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Climate and transport: Will the New Mobility Agenda suffice do the job?

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  • Eric Britton
    From: Michael Yeates [mailto:michael@yeatesit.biz] Sent: Tuesday, 2 September 2008 02:49 Eric ... (and all .. if Eric thinks this plea is worth sending to a
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2008

      From: Michael Yeates [mailto:michael@...]
      Sent: Tuesday, 2 September 2008 02:49


      Eric ...
              (and all .. if Eric thinks this plea is worth sending to a wider audience)

      A number of philosophers are credited with the "advice" that as part of any move or strategy for change, both "long term strategic AND short term pragmatic" must be considered.   (Incidentally, if anyone has references to any of the many possible sources or similar ideas from other than western  European cultures, I would be grateful if you would send the quotations and references to me privately).

      The nature of the changes being addressed by the New Mobility Agenda (NMA?) and the magnitude would seem to make including and applying this advice "up front" essential.

      Essentially the short term "pragmatic" is those which are perhaps easy, marginal, partial, incremental or in some cases maybe even radical, but they set the scene for others to experience and explore in different situations and settings (in the broadest sense).

      The long term "strategic" is essential to guide in more certain directions and necessitates a "picture" but not a "plan" of the desired outcomes. Too often these are whimsical or "unrealistic" or negative or exaggerated, and thus are readily not believed, like that wonderful image of the 20-30 lane width freeway heading towards ..., is it LA?

      The problem of course as you and Theo raise, is the tendency to get the decisions wrong ... and arguably, this is because the decisions are almost always based on the short term pragmatic for "political" reasons rather than including long term strategic reasons, not least because most of us appear to have difficulty accepting change let alone deciding which of many possible changes to adopt. This is inevitable without clear strategic directions (the long term strategic) but then the problem is envisaging those changes and how they might come about indeed how they might be implemented ... ie implementation (if necessary, incremental) in the short term.

      It is also inherent in long term strategic decisions that do not also take account of the short term pragmatic. These are exemplified by the many worthwhile strategies that somehow never seem to be implemented ... usually because something more politically pragmatic has been..!

      It is also worth considering that rather than informed critique, negative doubts are always much more effective in opposing change than are positive thoughts in trying to encourage change. Sadly much the same applies to selective and/or biased "research" as much of it is biased towards what we do now and therefore it is assumed can then improve (which is a quite reasonable rational pragmatic management approach) rather than what other might be better and why ... often despite awareness of the issues involved ... or lack of it.

      I am reminded here of two quotations.

      One reports that the Coroner investigating the circumstances of the death of first pedestrian fatally injured when struck by a motor car in the UK was horrified by the speed of the motor vehicle said to be as fast as a bicycle. The Coroner also hoped such an occurrence would not happen again. That was in 1896.

      The other reports that UK Prime Minister (Asquith) in 1907 described the motor car as 'a luxury that is apt to degenerate into a nuisance' while commenting on a proposal to introduce a tax on motor cars.

      Mmmmmmm ... some lessons in those perhaps?

      The more things (appear to) change, the more they stay the same?

      Another of the relevant pieces of "advice" ... summarised as follows ... comes from the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) ...

      All truth passes through three stages.


      ·                 First it is ridiculed.

      ·                 Second it is violently opposed.

      ·         Third, it is accepted as self-evident.


      We now appear to be in the third stage ... we accept that motor vehicles are killers and a nuisance ... and we still want them and more ..! 

      One area that appears to be very useful at least potentially to explore this dilemma is a concentration on younger children in terms of the extent that both ideas and behaviour are inculcated at a surprisingly early age. By way of this concentration, preceding generation(s) are also included both historically and where living, in person. For similar reasons, a concentration on the aged/elderly is also useful ... the benefit of experience and hindsight, having seen change(s) ... or "the wisdom of the elders" to (mis)use Suzuki's book title?

      For an excellent example, Jonathon Porritt has used this very effectively in his wonderful book "Captain Eco and the fate of the Earth" (DK 1991) ... encapsulated in a section in which Captain Eco explains to the two children that it is the parents and grandparents who have "made a mess of looking after the earth, they may deny it, but they are little more than vandals. And they are stealing your future from under your noses." Is that us??

      After taking the two children on an exhaustive trip around the Earth looking at and undertaking detailed exploration of, the evidence, Captain Eco says to them, "It's all come as a bit of a shock to your parents. When they were at school, nobody worried much about the environment ... Now they worry about all the changes that are needed. They know that we can't go on in the same way but they don't know what to do about it" .

      And that is one aspect of the problem ... everyone knows or has ideas on what to do ... they compete for "success" ... and the politicians (and others) "cherry pick" ...! 
              (As an aside, I understand the book may not have been allowed to be sold in some places but that needs verification.)

      The generalised result?

      Almost everybody "worries" about the changes ... about what to do ... but it seems today and my own interests are much more important than tomorrow and others' interests ... a great way to do little or nothing ... other than more of the same ...! 

      Mind you it IS worth recalling that some of what we now do is OK ... it is a matter of (deciding or agreeing?) which bits ...;-).

      So what and where are some good examples to adopt as "long term strategic AND short term pragmatic"?

      Two "projects" I suggest have much merit are "Safe Routes to Schools" (Odense) and "30km/h default speed limit" (Graz). I have been lucky enough to have experienced Graz after a 3 year detailed study of the project and reports. And the "Safe Routes to School" project seems so obvious as to not require critique and but is well documented.

      So why not agree and adopt the principles from these two projects?

      While I ask that a little rhetorically, I also ask it deadly seriously...!

      Children and their parents and grandparents across the world are being killed or injured or constrained or impacted on in so many ways because we/they don't have the opportunity to know what to do or we/they don't have the ability to do it.

      Well, let's DO something ... something that is almost impossible to counter.

      Your ie "our" answers to these suggestions in our particular locations across Captain Eco's Earth will help illustrate why the short term pragmatic usually dominates the long term strategic ... a human failing I suspect, but one that needs to be addressed and hopefully reduced if not overcome.

      I hate to think how many people will, would or might oppose these two projects and their principles for pragmatic reasons ... but that too is a learning exercise ... an exercise in "learning our way out" of dilemmas (Milbrath,1989).

      So the question raised by your request (see below) is whether there is scope to incorporate these two projects and their principles into the work of the New Mobility Agenda (NMA) as global "flag ship" case studies that have the cross-generational multi-cultural educational value and power of both "long term strategic AND short term pragmatic" and lets see what variations emerge across the world while at the same time using these as a means to develop and test, evaluate and monitor the success of the many other related aims of NMA.

      Not surprisingly given the above, I like Enrique Penalosa's goal that children should be free to walk and cycle their city ... but even with his wonderful projects, the children are not free ... they are greatly constrained by roads and busways etc ... their freedom is compromised and constrained. By whom and by what and most importantly, why?

      Yet this is just one example of the direction needed ... and there are many. This is not to criticise but to critique. The question is how to further free the children and what are the short AND long term consequences of not doing so.

      Of course there are already people and groups working in these fields so is there scope to partner with them to extend these "flag ship" projects to diverse locations across the globe?

      After visiting Graz, for a while, a group of us communicated by way of an email network "Global Network for Gentle Mobility" but the task seemed too immense ... too many people seemed opposed to "gentle mobility" ... too many people wanted to maintain the status quo while adding to rather than changing the status quo. The fundamental problems remained and constrained.

      Indeed as still seems to be the case, many who argue the roads are dangerous somewhat paradoxically don't appear to want to make them less so. They advocate for separate systems and networks. They forget that the slogan "STOP THE CHILD MURDER" assisted in the adoption of the 30km/h sped limit in the Netherlands some 25-30 years ago.

      But who knows what "gentle mobility" is or might be?

      If they don't, then how can it be considered, let alone agreed or adopted? Does it seem too radical to be realistic and thus too radical to even be bothered with?

      In fact it was the support "branding" slogan for the campaign for and implementation of the 30km/h speed limit in Graz ... still as far as I know the only city in the world to have such a setting ... despite the success.

      I often wonder why. This is one of those times.

      Michael Yeates ..............................



      At 10:01 PM 1/09/2008, Eric Britton wrote:

      I am in the process of adding a final short section to our work program statement, the text of which I attach below. I would be grateful to have reactions, privately if you think it best or to the group as a whole if you consider that is appropriate. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts.

      "We should not wait to cut back on burning fossil fuels until we have developed greener technology to supply our energy needs, despite what many economists are advising their respective governments. Such a waiting game may have deadly consequences." *[1]

      Climate?  Will the New Mobility Agenda do the job?


      This is a critical question -- and the answer is a resounding no!


      That is not to say that the measures introduced in these pages are not central parts of the solution set. They definitely are.  But the patient is very sick, the problems are enormous, and additional strong medicine is needed.


      The parallel policy path that needs to be explored and activated in conjunction with the mobility specific measures and tools that the Agenda proposes is the broad category which we refer to as “economic instruments”, all of which at the end of the day are critical means for bringing about a level playing field via full cost pricing. Of these the most important and notable include:


      • Carbon taxes. Yes, we are aware of all the problems.  Still it’s a must-do for sustainability.
      • Full cost pricing for moving cars in cities.  This is a parallel traffic reduction track to further reinforce our aggressive repartitioning of street space in favor of space efficient travel modes.
      • Full cost pricing for parking: Again, economic instruments plus carefully phased physical reductions and changes in planning ordinances and tax/subsidy policies.


      Performance standards: The other prong of this combined multi-level approach is the continued strategic and aggressive use of fuel economy and environmental standards (possibly for older vehicles as well as new ones) to create achievable performance targets for the supplier industries. 


      Does this sound like a great deal to you?  It certainly should.  Cutting emissions from the transport sector by 80% in the next ten to fifteen years is no small task.  We need to respond with all our competence and willpower to these challenges. It’s a choice.  We don’t have to wait for the future to happen to us.


      The Achilles heel of transport policy


      Among the principal factors holding back meaningful reform in the transport sector is the fact that people and policy makers feel comfortable in taking positions on these issues, because they seem to be so very commonsensical and self evident.  Essentially this is a sector in which just about everybody feels comfortable in freely recommending this or that policy; since after all transport is what they do every day.


      But the fact is that the transport sector  of a large city is an organic metabolism of gargantuan complexity.  If you think of it as a kind of brain with tens of billions of neurons, each with thousands of complex connective tissues, then you are starting to get an idea of the level of systemic complexity and the level of competence needed to make wise decisions as to what to do next.


      But here we are in an age in which everybody – citizens, media, politicians and you bet! interest groups and lobbies -- is ready to jump in and do the equivalent of open brain surgery on their city based on what they think they know.  Which is one of the reasons that we are in the mess we are in.


      Brains are complex metabolisms, and so too are cities.  So let’s not be too hasty to accept that those “first great ideas” are the way to go.  A very careful look is called for before you start sharpening those knives.



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