Editorial: World Transport Policy and Practice. Vol. 21, No.2

Little girl in trafficThis issue of World Transport Policy and Practice marks the migration of the journal and its associated web site to a new location.  The new web site address is: http://worldtransportjournal.com

The new site will also contain information from our US partners, Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities Research & Policy Institute and occasional announcements about new books and resources that will assist the global community seeking to accelerate the transition to a genuinely sustainable transport future.  This transition is now more urgently needed than ever and future issues of the journal will try very hard to communicate the urgency and practicality of this transition to those who make the decisions.

It is now abundantly clear that a world locked into non-sustainable transport (the current paradigm) is unaffordable in cash terms, unethical and directly contrary to public health and climate change policy objectives.    Recent developments in the UK with over £15 billion allocated to new road building projects, £16 billion to “Crossrail”, a major London east-west rail project and up to £70 billion for HS2 and HS3 (high speed rail projects) make the very eloquent point that moving large numbers of people around very fast and over very long distances is expensive and unaffordable and ultimately self-defeating.  The ethics of transport policy globally are seriously faulty with over 3000 people dying on the roads every day and millions suffering death and disease as a result of air pollution.

The journal will continue to point out the detail of what  can be done  to “right the wrong” of non-sustainable transport and shift the whole trajectory of spending, policy and priorities in an ethical and sustainable direction but this this will need a much bigger effort on our part to communicate the importance of the three zeros.  Unless and until we achieve zero deaths and serious injuries in the road traffic environment, zero carbon and zero air pollution, we will not solve the problem.  The whole superstructure and dialogue around electric vehicles, driverless vehicles, high speed rail, new roads and airport expansion is wrong-headed and has to be replaced by the three zeros.

We have already shown how zero carbon land transport can be achieved (Vallack et al, 2014).  We have shown how the Swedish Vision Zero road safety policy can be generalised and widely implemented (Haq and Whitelegg, 2014) and we have shown through numerous articles on walking and cycling how it is possible to remove a substantial proportion of health damaging air pollution from our cities by prioritising accessibility and human powered mobility.

We have not yet shown how it is possible to change mind-sets and overthrow paradigms and we invite as many authors, politicians, decision-takers and social innovators to submit ideas and assessments of how we could go about releasing the virtuous virus of social change.

“Urbanism and Transport.  Building blocks for Architects and City and Transport Planners”

We are aware of two things that have significant potential to bring about a paradigm shift.  The first is the new English translation of a book originally published in German by Helmut Holzapfel.  The English translation is “Urbanism and Transport.  Building blocks for Architects and City and Transport Planners” and it is published   by Routledge in 2015 (ISBN 978-1-138-79818-2).  In this book Holzapfel ranges over a huge landscape of history, geography, politics, architecture, transport planning and sociology to point out that a city can function very well indeed with many positive benefits at much lower levels of traffic and traffic speed and with much more social life centred on the street.  He says on page 98 “a new beginning must be made with the street”.  He shows how people-centred geometries can deliver 30% less automobiles and requires “no limitations, artificial measures or reconstruction of streets”.  Speed reduction and pedestrian friendly measures are “fully sufficient to achieve this effect”.

Holzapfel links all this to greater equality, the lack of importance of the longer distance trip and the over-riding importance of the locality where people actually live.  He argues for the end of “chopping up cities with expressway systems and bypasses”.  This is a remarkable contribution to a debate that is often technocratic and dominated by traffic engineers and Holzapfel very successfully shows that a much better city is on offer;  it is cheaper to run, more equal and more diverse with more social interaction and we can rediscover this spirit and purpose if we focus on the street.  He says:

“The city must make it possible for all its participants and inhabitants to actively take part and exchange with one another.  This also means that special privileges, the exclusion of certain persons or groups, or the payment of fees for the use of public spaces are not effective measures; rather they are precisely the opposite, producing only an appearance of urbanity”.

Holzapfel’s insights will surprise and alarm some readers but this is an intrinsic part of paradigm shift.  He argues that growth figures for increased use of public transport “can therefore not be viewed entirely positively”.  If the volume of public transport trips is only increasing because people cannot organise their daily lives without travelling more, this is not a favourable development”.  This is correct and links strongly to the enormous costs associated with rail projects, metro schemes and tram routes that are not organised around locally intensive interactions.

Holzapfel describes the “French Quarter” in Tübingen as a very good example of how cities can function effectively for the benefit of everyone.  Only 10% of the trips from home are by car, 47% are by bike, 31% on foot and 13% by bus.  This is a desirable place to live and it is not alone.  In the pages of this journal we have frequently carried material on Freiburg-im-Breisgau, also in Germany, and its overwhelmingly attractive urban character as a place that attracts people and rewards those who already live there.

Holzapfel shows that a paradigm shift is possible, desirable and has already started and that is a hugely helpful contribution to the task of accelerating a more general system change.  His final sentence is worth repeating as many times as possible in as many decision-taking fora as possible:

“Each new pedestrian crossing a street, each tree growing where a car was once parked, each place where children can once again play safely on a city street is important- more important to be sure than any new air connection from New York to Rome or elsewhere”


Vision Zero in the UK

Holzapfel’s insights and messages are clear, direct and linked to things we can do to improve urban living way beyond the technocratic imagination.  This now needs to be linked to a broadly based, social movement to deliver the Swedish Vison Zero road safety policy.  It is an abomination that the world largely accepts over 3000 dead citizens every day because of some perverse relationship between metal, mass, speed, energy and the ability of human beings to cope with massive force.  We should accept nothing less than an absolute commitment to zero deaths and zero serious injuries in the road traffic environment and do everything possible to “get there” even if “getting there” appears difficult or “unrealistic”.

A new national campaign group has been launched in the UK to bring about widespread acceptance of Vision Zero.  It is new and still formulating its strategy but it exists and it will link with cities, communities, interest groups and others to inject a strong ethical dimension into the jaded world of road safety. A zero death world reinforces Holzapfel’s vision of a kind of new urbanism and feeds intensive social interaction and Tübingen levels of modal split and engages with a wider public.  Vision Zero has instinctive appeal to ordinary citizens going about an ordinary life in a city.   Citizens can get behind the Vision Zero concept and put pressure on decision takers at the same time as professionals get behind the new urbanism described by Holzapfel and a twin track approach to transformation is always better than a one track approach.

A wider and deeper commitment to paradigm shift and social change requires the intellectual power and simplicity of the Holzapfel analysis linked to a wider engagement with citizens and the ways citizens can shape a desirable future.  Vision Zero is far more than a newish road safety intervention.  It is a totally different approach to the world in which we all live and one that can be grasped immediately by both genders and all age groups.  Given a choice between a world with a high risk of death and injury and an unpleasant pedestrian environment on the one hand and a world organised around Vision Zero how many citizens will opt for the dirty, dangerous, unpleasant option?

The UK Vision Zero campaign welcomes questions, comments and expressions of support and these can be sent to:  johnwhitelegg@phonecoop.coop


 Volume 21, No. 2 in brief

This issue of the journal returns to some familiar themes all of which require constant reinforcement to produce an overwhelmingly strong evidence base in favour of the alternative paradigm we are advocating.

Dennis and Pullen draw attention to an important subject we have touched on in previous issues which is the strong link between transport, health and accessibility especially for emergency medical care in Africa South of the Sahara (SSA).  Gao, Kenworthy and Newman deal with the Chinese car manufacturing industry, Honorato on a human rights approach to road safety and Julia King and her colleagues focus on disability and road safety in developing countries.    Finally Melia deals with some under-researched issues around methodology, smarter choices and modal shift.

All 5 articles make significant contributions to the urgently needed transformation of transport policy and spending so that it can become fully ethical and sustainable.  The focus on road safety as a human rights issue takes accepted norms to task and explores the legal and ethical framework within which death and injury in the traffic environment should be located.  The emphasis on health care in SSA and disability in developing countries very clearly demonstrate that transport is a much bigger subject that delivers or does not deliver high quality ethical standards in the way people live and do not cope with the many disbenefits of traditional transport policy.

The Gao article on China gives a much fuller picture than hitherto available on the ways in which car manufacturing has come to dominate a wide range of economic, social and environmental policy areas in that country.  There are also signs of a more balanced approach to controlling car ownership and use in that country and these reveal lessons for European and North America.

Melia tackles a methodological problem that is of much wider relevance than sustainable transport.  We have covered smarter choices and modal change in other issues of this journal but Melia’s insights give us a strong methodological framework for intervening in these areas in the future.

John Whitelegg




Haq, G and Whitelegg, J (2014).  The Insanity of Normality: Reconceptualising the Road Safety Debate, World Transport Policy and Practice, Volume 20.2 and 20.3

Vallack et al (2014) .  Policy pathways towards achieving a zero carbon transport sector in the UK in 2050, World Transport Policy and Practice, Volume 20.4

# # #

About the author:

 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.

# # #

About the editor (World Streets): 

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 | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: climate@newmobility.org) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

View complete profile





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s