Say Good-bye to Old Mobility

green-car

“Old Mobility” – the world that most of us know best — with its drumbeat stress on steadily increasing supply, more vehicles, higher speeds, longer distances and more space-hogging infrastructure as the auto-pilot, unexamined answer to our urban mobility problems — has with very few exceptions been the favored path for decision-making and investment in the sector over the last 70 years.

It is well-known and easy to see where it is leading.  Aggressing the planet, costing us a bundle, draining the world’s petroleum reserves, and delivering poor service for the transport majority.  It’s time to learn from the best of the rest, the several hundred cities on our gasping planet, many of them in Europe, that are showing the way for the rest. None of  even the best are perfect. Each is struggling in its own way. But they are trying and that is what responsible governance and participatory democracy is all about.

The Old World of Old Mobility

carshare invis1ble parked carThe planet was enormous, the spaces great and open, energy abundant and cheap, resources endless. The “environment” was not a consideration. “Climate” was the weather. Technology driven by the unfettered principles of the market economy was going to come up with a constant stream of solutions, builders were able to solve the problems that arose from bottlenecks by endlessly expanding capacity at the trouble points, and fast growth and the thrill of continuing innovations masked much of what was not all that good.

These were the salad days of “Old Mobility”, the unquestioned dominant form of transportation policy, practice and thinking that took its full shape and momentum starting in the mid twentieth century, at a time when we all lived in a universe that was, or at least seemed to be, boundless and  free of constraints. It served many of us well in many ways at the time, albeit with numerous and notable exceptions, though we were blind to most of them most of the time. It was a very different world back them. But that world is gone.  Gone and it will never come back.

 * Old Mobility = Tries to fashion basically mechanical solutions to deal with what are in fact biological or organic problems.

Fifty things that went badly wrong with Old Mobility (And that still plague us today)

This is intended as a thinking exercise and as such may not be to the taste of all our readers. The idea behind it is to see if we can come up with a shared understanding of what these words mean in the context of unsustainable transport policies and practices in our cities. We need to change our way of looking at the issues for many reasons as suggested here

Old Mobility policy and practice  does not work well in the realities that constitute our present and very different  century. Slowly we have come  to understand that in many ways Old Mobility outcomes have proven to be highly . . .

  1. Destructive
  2. Inefficient
  3. Unfair
  4. Murderous
  5. Unhealthy
  6. Noisy
  7. Unnecessarily costly
  8. Massive public health menace
  9. Catastrophically polluting, to the extent that it more than
  10. Threatens the planet

In good part all this came about because  the policies behind them are . . .

  1. Anachronistic
  2. Indifferent to urban fabric
  3. Unneighborly
  4. Socially destructive
  5. Costly to the community (unnecessarily)
  6. Costly to individuals (unnecessarily)
  7. Resource promiscuity
  8. Dependence on costly imported fossil fuels (unnecessarily)
  9. Unimaginative
  10. Unquestioning

And too because the procedures behind them are basically . . .

  1. Authoritarian
  2. Hierarchical
  3. Top-down
  4. Centralized
  5. Statistics based (i.e., bound by the past)
  6. Inertial
  7. Extrapolative
  8. Bounded
  9. Reductive
  10. Based on essentially closed system thinking  (i.e., looking at “transport” in isolation from the rest)

Finally the processes suffer from being  . .

  1. Supply oriented
  2. Persistent sub-optimization (“operation was success but the patient died”)
  3. Binary: i.e., either “private” (i.e., car-based) or “public” transport (and nothing of importance in between)
  4. End-state solution oriented
  5. Oriented to maximizing vehicle throughput and speeds
  6. Focuses on bottlenecks impeding traffic flows (i.e., builds for increasing traffic)
  7. Attempts to anticipate them and build to forestall (Forecast and build)
  8. Searches for large projects to “solve” the problems (Big Bang projects)
  9. These large projects and the substantial amounts involved often lead to corruption and waste of public moneys
  10. Expert based (i.e., essentially excludes non-experts, non-specialists)
  11. Engineering-based (i.e., working “within the box”, albeit often with high technical competence)
  12. Hardware and build solutions, technology oriented.

In conclusion, the system that most cities are still working with are overwhelmingly. . .

  1. De facto and unquestioningly car-based
  2. Treats non-car solutions as (very!) poor cousins
  3. Offers poor service/economic package to elderly, handicapped, poor and young
  4. Sharp divide between planning, policy and operations
  5. Obscure (to the public) decision-making processes
  6. Too much separation from underlying land use realities.
  7. Inadequate attention to transportation substitutes or complements
  8. Increasingly technical and tool oriented (though this can very much be to the good if we get on the right side of the issues)
  9. Not doing the job that we need in 2014 and beyond!
  10. And finally and worst of all. . . this pattern of top down social and political organization creates a climate of passive citizenry and thus undermines participatory democracy and collective involvement and problem solving

 * Old Mobility and why it can’t work: Because it tries to fashion basically mechanical solutions to deal with what are in fact biological or organic problems.

What it all means

In short, dominate practices  in most places around the work in the sector today do not reflect the priorities and the reality neither of  our needs nor our potential in the 21st century, and above all in our cities which are increasingly poorly served by not only our present mobility arrangements, but also the thinking and values that underlie them. Our rural areas are likewise suffering and without a coherent game plan.

We now live in an entirely different kind of universe, and the constraints which were never felt before, or ignored, are now emerging as the fundamental building blocks for transportation policy and practice in this new century.

But this does not reflect the priorities and the reality of transport, our needs, and our potential in the 21st century, and above all in our cities which are increasingly poorly served by not only our present mobility arrangements; but also the thinking and values that underlie them. Our rural areas are likewise suffering and without a coherent game plan. We now live in an entirely different kind of universe, and the constraints which were never felt before, or ignored, are now emerging as the fundamental building blocks for transportation policy and practice in this new century.

It’s time for a change. And the change has to start with us. You see, we are the problem. But we can also be part of the solution. So off we go!

# # #

About the author:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as a development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist 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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