Better ideas do not by themselves change the world.

If the developing world has to resolve the paradox of extreme poverty amidst high economic growth, they will have to adopt an alternative framework to promote inclusive   development where principles of universal access to basic needs and social wage are given prominence.

“Better ideas do not by themselves change the world. The suffocation of a certain hqdefaultbalance of social forces precludes alternative ideas from being taken seriously. There are hundreds of designs in engineering labs for smoke-less chimneys and water-less toilets, but their existence has not meant that they have been adopted for mass usage. It will require a shift in social power to allow new ideas and new technologies to become acceptable in our times. In absence of such a change, an “alternative” will simply mean a solution of a practical nature that is not capable of being fully embraced.”

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The Unexpected Renaissance

Haentjens - book coverThere I was in Paris last week,  pretty much minding my own business ,which for the most part consisted of leading a last-semester international  MBA class into the wilds of Sustainable Development, Economy and Society, and my eye fell on a little blue book in the reception area. The title, “Crises: La Solution des Villes” was close enough to the topics that occupy our attention here, that I opened it and started to read. And what I found in the very first chapter was a highly engaging account of how a certain number of European cities, who back in the sixties and seventies were in deep pain mainly as a result of the entirely unanticipated process of deindustrialization, decided to react and turn their desperate situations around. And in the process, separately and together, began to reinvent the paradigm of the 21st century city.

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Equity: A muddled discussion awaiting its first theory

Nothing is more attractive to me than a muddled discussion awaiting its first theory.

- E. O. Wilson, Biophilia, Harvard University Press, 1984

polar bears on ice floatAnd if ever there were a “muddled discussion” in the domain of public policy, just about everything we have heard and seen over the last decades under the heading  of “sustainable development” and “sustainable transportation” has to be placed firmly in this category.  Hopes, rhetoric and promises have run higher than high, while concrete achievements and realities have been tragically few and far between.  We are grievously losing the war of sustainability on just about every front you can imagine.  Something has to be very wrong, something fundamental, something structural and something which apparently is not getting the attention it requires.

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Editorial: John Whitelegg on Planetary Boundaries

Planetary Boundaries

This is an unusual editorial.  It is entirely concerned with one book published in 2012 called “The Human Quest

To say this book is important is an understatement.  It is hugely important because it shows that the current trajectory of the human species on this planet is on automatic pilot with the self-destruct option initiated.   This may sound rather dramatic but the book is based on a very traditional scientific analysis and a strong evidence based logic rooted in the best scientific tradition and especially Swedish scientific traditions.  It is a solid, objective, scientific analysis.

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World Transport Policy & Practice – Vol. 19, No. 1

water animal wtpp

In this issue of World Transport we once again fo­cus on intelligent solutions to future trans­port that have the potential to shift us into a way of thinking and doing that avoids transgressing planetary boundaries. To­mas Björnsson draws attention to the ur­gent need for improved cycling facilities in southern Sweden that cost a small frac­tion of what is spent on highways. Martin Schiefelbusch shows how rural transport problems can be solved by community transport initiatives. Stephen Knight-Lenihan reveals the extent to which de­sirable sustainability objectives can be undermined by a lack of will at national level. His account of the situation in New Zealand will resonate strongly with the situation in many other countries. The ar­ticle by Serena Kang describes a “flexible bus utility model” that has the potential to more closely match the supply of bus services with the demand for those serv­ices and thereby increase levels of use of public transport.

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Planetary Boundaries and Low Carbon Urban Mobility

Useful presentation and overview of the issues and trends by  Professor David Banister (University of Oxford) in a three part series “The Future of Sustainable Mobility”.  The following introduces his presentation but for the full text please click here.

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Achieving the goals of the EC White Paper on Transport: How civil society can help with delivery

The European Economic and Social Committee is organizing a conference on “Achieving the goals of the White Paper on Transport: how civil society can help with delivery”. This one day conference will take place at the Committee’s premises on 7 December. The principal document under discussion is entitled “Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource-efficient transport system”. It is available here . We are inviting comments on this document since it is at the core of the meeting. But first some background: Continue reading

Bogota 21: Toward a world-class transit-oriented Metropolis (with commentary)

This report sponsored by Siemens under a program initi­ated by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and De­velopment (BMZ) recommends “that about 4.2% of the national Gross Do­mestic Product (GDP), needs to be spent annually to develop Bogotá into a world-class transit-oriented metropolis”. The report has been  implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für In­ternationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, active in Colombia for almost 50 years, and Siemens, a German global corporation present in Co­lombia for nearly 60 years.  And to see it for yourself,  click here for the full report that has just been released. http://despacio.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Bogota-21-english.pdf Continue reading

“What are the top 3 things Paris has done in the last 10 years to deliver a genuinely sustainable transport system?”

The other day the phone rang and I heard the voice of my long time friend and valued collaborator Professor John Whitelegg telling me: “on 8th November I am giving a presentation in London at a conference organised by SNCF.  It’s all about London and Paris and what the cities can learn from each other.  I will go further (as usual) and argue that both can make a lot more progress on things like bike use, traffic reduction, getting rid of air pollution, zero deaths  and injuries  etc if they get a lot bolder and start engaging with the vision thing.  I will say that Paris can learn from London on congestion charging but I want  something quite big that I can say in what ways London can learn from Paris.  What are the top 3 things  that Paris has done in the last 10 years to deliver a genuinely sustainable transport system?” Continue reading

Transportation Innovation and Reform: Finding the Way to Social Sustainability

As wise and balanced a summary as you will find of the fine art of dialogue and engagement when it comes to the hard job of developing and integrating new transport arrangements into a space as varied and in many ways contradictory and conflicted as a  21st century city, in any part of the world.  Bravo! With kind thanks to Christopher Zegras of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, one of the conveners of this event, for sharing this with our readers. (You may also wish to check out the short note of conclusion of the editor.)

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Geetam Tiwari on Pro-Poor Green Urban Transport

In this ten minute video Professor Tiwari takes a useful step back from the usual pure transport and all too often dominant technology/infrastructure perspective, taking us back for starters to the fundamentals of what is going on at the level of city dynamics and the daily lives of the neglected great majority of all who live and need to get around in the cities in her great and sprawling country. She comes down hard on past policies that have heavily favored the well to do, while all too systematically ignoring the daily needs of the rest. And that of course is unsustainable. Let’s listen to what she has to say:

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Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All?

Today we step back and look beyond our usual sectoral concerns, and consider what this important report from the UNDP released today may or may not offer to help us to understand in our up-hill push to sustainable transport and sustainable cities. At first glance, their linking of sustainability and equality as their main theme this year is right in line with our own policy focus. So let’s have a look to see what lessons we might learn from their work and perceptions. Continue reading

A Mayor’s-Eye View of Sustainable Transportation

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, the 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 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:

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Rethinking Car Free Days in Taipei City: Part I

Your editor was kindly invited by Mayor Hau Lung-pin to come to Taipei City this year to discuss preparations for the celebration of the city’s tenth successive Car Free Day — and as part of this collaborative brainstorming process to draw on my experience of some seventeen years working with this, one hopes, transformative transportation approach in different cities around the world.  The presentation is in three parts:

* Rethinking Car Free Days in Taipei City: Part I – This introduction

Part II – Keynote Address

Part III: Letter and comments from Jason Lin,  Commissioner of Transportation, City of Taipei

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Op-Ed, Cornie Huizenga: The transport sector as leader in the sustainability debate?

There are a lot of reasons which need to be investigated if we are to have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the sustainable transportation wars. The first step in this necessary process is to accept that by any reasonable measure, we are losing the war and losing it badly — in such a way that each day our sector in cities around the world is one that is in a state of increasing disruption and destruction, aggressing our most fundamental human and social values. It is that bad, and anyone who refuses to accept this is very definitely part of the problem. But then, once we have accepted the bad news, it is time to stop the weeping and figure out how can start to reverse this mounting tide of poor policies, unwise investments, and other abject indifference to all of those who are left worse off in the process. Let me stand aside here and give the word to Cornie Huizenga who has some thoughtful positive suggestions s to where we might go from here. Continue reading

World Vehicle Population Tops 1 Billion

The number of vehicles in operation worldwide surpassed the 1 billion-unit mark in 2010 for the first time ever. According to Ward’s research, which looked at government-reported registrations and historical vehicle-population trends, global registrations jumped from 980 million units in 2009 to 1.015 billion in 2010.  - By John Sousanis. WardsAuto.com, Aug 15, 2011 9:00 AM Continue reading

The New Economics of Sustainable Development

To negotiate the move from old to new mobility, we have to understand as well the importance of moving from old to new economics. Back in 1997 James Robertson, respected British economist, monetary reformer and policy counsel to government, took a hard look at “The New Economics of Sustainable Development” in a report prepared for the Forward Studies Unit of the European Commission. Today, half a generation later, this exceptionally insightful piece still brings up points to which we should be giving attention. It is unfortunate that the clock has stood still for this important part of the sustainability dialogue. No wonder we are making so very little progress in the right direction. Let’s have a close look at what James has to propose and mull it all over from a 2011 perspective.
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Climate of Denial: Can science and the truth withstand the merchants of poison?

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

Editorial: The Seven Simple Truths of Sustainable Mobility (Come argue with me)

Sometimes in life things can be simple. Let’s look at one case.

Doubtless the most severe single problem holding us back in the hard up-hill struggle for “sustainable transport” in cities and countries around the world is that so far everyone seems to have a different definition and a different agenda.  Google offered 947,000 entries under this phrase this morning and all it takes is a quick tour of the Google News rubric to  get a quick education on the enormous range of interpretations of what the phrase means to different people, places and interests. Continue reading

Interview with Roland Ries: Cyclist, Senator and Mayor of Strasburg

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.

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India Steers Full Speed towards Low Carbon Transport

We do not normally carry media releases on projects, programs, reports or books, but today we make an exception and are gladly posting the following important announcement. We share this both here, in India Streets and on the Sustran Global South forum for comment and discussion. It is our firm intention to keep an independent eye on this potentially promising program, and our firm hope that the money spent and technical resources brought to the job will result above all in multiplying the number of many and diverse on-street examples of how sustainable mobility works in the interest of the entire population — and not just the privileged (automotive and relatively affluent) few. As William Blake put it roughly two centuries ago: “He who would do good to another must do it in minute particulars.” We pledge keep as eye on the minute particulars, in the hope that we are going to see examples of policies and practices not only for India but for the world. Continue reading

More on Illich, energy and equity

This commentary, just in from reader John Verity writing from Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, takes Illich beyond his original point of departure in this essay written in 1974, discussing the flow of his thinking on energy and technology that appeared in other pages and books in the decade that followed.

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Sweet victory

New World Bank Report. Challenges to Inclusive Bus Rapid Transit

The World Bank recently published a report, “Technical and Operational Challenges to Inclusive Bus Rapid Transit,” compiled by Tom Rickert, a consultant with extensive experience on accessible transportation. While the technical report is intended primarily for an audience of BRT system and service planners, its release marks a recognition of the practical challenges in making public transport in the developing world fully accessible.

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“Time to count the spoons”. Alan Atkinson on sustainabilety back-peddling

Dr. Samuel Johnson reminded us some time back that “When a man proclaims his honor loudly at the table, it’s time to count the spoons”. Which is what Alan AtKisson has to offer on the subject of back-peddling as he comments on loudly proclaimed sustainability initiatives from Europe and America. Continue reading

The New Mobility Strategy

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