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How Would MLK, Jesus or Che Plan?

I spent last week at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) headquarters in Manila, in the Philippines, where we are starting on an exciting but humbling project: developing a more comprehensive framework for transport project evaluation. Among other factors, this project will develop better methods for incorporating social equity impacts into transport planning. This is important in any community, and particularly in developing countries where many people are extremely poor. What transport policies and planning practices respond to their needs?

Todd Litman | January 17, 2011, 10pm PST
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I spent last week at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) headquarters in Manila, in the Philippines, where we are starting on an exciting but humbling project: developing a more comprehensive framework for transport project evaluation. Among other factors, this project will develop better methods for incorporating social equity impacts into transport planning. This is important in any community, and particularly in developing countries where many people are extremely poor. What transport policies and planning practices respond to their needs?

Let me rephrase the question. What transportation planning practices would be supported by social justice advocates such as Martin Luther King (MLK), Jesus Christ, Che Guevara, Mother Teresa, Gandhi or John Rawls? This question is particularly appropriate now since it is Martin Luther King Day.

We need new approaches to these issues. In the past, radical social activists tended to assume that poor people are peasant farmers and so advocated rural land reform. This may be appropriate for some, but is often an economic trap because small farms tend to be isolated and unprofitable. Others assumed that disadvantaged people are factory workers and so need labor organizing, but now most entry-level jobs are with small businesses or informal sectors such as personal services or street vending. In a modern economy, economic opportunities tend to be in urban areas, which is why so many poor people move to cities even if they must live in shanty towns often several kilometers from services and jobs. The best way to increase these people's economic opportunity is to provide more affordable housing in accessible urban locations and to improve affordable transport modes.

One of the most effective ways to help disadvantaged residents is to improve non-motorized travel conditions. Walking and cycling are the most basic forms of transport but tend to be undervalued by in conventional planning because conventional travel surveys tend to overlookshort trips, non-commute trips, travel by children, and non-motorized links of trips that involve motorized modes. In addition, conventional planning evaluates transport system performance based on mobility, which assumes that faster modes are more important than slower modes. As a result, non-motorized travel is more important than generally recognized, particularly for people who are physically,economically and socially disadvantaged.

Conventional planning tends to favor automobile traffic in roadway design, leaving little space for pedestrians and cyclists, and resulting in high vehicle traffic speeds which createsa Barrier to non-motorized travel. A key strategy for helping disadvantaged people is to redesign roads so they are safer for walking and cycling. Several recent documents provide practical guidance for better including walking and cycling in developing country roadway design: 

 

It is important to apply Universal Design, which means that sidewalks, transportation terminals and public transport vehicles accommodate all users, including people with disabilities. A wonderful organization called Access Exchange International provides practical guidance for applying universal design to public transit systems in developing countries. Another organization named Samarthyam  ("access for all") provides excellent information on universal roadway design.

Another important way of help poor people is to improve public transit service quality, for example, with Bus Rapid Transit Systems, nicer Stops and Stations, and Transit Oriented Development. Also important is to encourage more compact and mixed land use development, which reduces travel distances. This means developing communities that include housing and businesses, and that accommodate both wealthy and poor households. This type of mixing has deeper benefits than just economic opportunity; it also supports community cohesion, which refers to the quantity and quality of interactions among neighbors, and so helps build community and mutual respect. Many developing countries have started to adopt Western-style zoning codes and development practices that separate uses and people.

There is a counter-argument which says that affordable modes are inferior to automobile travel, so efforts to improve walking, cycling and public transport constrain economic progress. I believe that this argument is mostly wrong. Wealthy countries are now trying to diversify their transport systems, so residents can drive less and rely more on alternative modes because they often more enjoyable and efficient. In fact, my work with the Asian Development Bank results, in part, from the Bank's commitment to more efficient transport policies intended to help achieve economic, social and environmental objectives. Efforts to improve transport system equity need not reduce efficiency: many win-win strategies can help achieve both. 

There is an extensive literature concerning transportation equity but most focuses on a single facet of these complex issues, such as accommodating people with disabilities, making prices progressive with respect to income, addressing a particular external impact (sometimes called environmental justice), or providing mobility for a particular group such as seniors. Some of this is misguided. For example, I was recently invited to support a program to develop special mobility services for seniors – which is well intended, but I pointed out that seniors have about half the poverty rate (about 5%) as children (about 9%), so it is unfair to provide special transport services and discounts for seniors while the people who most need support are lower-income families with children.

We need a more comprehensive framework for transportation equity evaluation which takes into account various types and degrees of mobility disadvantage and inequity, and various factors that affect accessibility. This should recognize, for example, that physically-able, low-income people may have adequate accessibility if they live and work in areas with good walking, cycling and public transit service, but the same people would face significant transport problems if their community becomes automobile-dependent. It should also consider factors such as the stigma associated with alternative modes in automobile-dependent societies, and therefore the equity benefits provided by mobility management marketing which raises the social status of walking, cycling and public transport.

These are interesting, important and timely issues. Please share your thoughts.

 

For more information

Qureshi Intikhab Ahmed, Huapu Lu and Shi Ye (2008), "Urban Transportation and Equity: A Case Study of Beijing and Karachi," Transportation Research A, Vol. 42,Issue 1 (www.elsevier.com/locate/tra), January,pp. 125-139.

Baltimore Region Environmental Justice in Transportation Project (www.brejtp.com) is developing a better process for systematically integrating environmental justice into the regional transportation planning and decision-making.

Daniel Carlson and Zachary Howard (2010), Impacts Of VMT Reduction Strategies On Selected Areas and Groups,Washington State Department of Transportation (www.wsdot.wa.gov);at www.wsdot.wa.gov/research/reports/fullreports/751.1.pdf.

Robert Cervero (2005), "ProgressiveTransportation and the Poor: Bogota's Bold Steps Forward," ACCESS,Number 27 (www.uctc.net),Fall 2005, pp. 24-30.

CSE (2009), Footfalls: Obstacle Course To Livable Cities, Right To Clean AirCampaign, Centre For Science And Environment (www.cseindia.org);at www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/content/footfalls-obstacle-course-livable-cities.

Graham Currie and Alexa Delbose(2010), Modelling the Social and Psychological Impacts of Transport Disadvantaged," Transportation, Vol.37, No. 6, pp. 953-966; abstract at www.springerlink.com/content/e1j732870x124241.

DFID (2003), Social Benefits in Transport Planning, UK Department for International Development (www.transport-links.org);at (www.transport-links.org/transport_links/projects/projects_document_page.asp?projectid=322).

DFID (2010), Children, Transport and Mobility in Sub-Saharan Africa: Developing a Child-Centred Evidence Base to Improve Policy and Change Thinking Across Africa,Department of International Development (www.dur.ac.uk/child.mobility).

FHWA and FTA (2002), Transportation & Environmental Justice: Effective Practices, Federal Highway Administration, Federal TransitAdministration, FHWA-EP-02-016 (www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/ej2.htm).

Todd Litman (2002), "Evaluating Transportation Equity," World Transport Policy & Practice (http://ecoplan.org/wtpp/wt_index.htm), Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer, pp. 50-65; revised version at www.vtpi.org/equity.pdf.

Todd Litman and Tom Rickert (2005),Evaluating Public Transit Accessibility: ‘Inclusive Design' Performance Indicators For Public Transportation InDeveloping Countries, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (www.vtpi.org); at www.vtpi.org/tranacc.pdf.

Karen Lucas (2004), Running on Empty: Transport, Social Exclusion and Environmental Justice, Policy Press (www.bris.ac.uk/Publications/TPP/tpp.htm).

Clarissa Penfold, N. Cleghorn, C. Creegan, H. Neil and S Webster(2008), Travel Behaviour, Experiences And Aspirations Of Disabled People, produced for the Department of Transport, United Kingdom by The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), Social Research in Transport Clearinghouse (www.sortclearinghouse.info); at www.sortclearinghouse.info/research/325.

Tom Rickert (1998 and 2002), Mobility for All; Accessible Transportation Around the World, and Making Access Happen: Promoting and Planning Transport For All, Access Exchange International (www.globalride-sf.org), and the Swedish Institute On Independent Living (www.independentliving.org).

Glenn Robinson, et al. (2010), Building on the Strength of Environmental Justice in Transportation: Environmental Justice and Transportation Toolkit, Baltimore Region Environmental Justice in Transportation Project (www.ejkit.com) and the Office of Civil Rights, Federal Transit Administration.

Caroline Rodier, John E. Abraham, Brenda N. Dix and John D.Hunt (2010), Equity Analysis of Land Use and Transport Plans Using an Integrated Spatial Model, Report 09-08, Mineta Transportation Institute (www.transweb.sjsu.edu); at www.transweb.sjsu.edu/MTIportal/research/publications/documents/Equity%20Analysis%20of%20Land%20Use%20(with%20Covers).pdf.

K.H. Schaeffer and Elliot Sclar (1980), Access for All, Columbia University Press (New York).

Ian Taylor and Lynn Sloman (2008), Towards Transport Justice: Transport and Social Justice in an Oil-Scarce Future, Sustrans (www.sustrans.org.uk); at www.sustrans.org.uk/webfiles/Info%20sheets/Sustrans_report_towards_transport_justice_april08.pdf.

UTTIPEC (2009), Pedestrian Design Guidelines: Don't Drive Walk, Delhi Development Authority, New Delhi (www.uttipec.nic.in); at www.uttipec.nic.in/PedestrianGuidelines-30Nov09-UTTPEC-DDA.pdf.

Eduardo Alcântara Vasconcellos (2001), Urban Transport, Environment And Equity -The Case For Developing Countries, Earthscan (www.earthscan.co.uk).
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