Politicians and engineers are wrong about widening the roads.

politicians-and-engineers-are-wrong

Dr. Pojani in her lecture at Penang Heritage  of Friday entitled “Urban Transport Crisis in Small and Medium Size Developing Cities and the Effectiveness of Countermeasures” — at one point advises us to FOLLOW THE MONEY.  Now that’s an interesting comment and really makes me wish I had been with you. Here’s an example of how I interpret this counsel from my perspective as a strategic planner.

Thanks to Andrew we have a YouTube recording of the Dr. Pojani lecture – at https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10155333414145550&id=756525549 . Hopefully her presentation slides will be available shortly for all those of us who were not in Penang that day.

The hard truth in the above graphic is that politicians and engineers traditionally have  had trouble accepting this strategic approach – precisely because they are trained to look at something else. It’s simply a matter of long-standing professional deformation (if that is English). It does not have to be that way, but in order to get around the corner on this particular problem, both the politicians and their engineers need to look at the issues and choices from the OVERALL strategic situation — which is quite different from the one they are accustomed to seeing.

Follow the money

But now on to Dr. Pojani’s point with her “follow the money” comment. In this case those actors who have direct financial interests in actually building more roads – without taking the external costs or impacts of the following acts into full account. Who are these players?

*- Well of course it includes any company whose business it is to build roads, tunnel and bridges to accommodate all those additional cars. (Nothing surprising about that.)

*-Likewise, property developers and construction firms eager to open up new and more distant territories for residential and commercial developments linked by highways and cars. (Cheap land. Long drives, of which cost is borne by the car owner and the state. Thus, win-win for them.

*-And of course the automotive and petrol industry and associated lobbies and suppliers.

*- Then from top to bottom on this list there are their respective financial partners.

The point is this: this makes a formidable and powerful coalition of interests and lobbies for more, wider and faster roads.

But keep in mind

It is not that there is anything wrong in their pursuing their own interests. To the contrary, these groups are pillars of the market economy and necessary to our well-being in this complex and fast-changing 21st century.

The business of business is business. And the business of government is governance. And it is the job of good governance to ensure that the public interest does not suffer as a result of their activity and profits. And that is where civil society comes in (if you’re lucky).

Which means of course that we — and they — have plenty of work ahead.

Want to see more on this? Take a minute to check out the following World Streets article: “Whoops! How Planners and Engineers Badly Overestimate Car Traffic” at http://wp.me/psKUY-3Qr.

Traffic congestion is a notorious external cost of driving, such as in São Paulo

Traffic congestion is a notorious external cost of driving, such as here in São Paulo

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About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as a development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and international 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: The Politics of Transport - https://worldstreets.wordpress.com . | Britton online: https://goo.gl/9CJXTh

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3 thoughts on “Politicians and engineers are wrong about widening the roads.

  1. From Rick Rybeck

    First, congestion is a symptom of success. Communities with closed-up factories and boarded-up stores don’t have a congestion problem. Second, if your community has a vibrant economy with people working, shopping, learning, playing, etc., there will be some congestion. In such cases, congestion cannot be eliminated. But it can be managed it so that it does not unduly impede the activities that make your community successful.

    One key tool for managing congestion is to encourage more compact urban development. This reduces trip distances and facilitates walking, cycling, carpooling and transit — which consume less public space and thereby reduce congestion. Unfortunately, land speculation drives up urban land prices and pushes development to cheaper, but more remote sites.

    An effective remedy to land speculation is property tax reform whereby the tax rate on privately-created building values is reduced and the tax rate on publicly-created land values is increased. The lower tax on buildings makes them cheaper to construct, improve and maintain. This is good for residents and businesses. Surprisingly, the higher tax on land, by reducing the profit from land speculation, reduces the speculative demand for land and helps keep land prices more affordable. Thus, without any new expenditures or loss of revenues, communities can reduce the price of housing, commercial space and urban land. This reform encourages infill development and reduces pressures on outlying areas for premature urbanization.

    For more information, see “Funding Infrastructure to Rebuild Equitable, Green Prosperity” at http://revitalizationnews.com/…/funding-infrastructure…/

    Reply
  2. From Rowan Goodefellow DeBonaire

    We’ve known for decades that increasing road capacity just brings more cars. It’s about the money. The profits at peoples expense

    Reply

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