Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The Pendulum Swings Again: In Search of New Transport Rationalities

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The Pendulum Swings Again: In Search of New Transport Rationalities

Article excerpt

Our concern is that recent action has been too little and too slow to provide the prospect of a substantial shift in transport trends. This has left a vacuum in which there is a danger that, if credible alternatives are not being pursued, the pendulum could swing back to demands for a large road building programme. (RCEP, 1997)

There is now a consensus for radical change in transport policy ... For the last two decades, the ideology of privatisation, competition and deregulation has dominated transport policy. Bus and rail services have declined whilst traffic growth has resulted in more congestion and worsening pollution ... This White Paper fulfills our manifesto commitment to create a better, more integrated transport system to tackle the problems of congestion and pollution we have inherited ... With our new obligations to meet targets on climate change, the need for a new approach is urgent. (John Prescott, DETR, 1998)

In the countries of the northern hemisphere, the seemingly relentless upward trend in road traffic has become one of the most urgent and challenging environmental problems. In the European Union (EU), transport trends threaten to undermine progress towards sustainable development targets.1 In the last decade, transport policy makers have sought to come to terms with this challenge, armed with a new discourse of sustainable transport. This paper probes at the nature of this apparent sea change, and suggests that claims of a new paradigm may be premature.

In Britain in the early 1990s transport policy was reeling from the implications of the Government's 1989 traffic forecasts-road traffic was predicted to double between 1988 and 2025 (DOT, 1989a). Even the massive inter-urban road building programme launched at the time could not keep pace with such demand (DOT, 1989b). As a result, British transport policy underwent a revolution in the 1990s. The 'predict and provide' foundation of transport policy since 1945- of providing road space to match anticipated transport demands-subsided in the face of recognition that the environmental, social and economic costs will be simply too high. Managing the demand for mobility, and making best use of the infrastructure we have, characterised a 'new realism' in transport policy (Goodwin et al., 1991). T^jhe image of the private car as an archetypal symbol of personal freedom in the 1980s became tainted and the mantras of sustainable transport and integrated transport policy were to be heard everywhere. This new condition of transport policy was described as a shift from 'predict and provide' to 'predict and prevent' (Owens, 1995), where dire predictions of congestion and pollution were used as a justification for alternative policies, rather than more of the same.

This policy turbulence took place amid increasing politicisation, as transport decisions became the focus of vocal public reaction and direct action. In the 1980s, infrastructure planning was understood by policy makers as a rational mechanism for ensuring the greatest welfare for the greatest number of people. A decade later a new generation of transport planners is exploring the art of conflict resolution (Nijkamp and Blaas, 1994). At the same time, the governance of transport has become increasingly fragmented and a transport market place has rapidly replaced public ownership and investment. As a result, transport policy has increasingly been developed and implemented in broad-based partnerships between those who hold capital, those who run services, those with regulatory power, and those with commercial interests in the outcome. As a result of these pressures, it was not just the roads-oriented objectives of transport policy that were under attack. It was the very rationality of transport policy that was threatened. By this I mean the core values, ideas and policy knowledge, which are institutionalised in and reproduced by tools of analysis, decision-making frameworks and local practices. …

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