Sometimes in life things can be simple. Let’s look at one case.
One of the problems with the hard up-hill fight for “sustainable transport” in cities and countries around the world is that so far everyone seems to have a different definition and a different agenda. True, there are an enormous range of interests and concerns. Among them such important things as :improving conditions for pedestrians and cycles, car access and parking control, more ridesharing, carsharing, taxisharing, more flexible and responsive public transport services, strategic deployment of economic instruments (to reflect full social costs), BRT, congestion charging, speed reductions, etc. The long list goes on.
And at the same time there are all those other measures and approaches which claim to fly under the banner of sustainability but which in our view need to be put to tougher and more public tests. Many of these last call for very large investments of taxpayer money or property, and often considerable lag times before bringing even those benefits to the streets of our cities or indeed the planet.
So we really do need a unifying strategy to pull all these threads together in the public interest.
And if you look hard enough, you will see that there is only one overarching strategy that will do the job. It works like this:
Truth 1. You can’t have a sustainable planet without sustainable cities
Truth 2. Nor sustainable cities without sustainable mobility
Truth 3. The key to sustainable mobility is to ensure that every step, every project, every investment you take will end up by reducing motor vehicle miles or kilometers (VMT, VKT) travelled both in that place and overall.
Truth 4. Moreover these reductions have to be achieved strategically, quickly and at scale. (Otherwise it fails the responsibility test.)
Truth 5. The policy response involves a strategic combination of carrots and sticks, which will of course be different from city to city and country to country, but even with all the necessary variations the central lines of the strategy will be the same.
Truth 6. We know all we need to know about both (a) the sticks (economic, regulatory and other instruments to reduce, sequester and control traffic, etc.) and (b) the carrots (all those other ways of getting around which need in each case to be woven into a mobility system of affordability, enhanced life quality and choice).
Truth 7. When you reduce VKT/VMT notably and rapidly through the best available means and proven strategies, here are the main benefits
a. You help save the planet: through resource savings and GHG and related emissions reductions
b. You proportionally reduce today’s crushing dependence of imported fossil fuels
And in order to achieve these ambitious – but completely doable – goals, you have to open up more choices and better and fairer mobility for all those in and around our cities who are at present NOT well served by the old (20th century dominant) own-car, no-choice pattern (bearing in mind that this is a majority of all citizens).
Conclusion: You can’t do it with the carrots. And you can’t do it without the sticks. We know what they are, so what is hold us back?