Growing personal costs of personalised transport may start to mirror the well-documented public costs – in congestion, in amenity, in greenhouse, global warming and pollution, as well as the spiralling monetary cost of constructing increasingly marginal increases in road capacity. It’s an addict’s response – a stronger hit to get a smaller increment of relief (with the PPP loan sharks pushing supply with no interest in tempering demand).
Some people are in a position to choose to substitute discretionary expenditure to maintain car usage. Some may choose to take the bus/tram/ferry instead. Others don’t have a choice. Urban structure denies substantial segments of our community any choice in getting from their homes to jobs, education, shopping and civic participation. The converse of urban sustainability is urban vulnerability. At some near point in the fuel price trend, the latent stress built into our suburbs and rural living tracts will become a critical issue. Retrofitting will be very expensive, and probably not feasible for large areas.
European policy leaders have for a decade been highlighting that the most effective action in reducing private vehicle use (and through that enhancing urban sustainability) is not campaigning for people to give up owning cars, but in improving urban structure to minimise journey needs, and locating homes and facilities to have the option of connection using non-motorised or communal transport modes.
Designing out the need to travel
A standard expectation for any new development in Britain is achievement of net reduction in private transport generation. Not an ‘acceptable’ increased demand within road capacity, but no net increase in trip generation other than by sustainable modes. Good urban planning is about designing out the need to travel – and facilitating sustainable options when we need or choose to move about.
The combined threats of resource depletion and climate change are most effectively answered not by transportation engineers, energy strategists or whoever, but by those planning and designing our urban areas.
We are the professions on the front line of the biggest issues facing humanity in our era. Next time you hesitate to admit your calling socially (estate agents are starting to feel smug as ‘town planners’ cringe), remember that we’ve got a lead role in helping to save the world. Nothing less.