Old Mobility: And the need for a Pattern Break
  • A few quick words
  • Pattern Break needed
  • Old Mobility at work
  • Transportation technical virtuosity
  • More on Old Mobility


    Old Mobility in action:
  • Cab in traffic
  • Expert blind spot
  • Sustainable Transport-ation's Dirty Secret
  • Dirty Secret 2
  • Consider Houston
  • Watch world traffic
  • Old Mob Video Library

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  • [Click here to hear a two minute introduction to a presentation made before an OECD working group on barriers to sustainable mobility back 1996. Notice anything terribly out of date in what you are hearing here? Today, more than a dozen full years later.? One can only wonder how this will sound in 2016. Oops.]

    A few quick words on 'old mobility'

    One good way to get an understanding of what New Mobility is all about (it may not be self-evident), is to have a look at what sets it apart from what is now called "old mobility" thinking and practice. The principal hallmarks of the old mobility pattern of policy, practice and perception include that

    1. All problems identified as transport-related require transport solutions.

    2. This puts the problem-solving process squarely in the exclusive domain of the transport experts and their historic suppliers, thus for the most part ruling out the possibility of non-transport responses

    3. And these solutions have for more than one hundred years just about always centered on building new infrastructure and increasing vehicle through-put and speeds to solve the perceived problems. Moreover, the dominant technical approach is to "forecast and build", with the understanding that to be responsible we need to expand infrastructure in advance of demand.

    4. This boils down to a situation in which, when you have the money, you spend and build. This long established practice has created a world of visions and interests which to this day dominate thinking and practice in most parts of the world. And it is proving a very hard pattern to break precisely because it is so thoroughly entrenched.

    5. Over the last several decades, there has been a movement to 'demand management' as opposed to supply expansion -- but when it comes to actual taxpayer dollars spent the ratio is on the order of 100:1 or more in favor of the build projects.

    One of the principal outcomes of this historically dominant way of thinking is that we have in most of our cities in most of the world created de facto high cost, high impact (in the negative sense), and high congestion (inevitably) car-based systems. Worse yet, this model continues to dominate thinking and practice in the fast growing cites of what used to be called the developing world, with environmental, economic and other implications of this if it continues that will be far more than enormous.

    This has led to a situation in which it can truthfully be said that "most of the toughest problems we faced today are the results of someone's old "solutions".

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    Pattern break needed

    It is thus now time to break pattern, and that essentially is what the New Mobility Agenda and this new Advisory service all about.

    New Mobility is not about continued indiscriminate, knee-jerk supply expansion. Indeed one of the main conclusions of the leading edge of the new mobility movement is that we have so vastly overbuilt our transport infrastructure in most of our cities, that the challenge is above all one of using it better, not just for mobility but also for the quality of life of those who live and work (and vote!) in our cites.

    The New Mobility Agenda suggests that the real answers to the challenges our cities face do not at this point require that we allocate billions of dollars on building urban highways or new metros that are in any event going to take decades to bring on line and even then will serve on a minuscule part of the total mobility demand of the people who live there. Now is it about waiting for the hydrogen economy to kick into gear, long run scenarios out to 2050, or some kind of new technologies that are going to deliver us from our past sins and wickednesses.

    By contrast New Mobility is about better management of our transport and public space resources, working with what we have, with both great technical virtuosity and an understanding that the goal of a well working transport system to not to speed people around but to create great cities and pleasant towns in which people of all ages, social classes and economic conditions can come together to work and live together in harmony with each other and with the natural world.

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    Transportation technical virtuosity

    "Transportation technical virtuosity" is the sine quo non of New Mobility success, and something that should not get lost in the push to greater diversity.

    Transport and traffic planners, together with their colleagues in transport systems operations, have come a long way in their skills development over the last two decades. Their perspectives have broadened considerably and their tools have expanded and evolved hugely in terms of their sophistication and on street potential. If in earlier decades the dominant mindset and activities were primarily oriented toward maximizing vehicle throughput, traffic accommodation and infrastructure building, in the last years and at the leading edge of the profession both thinking and practice have changed considerably.

    As a result today we have a new generation of transportation planners and practitioners who are better equipped than at any time in the past to deal with the challenges of sustainability in our cities. And it is with them at the core of the necessary technical adaptation that the New Mobility Agenda is going to be met.

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    Old Mobility: (A few examples just in case you forgot)

    If you can find a few minutes to spare with some of the following, you will quickly get a feel for how deep is this divide between the two mobilities. And what therefore we need to do next to start to come to grips with all this.

  • Consider Houston:
    Here you have a shot of what might fairly be called a "worst case scenario" of transport in cities, eh? A telling reminder of how we seem to have managed, without even trying, to get it perfectly wrong. Hannah Arendt spoke in quite another context of "the banality of evil", a phrase which is not entirely inapplicable here. And being banal, makes it all the harder to deal with.

    Feeling a bit smug about what you as say a European see here, with the comforting thought that this is only a weird extreme example of a particularly American pathology that need not concern either you or your fair city? Think again. Look around you at some of the big trends that are not in the plans. What you observe here is the end result of a process that is going on in many cities around the world. So think of this not as a distant impossible theoretical anomaly, but rather as a sharp warning, a very real threat. Which you may or may not care to accept and deal with.

    Okay then, what exactly is this monstrosity -- in case you have not already figured it out? Just one more normal working day in the industrial section of downtown Houston Texas as seen through the unsparing eye of Alex S. MacLean, an architectural geologist with an impressionist's eye for composition and light, a pilot and a gifted photographer as well. This particular image (thanks Alex, we shall not abuse) appeared in the magazine Geo in 2003 (which you can purchase via www.geomagazine.fr, or email to fbourgoi@prisma-presse.com). Geo, being French, titled this series "Parkings" as you can see, and the jarring sound of that work in English only reinforces the violence of the image. MacLean's books are available through Amazon.com.

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  • Cab in a crosswalk: (Uses QuickTime. 60 seconds)
    One cab in Time Square doesn't quite make the yellow light. Pedestrians pay the price. A small signal that something larger is wrong. (Video captured by Clarence Eckerson, Jr. of The Open Planning Project (TOPP).)

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  • Transport in cities: (From our ThinkPad blog and then over to the Transportation Research Board and the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC)
    Why are we so desperately off target? Doing so poorly in our cities the States? (And everywhere else in the world where our examples and perspectives spill over). Let's have a look. There are deep lessons here.

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  • Sustainable Transportation's Dirty Secret (And this was well more than a decade ago)
    Just because it is now suddenly a dozen years later, may I suggest that you don't underestimate the message of this twenty minute PowerPoint and audio presentation that was made in an attempt to push a working group of the OECD's Environment Directorate toward a more activist approach to the then not only unmet but almost entirely even unasked challenges. Have we made that much progress since? Well grab yourself a cup of coffee, get comfortable and consider this. (Big PPT file. 9 Mo. Own window.)

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  • Dirty little secret (Another one) (Uses QuickTime. 90 seconds)
    The Open Planning Project's (TOPP) Videographer Clarence Eckerson, Jr. takes Mark Gorton on a tour of NYC's bustling Chinatown. An inequitable use of parking by government agencies is a dirty little secret in this neighborhood. (And by the way, this abuse of privileged parking will be the subject of an upcoming short study by Transportation Alternatives, our frequent collaborators)

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  • Watch world traffic
    Here you will find a selection of real time views of traffic on city streets which provide some pretty interesting one-click coverage of how things look today in a huge variety of settings around the world. If you spend a bit of time pondering these images, including at different times of the day and on different days of the week, several rather interesting things may jump out at you. For example, in city after city, country after country, how few hours of the day all these expensive roads are in fact being used to anything approaching capacity (and clearly beyond if you look closely). Hmm. That is worth at least a passing thought in our present context here.

  • Old Mobility Real Time Evidence (Oops)
    This is intended to work as an informal working subset of the New Mobility Agenda video library and in turn the full NMA program. We are trying to find and organize for you here visual evidence demonstrating the kinds of anomalies that our present transportation arrangements have led to, and in particular those which have been created by the no longer necessary "old mobility" thinking. Most of these clips have been produced by amateurs, but rough that they may be don't let that distort their collective message: which is that we will be in deep trouble unless we break pattern and find new ways of dealing with these challenges.

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