The heading for this item is the title of a podcast from the ABC’s Science show’s Occams Razor segment. It might be a bit misleading. It looks like it could be one of those rants from someone pleading for us to reach the Utopian dream they envisage.
The presentation was by Dr Tony Matthews Senior Lecturer, Urban and Environmental Planning, Griffith University and he makes the point that there is no end state of sustainability. He goes on to say that we cannot achieve sustainability with big imaginings or with big visions. Instead, he said, we have to ‘will’ sustainability from the ground up.
Having seen many “plans” that are really based on a statement of faith in one mode of transport, I was particularly taken with his comment:
“Well one thing that we can immediately rule out because it didn't work, was the idea of visioning or imagining a one size fits all sustainable city that will work in any place that it is applied. It's easy to think that a grand design that's founded on function, form, beauty, convenience and health, can be applied and realised on the city's scale. But unfortunately, urban history tells us bluntly it cannot.
Resorting to the legal system rather than by science and consensus
Texas Central Railway, a private company, wants to build a very fast train between Dallas and Houston using Japanese shinkansen technology that would reduce the travel time to 90 minutes.
Some opponents have raised an existential question: Is the proposal really a railroad?
Being a railroad or not determines whether Texas Central is entitled to use eminent domain as it surveys and acquires property. Eminent domain allows an organisation to seize land for projects in the public interest. A district court has ruled that Texas Central did not have that right. The firm is “not a railroad or interurban electric company,” the judge stated, because it hasn’t laid track or run a train yet.
When I recently spoke to Professor Roger Vickerman from Kent University in the UK (a fuller report is given in this newsletter) he spoke of how privatisation processes can move decisions away from market forces and into the courts.
“There was always then the problem that relationships between private sector providers was going to be one that could be fought out by lawyers rather than by markets which was a strange way of doing this and you can see this for example in the in the way that the railways were broken up that that is about then deciding whose legal responsibility it is to do something rather than just getting on and fixing it."
Transport is about community not just traveling
In the April 2019 newsletter, Graeme Pattison wrote an article about the riots in Paris and how disaffection arose in part because of poor transport accessibility.
In the National Conference section below, we give some background on one of our keynote speakers, Phil Jones, from the UK who is Chairman of the PJA group of companies which now provides services in transport, engineering and placemaking. The very inclusion of the word “placemaking” is the description, shows how far we have come.
Later in the newsletter there is a historic piece on how “How the Bicycle Paved the Way for Women's Rights”. It says that “Both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are credited with declaring that "woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle, a line that was printed and reprinted in newspapers at the turn of the century”.
Our interview with Prof Roger Vickerman the economist from Kent University in the UK also covers how transport and social conditions are integrally linked in many ways that we might not have first thought of.
And finally, the report on Melbourne’s new 10-year plan places transport and social benefits side-by-side.
The great value of this is that we can promote good transport not just as feathering our own professional nest nor our personal fascination with various modes of transport. In fact, major societal issues could be the springboard we need to ensure adequate infrastructure. The District of Columbia in the US has just released its first ever “resilience strategy”. In the context of cities, “resilience” is a term often associated with climate change and projects like flood walls, wastewater facility upgrades, and better protecting power utility equipment.
But making transportation faster, cheaper and more convenient, preventing opioid misuse and deaths, and preparing for a future where automation could lead to fewer jobs for those without advanced degrees, are just a few of the other areas that the plan touches upon.
We are part of a broad mix and we must play on the whole field.
Potholes in pavements driving older people off the streets
While talking on meeting the needs of everyone in the community, cracked and uneven pavements are stopping nearly one in three older people from walking on their local streets, according to a new survey.
The research by the charity Living Streets in the UK found over 3.5 million older people are prevented from walking more - due to concern over potholes, obstructions on footpaths and people driving too quickly.
Nearly half of older adults said they would walk more if footpaths were well-maintained, with 28% saying lower speed limits would also help.
The charity is calling for councils to spend at least 15% of their local transport infrastructure on walking and cycling - and to remember pavement potholes when repairing their roads.
The charity is launching its #nine90 campaign, calling for streets to be designed with nine-year olds and 90-year olds in mind - so they become accessible to everyone.
End of the line for two on demand bus trials in Sydney amid cost concerns
Two on-demand bus trials have ended in Sydney amid warnings from the pricing regulator that the Uber-style services need to be carefully designed to ensure they do not become expensive replacements for existing public transport.
Having lived in one of the areas where the trial has now been halted, I think there are a few points to be made:
The communication of what the service is and how you can use it was not good. There was a whole pile of generic coverage about starting the trial, but when I tried to access the web site, the necessary information didn’t seem to flow easily. Clearly this was a system design for those who have access to the internet and, more importantly, are familiar with using the symbols and navigation methods that are now commonplace. There were more than enough marketing buzz words but no simple English sentences that gave a quick overview of what it was and, broadly, how it would work.
I am very comfortable with a public transport system that has regularity, which gives it a sense of permanence. Booking a bus that might come in 15 minutes but might go via a few different places is an unknown that is not encouraging. Anyone who has caught an airport shuttle bus will know how cumbersome the trip can be.
The way the trial was promoted by the government seemed like trying to compete with the door-to-door convenience of the car. I don’t think you can, and I don’t think you want to for most people given the value of some incidental active walking.
The fact that it has now been withdrawn does not mean it was wrong to try, as long as we learn from our mistakes.
Los Angeles launches own ‘Green New Deal’
The city of Los Angeles has released what it calls ‘LA’s Green New Deal’, pledging $860 million per year “to expand its transportation system”.
Electric vehicles are at the fore: it pledges an $8 billion upgrade to the city’s electricity grid by 2022, to help build the US’s “largest, cleanest and most reliable urban electrical grid, to power the next generation of green transportation”.
The city aims to supply 55% renewable energy by 2025, and 100% by 2045, and will convert all city fleet vehicles to zero emission “where technically feasible” by 2028.
When LA starts pushing electric cars and public transport then you know it is a significant trend.
Beware the unmarked highway patrol truck
We have heard of unmarked police cars but now there are unmarked police trucks?
In the UK Highways England has revealed that its fleet of three ‘plainclothes’ trucks, that patrol the country’s motorway and major trunk road network, have recorded over 3,500 moving traffic offences in their first year of operations.
The three unmarked ‘supercabs’ have been fitted with wide-angle cameras to capture unsafe driving behaviour.
The trucks have been used by 29 police forces over the past year.
During their first year of operations, the most common offences were not speeding but rather: Not wearing a seatbelt, Using mobile phone & Not in proper control of vehicle.
Engineers Australia Conference
Transport Australia is the Engineers Australia society for all people with an interest in all aspects of transport.
Under the leadership of Mike Veysey, they are holding their inaugural conference on 26-28 June 2019 in Sydney.
We are sending two people to the event, Tessa Knox-Grant NSW President and David Brown newsletter editor. I am sure we will hear of the results in forthcoming newsletters.