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[@ccess] Negative thoughts on metro in general (and on from there)

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  • eric.britton@ecoplan.org
    With your permission I will make this brief. I have a time problem these days but I feel that it is important that we do what we can to put our heads together
    Message 1 of 6 , Mar 9, 2000
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      With your permission I will make this brief. I have a time problem these
      days but I feel that it is important that we do what we can to put our heads
      together to move to a wise and broadly shared set of views on this important
      matter.

      Building on the past contributions of the last days under this heading, and
      lacking time to do it right and in full as I should like to, I shall have to
      make do with a list of hasty bullet points which perhaps in due course we
      can develop and refine into something more useful and perhaps more
      convincing. For now, this is the best I can do:

      Before we get to metros or whatever though, first a triad of bottom line
      points about transport in cities in the 21st century.

      1. The first pillar of a viable 21st century city transportation system has
      to be social justice.
      a. Why social justice and not all the other stuff that they teach in
      transport and economics courses?
      b. Well, because social justice, got right, allows us (a) to maximize IQ
      available to the community at large (our most precious source of wealth and
      well-being) and (b) correspondingly reduce social tensions and the dangers
      that they will inevitably lead to (for example, the happy world of gated
      communities).
      c. And incidentally, the social justice argument also takes us directly to
      such things as clean air, low noise environments, etc.

      2. The second is the acceptance that for reasons of simple geometry that
      cars (private solo-driver cars above all) simply do not work in cities.
      a. This means something that is on the one hand flagrantly simple and on the
      other almost exactly contrary to the whole of the conventional wisdom and
      policy of the past (which strove to _accommodate_ cars, which meant of
      course supporting them in a whole variety of ways).
      b. In 1980 or 1990 only madmen and visionaries (and the Swiss) said this
      sort of stuff, but we now have abundant proof not only that this is 100%
      true (proof which we have had, incidentally for many years indeed), but also
      that this can be done very nicely indeed (and here I can point to Zurich as
      one fine example. But far from the only one).
      c. As things presently stand, this is still a message which is (a) a
      minority view and (b) still basically confined to the leading edge in
      Europe. It still has close to zero credibility in either the US or the Third
      World. (And the more's the pity.)
      d. But this is already in the process of changing.

      3. The third and last of this philosophical triad is our sound knowledge
      that the problems of transport in cities have to be tackled above all on the
      streets of the city, and not elsewhere. Why is this?
      a. Well, first because of the nature of the problem, a Parkinson's Transport
      Law whereby experience has vividly and repeatedly demonstrated that traffic
      in a city will expand to fill all available space.
      b. So, if you build a new metro for, say one or several billion dollars, at
      you will have at the end of the day is an expensive underground system that
      costs you lots of money to run and which is full to bursting, while at the
      same time up on the street all of the old problems remain and continue to
      aggravate daily, thanks to Parkinson's Transport Law.
      c. To resume: You have just spent a billion, you are condemned to keep
      spending money like losing blood just to keep the thing working, AND you
      have solved none of your problems.
      d. Does this mean that we should get rid of all metros? No, of course not.
      But it does lead us to this bottom line conclusion on metros: If you happen
      to have one, well great. But if you don't, Third World city or other, there
      are now a huge number of compelling reasons to give it a pass.
      e. Goodbye new metros.

      So... if you agree with this, I think the inevitable conclusion is that the
      goal of transport policy now has to be that of concentrating on dealing with
      the issues of mobility and access out in the open, which means coming to
      grips with the challenge of reclaiming the street system and the rest of the
      urban scape for a legitimately sustainable transportation system. How can
      we get the most sustainable bang per buck for our investments in the city's
      transport system?

      Let's see now. We gotta somehow get most of the cars out..... How do we go
      about that? We also know that mega investments in metros, urban highways,
      large central parking facilities, etc. are almost 100% in the wrong
      direction of what we need to attain. On the other hand, the new information
      and communications technologies are obviously going to be as critical as
      concrete and steel was in the old days. So, what does this mean? What
      happens next?....

      I hope that we shall be able to take this further both in general and
      perhaps in the context of the follow-up and lessons of the Bogotá Car Free
      Day project, which, after all, just might be an interesting step in the
      right direction. Maybe.

      In the meantime I invite you to tune into http://www.ecoplan.org/carfreeday/
      and join the discussions there are as well as here. It might be that this
      combination of the general and the specific may give us some good ideas with
      much broader, and saner, application.

      Thanks for bearing with me on this. I look forward with real interest to
      your critical comments.
    • Eric Bruun
      Eric, et. al. I don t have the time to spend either, much as I would like, but I have to make a comment. Up to now, I have almost always agreed with you. But
      Message 2 of 6 , Mar 9, 2000
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        Eric, et. al.

        I don't have the time to spend either, much as I would like, but I
        have to make a comment.

        Up to now, I have almost always agreed with you. But "Goodbye to
        Metros" is a bit much. Look at productive capacity - capacity times
        speed (Productive Capacity), to see what the investment buys - if
        tremendous capacity over long distances in a reasonable amount of time is
        needed - nothing can outperform them. Of course, cost is a problem, but it
        is not true that other modes have the same performance, that is my only
        point. This doesn't mean they always go to the right places, have
        the right network configuration, or are properly connected to other
        modes, but one can say this about any proposed rail or busway investment.
        On the other hand, since the investment is permanent, one can eventually
        revise the connecting network to improve the overall system over time.

        Also, if you want to make service attractive in wealthier cities, you
        might have to invest in high performance. Parkinson's law does not
        always hold, either. Munich has had no increase in average trip length per
        capita for 20 years, even with massive increases in rail service.
        The secret is to take additional measures such as pedestrian malls,
        high parking prices, etc. to deter additional driving.

        Eric Bruun
      • eric.britton@ecoplan.org
        Ain t this a grand discussion? If you take the time to pull out and review the entire range of comments thus far received, as I have, you will I think find a
        Message 3 of 6 , Mar 11, 2000
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          Ain't this a grand discussion? If you take the time to pull out and review
          the entire range of comments thus far received, as I have, you will I think
          find a number of interesting and useful insights, and questions, on which to
          build and hone your own views and choices on these matters. And since the
          people on these lists are among the most important sources in the world of
          advance thinking, counsel and decision support on the issues, this is, I
          believe, a useful exercise indeed.

          And if we are in fact moving toward a new paradigm of transport in cities
          (which is where I think this is going), I guess it would not be out of place
          if I chip in with a few more observations, building in part on the
          communications that have thus far come in:

          1. One of the more interesting points been made here is the call for
          understanding our mobility options in cities as not some sort of
          archi-limited bipolar choice ("public" vs. "private' transport or nothing),
          but that we need instead to think in terms of the full "mobility spectrum",
          behind which in turn there are a wide range of institutions, ownership and
          entrepreneurial matters. Indeed, if we look around we can see that in many
          places one of the main enemies of better transport in cities has been the
          doctrinaire insistence that the only alternative to the private car is what
          roughly amounts to soviet-style (read rudimentary, costly and uncompetitive)
          "administered, deficitory public transport". May I suggest that as we take
          apart the results of the Bogotá Car Free Day experiment, and then try to
          piece it back together again via this collective process, we will see some
          pretty important evidence in support of the idea of getting a lot better at
          "in between" transport, such as new uses of "taxis", colectivos, vans,
          shared vehicles of many kinds, etc.

          2. And may I insist on the importance of the new technology vector here?
          Most of us who have been educated to the transport field in the past tend to
          think in terms of boxes on wheels and their associated physical
          infrastructure. But transport in cities in the future is going to be, above
          all, an information-led sector which, in fact, is the only way that we are
          ever gong to be able to make our systems sustainable. However, when we begin
          to take that into consideration our whole original frame of reference
          collapses and an entire new range of issues and choices emerge. Thank God!

          3. I hope that we are pretty much agreed that the basic argument here is not
          that we need to close down the London or Hong Kong metros, but rather to be
          sure that we are 100% rational, informed and unbiased when it comes to
          understanding how best to spent the NEXT BILLION DOLLARS that we may be able
          to get our hands on in City X. If you can make the argument for spending
          that on a metro over the counter arguments that the smartest and best
          informed of the people on this list, well then bravo! Do it! (But you
          won't be able to. It's that simple. So, as we say so demurely: "Goodbye to
          (new) metros.")

          4. "Cooking the numbers:" We would certainly like to thank Duarte for
          reminding us about this important point. When it comes to mega transport
          projects, especially those which are to be funded one way or another by
          public sector institutions and their main partners and sources of counsel
          (who, let us remind ourselves, are by and large playing with someone else's
          money), there is a lot of cooking and recooking that goes on. Nor is this
          always in the interest of truth or the public interest. Caveat emptor.

          5. If not metros, what then? Since we now know (a) that cars do not work in
          cities, including foremost among other grounds for simple reasons of
          geometry, (b) that Parkinson's Law of Transport in Cities will see to it
          that demand will always expand first to fill and then to overfill the supply
          of available infrastructure (until such time that the city just finally
          gives up and dies, that is), and (c) that even if we spend that billion
          dollars on our new metro that the Law will continue to prevail on the
          streets of the city, it strikes me that the first step is to decide to face
          the problems where they exist today, rather than try to run away from this
          cruel and unrelenting reality and try to bury them somehow, for what we know
          will be a few years at best.

          6. This means that we have to face the facts and learn to work better, much
          better, with what we have by way of our (transport's) share of the total
          urban real estate in each place. Now, if such a challenge may come as
          something of a disappointment to people and institutions who have long
          believed that the correct course was to try to build your way out of the
          problem, it nonetheless opens up a huge range of areas of innovation and
          management which are new, exciting, different and potentially enormously
          powerful tools in the interest of sustainability. Perhaps the most
          difficult challenge comes at the very beginning here, as people and
          institutions who have been trained to think and act in one way need to learn
          to readjust their sights and tools. Fortunately their analytic and other
          skills are going to be critical to the conversion process, so it's not like
          being a 50 year old coal miner with no apparent place in the economy to go.
          All those good traffic engineering and planning skills are gong to be even
          more important, and more challenged, in our new transportation environment
          of the 2000's.

          For those of us who are concerned with matters of sustainability and
          transport in cities, these are hugely exciting times. Unless of course we
          choose to continue to burrow our way out of the sunlight and reason.

          Yours in ready compromise,

          Eric Britton


          P.S. SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT REFERENDUM IN SWITZERLAND: Tomorrow, March 12, is
          the day of the vote. The call is for government and its agencies there to do
          whatever is needed to decrease motorized vehicle kms in the region by 50%
          over the course of the next ten years. The target area is the entire Swiss
          Confederation, the cantos, and the communes. For details see
          http://www.actif-trafic.ch/. Whether this public initiative makes it or not
          (Light a candle!), we propose that the results be carefully scrutinized in
          these various discussions groups and fora, in the hope that we can learn the
          lessons of this important experience in activist democracy (as opposed to
          the administered brand that so many seem to prefer... see de Tocqueville for
          further clarification on this one).




          ecopl@n ___ technology, economy, society ___
          Le Frene, 8/10 rue Joseph Bara, 75006 Paris, France
          Eric.Britton@... URL www.ecoplan.org
          Voice/Videoconference +331.4441.6340 (1-4)
          Voicemail/Fax hotline: Europe +331 5301 2896
          Voicemail/Fax hotline: North America +1 888 522 6419 (toll free)
        • eric.britton@ecoplan.org
          Dear Colleagues, In 1972 or thereabouts a referendum was held in Zurich in an attempt to get public confirmation for a planned new metro project there. The
          Message 4 of 6 , Mar 18, 2000
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            Dear Colleagues,

            In 1972 or thereabouts a referendum was held in Zurich in an attempt to get
            public confirmation for a planned new metro project there. The expert
            proposal, despite strong political backing, was not approved by the
            electorate, with results that we all now know.

            My question to you this morning is this: Can anyone out there point us to
            some links or email us some materials that tell this interesting story.
            Truth is, I received a Ford Foundation grant back then to look at a trio of
            failed transportation initiatives (the others were the Third London Airport
            and the proposed Voie Express Rive Gauche here in Paris) and wrote up a
            pretty good report on it, but in my cosmic disorganization I can find no
            trace of all our hard work.

            Kind thanks if you come up with anything on this.

            With all good wishes,

            Eric Britton

            ecopl@n ___ technology, economy, society ___
            Le Frene, 8/10 rue Joseph Bara, 75006 Paris, France
            Eric.Britton@... URL www.ecoplan.org
            Voice/Videoconference +331.4441.6340 (1-4)
            Voicemail/Fax hotline: Europe +331 5301 2896
            Voicemail/Fax hotline: North America +1 888 522 6419 (toll free)
          • Eric Bruun
            Eric Britton, et.al: It seems pretty paradoxical to me that as the world supposedly gets wealthier, and cities get larger, that the justification for Metros
            Message 5 of 6 , Mar 21, 2000
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              Eric Britton, et.al:

              It seems pretty paradoxical to me that as the world supposedly gets
              wealthier, and cities get larger, that the justification for Metros
              gets more difficult? What would you suggest for Athens if the decision
              to invest was being made today if not a metro? Eric Bruun
            • eric.britton@ecoplan.org
              Eric Bruun writes on this date: It seems pretty paradoxical to me that as the world supposedly gets wealthier, and cities get larger, that the justification
              Message 6 of 6 , Mar 22, 2000
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                Eric Bruun writes on this date: "It seems pretty paradoxical to me that as
                the world supposedly gets wealthier, and cities get larger, that the
                justification for Metros gets more difficult? What would you suggest for
                Athens if the decision to invest was being made today if not a metro? Eric
                Bruun "

                Excellent question. I have some slight advantage with this city choice
                having lived and worked there on two occasions for several moths at each
                time. Thanks for asking, Eric. So here's what I'd do. Step by step:

                1. Ask by way of reminder to have in front of us the best estimates of costs
                of the metro project as planned, with of course additional estimates for
                externalities, including the cost to commerce, traffic, etc., of the
                disruptions created by and during the process of construction.

                2. That will yield a number... whatever it is, along with, hopefully, a very
                brief summary of who is going to pay for what and when.

                3. I then will ask for a brief point to point resume (say on 1-3 pages) of
                what are the exact targeted benefits, to whom, when, etc.

                4. I then would put these numbers and short documents before this august
                group for a first set of ideas, reactions, and comments
                .
                5. Then I will move to Athens.

                6. In parallel I will start to work with the budget which I have requested
                and been given - exactly 5% of the estimated total cost (incidentally less
                than the annual interest otherwise paid on the total bill) - and will go to
                work to achieve a substantial proportion of the objectives within the next
                two years (so as to be in time for the Olympics with our new transportation
                infrastructure), along with a whole bunch of objectives and programs of my
                own.

                7. One of my first steps will be to organize a REAL Car Free Day (not to be
                confused with the laconic variants that one sees in some places.. see
                http://www.ecoplan.org/carfreeday/ for more on that) - which will not only
                give ma lot of my policy and investment targets, but which will also give me
                the overwhelming political base I shall need in order to get done what we
                need to do.

                8. I'll put up traffic cams all over the place (say a couple of hundred)
                linked to the Web.

                9. All of this will be posted on the world's best bilingual Web site with
                all details, proposals, progress, etc. available for public information,
                discussion, and international expert comment and feedback.

                10. We'd then also develop the world's best All-Mode Advanced Passenger
                Information System (see our first rough attempt ins Bilbao on this at
                http://www.transbilbao.net)

                Two years later, you'd see world level results and probably 80% of the
                Athenians would want me to run for mayor. Or maybe get the Elgin (or
                Parthenon, to give them their rightful name) Marbles back.

                Or should we just give the money to Bechtel and all go on vacation?

                With all good wishes,

                Eric Britton

                ecopl@n ___ technology, economy, society ___
                Le Frene, 8/10 rue Joseph Bara, 75006 Paris, France
                Eric.Britton@... URL www.ecoplan.org
                Voice/Videoconference +331.4441.6340 (1-4)
                Voicemail/Fax hotline: Europe +331 5301 2896
                Voicemail/Fax hotline: North America +1 888 522 6419 (toll free)
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