Saturday, 15 January 2011

Transport Planning

I have been asked to comment on Barking & Dagenham Council's transport plan for the borough - I have been campaigning on transport for many years and a cycling advocate since 1990. The culmination of my ideas and opinions reaches up to my position on a resource based economy, which is what I have been arguing for and explaining on this blog. It is now difficult for me to see transport in isolation from the system of which it is a part (or sub system), and as cycling is a subsystem of transport, and is therefore one level further isolated.

My current thinking and frame of mind constrains me to start from basic, high level things, and see how transport fits in and does its bit in the overall scheme. As far as I am concerned, the role of humans is to preserve and enhance their lives on this planet, within the limits of the resources the planet has. The fact that the planet's resources are finite means we should be striving to use them as efficiently as possible.

One of the stated aims of transport policies is "economic growth" - usually measure as increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is widely criticised as a measure of growth; I've dabbled in such criticisms here, but the overarching criticism of economic growth is that our economy cannot keep growing indefinitely because the world is a finite place. We should examine what we actually want for humanity and express it directly rather than through proxy notions like economic growth (even the good bits of economic growth) or employment.

So what are the basic things people need to survive and thrive on this planet? In no particular order, they must include:

  1. An adequate amount of nutrition to maintain health (and growth to adulthood)
  2. Adequate clean water.
  3. Enough clean air to breathe
  4. Shelter appropriate to the climate / environment
  5. Access to a comprehensive source of information / education
  6. The means to communicate with others anywhere else on the planet
  7. Access to the resources needed to cure/alleviate illness and injury
  8. The means to sufficient recreation for mental and physical health and well being.
  9. Access to equipment / resources to overcome disability
  10. The means to safely deposit human waste out of harm's way
This covers what we seek to get from the planet. It is entirely plausible that we may need to give back physical and or mental effort enough to ensure that we 'tick off' each item on the list - and of course we need more of the items on the list in order to replenish and restore ourselves to be able to work as efficiently as possible.

In this model, transport is only logically necessary to bring physical things together with individual humans, so as to ensure that everything on the list is covered. I will go through the list and see how transport applies, though in several cases transport has an infrastructure role  supporting the production/distribution systems systems in addition to its more obvious role.

  1. Transport clearly has a role in bringing food and people together, but the need for it is reduced by designing and amending the system so that food and people are co-located as far as possible.
  2. IN the developed world the transporting of water is done by pipes and pumps, from where it is processed (made potable) to where it is consumed.
  3. The role of transport here is classically not polluting the air, which means reducing the use of fuel combustion. It may presumably become necessary to clean air on a large scale analogously to water.
  4. Transport would be needed for construction and maintenance.
  5. Travelling to a place of education is increasingly unnecessary with modern communication. We have witnessed already the major inroads that electronic communication has made to interpersonal communication and to information. Penetration of easy to use electronic communication needs to be improved / expanded.
  6. As above.
  7. Technological development is liable to continue to reduce the need for transport for this purpose.
  8. Here it is town planning that is likely to reduce the need for transport. Cycling is recreational in itself
  9. Equipment is likely to need transport for delivery to the user.
  10. Current transport is through the sewage system in the developed world. Perhaps some scope for localising the treatment / use of the 'waste' products.
In each case, transport is simply a means to an end. Where it is used, it is important to arrange it as a product service system - that is we want the service provided by a physical thing, but we don't really want the physical thing itself, in most cases. This is easily understood in public transport, and in private vehicle hire, now increasingly  including pedal bikes.

... to be continued, possibly.

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