réaumur).
• Time: in relation to the temperature indicated at the bottom, from right to left, starting 24 October (pluie, i.e. ‘rain’) to 7 December (-27°).
Pause a moment to ponder the horrific human cost represented by this map: Napoleon entered Russia with 442.000 men, took Moscow with only 100.000 men left, wandered around its abandoned ruins for some time and escaped the East’s wintry clutches with barely 10.000 shivering soldiers. Those include 6.000 rejoining the ‘bulk’ of the army from up north. Napoleon never recovered from this blow, and would be decisively beaten at Waterloo under two years later.