453RE: [New Mobility/WorldTransport Forum] Post-Tsunami rebuilding
- Dec 30, 2004Well put Dave ..!
A similar story applies to use of the inherent efficiency of rail where
relatively very high levels of efficiency in terms of load/energy/fuel
ratios can be achieved with much lighter engines and rolling stock than the
heavy weight "unsustainable" equipment developed in the "west".
[Like your "coal" trains, we used to have "water trains" that carried water
to replenish the tanks along the longer haul lines so that the "real"
trains did not have to carry so much weight!]
For example, one can imagine a freight/passenger system based on light and
more frequent "eco+people-friendly" trains similar to sugar cane trains
(ours use a small diesel engine but could be any available fuel eg
bio-fuel) on a much narrower gauge and much lighter track and bed (ie track
and bed is related to and depends on weight loading per wheel).
This image suggests the benefits of rail for loads heavier than can be
carried on bicycles (see Dave's email) ... especially in relatively flat
coastal country which also looks as if it is of a low load carrying geology.
However, the problem of emergency assistance is well described by our
friend from Florida DoT in that the emphasis will be on restoring the
previous situation ASAP rather than considering other options including
whether it might be "improved" by utilising a move to 'more sustainable"
But the destruction and removal and non-replacement of damaged freeways
after earthquakes provides a good example of not simply replacing the
previous situation although there are probably more rail tracks than roads
not replaced ...!
So the "story" suggests yet another example of an inability to get off the
car/road/truck/bus dependency "train" ... even when catastrophic situations
AND low cost, high efficiency solutions create an opportunity to do so.
The fact that the authorities are now relying increasingly on helicopters
(eg several being sent by air at vast expense in an Antonov freighter from
Australia) suggests that cost is NOT an issue given the enormous social
However as others have pointed out, this catastrophe is relatively
insignificant when compared to the ANNUAL global road toll ...
Solutions and suggestions?
One suggestion to raise awareness of the transport and land use links (in
this case, traditional links to the sea in low lying coastal areas) sounds
totally unsympathetic, almost inhuman and potentially politically risky but
if it is any of these, then the reasons why must be addressed. It is
realistic and must not be forgotten. The comparison with the annual global
road toll extended if necessary to include victims of air pollution etc
must be emphasised and "aid" to address it contrasted. Have we become too
complacent and accepting of the annual road toll such that only
catastrophes make news and "sustainable" modes of transport are ignored or
forgotten? Should the areas and infrastructure damaged be "restored" or
should other strategies be considered too?
The second is to emphasise that some transport systems are inherently
better than others and that four in particular stand out.
2. cycling and other HPV modes
3. rail modes with emphasis on light rather than heavy "efficiency"
4. boats (or traditional "low tech" methods) for moving heavy loads
I would argue that these are the "sustainable modes". They emphasise
localness, self-sufficiency and appropriateness. Are these some indicators
of sustainability? Perhaps. They reduce the emphasis on economic efficiency
and bulk, mass, fast or "just in time" travel for goods and/or passengers
in favour of "sustainable efficiency" and "appropriate technology" and
"localness" ... in the sense that for a trip of up to 1-5kms walking is
healthy, and cycling or HPV travel is appropriate, whereas a car is neither
esp when the load carrying capacity and fuel/cost efficiency of bicycles
and HPVs is taken into account!
Somewhere, sometime, we have to take into account the unsustainability of
cheap air travel and global freight networks that pass on or avoid
externality costs while excluding the vast proportion of the global
population for the benefit of a very small proportion. [In this sense, it
seems the dependency on the cheap global tourism economy could or should be
considered a major "cause" of the tsunami catastrophe.]
We have to be careful not to lose track of the inherent efficiency and
appropriateness in a "sustainable" sense of these four "sustainable" modes
in seeking to emphasise "new" mobility.
Unfortunately, the idea of walking or cycling rather than using a car is
too easily replaced by use of a bus or truck (or helicopters and other
"new" VTOL aircraft!) ... rather than fixed (preferably light) rail modes
... repeating the error of dependency, flexibility and individual travel
time preferences which disguise the inappropriateness and danger and
unsustainability of modes that encourage faster travel and
other-than-localness ... ie more longer, faster and heavier trips ...
whether for moving freight or passengers.
The bigger problem here is that the hegemony of high speed motorised
transport dependency is so ingrained in "the west" that any suggestions
that might be worth considering can appear patronising, paternalistic and
inappropriate ... and rightly so! We don't set a good example!
However, where there is an opportunity to demonstrate appropriate
technology in a (more) sustainable mode ie if it provides an appropriate
and sustainable solution to the real 'local' needs, then taking that
opportunity will add the weight of evidence to the argument that the west
is profligate with energy, wealth and space per capita.
As with many of these decisions, local democracy suggests that the
decisions should be taken by the locals rather than be made by others under
pressure of assistance to restore the previous situation and this pressure
includes reluctance to refuse foreigners giving specific types of aid.
The lessons about "appropriate and sustainable technology" in transport and
travel eg as learned in/from China and Vietnam with heavy load carrying
bicycles and HPVs and walking should not be allowed to be forgotten or
ignored by proponents of "new" modes of travel if "sustainability" is an
issue. The lessons apply in urban as well as rural and natural settings,
and as Dave points out, in all sorts of conditions, from long wars to
Whether we in the west can bother to make the effort is quite another issue!
Date: Thu, 30 Dec 2004 14:27:23 EST
Subject: [New Mobility/WorldTransport Forum] Post-Tsunami rebuilding
A most telling feature of news coverage immediately post impact was the
and coverage in restoration of transport achieved by the humble bicycle,
almost as soon as the water had subsided to axle depth, bicycles were on
streets ferrying supplies and people, and apart from their limitations on
carrying for mass relief, in a coordinated group the final distribution of
essential supplies like water, can be achieved without the delay of having
every road for motor vehicles, repair bridges, and get fuel supplies in
Those organising the aid might note that a bicycle - especially the
Phoenix/Flying Pidgeon/Dutch roadster with substantial load carrying racks,
geometry which allows riding with no tyres, backpedal brakes allow riding
near-round wheels, and bikes don't need fuel bunkerage and fuel supply
valuable space on incoming transport (nice analogy here with the far North
line where steam trains required a further steam train hauling the coal to
replenish the stock of coal at the end of the line to put provide the fuel
the return trip, including taking coal for the engine that hauled the coal
for the engines...). Maybe some lessons to learn here also from Vietnam -
50,000 Tons of supplies were shipped down from Hanoi to Da Nang on
with the riders walking down guiding their bikes with bamboo extensions to
saddle and handlebars, and each bike carrying roughly 250Kg of supplies,
jungle trails, and going around on very basic temporary structures where
and roads had been destroyed by the US military who could not conceve that
such a vast supply chain could work without large trucks and roads. Once
unloaded the bamboo extensions were detached and the bikes returned to
machines for the return trip.
If the relief is to get to the people then the bicycle has a major role in
reaching every remote location where there are no roads available.
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