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Peter Cox is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography and Development Studies and the Department of Social and Communications Studies at the University of Chester, UK
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Sustainable Transport Development
By Peter Cox
Zed Books LtdCopyright © 2010 Peter Cox
All rights reserved.
Movement and mobility
Movement is fundamental to the human condition. Indeed, it is one of the markers by which life in all its forms is characterised. Human social life and organisation are no different. Palaeoanthropology describes the origins and development of human cultures as intimately bound up with movement and migration (Tudge 1995). European historiography depicts Western civilisation as it has been experienced through patterns of trade, exploration and imperial expansion, whether of Alexander's journey east to India, Leif Erickson's journey west to Vinland, the voyages of Columbus and Magellan, or the rise of the European empires on the back of trading routes to South and Southeast Asia. Trading routes for the transport of goods between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean can be traced back to the second millennium bce (Thapar 2000). Today the predominant description of the globalised economy is defined by an increase in the depth and speed of flows of goods and services. Yet, until recently, transport has remained an almost unexamined area within the social sciences.
Social-scientific study of human societies has tended to concentrate on the specificity of and difference between social groups and forms. Thus it has, until recently, emphasised static groups and the relationships between them. It examines the forces of power and the structural and cultural relations that characterise particular societies. Stress on the unique development of contrasting social groups, typified by assumptions of European exceptionalism, bolsters this stress on division rather than on movement and underlies a long history of anthropological study.
The emphasis on abstract human relations, whilst invaluable for grounding politics and understanding how to achieve social change, comes at the cost of turning aside from the experiential dimension of human life. Only recently, with the 'cultural turn' in the social sciences, has deeper consideration been given to lived experience. One aspect of this cultural turn has been to re-evaluate the emphasis on relations between relatively fixed objects and groups, enabling scholars to begin to examine flows and fluidities. Relinquishing exclusive focus on class, gender and ethnicity as fixities of social structure, and moving towards a better understanding of the constant processes of construction and reconstruction through which these identities are (re)formed, enable us to rethink the study of social movement. Social dynamics is no longer a secondary study of the movement of discrete objects defined by social statics.
In the past decade, as an increasingly important part of this turn in the social sciences, the explicit study of mobility as a theme in its own right has emerged as a means by which to re-examine some of the key features of contemporary life. If all social life is involved in movement, then movement – of people, of goods, of ideas and concepts – needs to be an object of study and theorisation. Central to this is the work of John Urry, who describes the impact of this approach as representative of a new paradigm in social sciences, emphasising not just the physical aspect of movement, but the 'economic, cultural and social organisation of distance' (Urry 2007: 54). Applied to the specific area of development studies, this approach, as we will see, has far-reaching implications.
The field of development, as conventionally conceived, is grounded in the conceptualisation of distance. The 'underdeveloped' are economically, culturally and socially distant. Distant from where? The standpoint of those who conceive of others as requiring development is rhetorically elevated to be able to view and to pass judgement. In Urry's terms, participation and social exclusion in mobility terms are functions of distance. Centre–periphery themes in development can be revisited through the concept of mobility, not in a strictly structuralist manner but as a way of understanding the creation of alienation and a way in which marginalisation is constructed. The very physical provision of greater levels of mobility to those marginalised by existing modes of transport can create more than physical access – it also implies social inclusion and incorporation (Lucas 2006). Inclusion is only valid if one is being 'included' in a desired state. If developed nations are complicit in socially and environmentally unsustainable transport, 'development' to their state is neither wise nor ultimately desirable. So the mobilities approach to the social sciences can have profound implications for understanding development in both theory and practice.
More immediately, this mobilities paradigm enables us to move the study of transport away from its confinement in technical studies or as a specialist subdiscipline of geography. Mobility characterises almost all human activity, from rising out of bed in the morning and ambulation though the mundane activities of daily life, to the more common understandings of movement: recognisable 'trips' involving a defined destination and starting point. Yet the separation of movement into 'trips' and the exclusion of mundane mobility from this measurement already impose a hierarchy of significance on human mobility. Those unable to participate in such mundane activity, through physical or other impairment, are subject to separate and specialist provision and concern. Indeed, their condition is defined by their capacity to participate. Consequently, impairment is translated socially into disability and can lead to social exclusion.
Transport and mobility
Transport studies, despite their explicit focus on movement, have also, as Spinney (2009) points out, retained what he describes as a 'sedentrist' focus. In other words, studies of transport are oriented largely around the static destination and starting points, and measured in trips between these, rather than being structured around the processes and experiences of motion. Nevertheless, the field of transport planning relies on core concepts which provide a vital language for the discipline.
The first concept is the idea of access. Access is defined as the ability to reach desired goods and services and activities. It can be contrasted with mobility. Mobility is the means by which those goods, service and activities can be reached, the physical act of travel (Litman 2008). The conventional approach to planning for transport is based around managing the levels of demand generated by society. Yet demand can be as much a product of wealth as it is a reflection of need. Providing for unlimited demand simply privileges wealthy and powerful elites, argues Martens (2006).
A more equitable solution would be to evaluate transport improvements by the degree to which they aid access for basic needs, rather than mobility gains in the abstract. As well as having benefits for social justice, this model could readily be used in terms of environmental sustainability: assessing the outcomes of planning by the capacity to access basic goods, services and activities in a sustainable fashion, with minimised pollution. As a way of thinking through the links between development and transport, access approaches are profoundly important, enabling us to bring together understandings of social and environmental sustainability with the equitable provision of basic needs.
Access can be achieved either by physical movement or by its substitution. Mobility and mobility substitution are both means to provide access. As Cervero (2005: 1) reminds us, 'Accessibility is a product of mobility and proximity, enhanced by either increasing the speed of getting between point A and point B (mobility), or by bringing points A and B closer together (proximity), or some combination thereof.' But increases in speed demand disproportionate increases in energy consumption and in the space devoted to transport means. Increasing the degree of road space beyond its current saturation levels in most urban areas is not feasible, nor conducive to social inclusion. Hence we need to consider the means by which access in its various forms can be realised, to assess the social and environmental sustainability of those modes, and to identify the changes in society that are required to bring them about.
Physical mobility: motorised and non-motorised
Physical mobility takes the individual to the goods, services or activity. Walking is the most fundamental means of mobility, and most of our trip-making is still done by walking even if it is only up and down stairs, to the kitchen, bathroom, between house and vehicles, between and around offices, schools and shops. Vehicles of all types enable us to extend our range of movement, and to enable journeys that would not otherwise be possible. Substituting for walking, vehicular travel enables us to overcome impairments and impediments to our individual capacity and extend our range of movement, whether the vehicle is a wheelchair, bicycle, motorcycle, car, bus, boat, ski, skate, sledge or any other possibility. A fundamental differentiation can be made here between motorised vehicles and non-motorised vehicles – those that rely on human motive power and those that incorporate some form of inbuilt capacity, electric motors and internal combustion engines being the two principal power sources, though there are others. Animal transport also fulfils this vehicular role, in conjunction with suitable carts and carriages. Technically non-motorised, animal transport only becomes a significant problem in terms of waste output in confined urban situations and with high levels of use.
Non-motorised transport (NMT) has the obvious advantage of requiring no external energy input other than human power once it is in use. Consequently, there is no waste output, which makes the maximisation of the use of any form of NMT an attractive prospect, particularly in places of dense human habitation. Motorised transport will always have some energy cost. Combustion engines produce exhaust, although this varies according to fuel type. Power sources based on energy storage and conversion can have zero exhaust emission but will require energy input at another stage in the energy chain. All motor vehicles require periodic refuelling and locations from which to refuel.
Public and private, individual and collective, fixed and flexible
Another level of mobility to be considered is whether vehicular travel is public or private. Public transport is available for all to use. Conventionally this has been considered exclusively a property of multiple occupancy motor vehicles: taxis, trains, buses and minibuses. However, motorcycle taxis, bicycle taxis and rickshaws also fulfil this role and have a part to play in a mixed transport economy. Further, numerous European cities have introduced bicycle public transport in the form of public cycle rental schemes; for example, the Velib' in Paris or the CallBike system used in a number of German cities. Thus public transport need not be collective; it can be individual.
Yet one more distinction to be made is that between fixed and flexible routeing. Guided systems – rail, tram and guided busways – are obviously fixed routes, but most bus services, even without bus lanes, run on fixed and recognised routes whether on scheduled or unscheduled services. Taxi services and public cycle rental schemes are fully flexible.
A further range of services lie between formal public transport and private vehicle ownership. Covered by the general term 'para-transit', these are flexible in both routeing and scheduling and may be fully public as in jitney or microbus services, or available to particular groups such as dial-a-ride services for the elderly (Vuchic 2007: 501ff.).
Access may also be created by enabling goods and service to come to the individual. Delivery and distribution services perform this task, substituting for individual movement. Substitution can also be made through telecommunication and other virtual means which deliver goods, services and amenities in virtual or digital form.
Land use and access
The last factor used to achieve access is that of land use. The geographic distribution of goods, services and amenities will help to determine the level of movement required to access them as trip destinations. Zoning, separating land use according to function, can often have the effect of increasing the amount and distance involved in basic access by separating domestic housing from the support services it requires to function. An obvious example is the rise in out-of-town retail parks and supermarkets, which have largely eliminated local grocers and butchers in many parts of the UK and which require private motor vehicle transport to access.
The issues arising from land use are neatly summarised by Lloyd Wright (2006) as the three Ds: density, diversity and design. Denser urban development ensures closer physical proximity of amenities and guards against the urban sprawl characteristic of car-oriented city planning in the United States. Towns and cities constructed prior to the advent of railways are necessarily of relatively high density, being reliant on walking and animal transport for all land mobility needs, with rivers and canals enabling longer-distance goods to be shipped. Mass transit enabled cities to expand, bringing in goods and foodstuffs from greater distances and at speed. The personal mobility afforded by rail network expansion created the opportunity for housing growth along corridor developments, following the main rail routes, the classic example being the growth of new suburbs accompanying the construction of the London Metropolitan Railway. The railways acted as other transport technologies have, as they 'simultaneously created the need to commute – by allowing people to live further from their places of work – and then met that need by providing a service, particularly workmen's trains, to ferry people to and from their jobs' (Wolmar 2007: 131).
In the twentieth century, mass ownership of private automobiles reshaped cities in the industrialised nations, the motor car becoming a symbol of and synonymous with modernity. Houston, Los Angeles and Detroit, for example, could not have attained their current form without reliance on mass motorisation. Without ownership of, or access to, cars their urban form makes full integration into social life almost inconceivable (Crawford 2002). The three historic patterns of urban growth, which give rise to very different urban forms, are usefully categorised as walking, transit and automobile cities (Newman and Kenworthy 1999).
Contemporary patterns of urban sprawl not only demand high levels of motorisation, with attendant problems of pollution and GHG emissions. They also render efficient public transport networks difficult. Extended feeder networks can enable rapid transit systems a viable option, but problems increase and attractiveness decreases where multiple changes have to be made in a journey. Sprawl also induces high costs for public services. Wright (2006) estimates that the costs in dense urban locations for the provision of police, fire services, schools, roadways and sewerage are about US$ 88.67 per new household, whereas in sprawl locations these are as high as US$ 1,222.39 per new household.
The diversity dimension in urban planning for a more sustainable transport solution rejects the concept of exclusive land use zoning. Human life is a diverse activity and accessibility requires us to have closer access to amenities than can be delivered under entirely zoned systems of planning. It may be sensible to isolate certain activities from each other, but an integrated planning process would ensure that the distances are not artificially increased. Local shops, schools and hospitals are more accessible to greater numbers of people at more convenience than remote centres. Larger provision may bring economies of scale, but these should not be purchased against the bigger cost of deterioration in levels of equity and quality of life.
By focusing on design, we acknowledge the sensory impact of the space we live in and the way we travel. Attention to aesthetics is not just a matter of privilege but is important to all. It is easy to forget the experiential dimension of our activities – what we see, the noise levels, the tactile feel of surfaces. These details can also be used to assist those with impairments in their navigation of urban spaces, providing information in more than one form. Design requires that we create space for the activities that we want to see happening and enables us to demonstrate the priority we want to give to the various activities that take place on city streets. The pedestrianisation of urban centres has enabled many city centres to become more desirable places to be, not simply utilitarian sites through which to pass when making purchases, but places to stroll, to meet, to look, to stop, to eat and drink, to fulfil the social functions of the city. One example of aesthetics is the use of barriers. In places they may be a necessary safety feature, but more often than not they are used to corral pedestrians as if they are a problem or a danger, whereas the problem lies in the denial of public space to the public by automotive traffic.
Excerpted from Moving People by Peter Cox. Copyright © 2010 Peter Cox. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
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Table of Contents
- Preface and Acknowledgments
- 1. Movement and Mobility
- 2. Sustainable Development and EcoMobility
- 3. The Problem of Car-dominance
- 4. Automobility and its Alternatives
- 5. The City as a System: Transport as Network
- 6. Mobility in the Mega-City: Delhi
- 7. Non Motorised Transport: Bicycles and other wheeled vehicles
- 8. Bicycle and NMT programmes in Action
- 9. Bicycles and Rickshaws in South Asia
- 10. Institutional changes