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[World Streets] Why transport planners need to think small to tackle climate ...

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  • Eric Britton
    Why transport planners need to think small to tackle climate change Leg Power - A Convenient Truth - Simon Bishop, Delhi, India No matter
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 17, 2009
      Why transport planners need to think small to tackle climate change

      Leg Power - A Convenient Truth

      - Simon Bishop, Delhi, India

      No matter how big or small all movements have their heresies and
      orthodoxies. In the domain of transport policy, questioning the primacy of
      motorized public transport over cycling and walking is like suggesting that
      the world may not be flat after all. The mercury rose and emails flew on the
      Sustainable Transport (Sustran) online discussion group earlier this week
      when Beijing's announcement to make the city 'a public transport city' by
      2015 hit the wire. One contributor questioned Beijing's strategy, which was
      based solely on raising levels of rail and bus ridership to 45%. Once the
      mainstay of China's urban transport system, the bicycle, didn't even get a

      From where I'm sitting in Delhi I added that there is a tendency to see
      'motorized, mass public transport', through rose tinted glasses as if it is
      'the' solution to growing automobile use. A huge amount of emphasis is put
      on the Metro and now BRT as ways to solve congestion (never mind about all
      the other externalities). Bicycles and legs are ignored despite holding a
      huge modal share, over half of all trips in Delhi.

      I think it was the Indian economist Dasgupta who showed that you could make
      public transport free in the UK and still only effect a very small shift to
      it from the car (6%). The fact is that cars are damn convenient and people
      will use them unless they are literally prized away from doing so. The vast
      majority of people use public transport in London and NY because they have
      to. It's well nigh impossible to park your car and it will cost you big time
      if you do! I hope that Beijing's approach will witness parking restraint and
      pricing as a lynchpin of its policy, otherwise it will be a funding drain
      and a white elephant.

      The rose tinted spectacles also ignore the role of cycling as faster and
      more convenient than the bus over short to medium distances. Why swap a more
      convenient form of transport for a less convenient one? The only other thing
      that can compete with the car over these distances is the motorcycle, which
      should also be deterred for safety reasons and its high emissions of
      Nitrogen Dioxide.

      Presently people don't ride, or use cycle taxis because motorised vehicles
      make them less safe, they need an 'image makeover', and planners ignore
      rider comforts like tree cover and vendor zones in hot countries, air
      pollution all over. Cheap interventions like prioritising access for cycles
      and pedestrians across high speed vehicle canyons should be a priority.
      These interventions save lives, make cycling and walking practical, and come
      in cheap - kilometre for kilometre a cycle track in London would cost less
      than 1/400th the amount of the Jubilee Line extension.

      In terms of our greatest challenge, global warming I am perturbed. Where you
      have quality bus systems (with good timetables in the off peak and feeder
      services) they consume amounts of per capita energy rivalling that of the
      car. Quoting London, the average actual CO2 emissions of a bus is 40% that
      of a car, PM10 emissions are 3 times and SO2 emissions 25 times greater -
      that's not much of an improvement and certainly not enough to stabilise
      carbon emissions at 450ppmv. In Taipei, taking account of door to door
      emissions, the Metro actually consumes more energy than a car!

      The counter argument to all this is that Asia is not London and you can't
      compare ridership levels in London with Asian cities. True for now, but
      planners need to think about the future. What people put up with now is not
      what they will put up with as they get richer and have choices. Delhi does
      not yet have a public transport network that those with a choice of private,
      motorized transport would opt to use. The figures that we quote on fuel
      efficiency for buses in Asia NOW are not those that will exist with the kind
      of network needed to get wealthier citizens on the bus. And by the way I'm
      not talking about rich citizens, I'm talking about ones who can afford
      motorcycles that run on less than 1 rupee a kilometre.

      To get motorcyclists and car users to switch in future, or at least stay on
      the bus, even WITH very strong demand management measures and low fares,
      we'll need to increase frequency, add A/C in some cases, bring down the
      'crush factor' and widen geographical scope, all of which will inevitably
      result in more energy consumed per passenger. It's hard to disagree with
      this line of thinking without adopting a line of 'one standard of public
      transport comfort for 'the West' and one for the developing world'.

      This should not be construed as an argument AGAINST public transport,
      particularly buses, after all the more of us that use them the better, and
      there will always be a need for those who cannot cycle or walk, but it IS an
      argument for Beijing to re-discover leg power, put greater emphasis on
      travel demand management, and control urban sprawl. If the world is to face
      its greatest challenge, that of averting catastrophic climate change, we
      have no choice.
      The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man's metabolic energy to the
      impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the
      efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well. ~Ivan
      Illich, Energy and Equity, 1974

      Posted By Eric Britton to World
      o-think.html> Streets at 6/17/2009 09:56:00 AM

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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