Sustainable Mobility’s Bitter Pill (And why most politicians do not want to swallow it)

An even dozen hard facts that politicians, administrators and engineers in most cities around the world are finding it very hard to accept – but without which they will never be able to lead the transition to sustainable mobility and a sustainable city.

1. QUESTIONS: You think you know what the answers are to your sustainable transport-related problems. But the odds are that you do not. In fact, it is more than likely that you do not even know what are the questions that need to be asked. (And that is the most important of all. Finding and struggling with the right questions that a least open the way to the right answers.)

2.YOUR MIND: You are going to have to change your mind, your way of thinking about all aspects of these issues. (The hardest step of all, because it requires that you first accept that your old ways of thinking and doing things are not going to get the job done.)

3. NOW: If you are to be a responsible leader, you cannot afford to put these fundamental transformative decisions and actions off to some later date. The Problems are there and getting worse every day. So the time to start is now.

4. WORK: You and your team are going to have to work very hard to master this new, unfamiliar and extremely demanding course of governance. This may prove uncomfortable but it is vital.

5. LISTEN: You are going to have to listen to and learn from concerned citizens, NGOs and others who may disagree with your established older traditions and ways of thinking. Listen carefully, invite them on board, let them change your mind, and turn them into part of the solution.

6. PACKAGES OF MEASURES: You going to have to forget your dreams about high profile, big-price, Big-Bang hardware or technology “solutions” — and concentrate instead on carefully crafted, complex, heavily interactive packages of relatively low cost near term measures which you must continually fine tune as you learn from experience.

7. CARS: There are going to be a lot less of them in your city but they will not disappear. However, they will take on very different and much needed new roles. The knowledge, the examples, the tools and the proofs are there to help you achieve this transition. Create a climate of change for your city. Participatory change.

8. ECONOMICS: You are going to have to make imaginative use of economic instruments (ex. road and parking pricing, user incentives) – to achieve your objectives. (These risk to be extremely unpopular with certain groups until they have proven their effectiveness, but they are overall among the most powerful proven instruments for change.)

9. UNPOPULAR: You are going to have to accept that elements of this transition are going to be wildly unpopular at times and put strong pressure on you — at least until the contested measures and approaches start to show positive results.

10. PATRIARCHY: You are going to have to accept that much of the fundamental weakness of the traditional decision structure in the sector is that it is almost entirely dominated by males (who are themselves incidentally and in almost all cases are car owner/drivers). To counter this, you need to expand the planning and decision mechanisms to ensure . . .

11. FULL GENDER PARITY at all levels of the planning, decision and leadership chain. (This may well be among your most difficult and unwelcome challenges. But really, if you want to succeed you have no choice.)

12. YOUR EXAMPLE: You, Mrs. or Mr. Mayor, and your team must be among the first to show the way, to set the honest example for others. You and your family and your staff. Consistently and not just smiling before a throng of photographers on a Car Free Day or some other rare occasion. The voters need to see their elected officials and government teams in the bus, on a bike, walking to nearby appointments, and otherwise simply showing the way by their modest example. Otherwise it is going to be just one more tired example of PAU (Politics As Usual.) And so it goes.

That’s it. If you can ask the questions, handle these issues and make the much needed changes for your city you can be sure you will win every election you will face as long as you care to run for office. Leadership! It’s the difference between survival politics and wise governance.

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About the author:

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 | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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