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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The Berkeley Planning Journal is an annual peer-reviewed journal published by graduate students in the Department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP) at the University of California, Berkeley since 1985.

Sustainable Transport in the United States: From Rhetoric to Reality?

Issue cover

Editorial Notes

Editor's Note

Welcome to Volume 19 of the Berkeley Planning Journal. As we embark on our third decade of publication, we are very pleased to present a themed issue entitled Sustainable Transport in the United States: From Rhetoric to Reality?

Book Reviews

Sprawl: A Compact History (Author: Robert Bruegmann)

Search a well-stocked library or bookstore for works on urban form and you might reach the same conclusion drawn by Robert Bruegmann: "Most of what has been written about sprawl to date has been written about com­ plaints" (p. 3). But what separates Bruegmann, a professor of art history, architecture, and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, from most people is what he does next. "[S]o many 'right-minded' people were so vociferous on the subject that I began to suspect that there must be something suspicious about the argument itself" (p. 8). The result of this questioning is a work lauded by Alexander Garvin on the book's jacket as no less than "the most important book on the American landscape since Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities". This surprisingly ebullient endorsement from one of the most public personalities in city planning should make us all take notice.

Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice (by Jason Corburn)

One hundred years after Jane Addams published her classic 1895 book Hull House Maps and Papers, another book that could become a classic for urban planning and public health disciplines has been published by Dr. Jason Corbum of Columbia University. His recent book Street Science has received positive reviews as Corbum has sought to "reconnect" or "recouple" the fields of public health and city planning. These fields of study grew into separate professions during the twentieth century. Now, in the twenty-first century, Corbum addresses the realization that "local knowledge" can be a helpful component of good contemporary city planning. just as it was one hundred years ago.

New Urbanism and American Planning: The Conflict of Cultures (by Emily Talen)

New Urbanism is official. Not merely a transitory fashion or a conceptual aesthetic, the publishing of Emily Talen's work New Urbanism & American Planning: The Conflict ofCultures ensures that from now on even those criti­ cal of the hybridized, resurgent neo-traditionalism of the Congress for the New Urbansim will have to acknowledge them, just as the New Urban­ ists today have to acknowledge the Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Modern. Talen, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has created the type of book that can be found in the canon of every trend­ turned-movement: a reframing of history which places the ideology of the converted at the end of the tale. Yet, while New Urbanist writers may have a well earned reputation for placing polemics over research and romance over history, in this book Talen makes a considerable contribution to the field of planning - regardless of what one thinks of Seaside, Florida. The reason for this has to do with the scope of her subject, which is not New Urbanism but rather American urbanism, and in framing the topic this way the author grants herself ample intellectual room to explore.


Basing Transport Planning on Principles of Social Justice

Transport modeling and cost-benefit analysis are two key tools used in trans- port planning. Both tools have been adapted substantially to cope with the challenges posed by the goal of sustainable development. However, the changes have primarily focused on the negative environmental impacts of the transport sector. Hardly any attention has been paid to another key dimension of sustain- able development: social justice. This paper critically analyzes the two tools from this perspective. It concludes that transport modeling is implicitly based on the distributive principle of demand. Given the importance of mobility in current society, it is suggested to replace current demand-based approaches by transport modeling that is based on the principle of need. Likewise, cost- benefit analysis has a built-in distributive mechanism that structurally favors transport improvements for highly mobile groups. This problem could be solved by replacing travel time savings by so-called accessibility gains as the key benefit taken into account in cost-benefit analysis. If the suggested changes were realized, both transport modeling and cost-benefit analysis could become key tools for promoting sustainable transport.

Transportation Market Distortions

Properly functioning markets efficiently allocate resources. Such markets must reflect certain principles, including consumer options, cost-based pricing, and economic neutrality. Transportation markets often violate these principles. This report examines these distortions and their implications for transport planning.

Transportation market distortions include various types of underpricing of motorized travel, planning practices that favor automobile travel over other modes, and land use development practices that create automobile-dependent communities. Although these distortions may individually appear modest and justified, their impacts are cumulative and synergistic, leading to economically excessive motor vehicle use. These distortions exacerbate many problems, including traffic congestion, facility costs, accidents, reduced accessibility (particularly for non-drivers), consumer transportation costs, inefficient energy consumption, and excessive pollution. Market reforms that reduce these distor- tions would provide significant economic, social, and environmental benefits. In a more efficient market, consumers would choose to drive less, rely more on alternative transport options, and be better off overall as a result.

The Impact of Urban Form on Travel Behavior: A Meta-Analysis

A common viewpoint held by many New-Urbanist and Neo-Traditional plan- ners is that characteristics of the built environment, such as population density, mixed land use settings and street configuration, exert a strong influence on travel behavior. The empirical evidence for this relation, however, as portrayed in many primary studies, is somewhat mixed. This paper offers an application of statistical meta-analysis in an attempt to settle the contradictory findings reported in the single studies. The findings reaffirm the role of residential density as the most important built environment element influencing travel choice. The findings also reinforce the land use mixing component of the built environment as being a strong predictor of travel behavior. The findings do not, however, support the most controversial claim of the New Urbanism regarding the role of street pattern configuration in influencing travel behavior.

Evaluating a New Urbanist Neighborhood

New Urbanist neighborhoods aim to improve sustainability by reducing au- tomobile use, increasing walking and cycling, increasing the diversity of land uses and people, and increasing social capital, through strengthened personal and civic bonds. With more New Urbanist communities being constructed, it is now more feasible and necessary to evaluate their success. Much of the existing research uses older, traditional neighborhoods as a proxy for New Urbanism. This research compares a New Urbanist development with two conventional subdivisions and finds that some of the objectives are being fulfilled, in both direct and indirect ways. While New Urbanist residents are walking more, they may not be driving less as a direct result of the New Urbanist design features. Demographic factors appear to explain much of the differences in overall driving.

The Spatial Distribution of Food Outlet Type and Quality around Schools in Differing Built Environment and Demographic Contexts

Safe and convenient access to healthy foods for all populations is a fundamental transportation and environmental justice concern. Emerging evidence suggests that residents of lower income communities have less access to healthy food choices than those in higher income areas. Most studies to date rely on an as- sumed level of food quality generalized across different types of food outlets (e.g., grocery versus convenience stores) mapped in space. The current study includes a detailed audit of food quality offered in 302 food establishments in four communities in the Atlanta Region and compares proximity to these outlets in differing urban and demographic settings. The analyses focus on a middle and elementary school in each community and compare the spatial relationships between schools and sit-down and fast food restaurants and between grocery and convenience stores. Road network distances from school sites to each food outlet were calculated in a geographic information system. Results suggest that food quality varies across neighborhoods by income, but not by walkability. Results also suggest the potential for food quality to vary differentially with distance from schools in higher versus lower income communities. Walking or biking to get food is difficult in auto-oriented envi- ronments which has important implications on sustainability. Youth, elderly, and other populations which do not drive are more reliant on the food choices offered in their immediate environments, such as in schools or assisted living facilities. Methods employed can be expanded to examine associations between food outlet quality, urban form, travel and activity patterns, dietary behavior, and health outcomes.

Sustainable Transport in Canadian Cities: Cycling Trends and Policies

This article examines cycling trends over time, as well as differences in cy- cling levels, policies, and programs among different Canadian provinces and metropolitan areas. Some policies and measures have been quite successful and innovative, providing valuable lessons for other countries about how best to increase cycling while improving its safety. While Canadian cities have been more successful than American cities at promoting cycling as a mode of transport, they fall far short of European cities. As noted in the conclusion of this article, there are two key differences that help explain the much higher levels of cycling in Europe: more compact land-use patterns leading to shorter trip distances and a wide range of policies discouraging car use by making it more expensive or more difficult.

Sustainable Campus Transportation through Transit Partnership and Transportation Demand Management: A Case Study from the University of Florida

The University of Florida has established a long-term, sustainable partnership with the local transit system in Gainesville, Florida. This partnership provides over $5.2 million of annual funding to enhance transit services used by stu- dents at the university. Ridership on the system has grown by 284 percent between 1995 and 2003. These ridership gains were made possible through a comprehensive campus transportation demand management (TDM) system, which seeks to reduce automobile use in favor of more sustainable modes. The campus TDM system includes policies such as parking restriction, parking pricing, transit service enhancements, and unlimited-access transit.

Privatization of Public Transit: A Review of the Research on Contracting of Bus Services in the United States

In the face of escalating costs, declining productivity, and constraints on fund- ing for public transit, many governments have turned to transit privatization in an effort to improve cost efficiency. Privatization of bus services occurs in a range of forms and regulatory environments. Privatization proponents argue that publicly owned and subsidized transit operations are inefficient due to higher labor costs, restrictive work rules, and large bureaucracies. Critics of privatization argue that several market failures counteract these theorized benefits, resulting in under-insurance, substandard vehicle maintenance, and higher levels of pollution, congestion, and accident rates, among other inadequacies. This paper reviews the research and debates on privatization in the form of contracting, including its effects on cost-efficiency, quality of transit provision, and labor.

Virtual Elevators’ Contribution to Sustainable Transport Policies: The Importance of a Smart Regulator and “Not-Too-Smart” Cards

The most significant contributions of new technologies to the implementation of sustainable urban travel policies appear to be twofold: a better understanding of users’ behavior, and the improvement of interfaces between operators.

Smart cards, i.e. chip cards which communicate with the database of a billing company, have the potential to combine the qualities of both of these contri- butions. But they also raise new problems. In Japan, a financial transactions company is developing a new payment system which coordinates superstore chains and public transport supply. Just as elevators will enable people to move freely within buildings, this system will enable customers to reach the superstores for free from the outside world.

Analysis confirms that this new concept has the potential to stimulate public transport demand. However, three issues need further consideration. First, private businesses may access transportation, financial, and even property data of travelers, which may threaten their privacy. This paper proposes a concept that would prevent such a system failure. Second, small businesses could be discriminated against on the grounds that the turnover they produce does not suffice to bear the cost of running virtual elevators. The study highlights the conditions in which local authorities may require leading businesses to cooperate with smaller ones. Eventually, since virtual elevators may rely upon state transport subsidies while following private commercial profit objectives, the paper also stresses in what matters states and local authorities should require commitments from private partners. The conclusion underscores the importance of public authorities’ involvement from the earliest steps of devel- opment of the system until and during operation. More specifically, it contrasts two distinct policy requirements: subtlety as the regulator’s main quality and “not-too-smart-ness” as a major characteristic of electronic cards.


Sustainable Transport

I assume we’ll want to sustain any mode of transport only if we judge it to be effective and desirable, and of course, only if we think we can afford to sustain it. Over time, we’ve abandoned any number of modes that failed those tests — horsecars, trolleycars, and pullmancars, among others; and we’ve kept those that passed the tests — most notably motorcars, airplanes, and ships. In retrospect, it seems we’ve been pretty draconian in rejecting transport modes that have failed in the market place of public favor.

Now the test for sustainability is being pressed most vociferously against the automobile, because cars pollute a lot, use a lot of land, injure and kill a lot of people, and consume a lot of petroleum. More than that, and perhaps most important of all, automobiles have accumulated a growing circle of critics who regard cars as instruments of evil, deserving to be rejected into the dustbin where the world’s sinful and dangerous instruments are consigned.

Achieving Sustainable Transportation

Sustainability is a serious concern for future transportation planning, but it should not be regarded as a straightforward problem with a simple but difficult solution. Achieving sustainability is a contextual and multi- dimensional process. Just as transportation pollutes the environment in a variety of ways and over a long period of time, addressing these pollut- ants requires a long-term, incremental, and multi-dimensional strategy to achieve sustainability. Genuine sustainability will likely take generations to achieve, but such a goal is most likely to be achieved through steady, incremental understanding and improvements in environmental impact. Given that sustainability is a long-term agenda, history is a useful and essential guide.

Sustainability and Transport

Almost 20 years after the term “sustainable development” was popularized in the Brundtland Report (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987), the U.S. government turned its attention towards application of the concept of sustainability to transport planning. In response to a 2003 request by the Secretary of Transportation, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Research Council established a committee to consider how sustainability could be integrated into transport planning, chiefly through holding a conference on the topic. The committee’s report concluded that “a goal of transportation planning should be to address transportation’s unsustainable impacts including depletion of nonrenewable fuels, climate change, air pollution, fatalities and injuries, congestion, noise pollution, low mobility, biological damage, and lack of equity”.


Recent Doctoral Dissertations

Abstracts from recent DCRP Doctoral Dissertations.

Theme Section

Tributes to Martin Wachs upon his Retirement

From Elizabetha Deakin, Robert Cervero and Lewison Lern