This is a special issue of to celebrate the life and work of our friend, colleague and inspiration, Paul Mees. Paul died at the far too early age of 52 in June 2013. He was a fierce and highly articulate advocate of the public interest. His contributions ranged over traditional academic activities including teaching, researching and publishing but went much wider and embraced campaigning, media activity and an ability to engage with senior public figures in a way that could not be ignored and in a way that exposed the utter wrong-headedness of much Australian and State of Victoria transport policy and spending. He is greatly missed.
This special issue once again reiterates our commitment to sustainable transport, which embraces the urgent need to cut global emissions, 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 financial objectives for the few, than on the environment and social justice for all..
World Transport Policy & Practice – Vol. 20, No. 2
Abstracts and Keywords
Death of an Urbanist, Paul Mees (1961-2013)
Paul Mees 1961-2013 – Jago Doson
Neat, Plausible and Wrong: Melbourne’s East West Link – Anthony Morton
Heysham M6 Link Road – David Gate
Is this protester the most hated man in Scotland?: A personal perspective on the legal fight against the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route – William Walton
The Curse of the Zombie Roads – Patrick Kinnersly
The Death of the Habitats Directive – Alan James
Public transport network planning in Auckland, New Zealand – Muhammad Imran and John Stone
The Insanity of Normality: Reconceptualising the Road Safety Debate – Gary Haq, John Whitelegg
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This is a special issue to celebrate the life and work of Paul Mees. Paul died at the very early age of 52 in June 2013. His contribution to the world-wide debate around sustainable transport was outstanding and his two books “A very public solution: transport in the dispersed city” (Mees, 2000) and “Transport for suburbia: beyond the automobile age” (Mees, 2009) are full of insights and often quoted. His contribution ranged over traditional academic activities including teaching, researching and publishing but went much wider and embraced campaigning, media activity and an ability to engage with senior public figures in a way that could not be ignored and in a way that exposed the utter wrong-headedness of much Australian and State of Victoria transport policy and spending.
Paul was a constant critic of road building in Melbourne, always emphasising the illogicality, fiscal irresponsibility and missed opportunities represented by billions of dollars of budget allocation for road building. His most recent campaigning work focussed on one of many useless highway schemes discussed in this special issue, the East-West link in Melbourne and this is discussed in more detail in the article by Anthony Morton.
Paul’s logical, analytical and incisive criticisms of the East-West link are echoed in other articles in this special issue. Alan James discusses the Lancaster Northern Bypass also known as the Heysham M6 Link Road (HM6L) in the UK. He concentrates on the convoluted way in which the road builders, aided by the judiciary and public inquiry inspectors were able to dilute the significance of European law (the Habitats Directive) in pursuit of the road building outcome. His forensic analysis of the steps taken to downgrade the significance of the Habitats Directive highlights the multiple flaws in public policy making, public inquiries and the willingness of courts to check the executive where road building is at stake.
This theme is picked up an again in William Walton’s analysis of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route. The Aberdeen road is characterised by seriously defective logic around the case for proceeding with the project, defective public consultation and a clear reluctance (as in Lancaster) on the part of the courts to exercise one of their main historic and democratic functions which is to check the excesses of the executive and make sure that due process has been followed and the law upheld.
James characterises the Lancaster bypass as “useless” and the use of the word “useless” is based on careful analysis of what it can achieve and the specious arguments on which it is based. Paul Mees would agree.
David Gate discusses the same road and presents a careful documentation of the interaction between residents and those who make decisions. One of the many deeply worrying aspects of road building is its dismissal of local opinion and its imposition of an over-riding road building ideology regardless of cost and logic on those whose lives will be damaged. In the case of the HM6L road the scheme was vigorously pursued at the same time as the local MP opposed the road and the local authority voted in full council to oppose the road. As is often he case in the UK these events work to bring politics into disrepute.
Pat Kinnersly’s article on the Westbury Bypass draws attention to the “Zombie Road” phenomenon and the ability of seriously defective road schemes to be killed off (or so it was thought at the time) and to come back to life again. The death of the Westbury bypass in 2009 was a remarkable achievement but it is once again on the agenda and illustrates perfectly the ability of road schemes to remain intact no matter what the result of consultation and democratic decision making may determine. This is a serious matter for the environment, nature, heritage and habitat but also points to a huge democratic deficit and the ability of road schemes to survive changes of government changes of policy and hand-wringing sustainability rhetoric only to be reborn in yet another policy document until the road is actually built. Nothing is allowed to get in the way of road building.
The juxtaposition of glaringly weak justifications for a new road and the strong path dependency of that road proposal is truly staggering. It will be built. The glaringly weak justification is aided and abetted by truly defective methodologies. High up the list of defectives is cost-benefit analysis which is used to create vastly inflated benefits (very big numbers) on the back of never to be achieved job creation and time savings.
The deeply significant insights of Marchetti (2004) into the relationship between time and space and the consumption of distance are simply air-brushed out of the picture. Marchetti showed that even if we do produce time savings through new transport infrastructure projects (and this is often not the case thought it is promised) the result is that people consume the time savings as extra distance. They travel further to maintain the same 1.1 hour travel time per day so the whole crumbling edifice of time savings and monetised benefits is completely futile and serves to feed sprawl and longer distances between origins and destinations.
The futility of fuzzy numbers is much bigger than the time savings nonsense. Traffic forecasts are routinely inflated to provide what passes for evidence in favour of road building and to assist the objective of producing a big number in the time savings box. If several hundred thousand people can “save” 5 minutes on every trip every day and we bolt that onto a spurious methodology for valuing time we end up with a big number for the monetary benefits of the road and that is the objective. A decline in car use cannot be allowed to damage the case for a new road so this is also air-brushed out of the picture as it was in Lancaster. Thousands of jobs, in addition to any construction jobs, are proclaimed as a result of road building but road builders are very careful not to put these imaginary numbers to any kind of test 5 years after the road has been built.
Paul Mees was acutely aware of all these flaws but he also devoted a great deal of time and effort to point out how public transport could be organised in a much better way to create high quality alternatives to the car. His robust condemnation of useless road building was matched by his careful construction of alternatives and drawing the attention of decision takers to the massive sums of public money been thrown away on road schemes when these sums could be used to give us all a public transport system as good as Zurich, Vienna or many German cities.
The article by Imran and Stone is partly based on Paul’s work applied to the city of Auckland in New Zealand and shows that Paul’s ability to condemn stupidity and irrational transport planning was supported by very clear ideas about how we can switch paradigms and get it right. One day we will get it right and a truly excellent public transport system in Melbourne serving all its communities and obviating the need to own a car will be the real monument to his thoughtfulness and insights.
In much of Paul’s work and in all the articles on road schemes in this special issue there is a common theme. How can we explain the utter stupidity of road building in and around cities when we know they generate extra traffic, do not reduce congestion, add extra noise and air pollution and increase road traffic danger.
The final article in this collection (The insanity of normality) addresses this question and takes its title from a well-known Swiss psychotherapist, Arno Gruen. Gruen has written extensively on the “insanity of normality” where he points out how societies are able to develop a strong story line on any subject that is false, full of contradictions and riddled with flaws and claim it is “normal”. Those that oppose it or merely point out the inconsistencies are marginalised and isolated and categorised as “insane” (to use Gruen’s terminology). The article here applies Gruen’s concepts to road traffic danger and points out that the deaths of over 3000 people every day globally in the road traffic environment is an example of what Gruen means by “insane”. It should not be happening, we should be aiming to reduce deaths and serious injuries to zero, as is the case in Sweden, and yet the 3000 every day number does not elicit a strong public policy response. It can be reduced but we do not reduce it. We accept it.
It is very clear in the articles in this special issue on road building in Aberdeen, Lancaster, Westbury and Melbourne that the road building option has achieved the status of “normal” and those opposing it are either cranks or deviants who will not accept the huge increases in quality of life, freedom and movement brought about by the insertion of new roads into the urban environment. We know that road building does not solve the problems that it claims will be solved. We know that it is adding huge amounts of climate damaging carbon when we are repeatedly told we must reduce carbon and we know it bathes whole communities in noise and health damaging air pollution. Yet almost every local authority, regional authority, national government and entities like the European Union allocate billions of dollars, Euros or pounds to road building so who is sane and who is insane? This is exactly what Gruen was talking about when he coined the term “the insanity of normality”.
Paul was a truly splendid person and we all miss him terribly. We are at the same time enormously lucky. We have his books, his articles, and the video of his presentation on the East-West link a matter of days before his death (PTUA, 2014) and we have the example of inspired, robust, “tell it as it is” approach to a serious breakdown of human intelligence in a reputedly sane world. It isn’t a sane world and all we need do is read Paul’s work to be reminded of this and once reminded we can get on with the serious business of ditching the road building paradigm and replacing it with something calm, human scale, ecological, non-threatening, intelligent, enriching, health promoting, child-friendly, deficit-reducing and life affirming. Our task, inspired by Paul, is to create the new “normal”.
John Whitelegg, Editor
- Marchetti, C (1994) Anthropological invariants in travel behaviour, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 47, 75-88
- Mees, P (2000) A very public solution: transport in the dispersed city, Melbourne University Press
- Mees, P (2009) Transport for suburbia: beyond the automobile age, Routledge
- PTUA (2014) – http://www.ptua.org.au/2014/01/26/paul-mees-oam/
ABSTRACTS AND KEYWORDS
Neat, Plausible and Wrong: Melbourne’s East West Link
– By Anthony Morton
The state of Victoria, Australia, has long been a site of tension between an incumbent and powerful road lobby and a community increasingly desirous of non-car transport alternatives. Today there is no greater signifier of this than the East West Link, a proposed 18km motorway in Melbourne estimated to cost $16 billion. The project is unprecedented both in the haste with which it is being pushed through the planning and pre-construction stages, and the apparent determination of the State Government not to seek any kind of public mandate for the project at a State election. Yet the project has no conventional benefit-cost justification, does not serve a clearly defined demand in the context of Melbourne’s travel patterns and trends, and is likely to displace better-justified and more popular public transport projects for many years. Last year, it was the subject of Paul Mees’ final public addresses before his untimely death. This article examines the historical background to the East West Link, the arguments put forward for it, and the alternatives that have featured in the ensuing public debate.
Keywords: Motorways, Melbourne, Transport economics, Transport modelling, Agglomeration benefits, Cost-benefit analysis, Downs-Thompson paradox, predict and provide.
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Heysham M6 Link Road
– By David Gate
The Heysham M6 Link Road is a legacy scheme with a long history, the present version dating from 2004. After a long campaign against it by objectors, including two public inquiries and two legal challenges, it was approved in December 2013.
This article discusses how the promoter, Lancashire County Council, decided on a road solution before it had identified the problem it was intended to solve, refused to listen to objectors, including the Council (Lancaster) where the scheme is located, and ignored national issues such as the need to reduce emissions. The justification for the scheme was convincingly disproved during a nine year campaign: it will not relieve congestion, or bring jobs, or regenerate the area; and better, cheaper alternatives exist. The case was further undermined as traffic growth, journey time savings, BCR and new jobs forecasts all reduced significantly.
However, in spite of the convincing case against it, the scheme’s long life and the government’s obsession with infrastructure spending carried it through.
Keywords: Legacy scheme, congestion relief, new jobs, scheme costings, alternative measures.
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“Is this protester the most hated man in Scotland?”: A personal perspective on the legal fight against the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route
– By William Walton
On 1st December 2005 the Scottish Transport Minister announced the preferred route for a 46km long Aberdeen bypass in north-east Scotland. The route selected was significantly to the west of the previous preferred semi-circular ‘C’ shaped route and incorporated an 11.5km long spur to the south. A protest group called RoadSense , chaired by the author, was formed to oppose the scheme and campaign for more sustainable transport alternatives. The group challenged the route in a public inquiry, through complaints to the Scottish Parliament, the compliance committee of the UN Aarhus convention on access to environmental justice and the European Commission and through the Scottish and UK courts.
This paper chronicles the campaign, and explains why RoadSense challenged the project and why the courts refused to quash the Scottish Parliament’s decision to approve it. It also examines some of the practical difficulties which the group and the author experienced in gaining access to environmental justice and concludes that whilst some progress has been made in this direction it remains questionable whether Scotland (and hence the UK) is fully compliant with the spirit and the wording of the Aarhus convention.
Key words: Aberdeen bypass (AWPR), RoadSense, strategic environmental assessment (SEA), public consultation, environmental justice.
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The Curse of the Zombie Roads
– By Patrick Kinnersly
The paper sets out the history of road building along two transport corridors in South West England over the last two decades and seeks explanations for the revival of major highway schemes such as the A350 Westbury Bypass and the A36 Salisbury bypass. Thanks to massive efforts by environmental groups both schemes have been decisively rejected by the planning system and the government. Why have such ‘Zombie roads’ survived into the 21st Century when the environmental constraints on further increases in road traffic should rule them out of consideration?
These leftovers from the road-building boom of the 1990s rely on the transport mythologies of the era of ‘Roads for Growth’ being revived by the present government’s plan to spend £18bn on new roads. The myths have survived – traffic will never stop increasing; the government must predict the growth and provide for it; an absurd cost-benefit appraisal system based on journey time savings can still be relied on to show that even these rejected schemes from the 1990s will be good value for money today. Can such apparently suicidal irrationality be explained by the fears of governments and global corporations that congestion in local surface transport links might one day bring their entire global ‘Big transport’ network to a grinding halt?
Keywords: Consultation, climate change, cost-benefit analysis, globalisation, government policy, multi-modal study, railways, roads, Wiltshire.
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The Death of the Habitats Directive
– By Alan James
The European Habitats Directive was published in 1992, to provide a system of strict protection for sites and species of the highest conservation value at a European level. It was required to be transposed into law in every member state of the EU (EEC in 1992). It has been clarified and if anything reinforced by case law and additional guidance since 1992, but remains unchanged in 22 years. However, in Britain in recent years, following a few cases where the Habitats Directive prevented development from going ahead, it appears that scheme promoters increasingly pay lip service to compliance with the Directive but by and large do not follow due process in assessing projects against its requirements, in particular the criteria to be met for derogation from the prohibitions on damage or destruction of protected species and their resting places.
Local planning authorities and inquiry inspectors seem reluctant to hold developers to the letter of the strict protection that is at the heart of the Directive. Case law in Britain has delivered mixed outcomes, but the landmark ‘Morge’ case in the Supreme Court in 2010 acts as a precedent for cases involving protected species, establishing in particular that the views of statutory nature conservation authorities such as Natural England are paramount in planning decisions and in judgements where legal challenges are made. Yet Natural England is under-resourced to make proper assessments of all planning cases that trigger habitats Directive appraisals, and as a government-funded body is not regarded as impartial by most campaigners against development proposals: and ultimately is not infallible.
A further High Court challenge on the Heysham to M6 Link road, which threatened to destroy or damage the resting places of otters, failed in October 2013, and leave to appeal was refused with the dismissive lines that the case for non-compliance with the Habitats Directive was “technical and unmeritorious quibbling”. With these words, in the author’s view the Habitats Directive lost its effectiveness as a part of the legal framework for development in Britain. This is not to deny that after 22 years the Directive may well be in need of an overhaul: but its core principles and values, as a ‘line in the sand’ against deterioration and destruction of the most important European sites and species, are as valid and necessary as ever.
Keywords: Habitats Directive, road scheme, otters, bats, Article 16 derogation, courts, Morge, AWPR, Heysham to M6 Link
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Public transport network planning in Auckland, New Zealand
– By Muhammad Imran and John Stone
This paper explores the potential improvements to public transport patronage in Auckland, New Zealand that could be delivered by using the ‘network planning’ approach to public transport service design. Analysis of Auckland public transport services shows that a tailor-made approach has been adopted which is responsible for the low patronage levels. However, the city has an appropriate institutional structure and legislative framework which could support the redesign of public transport services to be simple, direct, higher frequency and make use of an integrated fare structure. Auckland land-use planning strategies provide a supportive context for network planning approach and should be used to develop a public engagement process for redesigning the public transport network. The paper concludes that Auckland has considerable potential to achieve higher public transport patronage by redesigning the network.
Keywords: public transport, network planning, Auckland
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The Insanity of Normality: Reconceptualising the Road Safety Debate
– By Gary Haq, John Whitelegg
Road safety debates have frequently identified the importance of having a system-wide approach to the urgent task of reducing death and injury. The system-wide approach is associated with the Swedish Vision Zero policy and its zero fatality target. This view has met with citizen support and professional resistance and this paper describes the result of focus group discussions and a survey of professionals to explore these differences. The paper seeks to explain different views and the persistence of death and injury rates in the road traffic environment using the “insanity of normality” thesis produced by the Swiss psycho-therapist, Gruen.
Keywords: System-design, Vision Zero, ethics, values, psychotherapy, insanity
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World Transport Policy & Practice: 1994 – 2014
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.
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About the editor:
Managing 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.
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Bio: Britton is an American political scientist and sustainability activist who has lived and worked in Paris since 1969. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest book, "BETTER CHOICES: Bringing Sustainable Transport to Your City" focuses on the subject of environment, equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions. A pre-publication edition of Better Choices is currently undergoing an international peer review during Sept.- Oct. 2017, with the goal of publication in English and Chinese editions by end-year. If you wish to participate drop a line to BetterChoices@ecoplan.org .