Awareness of the environmental, economic, equity and efficiency limitations of the old car-dominated transportation paradigm traces back to the early 1970s and has been extensively documented in the international literature. But the old ideas, the old almost auto-pilot notions as to what works and what doesn’t die hard. It is thus necessary that from the perspective of planning and public policy that we keep a sharp eye on all of these old bad habits, from the beginning of the investigatory, preparatory, analytic and planning process.
With this in view here is a first shortlist of well-known transport-related traps which your city really does not need to fall into. If your strategic transport plan and actual performance, respect the first handful of these criteria. You can be confident that you’re well on the right path.
A WORST PRACTICE in the field of urban transport is a method or technique that is generally understood by the international peer community as notably inferior to any alternatives because it produces results in terms of long term environmental, economic equity and life quality impacts that are demonstrably inferior to those achieved by other means.
Strategic errors to avoid at all costs:
- PARKING: Any new project or ordinance that will Increase parking supply in the city constitutes a major and abundantly documented strategic error. To the contrary the city’s strategic transport/land use plan should set, meet and post rigorous targets to reduce parking supply. Planners and policymakers need to take into consideration that such reductions run directly counter to transportation policy over the last half-century, and thus need to be carefully framed and explained to the public who will almost certainly try to resist any such efforts unless they are seen as part of a larger, positive (Better Choices) ongoing cultural change.
- INFRASTRUCTURE: Anything that will increase road traffic capacity (VKT, VMT) through major infrastructure or technology investments needs to be firmly resisted and successfully communicated to a broad public that will have some difficulty in understanding why the old “solutions” do not work in this new century. Again, it needs to be borne in mind that the critical global target of a sustainable transportation program is to reduce, not increase road traffic and specifically as measured by vehicle kilometers/miles traveled. The target; Fewer vehicles, reduced traffic and better mobility for all
- WINDOW-DRESSING ROAD SAFETY PROGRAMS: The only criterion for a successful road safety program lies in the reduction of traffic-related fatalities and injuries. These need to be publicly announced, visibly supported, rigorously enforced with specific reduction targets that are at all times available to the public, the media and concern, NGOs and researchers to compare actual performance with promises and targets.
- INVESTMENT: Any public investment program that allocates more than 30% of the total transportation budget in support of cars needs to be critically re-examined by qualified experts in order to determine how the overall public investment can be more effectively utilize for meeting the important objectives of the program.
- SPINELESSNESS: The systematic inability or unwillingness of public authorities and many politicians to ensure that existing legislation supporting sustainable transport is not fully supplied and enforced, just because it is not popular with a specific group.
Popular Technology Howlers:
BIG BANG SOLUTIONS: Any proposed Big Bang (cosmology aside of course), publicly financed infrastructure, technology or service concept that has not proven itself in day to day operation in two or more cities over period of at least five years should be vetted by a qualified international expert panel, independent of both the proposing agency and the eventual suppliers, operators or contractors or such projects. A Big Bang approach inevitably simplifies the overall transport /environment challenge, proposing that a single or a small number of costly investment initiatives will solve the complex systems projects which are at the heart of the problem and the analysis. Big Bang projects are often a popular with politicians and of course the principal suppliers and beneficiaries (who inevitably are not the general public.
PEDESTRIAN BRIDGES: This is something you never, ever want to have in your city. Also known as footbridges, , pedestrian overpasses, or pedestrian overcrossings, and yet others, examples abound in many parts of the world. They pass no tests of transport efficiency, sustainability, environment, equity or social justice. (This example comes from China: Guangzhou City pedestrian flyover.) Because they are so very bad at doing their purported job (i.e. protecting and providing a safe, comfortable and efficient walkable environment for people on foot (or cycle, or wheel chairs or for the elderly, encumbered, simply tired, etc., and because they so often fascinate architects, engineers and politicians who fail to examine their impact in the context of a well working out global sustainable transport strategy.
MONORAILS (in urban settings). One more Big Bang project. Let me be very clear as to my motives here just so there is no ambiguity on my position. I would like no less than to drive a sharp stake through the dark heart of this egregiously unsustainable transport concept once and for all, so that we can concentrate our limited resources on approaches that are capable of doing the job and meeting the sustainability challenge head on. Which is exactly not the case with monorails. Let’s have a look. In the world of transport, sustainable and otherwise, there are some bad ideas that die hard, no matter how absurd. One of the more resistant of these is monorails. Once again, we are starting to hear the drum beat of monorails being touted as a “genuine, bona fide, electrified” solution to the problems of transport in our cities. For example, just the other day it was announced in the press that Mumbai was about to receive the first prototype vehicle for a new monorail project in fairly advanced planning and testing stages. Oops. Let’s see if we can put this one to rest.
* More on monorails: Do monorail projects deserve fair treatment? Part I :
PRT: Proposals for Dubai-style PRT systems have been around for more than five decades – but have no place in strategic sustainable transport planning and policy in the remaining years of this decade.
ELEVATED RAIL systems in built up urban areas with a social context. Out!
SELF DRIVING CARS: These may be mentioned in a strategic implementation plan aimed at achieving results in the next 5 to 10 years, but deserve no more than a watching eye at this early point in the on-going sustainable transportation revolution.
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For more on Worst Practices
There is every reason for the planning and policy community to be vigilant about understanding the lessons of worst practices and why they are so poorly meshed with the requirements of 21st century cities.
*From World Streets – https://worldstreets.wordpress.com/tag/worst-practices/
* From Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/worstpractices/
The Worst Practices Department has its place in World Streets and the world more generally because when it comes to transportation there has never been a shortage of flakey ideas. But what we are looking to draw attention to here are not just the little stuff that may be the joy of an intrepid inventor with blinders on or group of gung-ho supporters, but the kinds of big-budget wrong-headed mega projects that often keep popping up in many parts of the world, sold hard by their sponsors and (if I may) fellow travelers
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About the author:
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France
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 .