Myth: The objective of transport planning is providing more mobility

Fact: Driving further, faster and more often is not an end in itself – particularly if one’s neighbourhood facilities are within walking distance. Transport planning is very closely linked with the health of cities and regions and cannot be carried out in isolation from these other factors.

The stated goal of traffic engineering is the maximisation of mobility. More traffic and faster traffic is seen as an end in itself and an entire engineering discipline has grown up to serve this end. The narrowness of the traffic engineer’s perspective is summed up admirably by activist Roberta Gratz:

Transportation is only about mobility is probably the most misleading myth of all. [In fact], everything connects to transportation like spokes on a wheel. Community development. Downtown stability. Farmland preservation. Business locations. Local economies. Clean air and water. All environmental, planning, design, and preservation issues lead to transportation.

Cities Back from the Edge, p. 146

In fact, the enhancement of mobility for its own sake goes against most people’s best interests. What people want is not mobility per se, but rather access: to workplaces, to recreation, to shops, to other people. The logical result of continuously enhanced ‘automobility’ is the Los-Angelisation of cities. This is the future in store for Melbourne if transport planning continues to be seen as no more than traffic engineering.

The first question to ask is what is your objective. Is in fact our objective in transport planning to enable everyone to drive at the speed limit whenever they feel like it? That’s actually not the underlying objective of an urban transport system. An urban transport system is supposed to get us from A to B in a reasonable amount of time at a reasonable social and economic cost. It doesn’t follow from that, that one has to be travelling at high speed. If one lives in Los Angeles and has to drive 20 kilometres to the nearest shop to buy a bottle of milk, one will demand to be able to do that a very high speed. If one lives in Vienna and can do the same thing by walking 100 metres one won’t require to walk at such a fast pace. So, getting from A to B is what it’s about, rather than driving at the speed limit.

—Paul Mees, Melbourne University Up Close

Last modified: 7 February 2007