Sustainable transport on the road to COP15? (We are a generation of great talkers.)

As we gear up for the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, it is fair to ask: how optimistic can one reasonably be concerning our ability at this critical juncture to meet the enormous challenges facing our planet , and our sector of responsibility, in time to make the needed big adjustments needed to make the necessary differences in the years immediately ahead? We weren’t even close in 1996. Will we be ready . . . this time?

Sustainable Transportation’s Dirty Secret – 1996

Sometimes it can help to recall the past. Listen for example to this one minute extract from a presentation given by the editor of this journal, at the time a consultant to the OECD Environment Directorate’s “EST – Environmentally Sustainable Transport” project, to a post conference evaluation session of the OECD senior project team on the occasion of a peer review of the accomplishments of the high level March 1996 Vancouver Conference, “Towards Sustainable Transportation”.

That meeting, in the words of the OECD post-meeting announcement, “brought together over four hundred policy-makers, governments and NGO representatives to assess the state of the art knowledge in reducing transport’s environmental impacts and to chart a path towards more environmentally sustainable transport systems”. And what exactly did those ” four hundred policy-makers, governments and NGO representatives” actually achieve, sustainable transportation-wise?

* Click here for the “Sustainable Transportation’s Dirty Secret” comment from 1996

That, in a few words, is Sustainable Transportation’s Dirty Secret. Worse yet, the sad truth is it does appear to be not just a transient anomaly but rather a sign of our times, of our generation, of our egregious (un)willingness to commit ourselves and get around to doing (a lot) better.

What have we done, learned since 1996?

Checking out the actual results for our sector’s performance over these last thirteen years, as charted by leading edge of the research community, the many related web sites and all the conferences on global warming, carbon dioxide build-up, ozone depletion, and the rest, one comes to a pretty simple, absolutely terrifying conclusion.

From an unbiased eco-perspective we are continuing to misbehave very badly indeed. And what is worse yet is that, rhetoric aside, there is little out there on the radar screen of transport policy and practice that promises much better. Indeed the numbers all suggest that things are going from bad to worse. Emissions targets are being timidly set, after a huge amount of hemming and hawing. And then flagrantly missed. What a bad, what an inexcusable, what a tragic joke!

Looking ahead to Copenhagen, what does this mean? If we bear in mind that that high level 1996 international meeting entitled “Towards Sustainable Transportation” might as well not have been convened at all. At least as far as what has actually been accomplished on their self-assigned mandate over all these intervening years. We have not only not moved “towards sustainable transportation”, to the contrary we have moved away from it, systemically and rapidly.

So I ask you, what are the differences between the way we are looking at all this today, and back in 1996? Have we made any notable progress over these thirteen long years? It is important to understand this.

So far, so bad. But let’s not satisfy ourselves with whipping the dead horse of the past. Let’s look ahead.

So what exactly do we need to do now to kick-start the system? (The system, incidentally being us.) Are we doomed to continue as “a generation of great talkers” and nothing more?

COP15 and the New Mobility Agenda

Will COP15 be any different when it comes to defining the future policy framework for what happens in the transport sector?

It could be, even at this late date.

This modest daily collaborative journal on the web — “Insights and contributions from leading thinkers and practitioners around the world” — which looks only at these issues but with the inputs and counsel of thousands of readers and colleagues around the world who really are able to help orient those coming to Copenhagen — all this expertise needs to be energized, brought into the preparations and understood as a critical part of the solution, if solution there is to be.

You and I, dear readers, need to come together put our heads and hearts together on this. What is not needed is more high rhetoric or running away from the real challenges faced if we are to turn our sector around in order to meet the pressing time targets which are now clearly before us.

We know that what is needed are far more thoughtful, more innovative, more layered (“packages of measures”), more open, more dynamic, more deeply committed, and more courageous approaches to the challenges of sustainability in a frankly non-sustainable world — a world of people, habits and political arrangements that to all appearances are not yet quite ready to make the fundamental changes that are needed for the planet and in our daily lives.

We clearly need leadership — and not only leadership by rhetoric, but leadership by example.

The New Mobility/Climate Emergency Project: Plan B for sustainable transport. Now!

* Click here for 5 minute introduction to Plan B –

* And here for intro to the World Streets strategy –

Now is the time to really start to dig in on this. Look! We know what we have to do, we really do know how to achieve it, and there is no excuse not to start right now to do it. Let’s put worldwide transportation systems reform into the top rank of the COP15 agenda. Now is the time to do this. No excuses!

What are you going to tell your grandchildren that you did when it was time for action to save their future? That you worried a lot? Come on now.

Your faithful editor

Eric Britton

PS. Here in closing is a remark and proposal I made to that meeting by way of activation and follow-up — click here for the one minute audio file. It was a call for an aggressive transfer to leadership by more women. It was not well received. Check it out here to see why.

Motorised two wheelers on bike ways? Off they go!

World Streets is not favorable to bikeways being shared with motorized vehicles of any sort. To our way of thinking the only possible exception would be very low speed (20 kph max) electrical-assisted bikes, and that carefully enforced by the police. Here is what is going on in Amsterdam, one of the bike capitals of the world, on just this topic. Time to make this clear in all our cities. It’s a no-brainer. Off they go!

Away with scooters

Source: Nieuwsuit Amsterdam, 14-10-2009

Amsterdammers seem to be fed up with scooters on bicycle paths, because they endanger cyclists and pollute the air. There are 67,000 scooters and mopeds in Amsterdam. 25,000 have blue license plates, which means that they are allowed on regular bicycle paths.

The blue licence plates have once been introduced to allow old people with motor-assisted bicycles to ride more safely, argues Scato van Opstall in a letter to the editor of Het Parool. However, police seem to do little about abuse.

“As a result, thousands of racing, small particles emitting little scooters are pushing cyclists off the bicycle path. Or they are running over our children while hooting. How safe, these separate bicycle paths. And how healthy, the dust from their two-stroke engines when they pass you.”

In a letter to a bicycle safety action group, Alderman Hans Garson acknowledges that the growth of the number of scooters is ‘remarkable’ and that their use of bicycle paths is causing problems. He says that bicycle paths should be wider, but often this is impracticable.

Council member Fjodor Molenaar (GroenLinks) has argued that scooters and mopeds should be banned from bicycle paths. Ivar Manuel (D66) is sympathetic to the idea.

Referring to the colour of the licence plates, Marjolein de Lange of cyclists’ organisation Fietsersbond speaks of a ‘blue moped plague’. The municipality wants to address air pollution by promoting electrical scooters, but this is the wrong approach, she argues in an article in Fietsersbond magazine OEK.

Instead, the national government should allow only human-powered cycles on bicycle paths. Meanwhile, the municipality should enforce speed limits for scooters on bicycle paths as well as the ban on scooters in parks.

The Zuidoost District has just released a draft policy paper that proposes to tighten rules for the use of bicycle paths by scooters, which are more lenient in Zuidoost than elsewhere. The paper further recommends a crackdown on district staff who drive their cars on bicycle paths.

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Thanks to Todd Edelman for the heads-up.

World Streets Short Takes: Stealing from pedestrians

“One of my great interests is time reallocation in an urban system. All I mean by this is that when I walk across parts of London which I do most weeks it is quite clear that the amount of time I stand still and do not move as traffic hurtles past is very large. I estimate it is about 50% of my journey time. That means that even in a congestion charge best practice world my time is being stolen to reward drivers with time savings. I want the theft halted and the system re-prioritised to reward pedestrians and cyclists.”
– John Whitelegg, Editor, World Transport Policy and Practice

John Whitelegg is visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and Professor of Sustainable Development at University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute, and is founder and editor of the Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice. John is a local councillor in Lancaster, and Leader of the North West (of England) Green Party. He can be contacted via

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Some references by the author:
Critical Mass: Transport, Environment And Society In The 21st Century ISBN Number: 0745310834
* Chapter 5 “What time is this place”
* Chapter 6 “What place is this time”
* Chapter 9 “Transport and Equity”

Time Pollution, The Ecologist 23, 4, July/August 1993, pp 132-134. –

High Speed Trains: Fast tracks to the future, (Whitelegg, J. Hulten, S. and Flink, T. eds) Leading Edge Press, Hawes, North Yorkshire (239pp)

Short Takes is a new series from World Streets. One hundred or less well chosen words, putting before us a single soaring point well worth bearing in mind as we struggle toward more sustainable and livable cities.

Have a candidate for publication? Contact our editor via