In order to understand what needs to be done to create healthier lives and a better performing set of transportation arrangements, World Streets has from the very beginning made a consistent distinction between what we call “Old Mobility” vs.”New Mobility.” The difference between the two is simple, straight-forward . . . and substantial.
Old mobility was the dominant form of transportation policy, practice and thinking that took its full shape and momentum starting in the mid twentieth century, at a time when we all lived in a universe that was, or at least seemed to be, boundless and free of constraints. It served many of us well in many ways at the time, albeit with numerous and notable exceptions, though we were blind to most of them most of the time. It was a very different world back them. But that world is gone. And it will never come back.
* 18 March 2013. Following working draft notes from book in progress: The Equity Initiative. To access all World Streets coverage of equity issues since 2009, please click here.
The World of Old Mobility
The planet was enormous, the spaces great and open, energy abundant and cheap, resources endless. The “environment” was not a consideration, “climate” was the weather, technology was able to come up with a constant stream of solutions, builders were able to solve the problems that arose from bottlenecks by endlessly expanding capacity at the trouble points, and fast growth and the thrill of continuing innovations masked much of what was not all that good.
Fifty things that went wrong with Old Mobility (And still plague us today)
Old Mobility policy and practice does not work well in the realities that constitute our present and very different century. Slowly we came to understand that in many ways Old Mobility outcomes have proven to be highly . . .
- Massive public health menace
- Catastrophically polluting, to the extent that it more than
- Threatens the planet
In good part all this came about because the policies are . . .
- Indifferent to urban fabric
- Socially destructive
- Costly to the community (unnecessarily)
- Costly to individuals (unnecessarily)
- Resource promiscuity
- Dependence on costly imported fossil fuels (unnecessarily)
And too because the procedures behind them are . . .
- Based on essentially closed system thinking (i.e., looking at “transport” in isolation from the rest)
- Statistics based (i.e., bound by the past)
The processes suffer from being . .
- Supply oriented
- Persistent sub-optimization (“operation was success but the patient died”)
- Binary: i.e., either “private” (i.e., car-based) or “public” transport (and nothing of importance in between)
- End-state solution oriented
- Oriented to maximizing vehicle throughput and speeds
- Focuses on bottlenecks impeding traffic flows (i.e., builds for increasing traffic)
- Attempts to anticipate them and build to forestall (Forecast and build)
- Searches for large projects to “solve” the problems
- These large projects and the substantial amounts involved often lead to corruption and waste of public moneys
- Expert based (i.e., essentially excludes non-experts, non-specialists)
- Engineering-based (i.e., working “within the box”, albeit often with high technical competence)
- Hardware and build solutions, technology oriented
In conclusion, the system that most cities are still working with are overwhelmingly:
- De facto unquestioningly car-based
- Treats non-car solutions as (very!) poor cousins
- Offers poor service/economic package to elderly, handicapped, poor and young
- Sharp divide between planning, policy and operations
- Obscure (to the public) decision-making processes
- Too much separation from underlying land use realities.
- Inadequate attention to transportation substitutes or complements
- Increasingly technical and tool oriented (though this can very much be to the good if we get on the eright side of the issues)
- Not doing the job that we need in 2013 and beyond!
- And finally and worst of all. . . this pattern of social organization creates a climate of passive citizenry and thus undermines participatory democracy and collective involvement and problem solving
Now, have you actually worked your way through this long and in many ways highly personal list? Not sure of this, but to the extent that you will give it a bit of time it will, or at least should, convey not only the many and massive short-comings of all that appeared to work so well for the last century, but also, if we take careful note, provide us with some very useful insights on the approach and goals that we now need to take.
In short, dominate practices today do not reflect the priorities and the reality either of our needs nor our potential in the 21st century, and above all in our cities which are increasingly poorly served by not only our present mobility arrangements, but also the thinking and values that underlie them. Our rural areas are likewise suffering and without a coherent game plan. We now live in an entirely different kind of universe, and the constraints which were never felt before, or ignored, are now emerging as the fundamental building blocks for transportation policy and practice in this new century.
It’s time for a change. And the change has to start with us. As you can readily see, WE are the problem.
Now, where do we start?
Did someone say Equity?
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Some earlier World Streets references to help dig in on this:
- Sustainable transportation’s Dirty Secret
- We badly need a new American transportation model (because the one you sent us is broke)
- Why transport planners need to think small to tackle climate change
- The Old Mobility impasse (PDF)
- Honey, you got to slow down
- What/who keeps holding back New Mobility reform?
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