Oops! What went wrong with "Old Mobility"

In order what needs to be done to create a healthier and better performing set of transportation arrangements, World Streets make a consistent distinction between what we call “old mobility” and “new mobility.” The difference between the two is quite simple. And substantial.

Old mobility was the 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 us well in many ways at the time, albeit with 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 over. And it will never come back.

The planet was enormous, the spaces great and open, energy abundant and cheap, resources endless. The “environment” was not a consideration, “climate” was the weather, technology was able to come up with a constant stream of solutions, builders were able to solve the problems that arose from bottlenecks by endlessly expanding capacity at the trouble points, and fast growth and the thrill of continuing innovations masked much of what was not all that good.

Fifty things that were wrong with Old Mobility

Old Mobility policy and practice does not work well in the realities that constitute the 21st century, because it is . . .

  1. Destructive
  2. Inefficient
  3. Unfair
  4. Murderous
  5. Unhealthy
  6. Noisy
  7. Profligate
  8. Unneighborly
  9. Socially destructive
  10. Unimaginative
  11. Unquestioning
  12. Inertial
  13. Based on essentially closed system thinking (i.e., looking at “transport” in isolation from the rest)
  14. Hierarchical
  15. Top-down
  16. Centralized
  17. Statistics based (i.e., bound by the past)
  18. Bounded
  19. Reductive
  20. End-state solution oriented
  21. Authoritarian
  22. Supply oriented
  23. Oriented to maximizing vehicle throughput and speeds
  24. Expert based
  25. Engineering-based (i.e., working “within the box”, albeit often with high technical competence)
  26. Binary: i.e., either “private” (i.e., car-based) or “public” transport (and nothing of importance in between)
  27. De facto car-based
  28. Costly to the community (unnecessarily)
  29. Costly to individuals (unnecessarily)
  30. Costly to the planet
  31. Resource intensive (unnecessarily)
  32. Total dependence on costly imported fossil fuels (unnecessarily)
  33. Highly polluting
  34. Massive public health menace
  35. Destroys urban fabric
  36. Hardware and build solutions, technology oriented
  37. Treats ex-car solutions as (very!) poor cousins
  38. Offers poor service/economic package to elderly, handicapped, poor and young
  39. Sharp divide between planning, policy and operations
  40. Obscure (to the public) decision making processes
  41. Focuses on bottlenecks impeding traffic flows (i.e., builds for increasing traffic)
  42. Attempts to anticipate them and build to forestall
  43. Searches for large projects to “solve” the problems
  44. These large projects and the substantial amounts involved often lead to corruption and waste of public moneys
  45. Still too much separation from underlying land use realities.
  46. Inadequate attention to transportation substitutes or complements
  47. Increasingly technical and tool oriented (this to the good)
  48. Anachronistic,
  49. Not doing the job that we need in 2005 and beyond!, and finally and worst of all. . .
  50. Creates a climate of passive citizenry and thus undermines participatory democracy and collective involvement and problem solving

But this does not reflect the priorities and the reality of transport, our needs, and our potential in the 21st century, and above all in our cities which are increasingly poorly served by not only our present mobility arrangements; but also the thinking and values that underlie them. Our rural areas are likewise suffering and without a coherent game plan. We now live in an entirely different kind of universe, and the constraints which were never felt before, or ignored, are now emerging as the fundamental building blocks for transportation policy and practice in this new century.

It’s time for a change. And the change has to start with us. You see, WE are the problem.


But we can also be part of the solution. Let’s see what it could like like if we started wiht the theme of equity.


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Some World Streets references to help dig in on this:

Sustainable transportation’s Dirty Secret

We badly need a new American transportation model (because the one you sent us is broke)

Why transport planners need to think small to tackle climate change

The Old Mobility impasse (PDF)

Honey, you got to slow down

What/who keeps holding back New Mobility reform?

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eb-about the editor - 9mar14

One thought on “Oops! What went wrong with "Old Mobility"

  1. Pingback: How do Lower Speed Limits Save Lives? | Pollution Free Cities

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