‘Stay tuned for the next one hour to listen to your favorite classical music….’ This is the voice of the morning presenter of one of the local FM stations. Most drivers have their stereo systems clearly transmitting as they drive to work in the morning traffic jam that stretches well into mid-morning. With tight schedules ahead, most are worried if they will be able to make it to the office in time. Some have already received more than two warnings for lateness; a third one will prompt issue of dismissal letters. What was expected to be a 20 minutes’ drive to the office ends up being a ‘classical music listening session’, lasting an hour or so. The loss of immeasurable man-hours coupled with the fuel wasted while one is stuck in the jam raises questions as to what extent this impacts on the economy.
Local authorities and other institutions that have been entrusted with the duty of urban planning should understand how integral a good infrastructure is to the economy. In this regard, good urban planning should emphasize on good transport network that could facilitate smooth mobility.
With the changes being witnessed in the world in almost every discipline, governments have been decentralized, with cities becoming significant hubs for a development that is driven by curiosity, diversity, and knowledge (Macario 15). Urban centers have become distinctive brands continually attracting investments with the best brains. They have grown into higher lifestyle places that offer high quality life, better education facilities, and diverse cultural attractions. To many mayors and urban dwellers, complementing the mentioned features with sustainable, innovative, and efficient mobility solutions is their dream. However, many urban centers are presently faced by endless congestion caused by a high rural-urban migration rate (Taniguchi 100). Fatal air pollution and alarming accident rates coupled by lengthy times of travel to work do not make matters any better. In addition, much attention has also been paid to related challenges that include energy consumption, climate change and environmental conservation.
It is true that urban transport is closely related and interlinked with most components central in urban life (Whitelegg 10). Therefore, trying to just improve it or solve many of the problems related with it presents one of the most composite conundrums. Various strategies have been employed in that regard, but most have not been successful. Investing greatly on infrastructure like roads and engaging instant technological fixes have only been ineffective as far as solving such problems is concerned. Important to note is that as opposed to quick fixes, long term sustainable solutions are needed.
Inasmuch as dealing with the problems of urban transport has proved to be an uphill task, it does not mean that smart solutions are not possible. Technological innovations and in depth breakthroughs in general design have provided a wide range of best practices and relatively cheap solutions for improved mobility in urban centers. The effects of these are largely positive, both in the long and short term. In a general sense, the said solutions stress on reduced vehicle energy use and other alternatives that are non-transport. If people shifted to more environmentally-friendly means of transport, then much could be achieved. Most people have done away with greener modes, and the result of that is congestion in those that they all prefer.
How can this epitome in urban mobility be achieved? Policy makers have the answer to this. Political will is also of significance here. Their role is central since they have been entrusted with the responsibility to discuss and pass legislation and Acts that would see an increase in federal funding towards this end. Sustainable urban mobility can indeed be achieved if there is constant and continuous enhancement of projects in the urban setting (Pratelli 56). Capacity could be created among members of government staff who if provided with appropriate tools can change the urban transport situation. For instance, government engineers, designers, and architects could be supported in their work to achieve optimum results. However, care should be taken before a responsibility such as is their job is given to them. Hiring of such staff should be based on merit to ensure planning is not compromised by incompetence.
Advocates of sustainable and efficient urban mobility constantly work towards improving transport in urban areas by trainings and peer-to-peer exchanges that help expand knowledge and enlighten people on viable solutions. A wide range of international approaches and practices has been compiled in many publications (Creighton 98). Such could come in handy in assisting with making decisions in this important sector. All stakeholders in this docket including policy makers, designers, engineers and planners of urban development should be reminded that, in addition to taking individual responsibility, there is a need to pull in one direction to achieve common objectives.
In as much as it is important to create a city functioning efficiently, there is the overall objective of creating an environment where people are generally happy (Creighton 26). Happiness may be impossible to define and measure, but it has to be remembered that it is what all human effort is all about. It is interesting to note the more clarity that has been like what an ideal environment is to animals than it is for human beings. If the stress levels that people get subjected to while stuck for hours in traffic jams were to be considered, then it can be generally agreed that an efficient transportation system is indeed necessary. Why else would people shout insults at other motorists they perceive as being responsible for the traffic mess? Others are often seen banging their vehicle’s steering wheels as they curse under their breath. If the transport system could be improved, then such incidents could reduce significantly. Arguably, such may be remotely said to be responsible for bigger health problems.
It is crucial that the urban transport policy and approach be people-centered so as to achieve greater social harmony (Weiner 71). As a matter of fact, developing societies everywhere face many problems, but the transport ‘headache’ is unique in a way. Crucially focusing on the various components of the transport system, it worsens with economic development. Education, sanitation, and other equally weighty challenges improve proportionately with economic growth, but transport deteriorates. For genuine commitment to economic growth, environmental sustainability and wider social harmony, there is a need to adopt approaches different from the ones employed in the last few decades, for they have failed.
An approach where great emphasis is placed on abundance of high quality space for pedestrians and the public in general could be embraced. In this model, much road space is reserved as pedestrian space. Any urban center should be crisscrossed by greenways, exclusive and large pedestrian walkways, and bicycle paths that are physically protected. This model tries to stress the most important aspect of urban transport; moving people as opposed to vehicles. Critics of this model argue it sounds contradictory since vehicles could still be moving people. On the other hand, its proponents think it is the best green solution to urban transport problems (Banos et. Al 298). That it gains widespread support among environmentalists and advocates of energy conservation is not disputable. However, most urban areas are already in a mess, it may be more viable in places that have not undergone much structural development. Here, policies and approaches already in use in other parts of the world could be applied to attain a sustainable transport system.
As is well known, mobility of goods and people forms an integral part of day-to-day economic and social activities. In recent times, trucks and cars have become the most common modes of transport in most towns and cities worldwide. The vehicle fleet in most developing countries has significantly gone up. Up to recently, places of activities were linked together mainly by non-motorized transport (Gerdes 28). To a great extent, this has been replaced by the car in day-to-day mobility. In the same breath, trucks are now widely used in freight movement. This development has led to a notable change in land development and use patterns.
In the United States, this began in the 1930s and initially spread to the more developed countries that time. It is now a common phenomenon, even in Third World countries (Gifford 203). The share of other means of transport has been significantly reduced by the tendency to prefer motorized private road transport. This growth of vehicle fleet has overwhelmed the supply of infrastructure and development of urban structures. Therefore, most urban centers are characterized by unsafe and inefficient transport system. This often leads to crippled urban development and widespread environmental problems.
Some of the problems associated with the transport sector are mainly congestion, death, and traffic accident injuries. Furthermore, air pollution, higher noise levels, increased demand for fossil fuels and reduced urban livability all impact urban development. More specifically, higher concentrations of dangerous gas emissions associated with the transport sector, as opposed to other sectors of the economy have caused concerns and necessitated need for action. All these factors reduce urban area attractiveness and burden greatly on the economy (Várnagy 91). From a social perspective, the shift towards motorized private modes leads to unequal mobility opportunities and bi gaps in advantages and burdens. For instance, those who do not know how to drive are indeed disadvantaged, much the same way as those who cannot afford to own a private car. There is a huge burden on public budgets due to the huge investments that are input in the transport system. These budgets are too expensive to be afforded by weak economies, federal or otherwise. The long term result of this is high per-capita transport operations in terms of ton and passenger kilometers. In as much as these are indicators for economic progress, they cause numerous problems too. The Earth Conference that took place in Rio (1992) adopted ‘Agenda 21’ which underscored the need for sustainable development. The Special Session of the United Nations’ General Assembly in June 197 also emphasized the need for this. The Johannesburg Summit of 2002 further stressed the need to change current transportation patterns so as to avoid unfavorable health and environmental effects (Hanson 135).
Sustainability ideas clearly make the current transportation trends unacceptable, especially given the environment and health issues related to them. In this regard, various approaches applicable in the international arena seek to tie the success of the transport sector to sustainable development. In this context, various economic, social, and environmental goals are to be satisfied by any efficient transport system. On the economic front, mobility of goods and persons is necessary for a prosperous economic development characterized by less congestion and overburdening of private and public sector financial limitations (Macario 48). As regards social life, the transport system should enable access to activities taking central stage in people’s lives. It should minimize accident risks and ensure air quality is not compromised. Noise levels should not exceed internationally stipulated limits. From environmental conservation view, pollution rate should not be higher than the environment’s assimilative capacity. In addition, non-renewable resource use should not exceed the rate of development of renewable substitutes.
For a harmonic urban transportation system, a number of priorities are considered. For instance, motorized transport demand should be mitigated or decreased (Gerdes 110). This could be achieved through avoidance of spatial structures via physical incentives alongside other policy engagements that ensure short distance access. Also, transport demand should be shifted from unfavorable modes in this context considering their social, economic, and environmental effects. Another key priority is to ensure that superior technology is used in transport vehicles as well as in communication and management tools in the transport sector. Individual and enterprise responsibility should also be promoted (Hanson 167). For even greater success, social and environmental considerations should be factored in transport policies.
An instance is examined where a new 10-lane highway is built with the initial primary objective being to reduce traffic jams. Such are usually built and stretch from the centre of a highly urbanized area to one or more of its outskirts. Soon after completion, it may seem to have succeeded in its primary objective but then things take a new turn.
New shopping malls, housing projects, and factories are put up along the new road, just like in the countryside nearby. The effect of such new road is stimulated urban expansion, longer trips and lower densities (Brebbia 314). Increased settlement along the road implies there will be more traffic. It has been observed that some time after such a project is completed, existing traffic jams are worse than they were before. In light of this, it is noted that building new roads in a bid to solve traffic problems is not only useless but it also dehumanizes an urban area. It is as such regressive. Rather than invest in roads, more could be realized by focusing more on transit-oriented investments like heavy and light rail (Small & Verhoef 64). Car sharing is also mentioned in the same breath.
Arguably, the most sustainable solution is to have the masses move by means of public transport, use bicycles and walk rather than have every individual use their own car. High charges have been proposed in trying to restrict the use of automobiles. Schemes like tolls, gasoline taxes, vehicle registration fees, and road charges dictated by type of road or hour of the day are widely employed. However, they are not without deficiencies (Grava 120). They are mere charges that cannot make up for the way society pays in this respect as regards wasted man-hours, road accidents, air pollution, disrupted pedestrian life and more exposure of children to danger.
As discussed, urban transport is linked to many other factors in the urban setting. This is to say that it is central to a more fulfilled life for urban dwellers. There is, therefore, need for it to be sustainable and efficient. Success in this regard, as has been pointed out, cannot just be achieved if all people do not take individual and collective responsibility. All stakeholders have to play their part for the realization of such a system. From the government to the private sector, it must not be forgotten that a sustainable transport system is for the benefit of all. The burden on the economy, environment and social life prompted by the existence of a failed system should be enough motivation for everyone to seek more innovative ways and approaches to employ in this regard. If that is done, there could be general efficiency and who knows; traffic jams will then be a thing of the past.
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