The New Mobility Philosophy:
1988 - 2009

On this page:
  • What is "new mobility"?
  • Strategic pillars
  • Ten basic principles of the New Mobility Agenda
  • "Jacobs' Rules"
  • Powerful Friends?

    To get you going quickly:
    1. What's the problem?
    2. Why are we stuck?
    3. What is New Mobility?
    4. Our challenge in brief
    5. Our proposed response strategy

  • How we fit in
  • In the long run we . ..
  • What we do not try to cover
  • But then again sometimes.. .
  • Other tools to get the job done
  • Accelerated Learning
  • Personal responsibility
  • Wikipedia on New Mobility

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  • The New Mobility Agenda (In brief)
  • Philosophy
  • The Programs
  • Tools and Measures
  • Advisory Council
  • Advisory/Briefs
  • The Bridge
  • Get in touch
  • More on the Agenda

  • Note 1: Brainfood: Kindly treat the following as working notes which set out, say, 80% or so of the key principles, but which are not yet wrestled into the form of a neat essay devoid of redundancy and repetition. Thus for now you are going to have to use your brain and a certain sense of generosity and partnership as you read this and fill in the dots for yourself. Which is quite possibly not such a bad idea, since indeed the ultimate goal is that this should become your philosophy based on your own experience, empathy and hard thinking. Otherwise it is just too easy and most probably will not stick.

    What is "new mobility"

    "The significant problems we face cannot be solved
    by the same level of thinking that created them."
    -- Albert Einstein

    This apparently anodyne phrase "new mobility" is not, as it may suggest to some, simply about "new and better" ways of getting around, and certainly it is not about new technologies per se. It is above all about new thinking and new points of departure on our subject, and starts its scan for preferred alternatives by looking at three different levels of performance.

    To be very clear on this . . . (a) the quintessential "new mobility" project is one that eliminates or significantly reduces the need for unnecessary physical trips altogether; as well as the distances involved; this can take the form of improved location strategies or movement substitutes (or consolidators), quite a long list. And just below them on the excellence list are (b) those practices which permit us to enjoy quality lives and good access, but with greatly reduced reliance on motorized transport and all that goes with it . . . again quite a long list. And then, (c) once we get to motorized means, "new mobility" favors modes and means which make better use of scarce urban space, reduce pollution and accidents, offer much greater energy efficiency, improve the quality of public spaces, and again our long list. New mobility in a phrase is a strategy that places at its core emphasis on people and the environment, and not on vehicles and infrastructure, both of which have traditionally served as the main targets of old mobility policy and practices.

    Another fundamental axis of New Mobility is its stress on significantly lower speeds in built up areas, and in particular speeds for private cars. We see no good reason why any vehicle (other than an emergency vehicle) in a dense urban setting needs go faster than 30 kph, and in residential areas more than 15 kph. The key to new and better mobility is not so much top speed, a true menace to safety and well being, but rather smoother traffic flows at those much lower speeds.

    A final concomitant of New Mobility is its continuing stress on the search for simpler, less expensive solutions, as well as changes and new arrangements that can be brought into being at low cost and in relatively short periods of time (less than 2-4 years max, and if possible within months). Likewise the prudent avoidance of "solutions" that introduce powerful irreversibilities; our 21st century communities need flexibility to be able to adapt easily to the ever faster spiral of change. And for this reason, the New Mobility Agenda each time it looks at a new proposal or project continues to ask the BFC questions: how can this possibly be done, Better, Faster, Cheaper?

    Until now we have commented in this summary on individual modes, use patterns and decisions, better and worse -- but the final underpinning of the New Mobility Agenda is precisely that it does indeed call for an "agenda", an integrated, phased plan of action which will allow us to put all the necessary bits and pieces into a fully thought out, integrated development strategy for the sector. This strategic integration and linking of the many individual components into a consistent whole that can be viewed, evaluated and ultimately judged in terms of specific performance criteria (examples: area-wide traffic, CO2 or accident reductions) permits us to judge the success, and weaknesses, of the system as a whole. That after all is the only real bottom line. (For more on this, we refer you to the current Wikipedia entry here.) Now let's take a closer look at what this is intended to be all about.

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    New Mobility planning and policy pillars . . . in brief

    The traditional model for transport policy and decision making has been by its historic nature strongly centralized, top-down and heavily expert-oriented (click here for more on 'old mobility' patterns and practices). And this model is now exactly at the core of the problems we now face. It also has persistently assumed that most if not all the answers to the transport problems of our cites require "transport solutions" -- so-called "in the box thinking" -- with the stress on moving ever more vehicles through the system at highest possible speeds. The Agenda proposes that this old model needs drastic revision, and that we now need to take advantage of the fact that we have in our cities many bright and capable people and groups who should be actively factored into the decision and solution process. The civil society -- a shining model for citizen consultation and action, and for democracy, for the 21st century.

    The key to the New Mobility Agenda lies in what is basically a structured, four-pronged action approach to structuring transport in cities. These ideas and practices come from the leading edge and are by no means original to us, but we have consistently followed and supported them for going on two decades now. The four main pillars . . .

  • Pillar 1: Enhance economic viability of the city and its citizens:
    This, like it or not, has to be our starting point. If the economics don't work, the rest will not either. Poverty is a hard sell in a democracy. What we do know is that better conditions of access enhance economic efficiency and values. We have many ways to put this to work for the good of all.

  • Pillar 2: Manage transport demand strategically and aggressively:
    To achieve our environmental, social and economic objectives we need many fewer (and slower moving) vehicles on our streets, combined with enhanced conditions of access for all, including movement-free access through better use of technology and improved special planning for agreeable and efficient city life. . . and the main way to get there is via . . .
    • Extremely aggressive infrastructure management: Politically adept, activist and strategic management and phased restructuring of the existing and often over-built transport infrastructure, as a key under-pinning of the city's demand management strategy.

  • Pillar 3: New Mobility supply management:
    As the infrastructure and pricing noose tightens on the neck of unrestricted car use, we will need to induce the parallel creation of a wide range of first class, desirable alternatives to the impoverished "old mobility" options which now need to be gently phased out of the city (or more realistically be greatly reduced in target areas and times), all while leaving space for the private car as a personal option for "other (ex-city) transport" as people may wish.
    • (PS. This is not necessarily the end of the world as you know and quite possibly like it. As an example several recent studies provide evidence that Swiss and German city dwellers who get to work and into the center by non-car means, nonetheless for the most part continue to own and use own cars for less dense travel and in the off peak).

  • Pillar 4: Consultation, leadership, communications:
    The above are today pretty straight-forward. We now have enough examples in leading cities and projects of both, so that we can approach new projects and measures with considerable confidence -- assuming that we do our homework properly of course. But here is the joker: once we have figured out what it is we want to do, the next and surely the most difficult step is the process of actually making these great ideas a reality in your city. Only the courageous need trod here. This brings us to the Politics of Transportation, in the most noble sense of the term. And since it is the 21st century, those politics must be sustainable.

    In a nutshell: The underlying strategy is thus (a) to build up and strengthen these 'new mobility' options and in parallel and in parallel (b) to withdraw steadily street space from "normal mixed use" (i.e., essentially the (old) all-car solution) and transfer it to more space-efficient users, via programs of access control, signage, street architecture, traffic management, surface treatments and compliance monitoring. And this long list runs all the way from people walking and cycling in safety to traditional scheduled public transport plying fixed routes, but there too with many innovations and improvements

    • And while improved public transport gives us a strong beginning, the truth is that these more familiar modes are not going to be enough in most cities and their environs where the prevailing patterns of origins, destinations, and times of desired travel has exploded to a point where new means are going to be required to cater to at least a portion of this growing total, all within the framework of sustainability and social justice which are the vital underpinning of the New Mobility system. (We call these xTransit systems, by the way. Stay tuned.)

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    Ten basic principles of the New Mobility Agenda

    That's right! We're already well into the 21st century and high time to change our thinking about transportation. The bleak reality of this first decade is that most people in most places are not doing well with today's most heavily
    advertised mobility package: the private car roaming at will and untrammeled on the taxpayer-funded public road, co-packaged with long outmoded ideas of how to serve those not "fortunate" enough to base their lives on their cars.

    Back in the suddenly very old 20th century, the thrust of mainline transport policy was to find ways to fix the system that had wandered into place over the years. But today, we understand that the priority is not so much to fix it here and there. We need instead a radical and far-reaching overhaul, starting with our own thinking and vision of the challenge. Which brings us smack to the New Mobility Agenda and the need for what we call "pattern breaks".

    The core of the pattern break approach to sustainability resides in understanding that people, you and me that is, are largely inertial creatures and that as such we tend to be victims to the world -- not so much the world as we want or need it but as we happen to find it at our doorstep this morning. And invariably there are always a lot of good reasons for either doing nothing or at least nothing today. One of these being that we do not perhaps know enough so what we need to do is a lot more studies. The pattern break approach by contrast says that it is unlikely that under "normal" circumstances we will ever be able even to see what it is we need, if we are not to change our entire way of thinking, our mental architecture if you will. Let's see how we might start to break pattern in all this.

    1. Focus: Transport in cities
      The New Mobility Agenda concentrates 100% on issues, problems and eventual solutions involving the way that people and goods get around in our cities. Why? That's where the big problems are -- and the big opportunities. Because that is where most of the people in the world already are and will be even more so in the years and decades ahead. (And, as it happens, the processes involved in dealing with these challenges also opens up much new thinking in terms of the special problems of rural and outlying areas.)

    2. Focus: Two to four year action horizon (max.) focus:
      The Agenda defines its patch in this big and needy world by focusing on programs and measures that can obtain visible, measurable sustainability impacts within this very short term horizon. It is not that we neglect the importance of longer term thinking and overarching strategies for these longer term trends and goals - but that we think that the short term is too critical to be neglected. The search is thus on for short term measures that open the way for more ambitious and far reaching longer term strategies and structures.

    3. Focus: Space-efficient mobility
      "Space-efficient" transport is the other side of what has been called the 'Elephant in the Bedroom" syndrome of cars in cities (ISBN: 0932727646). The bottom line is that we need a new mix of mobility means, as much as anything else because of the gross un-space efficiency of private cars overall and certainly in the case of single occupancy vehicles. And what's interesting about the move to space-efficiency is that it turns out to have very large impact potential on all of the rest of today's unsustainability nexus - traffic levels (of course), congestion, environmental impacts, public health and safety . . . and the long list goes on.

    4. Focus: "Car-like" mobility as a goal
      Most recommendations for more sustainable transport seem to have as their underlying thesis that: "people should shift away from cars and move over to public transport". Nice thought. Awful beginning though. Let's shift into a higher gear on this. We very much doubt that citizens in 21st century democracies are going to support in most places degraded levels of access as a result of any such program, no matter how noble its goals. For better or worse, people have come to look at car-like mobility as the best way to get around.

      The goal of a New Mobility push must therefore be precisely to seek out and combine services, measures, and innovations so that at the end of the day most people are now going to have ways of getting there faster, cheaper and safer than under the old car-based system, which anyway has entailed longer times of being stuck in traffic with each year that passes. We are a smart society and we have a huge number of tools at our disposal for doing better. Moreover, the present system is so grossly out of phase, so shockingly underperforming that it is not, in fact, all that tough a target to improve on. It's not as if the whole thing were close to perfect. So now under the whip of Kyoto and all the rest we now have the chance to put these more innovative and politically realistic to work. Let's not miss this golden opportunity.

    5. Focus: xTransit - The third way of getting around in cities.
      When you look at our cities, have you noticed that something important appears to be missing? This is the new and largely un-understood "third way" of getting around cities: using in road vehicles, smaller than full sized buses, driven by real human beings, dynamically shared with others, and aided by state of the art communications technologies -- and all of that as no less than the only way to offer "car like" mobility in most of our 21st century cities without killing the cities themselves (the old mobility way).

    6. Focus: The polluters have to pay
      This one is real simple. As we rejigger our transport arrangements, it is important that the burdens, financial and other, be distributed on a fully equitable basis. What this boils down to the worst offenders in terms of their external costs, is that car drivers must pay their full costs to society and the environment, and further that they also will shoulder the fair burden of their personal impacts -- AKA "fair congestion" as policy.

    7. Focus: And please, don't overlook technology
      Or how we can use low cost technology to support international collaboration & advance the sustainability agenda world wide. And to move people better in our cities. Technology is not going to solve all our problems and dilemmas of sustainable development. But its role in the move to a more sustainable world is going to be critical. So let's get to work and get good at it.

      Moreover, "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.

    8. Focus: Nor our potential for collaborative problem solving
      If we are ever to start the move toward more sustainable lives and practices, it will require that the experts do more than sit on their hands or when they work them free use them to write more reports and real sincere calls reminding us that we have to become better people. One of the main challenges of The Commons is to provide periodic peer support actions to back outstanding projects and initiatives that need and deserve high level international support. Projects that demonstrate ways to break the deadlock of passive stasis can benefit from such backing, both in their communities and internationally.

    9. Focus: Set explicit targets
      "People manage what they measure". Careful preparation of a highest-priority, broad-based, multi-level, phased, city-wide, collaborative action program that sets out to achieve (a) an explicitly targeted and strikingly high (we suggest that you look at what is needed to achieve, for example, a 20% reduction) area-wide reduction in traffic and associated public health impacts (CO2, accidents, etc.) in the city (b) within a specified and brief target period. (Again, we suggest that you might start by looking at a 20 month target period, but both these targets must be yours and, above all, achievable). The list of available measures is in fact very long (click here for more on this), but the crux of the approach lies above all in the systematic, perhaps even stealthy, integrated shift of a relatively modest portion of the total available road infrastructure to both old (i.e., public transport) and new "high space efficiency" movers.

    10. Focus: Ensure success
      There is a prudent process by which a specific city Agenda program's ambitious aims can be checked for consistency and do-ability, and which lends itself, indeed depends on, very specific local tailoring and participation. But any eventual remedial action program along these lines that is going to yield results has to be accompanied ("sold") by a clear target and process that the voters and public can understand, want to work toward, and which they are confident will yield visible near-term results.

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    New Mobility - Jacobs' Rules

    The processes that occur in our [societies] are not arcane, capable of being understood only by experts. They can be understood by almost anybody. Many ordinary people already understand this; they simply have not considered that by understanding these ordinary arrangements of cause and effect, we can also direct them, if we want to."

    - Jane Jacobs in Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961

    To close out this introduction, let me share with you in my last lines here a memorial note of sorts that I wrote last Spring when the news came that my dear long time friend and colleague Jane Jacobs had passed away. I called it Jacobs' Rules and as I worked my way through it step by step, I had in mind not only my own experience and lessons learned, but the many things I learned from her through our personal contact, work together, many lively and sometimes disputed conversations, and my careful reading of her books. Here it is (but don't blame Mrs. Jacobs, blame me).

    The concept of "New Mobility", as we call it, does not by any means turn its back on the now well established concerns, priorities and solutions brought forward by the Sustainable Transport movement over the last two decades. All the precious values associated with sustainable development and social justice are incorporated within and central to the concept as we understand it, but which stretches beyond them in the ways indicated here.

    New Mobility targets to extend the concept and in the process to provide a number of specific sign posts and tests for investments, decisions and actions in the transport field, and in particular those that are funded through taxpayer contributions or which require public support or authorization. The shortlist that follows is our present best-stab at providing such a check list. We are convinced that no public or publicly supported projects should be carried out without these tests being meticulously applied and the results made openly and publicly available in time to make, support or eventually block or modify the go-ahead decisions that traditionally have been made more or less in isolation in central places.

    Who, what body or group will carry out these screens? That remains to be determined, but a good first step will be to get a strong international expert consensus on the main lines of this approach

    1. Human and social impacts: Requires as the very first priority a detailed and mature understanding of how the proposed new, improved or restructured transport investment or policy is going to impact on "we ordinary people step by step in our daily lives".

    2. Non-Transport Solutions: Recognizes that at least a good half of the solutions needed to deal with problems or insufficiencies that in a first instance are identified with 'transport shortcomings' must in fact involve non-transport solutions (typical examples being locational and land use changes, TDM, time management, mobility substitutes, etc.)

    3. Full Access for All: Provides full, fair and safe access to people of all ages, conditions of health, economic situation and in terms of where they live and work. Convenient rural accessibility to all services and functions is critical.

    4. Modal choice: Provides full and fair consideration of all forms of mobility (human-powered, public transport, intermediate/shared transport forms, motorized private transport) in the areas of planning, financing and infrastructure provision, maintenance and operation - but subjecting them to strict consideration of lowest life-cycle Co2 emissions, least polluting, most equitable, most cost effective, and most resource economical. Given the fact that the majority of people are not car owner/drivers, non "own-car" solutions should be heavily favored.

    5. Cost effectiveness: (a) Represents the cheapest way to get the (full) job done to the key targeted specifications (those being human) while (b) also fully serving non-drivers and lower income groups.

    6. Near term improvements: Places heavy emphasis on innovative and measurable near term improvements (say less than 2-4 years to achievement).

    7. Women and children: Gives full consideration to critical (and heretofore generally neglected) gender differences and needs at all stages of the discussion, planning, and decision process. This can only be assured through full representation and participation of female leaders and active participants. Thus no project should be allowed to go ahead unless there is a strong plurality at least of female participation and leadership in the decision stage.

    8. Packages of Measures: the Fair Transport paradigm will be distinguished from the old ways of planning and making investments by the fact that it will in most places be characterized by very large numbers of often quite small projects and initiatives. And by many more actors and participants. One of the main challenges of an effective Fair Transport policy will be to find ways to see these various measures as interactive synergistic and mutually supporting projects within a unified greater whole. This is a significant challenge to our planners at all levels.

    9. New Actors/Entrepreneurship: The transport sector has traditionally been heavily regulated in ways in which new approaches and new actors are more or less actively discouraged or blocked. A Fair Transport policy will create a much more open attitude and support structure for innovation, from the private and public sectors and from volunteer and community groups.

    10. Small project strategies and management: On the understanding that what is needed is large numbers of small projects each doing their own job, requires that at least 50% of the total investment budget be allocated to small projects (criteria?). These projects should be generated through local actions and participation.

    11. Large projects: Suggests that any large project (say more than $100k) be carefully inspected to ensure that its most important human and social (this includes economic and environmental) objectives cannot be better met by one or a set of smaller projects or policies.

    12. Public spaces and community: Serves to improve the quantity, quality, and social usefulness of public spaces, and thereby reinforcing human contacts, sense of community, local and regional culture

    13. New Tools: The traditional toolset (and mindset) of the planners and policy makers in the sector need to be dramatically expanded and more fully integrated in all project stages. A very incomplete list would include direct involvement of behavioral psychologists gender specialists, public space experts, and new forms of pubic participation and interactive communications. (This list is incomplete and intended here only for the purposes of giving a first indication.)

    14. Open public reporting: All planning and project information, technical analysis, cost information, key parameters, etc. should be publicly available in a convenient transparent form which is make available both locally and nationally and to the international community with expertise and longer term interests in these areas.

    Powerful Friends?

    The New Mobility Agenda presents a lot of good ideas, and there are many people, many groups who are committed to making them work. But when it comes to actual implementation, you are likely to find that it is not easy to get the high levels of support that the largest and most expensive old mobility projects have traditionally enjoyed. So if you want to build a new highway, parking facility, flyover, metro, or anything else that involves large amounts of money, you are going to find that you have many friends who are ready to help you make your project work. The very size of the projects attracts interests and makes it easier to gain support and financing.

    New Mobility projects on the other hand tend to be far smaller, and in the process tend to make much greater use of local inputs and competences. No one is going to make much money on them, and for this reason it tends to be far more difficult to get support, including from the local community.

    This is a simple if harsh fact of life of the New Mobility Agenda, and the first step in making all this work is to realize that these first steps are going to be a lot tougher, so you are going to have to work hard for local and other support. Hard and smart.

    Still there?

    If you are still with us and wish to follow up on this line of thinking, we suggest that you next. . .

  • Click here for Our proposed challenge strategy
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