Monday, September 26, 2016

Widening roads will not reduce congestion

By Eric Britton, World Streets:The Politics of Transport in Cities,

Dr. Pojani in her lecture at Penang Heritage  of Friday entitled “Urban Transport Crisis in Small and Medium Size Developing Cities and the Effectiveness of Countermeasures” — at one point advises us to FOLLOW THE MONEY.  Now that’s an interesting comment and really makes me wish I had been with you. Here’s an example of how I interpret this counsel from my perspective as a strategic planner.

The hard fact in the above graphic is that politicians and engineers have trouble accepting this strategic approach – precisely because they are trained to look at something else. It’s simply a matter of long-standing professional deformation (if that is English). It does not have to be that way, but in order to get around the corner on this particular problem, both the politicians and their engineers need to be presented with the OVERALL strategic situation, which is quite different from the one they are accustomed to seeing.

The trick in getting this right is that they have to alter their key decision criteria, and bring in something called EXTERNAL COSTS. (More on this at . What this gives us for decision making  is nothing less than a transformative  way of thinking about decisions in our sector. Fair-minded politicians and engineers — once they assimilate this new information and the technical procedures that go with them –will quickly come around to this different point of view . And both these important groups have taken this important step in many many cities around the world that are getting the challenges of efficient and sustainable transport right. (It’s a long list.)

Follow the money

But now on to Dr. Pojani’s point with her “follow the money” comment. In this case those actors who have direct financial interests in actually building more roads – without taking the external costs or impacts of the following acts into full account. Who are these players?

Well of course any company whose business it is to build roads, tunnel and bridges to accommodate all those additional cars. Likewise, property developers and construction firms eager to open up new territories linked by highways and cars. And of course the automotive and petrol industry and associated lobbies and suppliers. Then there are their financial partners.

It is not that there is anything bad in their pursuing their own interests. To the contrary they are pillars of the market economy and necessary to our well-being in this complex and fast-changing 21st century. But it is the job of good governance to ensure that the public interest does not suffer as a result of their activity and profits.

Which means of course that we — and they — have plenty of work ahead.

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