Op-Ed:“The automobile was never an appropriate technology for [cities]. As a form of mass transit for the world, it is a disaster.”


* Recommended reading for anyone who aspires to catch up quickly on what is going on in the evolution of thinking and practice concerning transport planning, policy and practice in cities in this very different 21st century.  New rules! Excerpts from Bruce McVean’s The New City lecture given on 11th February 2013 at Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture. Title to this piece borrowed from Taras Grescoe in Straphanger

Selected excerpts:

– – – > Full article available at https://goo.gl/kmJLKO

*The next city will include much that is new, but to succeed it cannot ignore what came before. Linking the past with the present, and seeing the old anew, has always been part of our improvised urban condition.” It’s easy to fall under the spell of new technology or twiddle our thumbs while we wait for a technological silver bullet like self-driving cars to solve our problems, but much of what is required to establish a sustainable urban transport system and move cities away from car dependency has been around for a long time.

*All of the above ideas and initiatives (and the rest that there hasn’t been time to mention), must be brought together in an integrated sustainable transport strategy. Too often transport policy leaps from project to project, many of them capital intensive big infrastructure projects, without being informed by a coherent vision of how a city’s transport system should serve the city into the future.

* Technology may soon address the problems of the internal combustion engine and the contribution that car travel makes to carbon emissions and air pollution; but technology alone can’t solve the myriad of other negative impacts of car dependency that are neatly summarised in the diagram below from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s report The Urban Environment. Tackling carbon emissions and air pollution is an essential task, but it’s not the only task – the big villain isn’t the internal combustion engine, it’s the car. As Taras Grescoe argues in Straphanger, “The automobile was never an appropriate technology for [cities]. As a form of mass transit for the world, it is a disaster.”

Part of the reason it is a disaster is that there is an inherent unfairness built into a car dominated transport system. This is an issue that I feel gets too little debate and I would urge everyone to read the Sustainable Development Commission’s excellent report Fairness in a Car-Dependent Society. The chart below, taken from the report, highlights how the better off travel the most. As the report notes, the widespread availability and affordability of car travel has brought many benefits, but these have been obtained at a substantial price, and one that falls most heavily on the poorest and most vulnerable in society, i.e. the ones that travel, and therefore benefit, the least.

car-spiral* We must move as quickly as possible towards achieving the ultimate goal – a liveable city that is served by a resilient transport network. A network that will help the city respond to the challenges of climate change and peak cheap oil while improving quality of life and reducing inequalities. To paraphrase that great observer of city life William H Whyte, urban transport systems must help cities assert themselves as good places to live.

– – – > Original article available at https://goo.gl/kmJLKO

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About Movement for Liveable London and the author:

Movement for Liveable London aims to broaden the debate about how changing the way we travel and design our public realm can help create a more liveable city. The hope is that we can play a part in engaging and inspiring ‘citizen champions’ who will demand that campaigners, policy makers and politicians be more ambitious in their approach to sustainable movement and the design and management of London’s public realm, helping to secure a better future for London.

bruce-mcveanMovement for Liveable London was founded by Bruce McVean in 2011, with help from Lucy Saunders, Mark Ames and Joe Dunckley. Bruce is Integrated Design Manager at Beyond Greenand a Trustee of Living Streets. He was previously Senior Policy Advisor at the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) and was a member of the Programme Development Group for the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidance on physical activity and the built environment.

* More at https://movementforliveablelondon.com/about/


Editor’s recommendation to Penang.

penang-modal-share* Put that above and highly useful MindMap chart at the core of your revised Strategic Transportation Strategy and the immediate next step in the overall process of creating a solid, informed base for planning, policy and decisions in Penang.

Bring external costs into the accounting framework and create a hard-nosed strategic plan for reducing the modal share of cars (SOVs) to less than 20% in the next five years.  Drastic, yes!  Hard to do, yes indeed!  Necessary, absolutely!  Can you do it?  Yes, you can!

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About the editor:

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.)

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2 thoughts on “Op-Ed:“The automobile was never an appropriate technology for [cities]. As a form of mass transit for the world, it is a disaster.”

    And also for villages or the countryside as the West calls it.

    ERIC BRITTON Thanks Chandra. Is this because increased car use, which provides mobility for some, but not for all, has the impact of “emptying out” villages and even smaller towns of their historic commercial and service functions? Thus depleting the countryside? Is that what you have in mind here? If so, how can I work this into the very useful Mind map diagram?

    Precisely, as you so well articulate. This is coupled with fiat money capitalism which shifts the locus of influence over the resources from the villages and the natural production sites to the cities thru’ the highly manipulated, biased and prejudiced banking system to bleed the people of villages and small towns of their produce and deplete their resources and thus forcing them into slavery or salary, which is nothing but disguised slavery.

    ERIC BRITTON Wow. Post-Marxist in-your-face language. But hey, I am an economist. An atheist economist at that, meaning that I make a huge attempt to stick to the issues.

    So what is my reaction to this “strong” language? Accurate from delicately chosen word to delicately chosen word. Let’s pick out his last phrase as just one example of this non-partisan lucidity. Suppose I as a non Marxist were to say “the grinding reality of the working poor”. In my book it really means pretty much the same thing, but it may be less offensive to delicate spirits. But the truth is there, staring us stupidly in the face.

    The automobile is the BEST invention for personal FREEDOM ever . The problem for GOVERNMENTS is that people don’t need them . Every GOVERNMENT wants POWER . POWER controls means less PERSONAL FREEDOM. . Get rid of GOVERNMENTS if you want to see innovation in transportation

    ERIC BRITTON Thank you Carroll: The voice of REASON. And thank you too Ayn Rand.

  2. I’d say that mass motoring is the biggest disaster to hit the world since Hitler and Stalin, and when I encountered an estimated figure of 60m for the total car kill — I haven’t been able to remember the source nor whether it includes things like deaths due to air pollution — I wonder whether we could go back further, perhaps to the post WW I flu epidemic. And if cars turn out to be a major contributor to catastrophic climate change then we ain’t seen nothing yet.


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