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The sustainable mobility paradigm

The sustainable mobility paradigm

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 tackles various questions regarding transportation policy.

First, he talks about changes in transportation principles 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 urban transport.

He explains that “these conditions are dependent upon the 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 and challenges. According to Bannister, there are two fundamental principles at 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.

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. They are often present in various transport studies, evaluations, and analyses to help urban planners find better and more 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.” He continues by stating that since more and more people are depending on cars, other means of transportation such as public transport, bicycles, or walking are becoming 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 various far-away destinations.

“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,” Banister writes.

“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 adds.

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 better urban planning and design would be the solution. It will make people less car-dependent and push them towards 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 urban engineers and designers begin to develop cities in a way that allows the minimization of cars, our lives and our environment will improve drastically.

Living in a city 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, together, would form agglomerations of polycentric cities, with clear hierarchies that would allow close proximity of everyday facilities and high levels of accessibility to higher-order activities.” To achieve this, everyone involved must do their best so that the collective community desire, as Banister says, turns into reality sooner than we think.

Banister’s two dilemmas

Is transportation a derived demand or valued activity?

Banister argues that since travel patterns change over time, and the amount of leisure travel is increasing, the notion that transport is a derived demand is decreasing. At the same time, the value of travel as an activity is increasing.

We all know that the more the travel lasts, the more expensive it gets. So if we base our opinion on conventional transport analysis, we would immediately say that anyone would make their travel time as short as possible.

But technology has changed all that nowadays. We no longer need to limit our travel time since we are now able to work remotely. Shopping does no longer require us to get up from the couch. E-commerce has dramatically changed our buying habits, enabling us to minimize travel time. Today, a wide variety of products and services is just a screen touch away.

Travel time minimization vs. reasonable travel time

Banister’s other contradicting dilemma is whether it is better to minimize travel time. Most drivers benefit from traveling faster, hence, saving time when going from one place to another.

But according to Banister, there is purposeful congestion on the various residential and near-school streets. There, existing low-speed limits don’t minimize the traffic, but rather regulate it by speeding it 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

Reduce or substitute travel

Banister suggests that we can now use technology to reduce or substitute travel. By using the ICT (information and communications technology) we can now replace travel or shorten travel distances by performing various tasks remotely.

“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).”

Reduce the length of trips

In 2000, Banister and Stephen Marshall suggested that if several transportation policy measures are taken to reduce people’s dependency on cars, there is a great possibility that other transportation modes will gain popularity.

Roads will not only be a space 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 towards reducing our dependency on cars.

Make the transport system more efficient

Banister proposes building “sustainable mobility into the patterns of urban form and layouts.” He insists that it can lead us towards 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 to make a change for good.


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