Somebody organizing a conference in the coming months on the future of transport in cities called in this morning to ask me, for the nth time in the last two decades, why is it that what appears to any thinking person as an excellent, even more than that, vitally necessary concept such as sustainable development in all of its many forms is proving so notoriously ineffective — to the extent that despite all the articles and books published, conferences held, agencies created, university programs, scientific progress, and even convincing real-world innovations, actions and projects, the bottom line indicators of our gross UNsustainability (greenhouse gas production, climate change and its devastating impacts, continuing mindless resource bulimia, etc.) continue to progress steadily in the wrong direction. By many indicators we seem to be getting smarter, at least at the leading edge. So why are we losing the war?
I hesitated to roll this around in my mind and then told my respected colleague that I would have to have a second cup of coffee and stare out into space a bit, and promised to ring back in an hour or so if that was okay by her. (It was.)
This carefully compiled seasonal report from Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute is a fine tool and up to date source guide for researchers and policy makers worldwide. We are pleased to present it in its entirety here, together with references you will find handy to take these entries further. Thanks for your fine continuing contributions Todd.
Dr. Michael Lim Mah-Hui
The gentleman on the bike, Dr. Michael Lim Mah-Hui, is a city councilman in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. With an international background in economics, finance and public policy, he also has a long time interest in the challenges of sustainable development, livable cities, equitable transport, land use and historical preservation. He is active both as an elected councilor but also as a concerned and active citizen. He is in this, in his own words, for the long haul.
In a recent presentation to the City Council of Penang Island “Bicycling as One Component of a Comprehensive Transport Plan” — he wrote:
BRT – Bus Rapid Transit – a well-known transportation strategy which since first pioneered Curitiba Brazil in 1974 has seen many successes, and a fair number of disappointments. Fortunately all these projects are quite well documented, such that a real shared learning experience is underway. Today there are more than two hundred cities on all continents with working BRTs, of a huge variety of variations. All of that is well known and abundantly covered by the literature.
The great thing about BRT is that, if you get it right, it not only serves as a high performance option to being stuck in traffic in your car, but that it also provides an opportunity for rethinking the street system and provide improved contusions for cyclists and pedestrians. But without a doubt the second most important contribution of BRT is that it takes space away from cars, while at the same time giving the drivers a better option.
BRT in Penang
BRT is a great and, I would say without hesitation, even necessary strategy for Penang. However a word of caution: BRT is not an option that you buy off the shelf and plop down on the street. It is something that a city and its team of advisors have to work very hard to study, tailor and implement to meet the unique specifications of your city.
So as part of our learning curve just in is an excellent article on a hotly contested BRT start-up (and shortly close-down) in New Delhi which is getting considerable attention not only there but in the transport world more generally. Today we share with you a report by one of the principal advisors to the project, Professor Dinesh Mohan of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, along with a few references that see all this from other perspectives. (We thank the author for permission to reprint here.)
We often hear that transportation reform in Penang is going to require massive public investments, large construction projects, elaborate technology deployments, and above all and by their very nature are going to take a long time before yielding significant results. This is quite simply not true. This approach, common in the last century and often associated with the “American transportation model”, no longer has its place in a competitive, efficient, democratic city And we can start tomorrow, if we chose to.
To get a feel for this transformative learning reality let’s start with a quick look at a first lot of ideas for Slow Street Architecture as a major means for reducing traffic related nuisances, accident prevention and improving quality of life for all. These approaches are not just “nice ideas”. They have proven their merit and effectiveness in hundreds of cities around the world. There is no good reason that they cannot do the same in Penang. Starting tomorrow morning.
(For further background on external sources feeding this listing, see Sources and Clues section below.)
Most of what we are seeing in Penang when it comes to planning and policy in Penang is terribly familiar. The bottom line until now at least is that overall you are not doing well, because you do not have a plan or a coherent vision to guide you. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that you are not alone.
Montréal has never really had a coherent planning vision – they simply react to developers’ proposals.
In fact Penang could hardly be more lucky because there is not only abundant information on the fast-growing number of well thought out examples of cities, projects and approaches that are showing the way for sustainable transport and sustainable cities. But there is also an even longer list of examples of cities that are getting it blatantly wrong. These should be understood and integrated into the thinking and planning process of the city, just as much as the attention which must be given to understanding and adapting “best practices”. If you look closely you will see there are patterns that repeat themselves again and again. It is important to be aware of them.
Here you have an example of the city of Montréal, while doing a fair number of good things in terms of transport, public space and environment, is at the same time suffering badly from the lack of a well thought-out understanding of how transport issues cannot be treated without full attention to land use and the structure of the city. Again painful signs of Penang. And how did this come up?