World Transport Policy & Practice – Vol. 19, No. 4. October 2013

This issue of WTPP returns to some earlier themes that are central to an improved understanding of how to get things right and reduce the likelihood of paul mees -smallerwrong-headedness.  Jeff Kenworthy opens 19/4 with a robust study of 42 cities and demonstrates that car use and GDP growth are decoupling.  Helmut Holzapfel looks at  German road and motorway planning and building and shows that it is totally removed from the reality of life as lived by citizens.  Editor John Whitelegg closes this latest edition of WTPP with a critical review of a compendium of articles, Transport Beyond Oil, while in his opening editorial reminding us of the work and contributions of our greatly missed colleague Paul Mees, a world-class transport researcher and policy analyst,who  died in Melbourne on 19th June 2013, aged 52. Far too young and still so much to do.

World Transport Policy & Practice – Vol. 19, No. 4

wtpp cover 19.4


Front Cover Photographs by Adam McHugh                                1
Contents                                                                                                2
Editorial                                                                                                3
Invitation for Articles                                                                         6
Abstracts and Keywords                                                                     7
Decoupling Urban Car Use and Metropolitan GDP Growth       8
Road planning in Germany:  an urgent need for reform            23
Transport Beyond Oil: policy choices for a multi-modal future  27

–> Download latest issue: Volume 19, Number 4


Decoupling Urban Car Use and Metro­politan GDP Growth

– Jeff Kenworthy

Data for 1995 and 2005 on forty-two cities in the USA, Canada, Australia, Europe and Asia suggest that car use as well as total motorised mobility have decoupled from real growth in metropolitan GDPs. The car vehicle kilometres travelled per unit of GDP in thirty-nine out of the forty-two cit­ies studied has reduced by an average of 24%. In thirty-five or 83% of the cities, total motorised passenger kilometres trav­elled per unit of GDP was lower in 2005 than it was in 1995, by an average of 26%. Decoupling of urban mobility from GDP can occur in the context of still rising car use or total mobility. However, in twelve out of the forty-two cities the actual car use per capita also declined by an average of over 6%. Overall, it is found that the average increase in car use in these forty-two cit­ies from 1995 to 2005 was 7% or less than one-third of the level in the 1980s. This decoupling of car use from GDP growth is thus part of the ‘peak car use’ phenom­enon. New data showing an improvement in the relative speed of public transport systems compared to general road traffic over many decades, which is being led by a strong global trend towards urban rail, may help to explain these results. Further research is needed to see if Chinese and Indian cities, with their heavy investments in rail, can also start to show a decoupling of passenger transport from GDP. Over­all, the results suggest a possible future where wealth can continue to be created globally whilst reducing the use of cars, oil and their damaging global impacts.

Keywords: car use per capita, GDP per capita, decoupling, peak car use, motor­ised mobility, urban rail, relative speeds.


Road planning in Germany:  an urgent need for reform

– Prof. Dr.-Ing. Helmut Holzapfel, Institut für Verkehrswesen, Universität Kassel

In Germany in 1971 the basic plan for the construction of the federal road network was adopted. The existing planning pro­cedures for motorways and roads since then only slightly changed: They oriented on paradigms as an ever-growing demand for transport and an optimal access to mo­torways for high speeds. The article looks at the processes and their implications for the future.

Keywords: planning process, planning of motorways, transport infrastructure and economy

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PAUL MEES, a world class transport researcher and policy analyst, died in Melbourne on 19th June 2013 aged 52.  Paul’s list of achievements and prolific high quality transport analysis and policy advice ensured that his work spread far beyond his native Melbourne.  Paul was a controversial figure because he brought his razor sharp intellect to bear on critical policy issues and spoke out loudly and bluntly about what was going wrong and how to put it right.  In   May 2008 the Melbourne daily newspaper, The Age, ran a story with the heading “Melbourne Uni demotes transport dissident” and Paul’s trenchant criticisms of road building and public transport privatisation became known to a much wider audience than those involved in transport.

Paul was the author of two significant landmark books “A very public solution” published in 2000 and “Transport for suburbia:  beyond the automobile age” published in 2010.  He also contributed to this journal and in the process triggered a vigorous response and debate.  He wrote two articles on “the density delusion”, one in volume 15, number 2 and another in volume 16, number 3 and co-authored an important paper with Anthony Morton with the title “Too good to be true?  An assessment of the Melbourne travel behaviour modification pilot” which was published in volume 16 number 2.

This journal is enormously grateful to Paul for all his work and contributions and we are very lucky indeed to have his books and articles available to us now as we strive to nurture and disseminate the virtuous virus of sensible, intelligent, total system thinking around mobility and transport.

In 2014, our 20th year of publication, we will publish a special issue completely devoted to Paul’s work.   The special issue will celebrate his life and work, assess his distinctive contribution and publish new material that has a strong resonance with his ideas, thinking, motivation and policy impact.

As we approach the end of 2013 we need Paul’s trenchant analysis and straight talking more than ever.  The world is still polluted with ridiculous road building schemes that are very expensive and stand no chance at all of delivering their utopian promises especially an end to congestion.  The schemes are very strong in Paul’s home state of Victoria but also in the UK where we can spend hundreds of millions on totally useless schemes that we know will not achieve their objectives and are based on deliberate falsification of evidence and propagation of myths not supported by data.  If any readers doubt this please go back 10 years and extract the arguments for building the road couched in terms of jobs to be created and congestion to be reduced and then fast  forward and check the outcomes against the predictions.

Paul got into hot water in 2008 with his choice of language in describing the direction of travel of transport policy in Australia and the state of Victoria but his words are far less damaging and insulting than the attack on landscape, nature, ecology, climate, health, children, older people and quality of life perpetrated by the road builders.  We are reminded of the much quoted speech of the Scottish landscape architect Ian McHarg:

“I welcome the opportunity to describe the ecological method of highway route selection…but first I have to reveal my loathing of you and your kind.  If you all had a fatal paroxysm, I would find it difficult to mobilize a single tear.  You have been engaged in an onslaught against the American environment, you have dismembered, dissected and destroyed significant areas of American cities.  Your depredations must end.  There is no reason that the American public should pay so dearly to have their environment attacked by such insensitive bullies.  You must learn about the environment, both natural and social.  You must ask nature whether you may build, where and how, but you must also ascertain from those who will be impacted what are their perceptions, values, needs and desires.  Only then will you be able to design highways fitting to the land, fit for people.  And so now I will show you how”

– McHarg, I (1995) A Quest for Life:  an autobiography, Wiley, page 189

McHarg probably trumps Paul Mees with the severity of his words and condemnation of those doing the damage but it was a different age and universities were better places than they are now and did not worry about annoying their funders and paymasters as they now do.

I am now in danger of trumping McHarg.  The city of Kolkata in West Bengal, India, formerly known as Calcutta, has banned bicycles on 174 “key streets” (Note 1).  It is very hard to imagine a more wrong-headed, socially unjust, environmentally ruinous attack on poor people.  Kolkata is chaotic and there are very real problems in coping with traffic volume and the mix of traffic but to savage a mode of transport that is genuinely egalitarian, services the needs of millions of Kolkata citizens and takes up much less space than large cars with one occupant is an insult to democracy, an abuse of power and a slap in the face for those relatively poor citizens who do cycle.

The bicycle ban is the nearest thing on the planet to clearing the streets of pesky poor people so rich people can have more space to drive their cars and more opportunities to kill pedestrians because they can drive faster.

The reason for the ban defies reason:

“There is just not enough space for all kind of vehicles,” says Dilip Kumar Adak, deputy commissioner of the city’s traffic police department.

“Cycles slow down traffic and removing them will make the streets safer and traffic speedier.

– Source:  quote taken from the BBC news item in Note 1

The scale of the tragedy unfolding in Kolkata is staggeringly large.  Not only is it an attack on relatively poor people who are doing exactly the right thing when they choose to cycle, the ban will also achieve the direct opposite of what it is meant to achieve. Banning bicycles will encourage the space greedy modes of transport to take up yet more space and add to traffic congestion and reduce the carrying capacity of the road itself.  A road can carry far more people if they use the bike or bus than if they sit in a car and those supporting this ban will add to congestion, pollution, chaos and a reduced carrying capacity.  A bicycle requires 3 sq metres of space per person when moving at 10kph and a car with one occupant requires 60 sq metres.  (Note 2).  Those supporting this ban have chosen to favour a mode of transport that performs 20 times worse in terms of the space it needs in one of the world’s most crowded and short-of-space cities.

Wrong headedness is not something that festers in India whilst all is light and joy in the EU, Australia or North America.  Paul Mees spent a great deal of his life exposing nonsense around new road building and the neglect of rail in the state of Victoria and it is the same in the UK.  A recent report “Where the Money’s going” (Note 3) analyses the public spending decisions of newly created local transport authorities and reveals a very interesting breakdown:

  • £710 million on new road capacity
  • £171 million on rail projects
  • £14 million on tram/metro projects
  • Nothing at all on cycling
  • £65 million on walk/public realm

This is not as blatant as banning bicycles but it shows very clearly that public spending decisions are the opposite of the rhetoric and don’t care at all about walking and cycling and want to pursue a business as usual scenario based on lots of car trips, lots of car parking space, lots of air pollution and lots of greenhouse gases.  This is as socially unjust, undemocratic and inegalitarian as Kolkata’s bicycle ban.

In this issue of WTPP

In this issue of WTPP we return to some earlier themes that are central to an improved understanding of how to get things right and reduce the likelihood of wrong headedness.  Jeff Kenworthy presents us with a robust study of 42 cities and demonstrates that car use and GDP growth are decoupling.  This is not just an interesting academic point but a hugely significant piece of evidence in the ideological battle around car use, road space and economic growth.  It is perfectly possible and certainly desirable to envisage a future of low car ownership and use, low levels of vkm of car trips and a healthy economy and also an economy that is genuinely delivering quality of life and high value democratic gains.  This is seriously contested territory and Kenworthy’s paper stands as rock solid scientific evidence that we can ditch all the arguments around traffic, road building and economic growth.  It is old hat!

Holzapfel interrogates German road and motorway planning and building and shows that it is totally removed from the reality of life as lived by citizens.  He shows that as a process it is divorced from important considerations related to short trips to go shopping or taking children to school and unrelated to its impacts on freight movement and longer distance movement of products.  These excluded issues alter the nature of society and mobility with many negative consequences and should be corrected in the planning process of adding new road capacity.  Holzapfel’s conclusions go beyond this level of reform of a planning process and recommend that we should have “a concept that considers the effects of newly planned roads on the everyday mobility of ordinary people and cites as a replicable model of real planning for everyday life the example of Tubingen’s French quarter and the work of Andreas Feldtkeller in producing the “city of short ways” with much increased walking and cycling levels.

John Whitelegg, Editor

Note 1. Why has India’s Calcutta city banned cycling?

Note 2. Whitelegg, J (1993) Transport for a sustainable future, Belhaven Press, London, page 79

Note 3.


In 2014 we will publish a special issue to celebrate the life and work of the Australian transport planner, academic, activist and broadcaster, Paul Mees.  We invite contributions for this issue to be submitted by 31 January 2014.  The contributions should have a bearing on Paul’s work and interests and contributors are invited to discuss this with the editor in advance.  We will publish material in this special issue that has already been published elsewhere as long as we have documentation to show that the original publishers give permission.

Please contact John Whitelegg on if you want to discuss a proposed contribution

# # #

World Transport Policy & Practice: 1994 – 2013

World Transport Policy & Practice is a quarterly journal which provides a high quality medium for original and creative work in world transport.

WTPP has a philosophy based on the equal importance of academic rigour and a strong commitment to ideas, policies and practical initiatives that will bring about a reduction in global dependency on cars, lorries and aircraft.

WTPP has a commitment to sustainable transport which embraces the urgent need to cut global emissions of carbon dioxide, to reduce the amount of new infrastructure of all kinds and to highlight the importance of future generations, the poor, those who live in degraded environments and those deprived of human rights by planning systems that put a higher importance on economic objectives than on the environment and social justice.

WTPP embraces a different approach to science and through science to publishing. This view is based on an honest evaluation of the track record of transport planning, engineering and economics. All too often, these interrelated disciplines have embraced quantitative, elitist or mechanistic views of society, space and infrastructure and have eliminated people from the analysis.

To help it to reach a wide readership, encompassing advocates and activists as well as academics and advisers, WTPP is available free of charge as PDF files on the internet.

* Download latest issue: Volume 19, Number 4

* Go to the WTPP archive for back issues

# # #

About the editor:

john-whitelegg3Managing Director of Eco-Logica, John Whitelegg is Visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University, Professor of Sustainable Development at the Stockholm Environment Institute, and founder and editor of the Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice. Research interests encompass transport and the environment, definition of sustainable transport systems and a sustainable built environment, development of transport in third world cities focusing on the relationships between sustainability and human health, implementation of environmental strategies within manufacturing and service industry and development of environmental management standards. He has published widely on these topics. John is active in the Green party of England and Wales and is the national spokesperson on sustainable development.

# # #

– – – >World Streets on World Transport – More Here.

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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One thought on “World Transport Policy & Practice – Vol. 19, No. 4. October 2013

  1. Pingback: Turning the Corner on Car Use in the USA, Australia, Canada, Europe and Asia | Pollution Free Cities

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