A new Urban Design and Transport Planning Philosophy for a Sustainable Future

This article is from notes taken by Dinah Sage at the talk given to Rail and Bus for Herefordshire on 23 November 2016 by Professor John Whitelegg of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Image by Laurent Mercat, Vélivert Intermodalité STAS, CC BY-SA 3.0

Professor Whitelegg has worked with community groups worldwide, saving pedal rickshaws in Calcutta, working with groups in Britain, saving the Settle -Carlisle Railway. He believes that railways should be accountable with a public service remit.

He is questioning why Deutsche Bahn’s excellent service and use of renewable energy has not be transferred to its subsidiary Arriva Wales. He is hoping his letter will be published in the German newspapers.

Good things

Freiburg – a German city similar to Hereford – has totally turned its transport system around in the last forty years. Only a quarter of journeys are by car. The transport system is integrated, with high quality bus, train and bike routes. When a large housing estate was planned, it was designed to be car-free, and the tramline to the city was put in first. Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands have similar systems. There is not one in Britain.

In Switzerland hourly buses connect Basle railway station to small towns and villages.

Tourists staying in the Black Forest are given a free transport pass. It gives a psychological boost to using public transport. The area has similarities to Shrewsbury to Hereford, and is booming.

Why is transport so bad in the UK?

The problem lies deeper than the integration of buses and trains

Decision makers on transport do not relate the problems to bigger issues.

Our transport system is regressive – it seems designed to take from the poor and give to the rich.

Highspeed rail, airports and roads do not address the problems faced by old people, those on limited incomes or children.

The funds allocated for an M4 relief road round Cardiff, supposedly to ease congestion and boost economic growth, could be used to create a South Wales Metro on the German model.

The connection between transport and social exclusion was examined in a Cabinet Office report in 2003. But the political system rejects evidence. The Implications for health and climate change are ignored.

Good public transport maximises economic activity.

If you want a city to be cheaper to run – have good public transport. High car use is very expensive. The International Organisation for Public Transport shows that a public transport system can be cheaper.

Opinion surveys are generally ignored by politicians. When asked if they would prefer more road and no buses, most people would say no.

The possibility that the social costs of looking after old people and children could be lower, and the population could be healthier are ignored.

Bad News

Climate change is worsening. According to the Stockholm Environment Institute, homes and manufacturing are becoming more efficient, but transport is out of control.

Public Health officials do not understand the impact of transport on health – contributing to obesity, cancer and lung disease.

There is no mention of an air quality action plan on the Herefordshire county website – even though it is a legal requirement. Particle emissions are not monitored.

The air quality in Hereford falls below acceptable levels. Councillors know this, but the leaders decided to build more roads – making the problem worse.

Road congestion near Hereford Cathedral is bad for road safety, and health – but so far no-one has been killed, so no attention is paid.

What do we do?

If there is a consultation or survey, or at the school gate, talk, argue, lobby to show that the situation can be improved.

The idea of change is thought ridiculous but ridiculous debates have happened before. Providing access to clean water and sewers for all was once considered too expensive. The society for the Protection of Slavery made a case for slavery being necessary to the economy.

We are really backward. 100,000 vehicle in London contribute to 9000 deaths a year.

  • Need to argue convincingly that this is wrong
  • Public health implications are appalling
  • Fiscal accountability would provide a different way of assessing transport costs
  • Cities become cheaper to run.
  • Helps to mitigate climate change
  • Transport needs to be seen in a wider context.

Can we raise the level of discussion?

  • Convince government to ensure fiscal policy aids investment in better transport systems.
    • This would help the environment
    • And mitigate climate change
  • Join forces, eg groups campaigning for speed reduction join groups trying to improve bus services, railways, provision for cyclists and walkers. As in Sweden’s’ Living Streets and Vision Zero (no more road deaths).
  • Use facts and figures – see CAT’s (Centre for Alternative Technology) Zero Carbon Britain and the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Vision Zero.

Good News

There are numerous examples of chipping away at negativity such as Energiewende in Germany. Deutsche Bahn has joined in – all its trains will run on renewable energy (except Arriva).

There are many groups in Europe arguing for the transformation of transport.

The New York transport commissioner has made several squares car-free.

Local groups with an interest in transport are working hard – campaigns for buses, railway groups, those interested in roads, cycling and accessibility of services.