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609Transport in cities: Why are we doing so poorly?

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  • Eric.Britton
    Jun 12, 2006

      Subject: Transport in cities: Why are we so desperately off target? Doing so poorly in the States?  (And everywhere else in the world where our examples and perspectives spill over)


      “Critical Issues in Transportation”, Transportation Research Board, Washington D.C., 2006.

      o              Click here for report (PDF) - http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/general/CriticalIssues06.pdf


      This just-out report of the US Transportation Research Board prepared by some of the most brilliant thinkers and practitioners in the United States under the title “Critical Issues in Transportation” found its way here over the weekend. Hmm.


      I have been looking at policy and practice in our sector for quite some time, and try hard to follow the main lines of developments and thinking to the extent possible around the world. Which means I read quite a lot. But through it all I continue to be puzzled as to why in the States in particular we seem to be so far off target when it comes to transport in cities with the generally pretty grotesque results that we have, whether from the vantage of social equity, economics or sheer systemic (in-)efficiency.  As I read through this report and its selected target areas and recommendations, it suddenly become very clear to me what the basic problem is.


      What we have here are the collected group thoughts of a selection of America’s leading ‘transportation experts’, strong as anyone in the world in engineering and construction in all the basic modal areas to which they give attention– but have a closer look. There is not a single meaningful point made about what brings all of us here together: the fundamentals of how people get around and access what they need in cities.  Which means to me that this piece, useful as it surely is in its overall domain, has all of the relevance to us as a book of recipes explaining how we prepare deep fried foods in Mississippi.


      Worse. Since it carries with it a title and a whole series of implications that this is the way you should “do” transportation – implicitly by title anywhere, cities included – it creates and reinforces the basic mindset that is 100% central to the problems we are facing and trying to resolve in cities today. In summary: build your way out of the problems.  Dig your way out of the hole.


      Is this characterization altogether incorrect? Unfair? Useless as an observation?


      I guess that is why we try to call it New Mobility and not transportation.  We are trying to draw a clear line between these two markedly different worlds of policy and practice. Otherwise . . .


      Eric Britton .