OpEd. Let’s harness the pandemic to expand our climate/mobility options

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The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to embrace the future of work-from-home and the greater adoption of walking and cycling.

By Lloyd Wright, Senior Urban Development Transport Specialists, Asian   Development Bank – https://blogs.adb.org/author/lloyd-wright https://blogs.adb.org/let-s-use-the-pandemic-to-expand-our-transport-options

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives and livelihoods, and has become a devastating global human tragedy.  A change event of this magnitude also affects fundamentally how we work and interact.  Personal mobility in the age of COVID-19 may never be quite the same again.  The new normal of mobility, though, may represent a unique opportunity. 

Work-from-home has always represented an option to both reduce emissions and promote family time.  However, work-from-home’s potential has never been fully realized in terms of actual practice, as long-standing practices and cultures in Asia and the Pacific often prioritize physical time in the office.

New information technologies have meant that work-from-home does not have to substantially reduce the quality of workplace interactions.  A plethora of software apps, such as Google Hangout, Skype, Cisco Webex, MS Teams, and Zoom, are now available to give a visual space for sharing information and facilitating decision-making.  We are moving away from mere tele-conferencing to lifelike virtual interaction. While work-from-home may never fully replace workplace presence, the new technologies at least offer the potential to reduce the need for everyday commuting.

Lockdowns across many cities and countries has meant that a unique global experiment is underway.  The World Health Organization estimates that 7 million persons suffer premature deaths each year from air pollution, and that 1.3 million persons perish in car crashes.  For cities with air quality problems, such as Beijing, Delhi, and Manila, the lockdowns have visibly brought pristine skies, as also evidenced by satellite imagery. In addition, the University of California at Davis has been tracking reductions in car crashes in California during the state’s partial lockdown conditions.  Serious injuries and fatalities in the past week have been halved from 400 to just 200 per day.

None of this is to minimize the appalling human tragedy of COVID-19’s trail of death and illness. The  social and economic cost of the pandemic is staggering. But these types of comparisons do indicate what could be achieved if we adopted sustainable energy and transport practices once the pandemic has passed.

Of course, the virus also hits certain forms of sustainable personal mobility quite hard.  Buses and trains place passengers in close proximity, heightening disease transmission risk.  During this time of crisis, to the extent persons have options, passengers do appear to be avoiding public transport, and many cities have closed public transport in its entirety. Most likely, governments will need to step forward with financial support to public transport operators for both short-term and long-term viability.

  The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on work-from-home initiatives.

Conversely, this situation does represent a large potential opportunity for walking and cycling.  Already, in the early days of the virus, New York City is recording record levels of cyclists.  The city’s Department of Transport reports a 50 percent increase in cycling over the same period last year, and a 67 percent increase in usage of New York’s CitiBike bicycle sharing system.

Home delivery services also appear to be experiencing a significant increase in the wake of virus lockdowns.  Such services hold the potential to reduce overall transport congestion and emissions by effectively achieving economies of scales in urban delivery logistics.

With streets now operating under dramatically reduced traffic levels, an opportunity exists to quickly address long-standing needs that are difficult to implement under day-to-day realities.  Upgrading footpaths and developing cycleways is the type of quick win that can utilize the economic stimulus spending being deployed to shore up falling economies. These investments can be done quickly and create jobs at a time when it is most needed.

The pandemic is a change event like few others.  The dramatic break in personal mobility from past habits represents an opportunity to view cities in a new way.  From this moment, we could embrace the future of work-from-home and the greater adoption of walking and cycling.  Perhaps there is yet a small silver lining from this unfolding tragedy.

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2021 MASTER CLASS CHECKLIST: 240 Climate/Mobility Tools, Measures, Considerations, etc., for a Sustainable City

FB WC eb + shaking head

240 available  tools and concepts we will do well to be familiar with. (Among others.)

– Εάν όλα σας μοιάζουν ελληνικά, καλά, έχετε πρόβλημα.

  1. 2021 city strategies 
  2. 30 kph zones 
  3. 50 kph zones (etc.)
  4. Active travel directions 
  5. Activity nodes/clustering 
  6. Alternating odd/even license plates 
  7. Alternative engines 
  8. Alternative fuels 
  9. Award & prize programs 
  10. Barriers to change 
  11. Behavior Change 
  12. Bicycle university 
  13. Bike and skate “masses” 
  14. Bike and Walk Summit 
  15. Bike delivery services 
  16. Bike/transit interface 
  17. Bus corridors and lanes 
  18. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) 
  19. Car Clubs 
  20. Car control strategies 
  21. Car exit strategies 
  22. Car Free Days 
  23. Car pools 
  24. Car Restricted Zones 
  25. Carfree Cities 
  26. Carfree housing 
  27. Car-like mobility (implications) 
  28. Car rental 
  29. Carsharing 
  30. Change Management 
  31. Children’s and school programs 
  32. Citizen activism and dialogue 
  33. City cycle programs (shared use) 
  34. Clean vehicles and fuels 
  35. Clear Zones 
  36. Co-housing 
  37. Community Street Audit 
  38. Community Transportation 
  39. Commuting alternatives 
  40. Company mobility management 
  41. Congestion charging 
  42. Contingency Planning 
  43. Critical Mass 
  44. CURBBBB 
  45. Cycle paths and lanes 
  46. Cycle parking 
  47. Cycling access and support 
  48. Delivering the goods 
  49. Delivery hours 
  50. Demand management 
  51. Demand-responsive transport (DRT) 
  52. Distance work 
  53. Downtown revitalization support 
  54. Driver license exit strategies 
  55. Driver training 
  56. Dynamic transit systems 
  57. Economic instruments 
  58. Electric or ecological vehicles (??) 
  59. Employer transport programs 
  60. Ethics vs. rules on the street 
  61. EV charge stations 
  62. e-Work 
  63. Fair Transport labeling 
  64. Flexible hours 
  65. Flextime 
  66. Free public cycles 
  67. Free public transport 
  68. Freight bicycle 
  69. Freight transport 
  70. Freight consolidation zones 
  71. Funding sustainable transport 
  72. Goods delivery innovation 
  73. Goods movement and delivery 
  74. Green maps 
  75. Green modes 
  76. Green streets 
  77. Green wave 
  78. Group taxis 
  79. Handicapped transport 
  80. Health and Fitness 
  81. Hitch-hiking (Organized and other) 
  82. Home delivery services 
  83. Home zones 
  84. HOV strategies 
  85. Human powered transport 
  86. Inclusive transport 
  87. Innovations in Integrated Transport and Land-use Planning 
  88. Intercept parking 
  89. Integrated ticketing 
  90. Intermodality 
  91. International institutions (how to use) 
  92. International peer support 
  93. Jitneys 
  94. Land use/New Mobility interfaces 
  95. Land value tax 
  96. Lane Diets 
  97. Leading by Example 
  98. Living streets 
  99. Loading and uploading 
  100. Local Agenda 21 
  101. Locational efficiency 
  102. Lost/distressed children measures 
  103. Low car diet 
  104. Low-occupancy vehicle (LOV) strategies 
  105. Low speed projects 
  106. M2W controls 
  107. Media, film, audio, webcasting 
  108. Metros and New Mobility 
  109. Minibus 
  110. Mixed-use development 
  111. Mobil telephony interface 
  112. Mobility centers 
  113. Mobility management/centers 
  114. Mondermans 
  115. Motorized two-wheelers 
  116. Movement substitutes 
  117. Multifunctional areas 
  118. Multi-Modal Access Guides 
  119. Neighborhood initiatives 
  120. Neighborhood streets 
  121. New Mobility “Star” program (NMA strategies for small towns) 
  122. New Mobility strategies 
  123. New Urbanism: Clustered, Mixed-Use, Multi-Modal Neighborhood Design 
  124. Noise reduction measures 
  125. Non-motorized transport 
  126. NOT going there (the options) 
  127. Obesity strategies 
  128. Obesity/Mobility Summit 
  129. Odd/even entry schemes 
  130. On-line skating 
  131. Paid Parking 
  132. Paratransit 
  133. Park + Ride 
  134. Parking management 
  135. Parking strategies 
  136. Pedestrian- friendly streets and roads 
  137. Pedestrianization 
  138. Pedicabs 
  139. Pico y placa 
  140. Play streets 
  141. Pots and paint 
  142. Private sector initiatives 
  143. Propinquity (as policy) 
  144. Public Awareness 
  145. Public participation 
  146. Public spaces projects 
  147. Public transport should be free 
  148. Public/private partnerships 
  149. Rail transit (where it fits in) 
  150. Real time travel information 
  151. Reduce traffic controls/signals 
  152. Residential parking 
  153. Reverse commuting 
  154. Rickshaws 
  155. Ride-sharing 
  156. Road diets (lane narrowing) 
  157. Road pricing 
  158. Road safety (radical enforcement) 
  159. Scan, select, quantify, target 
  160. Segregated cycle facilities 
  161. Selling your message to the community 
  162. Senior/Non-driver Local Summit 
  163. Shared taxis 
  164. Shared space 
  165. Shared transport 
  166. Simulations and visual scenarios 
  167. Slow streets 
  168. Slow zones 
  169. Slugging 
  170. Smart Congestion Relief 
  171. Smart cards 
  172. Smart growth 
  173. Smart parking strategies 
  174. Soft transport measures 
  175. South/North transfers 
  176. SOV measures 
  177. Speed control measures 
  178. Speed reduction 
  179. “Strategies for the screamers” 
  180. Street as a place of work 
  181. Street furniture 
  182. Street life 
  183. Street obstacles 
  184. Street people 
  185. Street strategies 
  186. Street venders and commerce 
  187. Suburban solutions 
  188. Sustainable mobility strategies 
  189. Task Force (local) creation 
  190. Taxi innovations 
  191. TDM – Transportation Demand Management 
  192. Telecommuting 
  193. Teledilivery 
  194. Telework 
  195. Ten Point Pedaling Action Program 
  196. Ten thousand steps 
  197. The Mayors’ Game 
  198. “They are supposed to scream” 
  199. Ticketless Public Transport 
  200. TOD – Transit-Oriented Development 
  201. Tolls Then thousand steps +
  202. Traffic calming 
  203. Traffic control/management center 
  204. Traffic restraint 
  205. Transit shelters 
  206. Transit/signal priority 
  207. Transit stations and interfaces 
  208. Transit strike planning 
  209. Transportation brokerage 
  210. Travel information systems 
  211. Travel plans 
  212. Travelchoice 
  213. Trishaw Cycles 
  214. Unified access and ticketing 
  215. Unified fare cards 
  216. University, campus transport strategies 
  217. Urban boulevards 
  218. Urban distribution center 
  219. Urban regeneration 
  220. User participation 
  221. Utility cycling 
  222. Value capture 
  223. Vanpool 
  224. Vehicle Buy Back Program 
  225. Vehicle scrappage programs 
  226. Video diaries/open blog 
  227. Vision Zero (Sweden, road safety) 
  228. Walk to school 
  229. Walkability audit 
  230. Walkability index 
  231. Walkable communities 
  232. Walking as transport 
  233. Walking school bus 
  234. Web sites to support New Mobility projects/program 
  235. WitKar 
  236. Women, Equity and Transport 
  237. Woonerfs (Woonerven) 
  238. xTransit (The Third Way) 
  239. Zero carbon projects 
  240. Zero Tolerance 


magnifying glass climate.PNGDRAFT FOR COMMENT AND EDITING
— to be contacted and integrated into program from the beginning as full partners designing and monitoring the 2020 Five Percent Challenge.
Please share your contact information, addresses, names to that we can bring them into the project from the beginning.
Transport Infrastructure — Car, roads, streets, parking — on- and off-street
Public transporters — Public transport, school and works buses, taxis, free circulator bus services
Automobile lobbies — Owner/drivers, supporting services
Shared mobility — ridesharing, car sharing, shared bicycles, scooters, hitchhiking, slugging, bus pools, etc.)
MicroMobility (bicycles, scooters, very light vehicles, electric scooters, electric skateboards, shared bicycles and electric pedal assisted, pedelec, push scooters.
Mobility substitutes — Proximity, Telepresence, Telework, peak reduction measures

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Transport minimization: Bridging needs, time and space in different ways


The TMAPP Planners Toolbox:

Transport/Mobility/Access/ Proximity/’Presence’

To take full advantage of the fundamental structural differences between Old and New Mobility, it can help to reflect on the five necessary different steps of analysis and action suggested by the expression TMAPP – which sets out five alternative views or ways of bridging space, which of course is what transportation is supposed to be all about. These are the essential building blocks of a full-function sustainable transport plan for your city.  If you have not integrated the best of each of these essential steps into your plan, it is time for a bit of continuing education.

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Checklist of key terms, concepts and references for managing the climate/new mobility transition  (1 June 2019. Text to follow here.)

ACTIVE TRANSPORT: * Bicycles * Bike/Transit Integration * Public Bicycle Systems * Telecommuting * Telework * Walk to School * Walking

Continue reading

Transport minimization: Bridging needs, time and space in different ways


The TMAPP Planners Toolbox:

Transport/Mobility/Access/ Proximity/’Presence’

To take full advantage of the fundamental structural differences between Old and New Mobility, it can help to reflect on the five necessary different steps of analysis and action suggested by the expression TMAPP – which sets out five alternative views or ways of bridging space, which of course is what transportation is supposed to be all about. These are the essential building blocks of a full-function sustainable transport plan for your city.  If you have not integrated the best of each of these essential steps into your plan, it is time for a bit of continuing education.

Continue reading

(BC) Planners Bookshelf: Putting Wikipedia to work


virtual-library-hand-book-penangFrom the beginning in the late eighties the New Mobility Agenda was conceived as a shared space for communications and didactic tools zeroing in on our chosen topic from a number of angles,  and over the last eight years World Streets has  continued in this tradition. I hope that what follows may be useful to some of you.  As you will see, I think it is an important and powerful tool — which those of us who care can help shape and put to work for the good cause.

You will also find a shelf in the Better Choices Planners Bookshelf – at https://goo.gl/fv3Giv — which provides a first set of references from WP’s vast collection.

Continue reading

(BC) Transport minimization/Bridging space in different ways


The TMAP Planners Toolbox:

Transport/Mobility/Access/ Place

To take full advantage of the fundamental structural differences between Old and New Mobility, it can help to reflect on the five necessary different steps of analysis and action suggested by the expression TMAP – which sets out four alternative views or ways of bridging space, which of course is what transportation is supposed to be all about. These are the essential building blocks of a full-function sustainable mobility plan for your city.  If you have not integrated the best of each of these essential steps into your plan, it is time for a bit of continuing education.

Continue reading

Big House Equity Outreach: Bring in All Local Actors, Views & Implementation Partners

Too often when it comes to new transport initiatives, the practice is to concentrate on laying the base for the project in close working relationships with people and groups who a priori are favorably disposed to your idea, basically your choir. Leaving the potential “trouble makers” aside for another day. Experience shows that’s a big mistake. Instead from the beginning we have to take a . . .

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Third International Share/Transport Forum – Jiaozuo China

This International Forum, the third in the series which got first underway in 2010 in Kaohsiung and met  again in Changzhe in 2011,  is once again, this year on 21/22 September in Jiaozuo China, bringing together leading thinkers and sharing transport practitioners from  the People’s Republic of China, Asia and the world, to examine the concept of shared transport (as opposed to individual vehicle ownership or established forms of public transport) from a multi-disciplinary perspective, with a strong international and Chinese-speaking contingent. Continue reading

CONTENTIOUS IDEA: “Are the telework, telecommuting, tele-everything guys way behind the on-going 2021 climate curve?”


Paris, 27 October 2020

In the context of this new collaborative program and as we start up, I have to say that I have the sinking feeling, but admittedly in some ignorance. . .  that the telework, telecommuting, etc. guys may be way behind the climate curve. That is, quite possibly not quite up to the challenge of the times. Continue reading

Swedish government looks to virtual meetings as an environmental (and efficiency) strategy

The Swedish government’s annual instructions to the National Transport Administration now include a mission to support and improve conditions for virtual meetings across the country. The goal is to find practical ways to harness “Green IT” as an efficient travel substitute as well as to provide both more efficient management and reduced environmental impacts. The core proposal is based on a “ten step method” which the Administration released last year to champion and support virtual meetings within an organization. The project behind this strategy is introduced here.  And you are warmly invited to comment and share the fruit of your own experiences. Continue reading

“The First Step in the New Mobility Agenda is . . . not to take that step at all”

Editorial: Transportation vs. Access vs. (New) Mobility:
This troubling triad has been around for a long time and continues to haunt many of us to this day. Even here at World Streets and the New Mobility Agenda, our puzzling over the rightful combination and interpretation of these three in many ways related concepts is a matter of several decades. Let’s see if we can open up this important topic for creative discussion.
Continue reading

The First Step in the New Mobility Agenda . . . is not to take that step at all.

Editorial: Transportation vs. Access vs. (New) Mobility:
This troubling triad has been around for a long time and continues to haunt many of us to this day. Even here at World Streets and the New Mobility Agenda, our puzzling over the rightful combination and interpretation of these three in many ways related concepts is a matter of several decades. Let’s see if we can open up this important topic for creative discussion. Continue reading

Sixteen practical things you can start to do today to combat climate change, get around in style & meet some nice people

After many decades of a single dominant city-shaping transportation pattern (i.e., old mobility) — there is considerable evidence accumulating that we have already entered into a world of new mobility practices that are changing the transportation landscape in many ways. It has to do with sharing, as opposed to outright ownership. An important pattern that is thus far escaping notice at the top.

“On the whole, you find wealth more in use than in ownership.”
– Aristotle. ca. 350 BC

Sharing in the 21st century. Will it shape our cities?

After many decades of a single dominant city-shaping transportation pattern – i.e., for those who could afford it: owning and driving our own cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles, getting into taxis by ourselves, riding in streets that are designed for cars and not much else (i.e., old mobility) — there is considerable evidence accumulating that we have already entered into a world of new mobility practices that are changing the transportation landscape in many ways. It has to do with sharing, as opposed to outright ownership. But strange to say, this trend seems to have escaped the attention of the policymakers in many of the places and institutions directly concerned.

However transport sharing is an important trend, one that is already starting to reshape at least parts of some of our cities. It is a movement at the leading edge of our most successful (and often wealthiest and most livable) cities — not just a watered down or second-rate transport option for the poor. With this in view, we are setting out to examine not just the qualities (and limitations) of individual shared mobility modes, but also to put this in the broader context of why people share. And why they do not. And in the process to stretch our minds to consider what is needed to move toward a new environment in which people often share rather than necessarily only doing things on their own when it comes to moving around in our cities worldwide.

Sixteen sharing options you may wish to give some thought to:

1. Bikesharing

2. Carsharing (formal and informal)

3. Fleetsharing

4. Ridesharing (carpools, van pools, hitchhiking, slugging – organized and informal).

5. School share (Walking school bus, walk/bike to school)

6. Taxi sharing

7. Shared Parking

8. Truck/van sharing (combined delivery, other)

9. Streetsharing (example: BRT streets shared between buses, cyclists, taxis, emergency vehicles)

10. Activity sharing (streets used by others for other (non-transport) reasons as well.)

11. Public space sharing

12. Workplace sharing (neighborhood telework centers; virtual offices; co-workplace; hoteling)

13. Sharing SVS (small vehicle systems: DRT, shuttles, community buses, etc.)

14. Time sharing

15. Successful integration of public transport within a shared transport city (Including bus and rail)

16. Knowledge-sharing (including via World Streets)

For more:

1. Lyon Conference: If you want to learn more about this, consider going to Lyon France for their conference on transport sharing later this month (30 November, in French) – http://newmobilityagenda.blogspot.com/2009/11/transportation-sharing-and-sustainable.html
And while you are there, you can do worse to spend some time to see how they are progressing on the sharing front themselves: bikesharing and carsharing are both in place and doing well. And if you keep your eyes open you will see more.

2. Kaohsiung Conference: Or next September think about coming to Kaohsiung Taiwan for their first International Conference on Sharing Transport – see www.kaohsiung.newmobility.org . Again, a city that is already into bike sharing and looking hard at taxi sharing, among others.

3. You: And tell the world about your events, papers, media, accomplishments, problems and your ideas.

4. Us: And stay tuned to World Streets. We do sharing.

5. And now a few words from our sponsor. (30 seconds)

Pedal Power Doc on Sharing: Quick interview with Eric Britton
from Cogent Benger on Vimeo.

Moving the work instead of the worker

Jack Nilles, an early pioneer in the field of telework starting back to the early seventies when work on the concept was just getting underway, reminds us that there is still plenty of work to be done in this corner of the New Mobility Agenda.

One of the best ways to increase sustainability through transportation is to change what is transported from something very heavy to something that is almost weightless. Think about it.

Does it make sense to move 1600 kilos of metal and plastic (plus one person) 50 km each work day instead of just transmitting the worker’s and colleagues’ thoughts? Why are hundreds of millions of people still stuck in the mindset of the days of Dickens when this is the 21st century? When three of five workers in the developed world are almost solely engaged in pushing information around for their livelihood—and when contemporary information technology allows this information to be sent instantly anywhere—what’s the point of requiring those workers to leave home, get in their cars (usually alone) endure traffic jams for hours daily in order to go to an office where they mostly send their information instantly elsewhere?

Why aren’t they teleworking instead of wasting energy and increasing global warming? At today’s levels of technology about 10% of workers in developed countries could be teleworking essentially full time, either from home or from somewhere within walking or cycling distance. Another 15% of workers could easily telework half time. The occasional-to-half-timers constitute another 25% of the workforce, for a total of 50%. That’s a conservative estimate.

Almost 70 million Americans could be engaged in some form of teleworking today; about half that number actually are so engaged, although less often than they could. Those American teleworkers will be reducing America’s contribution to global warming by about 72 megatons of CO2 and reducing American oil consumption by about 135 million barrels in 2009.

So why isn’t everyone actually teleworking if they could be teleworking? Here are the most common reasons/excuses:

Tradition. We’ve always worked at some place other than home (at least since the 20th century). That’s just the way things are. We don’t even think about it. It’s long past time to rethink that assumption.

Distrust. Says the boss: “How do I know they’re working if I can’t see ’em?” This involves the quaint concept that the apparent busy activity of the staff means that useful works are being done. The facts are that, on average, teleworkers are more productive than the in-office staff.

Cost. Says the CFO: “We can’t afford the extra costs in these tight times.” The primary costs of a telework program are: planning, training and some additional technology. Once started successfully, telework’s bottom-line benefits tend to approximate one-fifth or more of the teleworkers’ salaries.

So telework helps reduce global warming and traffic congestion, saves energy, and improves the economy — and doesn’t require massive government expenditures, just a few kind words. And once started successfully, telework’s continuing bottom-line benefits to employers tend to approximate one-fifth or more of the teleworkers’ salaries. The start-up costs normally are repaid within a year. What’s not to like?

Jack Nilles, jnilles@jala.com
JALA International, Los Angeles, California

Jack Nilles is an erstwhile rocket scientist and interdisciplinary research director with experience in industry, government and academe. He coined the terms /telework/ and /telecommuting/ in 1973 as part of the first quantitative research project exploring the impacts of sending the work to the worker.

National Journal Panel: How should the infrastructure stimulus be spent?

– by Eric Britton, New Mobility Partnerships, Paris and Los Angeles

– Prepared for the Transportation Panel sponsored by the National Journal. See footnote below and http://transportation.nationaljournal.com/contributors/Britton.php for details

The author argues first that the key to infrastructure is to concentrate our brainpower and resources on not physical objects . . . but on people and their varieties. On demand, not supply. On services, not products. On performance, not raw quantities. Second, that the transportation system we are lumbered with today has been designed almost exclusively by males — and, worse yet, by and for males of a certain exclusive, privileged category of our society (including that most are full time car owner/drivers). As a result of this historic imbalance at the top, those responsible for public policy have failed to create a system which serves the majority of Americans in a full and fair way. To rectify this without delay, Britton urges that we immediately start to adopt a policy of gender equality in all transport planning and decision making processes, beginning with this distinguished expert panel. And in the process he argues for bringing in a greatly expanded skill set at the top to ensure better decisions and future performance. The new administration’s transportation team can do a lot to make this happen.

1. What is infrastructure? 2
2. Why transport in cities? 3
3. Who are we? (This panel) 4
4. Why the Year of the Woman in Transportation? 5
5. Conclusion and recommendation: 6

Before writing this piece, I gave quite a bit of thought as to how I can make the most useful contribution to these important discussions. And I have made the decision that probably the most useful thing I can do at this early stage in this process will be to swim a bit against the current here.

For starters I have two big problems with what I am seeing here by the way of policy counsel thus far. And so once I have sketched out for you my understanding of these briefly , I would like to go on to propose one big, if not remedy, at least a path toward a remedy or solution.

First let’s take a few steps back and look to see if we can spot some underlying patterns in all this.

1. What is infrastructure?

When I look at the twenty eight thoughtful contributions and recommendations for the incoming administration thus far logged under this question to the panel, the first thing that strikes me, right between the eyes, is that all but one or two of the people who have checked in on this topic thus far have interpreted the key word “infrastructure” as primarily a physical entity. So to an extent, this being a common interpretation of the word by many of those working in the transportation sector, the cards were a bit stacked in advance.

This is not only problematic, it is fundamentally biased against most forms of social and behavioral “infrastructure”. However it is precisely these values that we need to bring to the fore when we consider a future in which virtually all of the historic patterns are being challenged. One thing we can say for sure about the future, it will be very, very different from the past. So let us make sure we are peering deeply into these foundation issues and making the fundamental adjustments needed if our transportation arrangements are to be sustainable, fair, and contribute to a healthy economy.

To get a better feel for this I ran a quick word-frequency check this morning of those first 28 contributions. Here are the handful of words that turn up most often and which, I believe, give us a fair feel for the focus and concerns of the group:

1. Infrastructure >100 references
2. Highways/roads/bridges –102
3. Aviation/Airport/airline/aircraft – 79
4. Trucks/trucking/freight/goods – 59
5. Energy/gas/oil – 53
6. Investment – 46
7. Billion – 46
8. Public transport/mass transit – 12
9. Marine/river/water/canal – 12

Interesting, and it sure does get one to thinking. For my part it certainly leads me to wonder if the physical infrastructure is really the appropriate starting place, when we have been asked to provide policy counsel for the incoming administration at this extremely important time and have an opportunity to change historic patterns and come up with something better. Let’s keep scratching.

2. Why transport in cities?

Let’s take this are our starting place since that, after all, is where the people are. Today more than 80% of all Americans live in or around our towns and cities. And that’s where all those people move most in their day to day lives, which makes it to my mind the main target of transportation policy and practice, now and for the future.

In our collaborative work under the New Mobility Agenda over the last two decades, work which has been informed by the active contributions of transportation planners, academics, policymakers, activists, and those who create and operate the transportation systems themselves not only in North America but also in more than thirty countries around the world (see http://www.newmobility.org), we have consistently taken as our starting place not the physical underpinnings of the transportation system , but rather people and community. This leads to some very different results when it comes to public policy.

It really does matter what you take as your starting place. Just to give you a feel for what happens if we shift this basic focus, I ran the same 28 first commentaries through frequency counts for the kinds of people-oriented issues which my international and leading American colleagues believe to be the real starting place. We really cannot afford to ignore these issues at this time, especially given that we now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine our transportation system.

Here is what I come up with:

1. Bicycle/Bike/Biking/Cycle – 16
2. Green – 12
3. Climate – 10
4. Congestion – 7
5. Bus – 8
6. Walking – 7
7. Injuries/death – 5
8. Sidewalk – 4
9. Pedestrian – 3
10. Urban – 3
11. Suburban – 3
12. Bus rapid transit/BRT – 2
13. Street – 2
14. Transportation Alternatives – 2
15. Child, children – 1
16. Land use – 1
17. Equity – 1
18. Multimodal – 1
19. Carshare/ carsharing – 0
20. Demand management/TDM – 0
21. Elderly – 0
22. Free – 0
23. Handicapped – 0
24. Interdependent – 0
25. Isolated – 0
26. Job creation – 0
27. Livable – 0
28. Needy – 0
29. Neighborhood – 0
30. Poor – 0
31. Public space – 0
32. Quiet – 0
33. Small – 0
34. Subway/metro – 0
35. Taxes – 0
36. Telecommuting/ telework – 0
37. Tram/LRT – 0
38. Woman/Women – 0

Hmm. Don’t you find this absence of attention to daily life concerns and practices highly disturbing?

If we have learned one thing about our sector over the last decades, it is that only a portion of the solutions of the transport related problems can be solved within the sector itself. This means that we must be aggressively inclusive in all respects. It means getting out of that box.

Fair enough, but how do we get from here to there? From where we were, to where we want to be? I have an idea which I would like to propose to all of you for your consideration and critical commentary. But first let us have a good look at our panel and then ask ourselves one more question.

3. Who are we?

This seems like a fair place to go next. Above, we have started to get our arms around the job to be done. Now we should probably take a few minutes to exchange ideas as to the kinds of people who are best qualified to get it done right.

Let’s start by considering our list of contributors thus far weighing in on this topic: 28 in all, of which 24 male. Oops!

This is no once-off phenomenon. It’s not just us. It’s more or less exactly in line with prevailing practices in our sector. Transportation policy and investments up to now has been shaped almost exclusively by males – and not just any males but males with jobs, more or less decent university educations, a full place in the community, and a generally serene view of the future. And oh yes, to a man, owners and drivers of cars. (A word of self-disclosure here: I have just pretty well described myself.)

Is this really the way our panel should shape up if we are to be up to our mission? Should we not shake ourselves hard right here at the start and set out to rectify this as quickly as possible ourselves, so as to be able to provide wise and balanced counsel to the incoming administration? I would say yes and yes — and I am sure the majority of you will agree (but if you have any doubts just ask your wives and daughters).

If we take a people-centric view of transportation, and of the infrastructure whether physical or social, it is clear that what we need to expand our mix of “transportation insiders” so as to better reflect the complex realities of our communities and day to day lives.

How to rectify this imbalance? We could make this very complicated if we wanted to, but there is also a solution which is at once obvious, easy and ready for implementation as soon as we decide to do it.

Here is my proposal: Let us come together to make 2009 the Year of the Woman in Transportation and use that to set off the much needed transition process.

4. Why the Year of the Woman in Transportation?

How to move from this fine sounding idea to concrete operational reality? For starters we can take it upon ourselves to try to ensure full and fair representation of women in every transportation planning and decision forum we are involved in, starting with this fine panel.

As to exactly how to achieve this I am less clear at this point. I am tempted to say that either we have full gender parity or something close to it (say, no less than 25, 30% female participation or whatever is the threshold you propose), or the event gets canceled. But that may be too blunt a weapon for s situation as deeply inculcated as is this one. After all, our goal is not to please ourselves, but to win.

One great advantage of taking the full year of 2009 to grope with these issues is that by joining forces we will have the time and brainpower to be wiser about this than can be a single author writing on a single day.

However it works out however, I would hope we do not need yet another law to make this happen. But we will need a strong public commitment by leaders and a growing culture which accepts that there is simply no other way of going about this. (And if that doesn’t work, well there is always the law. No reason to be excessively timid about this.)

Surface parity, while a start, is unlikely to be sufficient. Many women who do get into key roles very rapidly begin behaving like or reflecting the behavior and values of men. Examples would be very dangerous … but try to think of women in such powerful positions who HAVE acted differently to the males in previous or similar positions of influence and power. It’s just that the worldviews and values of our sector at the top are in general, very male! And this is precisely what we need to change to realize our very different future.

This forced, high-priority network expansion can open up another priority need that also requires rectification. Specifically it can help us to increase greatly the range of backgrounds and skills we bring into the various decision fora. This therefore gives us a golden opportunity to rectify some of the debilitating historical inadequacies in the sector that have led to its underperformance in so many areas.

So as we look to bring in more women, we need of course to bring in more expertise in the entrenched professional skills such as transport planning, traffic management, engineering, financial planning, technical modeling and the usual array of “hard skills” which have the front stage in the sector. But that is not enough.

But to get the job done right we also need greatly enhanced competence in such areas as environment, climate, land use, public health, cities, rural areas, community relations, demographics, local government, social services , behavioral psychology, education, childcare, job creation, poverty reduction, communications and all those other key areas of our daily lives which thus far have not received the necessary attention in the transport discussions and decision-making process. And in these, we need both women and men to enhance our understanding of these mission-critical issues and to inform policy and practice in the sector.

Now, is it that I really think that women are for some reason better, smarter or more noble than we Y chromosome-encumbered males? That’s not the point. Rather it is my experience that women often have a different view of the world in many respects. It is this differentness that we need to bring in and profit from.

However to give this full scope we need to go beyond the usual token representation. We need their strength. And we need their numbers. A scattered handful of females does not appear to suffice to force the change. Put enough women into a forum and they will keep us on our toes. I promise. (The key being the ”enough”.)

There is an analogy with our recent experience with the expanding role of cyclists in some of our cities. If there are none out there on the streets, few people even think about it. If there are a few, this makes no great difference. But once there is a strong quorum, strong presence, this starts to change everything. And not just for the cyclists. There is ample proof in this in city after city where this transformation has started to take place.

One important wrinkle on this is provided by a singing phrase of the Gender and Built Environment collaborative program at http://www.gendersite.org/ who advise us: “Don’t treat women equally”. Hmm. Something I think that is important for each of us to think through for ourselves.

My own long experience of trying to achieve some form of decent parity in the projects that I have led under the New Mobility Agenda over the last two decades has shown to me that it is no easy task. Try as I have in the projects that I have led or been able to influence, we have rarely got anywhere near full parity. Shame on me. But now, on to the future. This is clearly a job for a team, for a crowd, for new leadership, for a new culture. That could be us.

With this I think we are ready to roll. And since we have such a terrific collection of thinkers and doers here, of such high reputation, what could be better than starting with this right now ourselves? To this end I invite each of you to reach out into and beyond your networks to find at least one qualified female colleague, especially those who have worked directly with less advantaged people, groups and communities, including in the developing world. Within a few days, weeks at most, we will have our balanced panel and surely some very different ideas and counsel for our new administration.

I will start making my nominations this morning. Please join me.

5. Conclusion and recommendation

I hereby move that we now make this a major discussion topic for this panel in the weeks immediately ahead. Ladies? Gentlemen?


The above was an invited contribution to an ongoing “insider policy discussion” sponsored by the National Journal In Washington DC , which has as its intention to provide counsel to orient and guide the incoming Obama administration on matters involving policy and investments in the transportation sector. This piece specifically in response to Discussion Topic: “How should the infrastructure stimulus be spent?” Which opens with the statement (Lisa Caruso) ::” President-elect Obama has made a hefty economic stimulus the first item on his legislative agenda and signaled that he wants a significant infrastructure component. How should the money for transportation infrastructure be distributed to maximize job creation in the short run while ensuring that the projects deliver the greatest benefit for the public? And who gets to decide which projects move first?”

• To access the discussions http://transportation.nationaljournal.com.

• To access the author’s panel page: http://transportation.nationaljournal.com/contributors/Britton.php

• To contact the author: +1 310 601-8468 in the States or +331 4326 1323 in Europe. In either place eric.britton@newmobility.org for email or Skype: newmobility