Say good-bye to Old Mobility
Plan Zero – also known as “old mobility” or “no plan in sight” – with its stress on more supply, more vehicles and more infrastructure as the knee-jerk answer to all our mobility problems — has been the favored path for conceptualizing, 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 majority . . . Plan Zero is a clear failure. It’s time for directive, coherent, effective action without waiting around for reprieve or good news from some evasive short term fix of distant technology promise. It is time to move to a New Mobility Agenda and fifteen pragmatic, affordable, near term steps to sustainable transport, sustainable cities and sustainable lives.
– Eric Britton, Founding editor, World Streets, Paris. 31 March 2009
Fifteen Step Conversion Strategy
Each of these necessary strategic steps is developed in further detail below, but let us open this section by simply listing them by way of introduction.
1. Climate emergency leading the way (Read on):
2. Tighten timetable for action:
3. Reduce traffic radically:
4. Radically increase new mobility services:
5. Design for women:
6. Work with what you have:
7. Frugal economics:
8. Packages of measures:
9. Integrate the car into the new mobility pattern:
10. Full speed ahead with new technology:
11. Technology agnostics:
12. The “infrastructure joker”:
13. Outreach and Partnerships:
14. Lead by Example:
15. But above all . . . pick winners!
The on-going climate emergency sets the base timetable for action in our sector.
And again as you will see, it is not a matter of selecting one or several of them, but the successful strategy is going to have to include every one of them. No exceptions. (Hmm. Sounds like hard work.)
Note: The following involved complex, fundamental issues each of which require considerably more than a short paragraph or two of summary introductory statement of the sort that follows directly here. The immediate objective is to put before you, if only briefly at this point, a first-round of the basic information concerning what makes World Streets the New Mobility Agenda tick. But have patience: each of these will be the subject of numerous articles, presentations, comments, and arguments as this collaborative project moves ahead. Naturally, we invite your comments and suggestions from the outset, which you can do either here at the end of this article or by writing the editor at email@example.com.
The role of the car in the city (it’s not about to go away)
Fact: Our cities today have plenty of cars and very very large numbers of people and institutions who depend on them. They are not going to disappear from the street overnight, and we must never lose sight of their high importance to both the individuals concerned and the economic, and yes, the transport viability of our cities.
Precondition: Thus the challenge before policy makers and transportation professionals now at a time when change is so badly needed is that of redefining the role of the car so that it has a more appropriate fit with the overall texture and priorities of our 21st century cities. The indisputable fact is that if our cities are to be sustainable, one of the necessary conditions of their sustainability will be that they are home to many fewer cars. How to manage the transition when our dependence on private cars is still so very strong? We can be sure that it will not be the result of brutal confrontation. That would be a battle lost, at least in the short-term which is the field on which these issues now need to be engaged.
Bottom line: Yes, we need to reduce significantly the number of cars in and moving around in and through our cities. Yes, in order to achieve this we are going to have to provide a broad range of attractive mobility alternatives which are seen by those who use them as better than the old arrangements. And finally yes, we are going to have to provide a “soft path” for car owner/drivers to move over to these alternative transportation arrangements. The soft path in a pluralistic democracy requires that the decisions are made by individuals in what they consider to be their own interest. As part of this we also have to build into our strategy in understanding that a certain amount of time is required for us human beings, change-averse as we are, to alter our daily mobility choices. (But this time, depending on the individual case, is a matter in most cases of months or at most a couple of years, not decades as often is said to be the case.)
That is the underlying strategy of the New Mobility Agenda, now let us go on to look at the broader strategic frame.
The New Mobility Agenda in brief
World Streets is not exactly what one would call a neutral source. We have a very definite position on transport policy, planning and investment, the result of long experience of working with and observing the sector in its daily operation in cities around the world. It would not be true to claim that these views are unique to us; indeed they have been distilled over the years as result of contacts and work in collaboration with farsighted colleagues and policymakers in many places. They are shared, at least in good part, by many of our most distinguished colleagues.
The main reference point for all that you will read in these pages is the long-term program behind World Streets, namely the New Mobility Agenda, an international collaborative effort focusing entirely on transportation in and around cities. It has been in operation since 1988 with continuous interactive presence on the internet as one of the pillars of the collaborative knowledge-building process that is behind it. And this is what we have concluded:
Ready for change: Virtually all of the necessary preconditions are now in place for achieving far-reaching, rapid, low-cost improvements in the ways that people get around in our cities. The needs are there, they are increasingly understood — and we now know what to do and how to get the job done. The challenge is to find the vision, political will, and leadership to get the job done, step by deliberate step.
But to get there we have to have an (a) explicit, (b) coherent, (c) ethical, (d) checkable, (e) overarching strategy. Without it we are destined to continue play at the edges of the problems, and while we may be able to announce a success or improvement here or there, the overall impact that our cities need to break the old patterns will not be there. We really must have that clear, consistent, cross-cutting, systemic strategy.
The Agenda provides a free public platform for new thinking and open collaborative group problem solving, bringing together more than a thousand leading thinkers and actors in the field from more than seventy counties worldwide, sharing information and considering together the full range of problems and eventual solution paths that constitute the global challenge of sustainable transport in cities.
Managing the transition: The fifteen basic principles and strategies that make up the New Mobility Agenda
And it must be understood that the shift from old to new mobility is not one that turns its back on the importance of high quality mobility for the economy and for quality of life. It’s just that given the technologies that we now have at our fingertips, and in the labs, it is possible for us to redraw our transportation systems so that there is less inefficient movement (the idea of one person sitting in traffic in a big car with the engine idling is one example, an empty bus another) and more high-efficiency, high-quality, low-carbon transportation that offers many more mobility choices than in the past, including the one that environmentalists and many others find most appealing: namely, getting what you want without having to venture out into traffic at all. Now that’s an interesting new mobility strategy, too.
Here you have in twelve summaries the high points of the basic strategic policy frame as we see it: principles that we and our colleagues around the world have diligently pieced together over the years of work, observation and close contact with projects and programs in leading cities on all continents under the New Mobility Agenda. (If you click here you can see in a short video (four-minute draft) a synopsis of the basic five-point core strategy that the city of Paris has announced and adhered to over the last seven years. With significant results.)
Strategy 1. Climate emergency leading the way:
No reason to be impressed or scared off by the insistent sallies of the climate-skeptics, the environment/climate nexus is still the most important single challenge (and opportunity) before us. The on-going climate emergency sets the base timetable for action in our sector. Getting the carbon, and with it fossil fuels, out of the sector is an important goal in any event. But there is far more to it than that.
At the same time GHG reduction works as a strong surrogate for just about everything else to which we need to be giving priority attention in our cities, chief among them the need to cut traffic. Fewer vehicles on the road moving at lower steady speeds means reduced energy consumption, less pollution in all forms, fewer accidents, reduced bills for infrastructure construction and maintenance, quieter and safer cities, and the long list goes on.
What is so particularly interesting about the mobility sector is that there is really a great deal we can achieve in a relatively little time. And at relatively low cost. Beyond this, there is an important joker which also needs to be brought into the picture from the very beginning — and that is that these reductions can be achieved not only without harming the economy or quality of life for the vast majority of all people. To the contrary sustainable transport reform can be part of a 21st century economic revival which places increased emphasis on equity, choice, services and quality of life, and not possession and products.
Strategy 2. Tighten time frame for action
Select and gear all actions to achieve visible results within a two to four-year time frame. Spend at least 50%, preferably more, of all your transportation budget on measures and projects that are going to yield visible results within this time frame. Set firm targets for all to see and judge the results. No-excuse results-oriented transport policy.
Strategy 3. Reduce traffic radically.
The critical, incontrovertible policy core of the Agenda – is BIG percentage cuts in vehicle miles traveled. If we don’t achieve this, we will have a situation in which all the key indicators will continue to move in the wrong direction. But we can cut traffic and at the same time improve mobility. And the economy. That’s our new mobility strategy.
Strategy 4. Extend the range, quality and degree of integration of new mobility services available to all:
A whole range of exciting and practical new service modes is needed if we are to keep our cities viable. And they need to COMBINE to offer better, faster and cheaper mobility than the old car-intensive arrangements or deficit-financed, heavy, old-technology, traditional public transit. We need to open up our minds on this last score and understand that rather than being stuck in the past with a 19th century version of how “common people” best get about, it is important to move over to a new paradigm of a great variety of ways of providing shared transport mediated in good part by 21st-century information communications technologies.
Strategy 5. Design for women:
Our old mobility system was designed by, and ultimately for, a certain type of person (think about it!). And so too should the new mobility system: but this time around it should be designed to accommodate specifically women, of all ages and conditions. Do that and we will serve everybody far better. And for that to happen we need to have a major leadership shift toward women and, as part of that, to move toward full gender parity in all bodies involved in the decision process. It’s that simple.
Strategy 6. Work with what you have:
For many transportation planners and experts schooled in the college, this will be one of the least evident of the strategic building blocks behind the New Mobility Agenda. In the first place, because many of these systems or services turn out to be almost invisible to policymakers working in the transport sector. These can range from various kinds of taxis and community or specialized transport services, all the way to the kind of chaotic, streets-clogging or almost invisible modes, often dangerous (dangerous, because that is the way we treat them) services such as small private buses, shared taxis, pedicabs, informal carsharing, informal ride sharing, and a range of illegal or arrangements which I can or not they to work for lots of people in many places, but which in most cases and despite their present drawbacks probably need not to be suppressed but rather to be better understood, negotiated, improved in consort with the suppliers, and integrated into the multilevel range of transportation options that are really what is best suited for cities in all parts of the world.
Strategy 7. Frugal economics:
We are not going to need another round of high cost, low impact investments to make it work. We simply take over 50% of the transport related budgets and use it to address projects and reforms that are going to make those big differences in the next several years.
Strategy 8. Design and deploy packages of measures:
As distinguished from the old ways of planning and making investments what is required in most places today are carefully interlinked “packages” of numerous small as well as larger projects and initiatives. Involving many more actors and participants. One of the challenges of an effective new mobility policy will be to find ways to see these various measures as interactive synergistic and mutually supporting projects within a unified greater whole. A significant challenge to our planners at all levels
Strategy 9. Integrate the car into the new mobility pattern:
State-of-the-art technology can be put to work hand in hand with the changing role of the private car in the city in order to create situations in which even car use can be integrated with a far softer edge into the overall mobility strategy . These advantages need to be widely broadcast so as to increase acceptance of the new pattern of urban mobility. The new mobility environment must also be able to accommodate people in cars, since that is an incontrovertible reality which will not go away simply because it would seem like an ideal solution. We are going to have plenty of small and medium-sized four-wheel, rubber-tired, driver-operated vehicles running around on the streets of our cities and the surrounding regions, so the challenge of planners and policymakers is to ensure that this occurs in a way which is increasingly harmonious to the broader social, economic and environmental objectives set out here.
Strategy 10. Full speed ahead with new technology:
New mobility is at its core heavily driven by the aggressive application of state of the art logistics, communications and information technology across the full spectrum of service types. The transport system of the future is above all an interactive information system, with the wheels and the feet at the end of this chain. These are the seven-league boots of new mobility
Strategy 11. Technology agnostics/Performance advocates:
Please note: We do not care, nor should we care, what is the technology to be used or favored at any point in the system. It is not the role of inevitably under-informed, naive, and ever-hopeful policymakers to make determinations about which technology is going to be the best to build into the system. This is way past their level of competence, and is not in any event even necessary in order to create the preconditions of a better transportation system. But what our policymakers can do, and what they should do, is to specify not technology but performance. There many ways in which this can be done, two of which include two performance standards and emissions standards. But there are more.
Strategy 12. Play the “infrastructure joker”:
The transport infrastructures of our cities have been vastly overbuilt. And they are unable to deliver the goods. That’s just great, since it means that we can now take over substantial portions of the street network for far more efficient modes.
Strategy 13. Outreach and Partnerships:
This approach, because it is new and unfamiliar to most people, is unlike to be understood the first few times around. Hence a major education, consultation and outreach effort is needed in each place to make it work. Old mobility was the terrain in which decisions were made by transport experts working within their assigned zones of competence. New mobility is based on wide-based collaborative problem solving, outreach and harnessing the great strengths of the informed and educated populations of our cities. Public/private/citizen partnerships.
Strategy 14. Lead by Example:
If you are mayor or other elected official. If you are engaged as a professional in public policy areas that relate to the sustainability agenda . . . you don’t have a choice really, you must lead by personal example. This means getting to work by bike, walking, public transport or some form of carsharing/ridesharing at least two days a week. Every week. By doing this, you will have hands-on knowledge of what works and what does not in your city. You become Eyes on the Street. You will be authentic and credible. You will be the kind of leader we need to identify and guide the reforms, policies and projects that must now be put in place. And if you do not do this, if you stay in the back seat of your limo, you won’t get my vote.
Strategy 15. But above all . . . pick winners!
There is no reason for policymakers to take chances. New approaches demand success. When it comes to transport innovation in the second decade of the 21st century there is no margin of error. Moreover, the track record of the kinds of approaches that are needed to create a new system is rich and well documented. Meaning that we can choose policies and services with track records of success and build on all this accumulated experience. (And there are plenty of them out there if you are prepared to look and learn.)
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Not for negotiation:
The above fifteen principles are not negotiable. They are not and box of pious ideas from which we can pick and choose at our fancy. They are fundamental, they are integral. Every intended or hoped-for policy, project, investment, program, should be made to jump through these fifteen sustainability-defining hoops before being selected by public policy makers for investment and implementation. There is not one that can be set aside or ignored. Ever. It is that simple
Where to from here?
To move ahead in time to save the planet and improve life quality of the majority of the people who live in our cities — no, they are not all happy car owner/drivers; get out there and count them; you’ll see — we need to have a fair, unified, coherent, and memorable strategy.
There may be other ways, better ways one would hope, of facing this emergency. If so we are ready to learn, let us hear from you. This is the challenge to which World Streets and the New Mobility Agenda are addressed. And hey! we are not about to got the job done alone.
Eric Britton, Editor, World Streets, Paris. 31 March 2009