The Sustainable Mobility Paradigm

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In his paper, published by the Transport Studies Unit at the Oxford University Center for the Environment, David Banister discusses a sustainable mobility model and answers several questions related to transport policy. First he talks about how the principles of transport have changed and makes suggestions on how to make the mobility agenda a reality. The second part of Banister’s research discusses policy measures, available and necessary, to improve the sustainability of the urban transport.  He explains that “these conditions are dependent upon high-quality implementation of innovative schemes, and the need to gain public confidence and acceptability to support these measures through active involvement and action.”


The problem

Transport planning has been a problem for urban planners, yet it had “survived” all the different crises it has been challenged with. According to Bannister, there are two fundamental principles in the heart of the problem. The first one is that traveling is shifting towards an on demand service rather than a scheduled and planned activity to arrive at a desired destination. The second fundamental principle of traveling is that “people minimize their generalized costs of travel […] through a combination of the costs of travel and the time taken for travel.” Both principles are very important according to Banister, because they are often used in various transport studies, evaluations, and analysis to help urban planners find better and efficient solutions to the day-to-day problems they face. “They help explain the predominance of transport solutions to urban problems, and the huge growth in faster and longer distance travel, as the increased speed of travel has outweighed the increased costs of travel.”

Banister writes that “even though travel time may have remained constant as cities have spread, both distances and speeds have increased substantially,” while continues by saying that since more and more people are depending on cars, other means of transport such as public transport, bicycles, or walking are becoming less and less attractive to the majority of people. The increase of decentralization has “made” people more car-dependent, since cars are the only way to reach different destinations far away from the city centers.

“Sustainable mobility provides an alternative paradigm within which to investigate the complexity of cities, and to strengthen the links between land use and transport. The city is the most sustainable urban form and it has to provide the location where most of the world’s population will live,” wrote Banister. “Empirical research has concluded that the key parameters of the sustainable city are that it should be over 25,000 population (preferably over 50,000), with medium densities (over 40 persons per hectare), with mixed use developments, and with preference given to developments in public transport accessible corridors and near to highly public transport accessible interchanges,” he added.


The freedom to drive cars

What has been concluded is that it would be almost impossible to prohibit people from driving, from their freedom to drive cars, although many would think that the end of car culture is close. Since most people cannot find a better alternative to cars, Banister suggests that a better planning and design of the cities would be the solution for more sustainable transport, as it will make people less car dependent and ‘push’ them to start using other forms of transportation. Of course it is going to take a lot of time to achieve that (especially in the US), but if such urban forms begin to take place as soon as possible, and urban engineers and designers begin to develop cities in a way that can allow the minimization of cars, our lives and our environment will improve drastically.

Living in a city that is designed to make us less car dependent, will not only allow us to access different locations more easily, but also improve our health. According to Hall and Pain, “such developments conform to the requirements of service and information-based economies. Settlements of this scale would also be linked together to form agglomerations of polycentric cities, with clear hierarchies that would allow a close proximity of everyday facilities and high levels of accessibility to higher order activities.” In order for this to be achieved, everyone involved must do their best so that the collective community’s desire is achieved faster and what Banister says turns into reality sooner than we think.


Banister’s two dilemmas

1- Whether transport is a derived demand or a valued activity

Banister argues that since travel patterns change through time, and the amount of leisure-travel is increasing, the notion that transport is a derived demand is decreasing, while the value of travel as an activity is increasing. If we base our opinion on conventional transport analysis, we would immediately say that anyone would make their travel time as short as possible, since the more the travel lasts, the more expensive it gets.

But technology has changed all that nowadays. We no longer need to limit our travel time since we are now able to do some of the work from our homes by using the latest technology trends, thus becoming more flexible on our travel time management and cutting short some travel time. Shopping, for example, is not longer requiring people to get up from their couches and go from shop to shop to try on clothes. Online shopping has dramatically changed the way we shop, and has enabled us to minimize travel time by looking for things to buy on the internet instead of traveling from place to place to buy the desired items. Sometimes we don’t even have to get out of our homes, as more and more clothing companies are making people’s life easier by delivering everything they order to their homes.

2- Whether it is better to minimize travel time or not

Banister’s other contradicting dilemma is whether it is better to minimize travel time or not. Most drivers benefit from traveling faster and saving travel time when going from one place to another, but according to Banister there is a certain desired congestion on road in various residential street as well as street located near schools, were new low speed limits are being introduced by the transport system which doesn’t necessarily tries to minimize the traffic, but rather regulates it by speeding the traffic up and down. “People and businesses are already concerned about knowing how much time it should take to travel to their destination with a reasonable degree of certainty. It is the reliability of the system that is crucial ( Noland and Polak, 2002).”

Three transport planning approaches

1- Reducing or substituting travel

Banister says that we can now use technology to reduce or substitute travel. By using the ICT (information and communications technology – or technologies) we can now replace travel or shorten travel distances by doing a considerable amount of the work we used to do by traveling, from our homes. “Although there is a large substitution potential, the relationships between transport and ICT seem to be symbiotic with a greater opportunity for flexibility in travel patterns, as some activities are substituted, whilst others are generated, and some replaced by fewer longer distance journeys ( Lyons and Kenyon, 2003).”

2- Reducing the lengths of trips

In 2000, Banister and Stephen Marshall suggested that if several transport policy measures are taken in order to reduce people’s dependency on cars, there is a great possibility that other transportation modes will start to become more popular, and roads will not only be considered as spaces only for cars, but for street markets, play zones, and other things as well. Slowing the urban traffic down by creating more parking spaces and making public transport more efficient, will be a great start on making people ‘refuse’ to using a car and choose other ways of transport instead.

3- Making the transport system more efficient

Banister’s sixth outlined key element which was about building “sustainable mobility into the patterns of urban form and layouts,” is something that can lead us to switch to green modes of transportation in the near future. “It is one area of public policy where intervention can take place, through increasing densities and concentration, through mixed use development, through housing location, through the design of buildings, space and route layouts, through public transport oriented development and transport development areas, through car-free development, and through establishing size thresholds for the availability of services and facilities,” Banister wrote concluding that we must use the technological advances to increase the transport’s efficiency as well as involve as many people as possible in order to make a change for good.


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About the Author:

Juxhina Malaj - a wanderluster and bibliophile who loves photography, nature, documentary films, re-watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and drinking green tea while listening to Indie Folk, Delta Blues, Jazz and all the good vibes.

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