The Mobility Complex: John Whitelegg lights a fire.

Whitelegg book cover MobilityJohn Whitelegg, Professor John Whitelegg, is a remarkable man who has spent his entire professional life as a scholar, teacher, critic, publisher, activist and politician, trying to make sense out of our curious world and the contradictions of transport and mobility. And in a successful attempt to bring all the threads together, what he has learned about our topic in three decades of international work spanning all continents, he has just produced for our reading and instruction a remarkable and, I truly believe, much-needed book.  His title gives away the game – Mobility: Transport Planning Philosophy for a Sustainable Future.

John’s view of transport and mobility is conditioned by the fact that his point of departure is geography (his doctorate) and the uphill struggle to sustainable development and social justice (his professorship). And in the case of this latest book he digs deep beyond all that we can find in the crowded field of books, reports and articles about sustainable transport that will be published this year, in order to get into the guts of what it is really all about: the life philosophy behind it all. For if we have no philosophy we can have no vision. And if we have no vision, there is no way that we can shape and influence our future. 

A handful of things distinguish “Mobility” from the rest: It is much needed. It is timely. It is wise. It is readable. It challenges and makes your brain work. And for less than $10, you can have it in front of your eyes in a few short minutes (see below for ordering instructions). Yet one more thing that sets apart  this book, and indeed all his work from the rest, and  the author’s utter willingness to enter into armed intellectual combat to set out and defend his ideas and values. John’s work always brings to mind the wonderful words of the passionate Irish poet and politician, William Butler Yeats, who wrote a century ago that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  John lights the fire.

Mobility: A New Urban Design and Transport Planning Philosophy for a Sustainable Future

John Whitelegg, Stockholm Environment Institute

Author’s summary

We have experienced over 200 years growth in mobility measured by the distances we travel every day or every year, and this growth is fed by eye wateringly large subsidies, a persistent bias in politics and planning in favour of more distance and more speed and an astonishing lack of awareness of the huge negative consequences of the growth in mobility. To counter this enormous and costly fallacy, the book takes a detailed, forensic look at mobility and concludes that it is bad value for money, damages health and community life and consumes vast amounts of scarce public cash in the name of more and better infrastructure.

Every government and political party with the exception of the Greens, proclaims the benefits of more airport capacity, more roads and bypasses, more high speed rail and accepts the growth in mobility as good for happiness, wealth and quality of life. “Mobility” sets out a very different story. More mobility does not produce the good things in life and kills over 3000 people every day in road crashes, creates noise and air pollution that damage health, feeds the growth of greenhouse gases that make damaging climate change more likely and destroys healthy, active travel and community life in sociable neighbourhoods.

The time has come to bring an end to the mobility fetish, to replace far with near, to create livable and child friendly cities and to bring an end to the role of the car as a default option. The book shows why this must be done, how it can be done and sets out a policy process to get it done.

Contents:

Dedication
Introduction

  1. How mobile are we and how did we get here?
  2. Consequences
  3. Death and Injury
  4. Air Quality
  5. Fiscal Impacts
  6. Energy
  7. Climate Change
  8. Obesity
  9. Inequalities
  10. Community Disruption
  11. Freight
  12. Aviation
  13. China and India
  14. Conclusions

References

List of Figures and Tables

Acknowledgments

 

# # # 

Chapter 1: How mobile are we and how did we get here?

The mobility growth paradigm

Mobility is most commonly measured, if at all, as total distance travelled per annum per capita in kilometres and/or total distance travelled per day per capita. There are other important dimensions e.g. number of trips made per day or number of destinations that can be accessed by different modes of transport in a defined unit of time but these are not generally measured in a systematic way or included in data sets.

Usually mobility is not defined. It has become a rather vague concept associated with quality of life or progress and it is invoked as a “good thing” and something that should be increased. This is very clear in most national transport policies and at the European level where major transport policies and funding mechanisms are increasingly framed.

A recent EU research and development document (European Commission 2013a) begins with the main heading “Mobility for growth.” It does not define mobility.

The document is an undiluted manifesto accepting and promoting the growth of mobility and advocating the importance of this growth for the success of wider economic policy objectives, asserting the unquestioned importance of endless economic growth and ignoring the voluminous literature on the impossibility of endless economic growth and of ecological and resource limits to growth (Douthwaite, 1992, Schneidewind, 2014).

The European Commission document contains no recognition whatsoever of the well-developed sustainable transport discourse with its emphasis on traffic reduction, demand management, urban planning in favour of the “city of short distances” and modal shift from the car to walking, cycling and public transport or from the aircraft to electronic substitution e.g. videoconferencing. Similarly it airbrushes out of the picture the need to de-carbonise transport and link something called “mobility for growth” to the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector.

There is no suggestion that spatial planning has a role to play. We could, for example, plan for the tripling of rail capacity in the UK on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) or we could plan for a step change in the importance and functionality of Liverpool and Manchester so that we do not “need” to get on a train to London every time something important has to be discussed. In other words we can manage demand rather than feed a growth in demand through an increase in capacity and/or subsidy.

Traffic reduction and demand management have a great deal to offer to the world of economic success, which is not the same as growth, but those who write key policy statements in Brussels and those in London who urge Brussels to set the tone of the growth paradigm, do not intend to stray very far from the world of “mobility for growth.”

On aviation the document says that world air transport is growing by 4-5% pa and “we should therefore seize all opportunities associated with this growth.” The aviation discussion then proceeds to emphasise the importance of reducing travel time for flying and increasing air capacity, both of which will contribute to the growth in demand for air travel and together with huge subsidies for aviation will produce the self-fulfilling prophecy of growth in this dimension of mobility.

I return to the question of subsidy in Chapter 5 but it is pertinent at this point to draw attention to the huge subsidies that aviation receives and the role this has to play in generating higher levels of demand for flying. The annual subsidy to European aviation is 30 billion Euros (Cramer, 2014).

On rail and road transport there is the same uncritical acceptance of growth in demand with a nod towards the need to make all modes of transport cleaner, greener and smarter and reduce noise and air pollution. Interestingly there is no discussion about the costs of all this growth in transport demand and who will fund the public expenditure share. Current levels of subsidy to transport already exceed some estimates of Greek national debt at 270-290 billion Euros pa (European Environment Agency, 2007) and the message from Brussels is keep on spending because the growth in mobility is good.

The document even manages a section on reducing congestion without mentioning the scope for reducing the number of cars and trucks on the roads. This is a remarkable achievement. It does, however, mention the importance of walking, cycling and public transport with the insertion of an important condition:

“Exploring how a favourable environment can be created for a significant growth in public transport at limited extra costs” (page 37).

There is no use of the phrase “at limited extra costs” when the discussion deals with the billions of Euros needed to fund high speed rail estimated to be £50 billion on the Uk high speed rail project known as HS2 (House of Commons, 2015) or, indeed, additional airport capacity or new motorways.

The total research allocation funding in this European Commission document for “smart, green and integrated transport” and its unbridled support for growth in mobility is 579 million Euros in 2014 and 287 million Euros in 2015.

We are very clearly locked into a mobility growth paradigm with high level political and budgetary support and low level thinking about what it really means. What will the world look like if we all (and this includes the populations of Africa, India, China and South America) travel very far, very fast and very often for as many destinations and trip purposes as possible? This is the logical end point of a policy called “mobility for growth” but those advocating higher levels of mobility are most reluctant to flesh out the details of the world that will have been created.

Interestingly Schaefer (2005) has given us a clear picture of this end point. Schaefer makes a valuable contribution to the mobility debate by calculating the total per capita distance travelled at a future point in time based on a number of “givens.” The starting point is the travel time constant for the amount of time human beings will travel each day (approx. 1.1 hours) discussed in detail by Zahavi (1979) and Marchetti (1994). This is then linked to a generalized estimate of increases in speed of travel over a long time period. Schaefer then calculates that the logical end point for every person on the planet is that he or she will be travelling 262,800 kilometres per year. This is based on the equation:

  • 600 kph x 1.2 hours per day x 365 days per annum= 262,800 kilometres.

This calculation is shown graphically in Figure 1.1.Whitelegg book figure 1

Schaefer’s calculation is logically watertight and is supported by the rhetoric in “Mobility for Growth.” Those that support higher levels of mobility have a responsibility to be very clear about how far this growth can or should continue and the extent to which it is fuelled by subsidy and sloppy spatial planning. They are silent on all these points

# # #

How to obtain the book

Mobility was published today, 1st September 2015, by Amazon Press as a Kindle book. It  can be ordered by clicking to  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B013H0ZYU0  and following the simple step by step instructions. The cost, including delivery, is a healthy $ 9.84. A free app is available for your computer, tablet or smart phone for easy reading.

So once you have it in hand, get away from your desk, find your favorite armchair, pour yourself a glass of wine or tea, and start to spend some time challenging your thinking with Professor John Whitelegg.

# # #

Independent reviews and commentaries

* From the Road Danger Reduction Forum –   http://rdrf.org.uk/2015/08/14/book-review-mobility-by-john-whitelegg/

# # #

About the author:

john whitelegg

John Whitelegg is Visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and research associate with the global science policy organisation, the Stockholm Environment Institute.  He has written11 books on sustainable transport and related issues.  He has worked on sustainable transport projects in India, China, Australia, Germany, Sweden and Slovenia, and on the same subjects with the European Parliament and European Commission.  He is the technical author of the world’s first technical standard on reducing demand for private motorised transport, aspublished by the British Standards Institution.  He is a member of the International Advisory Board of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate and Energy in Germany and an invited contributor to seminars and training course on road safety at the World Health Organisation.  He is founding editor of the journal “World Transport Policy and Practice” which is now in its 21st year of publication.

# # #

Editor Postscriptum:

Dear Reader.

Of course if you have gotten this far you have already run your eyes over the following words.  But to bring today’s World Streets piece to an end, let us look once again at Whitelegg’s strong stand and elegant critical views on much of government policy in this important area of policy and practice. As you will immediately see, he has not set out to make friends in high places.  And if until now his totally justified critical views have been systematically ignored by bureaucrats in Brussels, London and in many national capitals, this is part of a groundswell that is feeding the underpinnings of deeper thinking about the issues. Here is John once again:

A recent EU research and development document (European Commission 2013a) begins with the main heading “Mobility for growth.” It does not define mobility.

The document is an undiluted manifesto accepting and promoting the growth of mobility and advocating the importance of this growth for the success of wider economic policy objectives, asserting the unquestioned importance of endless economic growth and ignoring the voluminous literature on the impossibility of endless economic growth and of ecological and resource limits to growth (Douthwaite, 1992, Schneidewind, 2014).

The European Commission document contains no recognition whatsoever of the well-developed sustainable transport discourse with its emphasis on traffic reduction, demand management, urban planning in favour of the “city of short distances” and modal shift from the car to walking, cycling and public transport or from the aircraft to electronic substitution e.g. videoconferencing. Similarly it airbrushes out of the picture the need to de-carbonise transport and link something called “mobility for growth” to the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector.

# # #

About the editor: 

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is a public entrepreneur specializing in the field of sustainability and social justice. 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 work focuses on the subject of equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions -- and in the process, find practical solutions to urgent climate, mobility, life quality and job creation issues. More at: http://wp.me/PsKUY-2p7

View complete profile

 

. . .

6 thoughts on “The Mobility Complex: John Whitelegg lights a fire.

  1. “Public Mobility” as a concept was developed in Virginia’s Northern Shenandoah Valley in the mid-1990’s. While the Virginia Department of Public Transportation was encouraging new local transit systems in counties, towns and small cities, this approach did not meet the disbursed needs of low density and scattered populations. Such an approach was taken to the State in a session of the Transportation Committee of the Virginia Association of Planning District Commissions in 2000 – Connecting the Commonwealth ~ Linking Public Mobility and Community Development to Achieve ~ Livable Neighborhoods … Connected Communities … Networked Regions. As of 2015, “Virginia … Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s mission is to improve the mobility of people and goods…” This change came from the hinterlands.

    Reply
  2. John Whitelegg responds to Tom Christoffel:

    A very interesting comment from Tom. As an unreformed 1960s Geographer I agree with testing any concept or measure against Geography but I do not accept that low density and scattered geographies support car use as the default option. I don’t think Tom is saying this but in the Uk most statements about low density and “rurality” are followed by policy commitments in favour of the car as a default option.

    This is why I prefer to say “OK, let’s look at rural Switzerland and see how they do it” and “let’s get a lot smarter with the way we plan health care and education and build in accessibility from the start” and “let’s look at car-sharing” and so on. We can construct a different kind of mobility that will deal with low density.

    John Whitelegg

    Reply
  3. Review by Dr Robert Davis. Road Danger Reduction Forum

    \- http://rdrf.org.uk/2015/08/14/book-review-mobility-by-john-whitelegg/

    “Mobility measured crudely in terms of how many kilometres we move around every day has nothing whatsoever to do with quality of life, rich human interaction, satisfaction, happiness and a detailed knowledge and familiarity with places and the things we chose to do in those places.”Our roles as transport professionals or campaigners are always related to the assumption – however unstated that assumption may be – that mobility is, in itself, inherently desirable. It is, like all background assumptions or cultural themes, so deeply seated that only careful analysis will suffice in assisting us in understanding what modern transport thinking is about. And when I say “transport thinking” I mean not just that of transport professionals (highway engineers, transport planners, road safety professionals, land use planners etc.). Indeed, the current assumptions we have about mobility are so wide reaching that they impact on just about every corner of modern life.

    This important and necessary book is exactly what we need to help put questions probing so many areas of modern society, as well as those immediately concerning transport professionals. Why, for example, has the cutting of the fuel tax accelerator (at massive cost to the exchequer) gone without opposition in parliament or any real public debate? If we are really supposed to be concerned about climate change, why has a level of motorisation in this country been accepted which, if universalised, would mean no prospect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions with any existing or likely technology? Do we really value local community? Are we able to even talk about all the various depredations of contemporary car culture?

    In modern society, actually questioning the sense of entitlement to largely unhindered car usage is highly unusual. Some of us have tried to do so. John Adams has used the concept of “hypermobility”. With Adams and Mayer Hillman, Whitelegg carried out the key work on the loss of children’s’ independent mobility over just a short period of modern time: “One False Move”. But this kind of questioning has had little impact on actual practice, particularly in the UK.

    Indeed, this questioning of assumptions – I find myself using that word again and again because it is the key one – is discouraged by those in the “Smarter Travel” movement and elsewhere as unhelpful. I disagree. Stating what is wrong with car culture and the worship of mobility is necessary. The public, as well as professionals, can benefit from being made aware of the numerous ramifications of contemporary transport and associated policies.

    Biting this bullet is exactly what Whitelegg does here: I would argue that the Introduction and first two short chapters of the book are a “must read” for all transport professionals. In fact, it should be required reading for first year students on not just transport related university courses, but social science courses as the implications are so widespread. This is easily recommended because of the books concise nature and low cost as an e-book.

    Of course, concision means the arguments against the villains of the piece (Air pollution; Death and injury on the roads; Energy consumption; Climate Change; Obesity and related health impacts; Community disruption; Equality and social justice; Fiscal burdens) each of which gets a chapter, are necessarily brief.

    I would also argue against danger being treated in terms of the end product of death and injury. Whitelegg is a fan of the “Vision Zero” approach. Some of us are deeply sceptical of this idea, simply because death and injuries can and have been reduced precisely because of the decline of walking and cycling along with most processes of motorisation. (Whitelegg acknowledges this, but I think that he is not fully aware of how the “casualty reduction” trope has worked against reducing danger on the roads.)

    Nevertheless, each chapter is worth reading, if only to provide a basis for further study. Above all, this book sets down an alternative framework for us. It is”…intended to promote the abandonment of the mobility paradigm and its replacement by something that maximises benefits to all sections of society locally and globally and minimises disbenefits. For convenience this is referred to as the accessibility paradigm.” A New Urban Design and Transport Planning Philosophy for a Sustainable Future: indeed.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Useful background reading: World Transport Policy & Practice. Vol. 21 No.4. Feb. 2016 | Sustainable Penang : Toward a New Mobility Agenda

  5. Pingback: El Complejo de la Movilidad: John Whitelegg enciende un fuego | SalvoLomas

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s