Jun 20, 2016

Seductive but destructive goals: congestion-free and affordable driving

Urban transport decision-makers face huge pressures to keep driving uncongested and to keep it cheap.

But take a look at cities that have worked long and hard to get free-flowing traffic and affordable driving. I doubt you will like what you see.

This point was a central theme of my chapter "Achieving Sustainable Mobility" which appears in The State of Asian and Pacific Cities 2015 jointly published late last year by UN-ESCAP and UN-HABITAT.
The twin desires for congestion-free and affordable driving are understandable. They are politically seductive and play to motorists’ desires and the interests of car industries. But these desires are sending too many cities and their mobility systems down inequitable, costly and environmentally destructive development paths.

The results of preventing congestion and of keeping driving cheap

If private vehicle numbers rise quickly in a city with few cars, it is tempting to focus first on boosting road capacity. And, since such cities are not rich, it is also tempting to try to keep driving cheap.

The result, before long, is a "Traffic Saturated" city (increasingly filled with traffic but not yet well-adapted to cars). Such cities, such as Cairo, Delhi, Jakarta, Manila, and Tehran, have escalating problems:

  • street-based public transport mired in congestion; 
  • slow goods movement; 
  • increasing road crash casualties; 
  • health impacts of air pollution; 
  • blighted public places; 
  • shrinking space for walking or cycling; 
  • worsening exclusion of the poor, people with disabilities, the frail and the elderly; and
  • burdensome transport costs for municipal budgets.

Furthermore, if governments continue to work over decades to expand traffic capacity and to avoid cost burdens on motorists, they risk creating an increasingly "automobile dependent" city (thoroughly adapted to cars), such as Atlanta in the USA or Perth in Australia with:
  • Very high levels of car ownership and use.
  • Dispersed jobs and very low population densities, with long trip distances, making any rise in driving costs or any drop in speeds a serious problem, especially for low-income households living in car-dependent locations. 
  • People without a car are seriously disadvantaged because public transport has low service levels outside key corridors and outside peak times. 
  • High per capita negative impacts of traffic such as high-energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. However, air pollution is often quite dispersed in these low-density cities and less of a problem than in traffic saturated cities. 
  • High total costs per capita, requiring large investments by households (in vehicles and running them) and by governments (in roads and in loss-making public transport) and by developers (in required parking for example). 
  • It is difficult to shift away from such deeply entrenched car dependence, since high car use is profoundly embedded in technical systems, planning regulations, industries and institutions, parking space, life-styles and habits, as well as personal investments. 

So, focusing on easing traffic congestion and on keeping driving cheap will not help you get more sustainable urban transport.  What will?

The alternative? Strive to become more of a "New Transit City"!

Bogotá, Curitiba, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore and Taipei are examples of cities that have increasingly become New Transit Cities. Each was suffering as a Traffic Saturated city but took decisive steps to change direction, using efforts to:

  • Keep cars optional rather than a necessity. Politically, these cities often resist the cries of motorists that "I need my car". Instead they constantly improve the alternatives.
  • Face up to space and financial constraints as key reasons to avoid space-consuming car-dominated mobility priorities and to resist motorists' pleas to keep driving cheap. 
  • Make enhancing ease of access a central goal rather than enabling fast driving. Focus on space-efficient modes of transport and foster compact development so people can easily reach a wide range of destinations with few long journeys. 
  • Enable liveability gains and great urban places by avoiding car-dominated mobility. Preserving much-loved places or rescuing them from traffic impacts is a key benefit of transit-city policies. building much-needed public support. 


Which strategy do you think is best for newly motorizing cities or traffic saturated cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America?

If you are interested, this previous post has more on the "New Transit City" strategy.

Mar 4, 2014

Some carsharing optimism

I have often been a carsharing optimist.

But I am also often frustrated at the seemingly slow rise of the industry. In Singapore (where I live) for example, carsharing faced decline over several years, although it may now be reviving.

So it has been nice to see a spurt of carsharing good news recently.

First, news from Germany's Bundesverband CarSharing via Dave Brook on twitter that carsharing continues to boom in Germany. Most strikingly, there is spectacular growth in one-way carsharing (the dark blue columns). Dave writes the Carsharing.US blog.



And today I see that a recent report by business advisory firm AlixPartners suggests a much larger than expected effect of carsharing on car purchases, at least in the leading USA cities for carsharing.
According to the study, which surveyed 1,000 licensed drivers in 10 developed metropolitan car-sharing markets in the U.S. and 1,000 drivers nationally as a control sample, car sharing in the 10 key markets appears to be displacing vehicle purchases at a rate of 32 to 1 (one car-sharing fleet vehicle displacing 32 vehicles that would have otherwise been purchased). That’s more than double the rate of many studies that have focused only on national averages. To date, according to the AlixPartners study, approximately 500,000 vehicle purchases nationally have been avoided due to car sharing. In addition, the study suggests that as car sharing grows in popularity, it could account for approximately 1.2 million more purchases avoided through 2020.

Finally, here is a slideshow offering great clarity on the various 'shared-use mobility options' and how they might come together as a coherent alternative to owning a car (something I have enthused about before).





Nov 29, 2013

Singapore public transport - historical perspective on current issues

This post is to share a presentation on Singapore's Public Transport policies which I gave in Seoul in September.

This is my own take on the story, not any kind of official narrative. I took a rather long-term perspective, going back to the 1930s and emphasizing important changes in the 1970s. It is also a 'big picture' view. But some of the current debates are also there.

If you have any interest in Singapore's public transport story, then take a peek and let me know what you think.



If you can't see the embedded slideshow above, then try clicking Public Transport Policy in Singapore (a long view) 

By the way, Singapore has had a busy year of transport and urban planning announcements.

Early in the year, there was the controversial Population White Paper. That was followed closely by the Land Use Plan (basically the latest Concept Plan, Singapore's strategic plan that comes out roughly every ten years).

Later in the year came the Land Transport Master Plan 2013 (an update of the 2008 plan). Now the Draft Master Plan 2013 is out. The Master Plans make concrete the visions in the Concept Plans.

The Seoul event was the 3rd International Public Transportation Forum organized by the Korea Transport Insitute (KOTI).

I should also acknowledge the LTA as the source of some of the images in the presentation.

Aug 1, 2013

Attention newly motorizing cities! Look to NEW Transit Metropolises!


This diagram is from a new presentation (see below) in which I make the following claims:
  1. "New Transit Cities" are especially relevant for newly motorizing cities (such as India’s cities)
  2. Cities that are now New Transit Cities were, in the past, faced with challenging circumstances similar to those facing India’s cities today (namely a flood of vehicles causing traffic saturation at a time when they lacked significant mass transit that was immune from traffic)
  3. After flirting with accommodating cars, the New Transit Cities all resisted the idea that cars are a necessity and acted to make sure cars remained optional. 
Please take a look and tell me what you think in the comments. Let me know about any corrections or omissions. Do you agree?

If you can't see the embedded SlideShare version below, then download the presentation from the CSE India website (7MB pdf).



By the way, I presented this in Delhi last week at the invitation of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE India) for their workshop on 'Transport and Climate'. Day 2 on July 25 was on "Designing cities for sustainable mobility".

While in Delhi I also conducted a half day training workshop on parking policy. I will report on that over at Reinventing Parking.

Many thanks to CSE India and GIZ's SUTP for making the trip possible.

Jul 3, 2013

Singapore's urban mobility model: a slightly critical look

Don't be too starry eyed about Singapore's urban transport policies. 

Yes, they do offer plenty for others to emulate. But there are also problems and cautionary tales. 

In a recent book chapter I look at some of the problems with the current approach and speculate about a different overall strategy for Singapore urban transport policy.

High-speed one-way traffic in Singapore's new CBD. 

I have been here more than 12 years now and during that time I have been watching Singapore urban transport policy and practice pretty closely, as part of my research and as a user. I think I am well placed to offer a balanced perspective.

The chapter is called ‘Singapore’s Mobility Model: Time for an Update?’ and is published in the Institute for Mobility Research's 2013 book, Megacity Mobility Culture: How Cities Move on in a Diverse World, (Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer).

To give you a sense of my argument, here is the conclusion of the chapter:
Singapore is a useful case for the study of mobility models and public sector decision-making because of its relative coherence in policymaking and its unusual determination to accept sharp trade-offs.
Since the 1970s, Singapore’s transport and urban policies have been firm in facing up to the tight spatial imperatives of this island city-state. This has meant taking a long-term perspective to ensure space for urban development over many decades.
In a hard-nosed bargain, unpopular vehicle taxes and fees have greatly slowed the growth of the vehicle fleet and managed its use. The more popular payoffs of the policy were steadily improving public transport and efficient traffic movement. The resulting urban transport achievements have been widely praised.
However, the old version of this hard-nosed bargain contains some contradictions. The high level of service on the roads was justified primarily for the sake of commerce, but has gradually come to be seen also as a quid pro quo for motorists in return for the high costs they experience.
This has encouraged an overemphasis on high traffic speeds as an end in itself in road design, undermining the more important goal of space-efficiency.
The bargain also involves a rather narrow framing of its objectives, focused on efficiency of movement but ignoring potentially popular place-making and liveability payoffs that would result from containing traffic.
Finally, with such a premium having been put on speed over the years, it has proved difficult for policymakers to see the importance of the slower modes that are necessary in order to complement urban rail, which is understandably seen as the only alternative which has serious potential to compete with cars.
It might seem churlish to complain about a set of policies that have achieved so much. Nevertheless, it seems clear that Singapore may need a change of emphasis in its transport planning in order to build on its achievements, continue to face unavoidable constraints, and yet at the same time offer more appealing mobility choices to an increasingly demanding and informed population.
ERP or Electronic Road Pricing (Singapore's version of congestion pricing) is an emblem of Singapore's "hard nosed" approach to urban transport.

It is not all criticism. I also make some suggestions for a new strategic approach.

Here are some brief excerpts from the 'ways forward' section (with some links added):
The old bargain was a technocratic one. Any successful update will need more widespread appeal and can only emerge from a much wider debate.
... Singapore needs an update which poses a more positive vision of success, rather than being so Spartan in its focus on efficiency...
Hold up a More Positive Alternative
The unpopular elements of Singapore’s TDM policies might be more palatable if making the non-car-owning lifestyle an attractive and high-status option becomes the focus of much more strenuous and integrated efforts. This could involve promoting a broad vision of a ‘combined mobility package’ or ‘mobility mix’ that can compete head-on with car ownership ...  
Emphasise Place-Making Payoffs from the Bargain
Greater emphasis on the positive payoffs from hard-nosed mobility policies could involve more focus on liveable places, including streets, as central parts of the public realm. Singapore currently gives most of the ‘dividend’ from its strict TDM policies to existing motorists by keeping traffic speeds high and delays to a minimum. It might be better to give more of this dividend to place-making.
...
Transcend the Obsession with High Traffic Speeds
These changes would require Singapore to overcome its obsession with high traffic speeds. This would need to involve changes in road design priorities for most streets except the high-level arterials and expressways. A key measure that would reclaim space for the public realm, without imposing overly harsh restrictions on private vehicles, would be taking a smarter attitude to speed in road design priorities ...
... Singapore is rightly praised for avoiding widespread congestion on roads whose central purpose is mobility. But its emphasis on speed goes too far in its aversion to the slowing of traffic on multi-purpose streets where lower speeds and an acceptance of delays for the sake of access movements, pedestrians, buses and cyclists would be entirely appropriate.

Any comments, especially if you know Singapore well, would be much appreciated.