31 December 2004

31/12. Post-Tsunami rebuilding - Commentaries

Project: New Mobility Agenda - Post-Tsunami rebuilding

Thought-provoking responses from colleagues in Scotland, Australia, and Florida help to our call of 29 December (see below) provide further insight into problems, choices (seen and unseen) and eventual solutions in the face of this natural catastrophe.

Original Message 1:
From: michaelm@myoffice.net.au [mailto:michaelm@myoffice.net.au]
Sent: Friday, December 31, 2004 2:43 AM
To: worldtransport@yahoogroups.com;
Subject: RE: [New Mobility/WorldTransport Forum] Post-Tsunami rebuilding

Well put Dave ..!

A similar story applies to use of the inherent efficiency of rail where relatively very high levels of efficiency in terms of load/energy/fuel ratios can be achieved with much lighter engines and rolling stock than the heavy weight "unsustainable" equipment developed in the "west".

[Like your "coal" trains, we used to have "water trains" that carried water to replenish the tanks along the longer haul lines so that the "real" trains did not have to carry so much weight!]

For example, one can imagine a freight/passenger system based on light and more frequent "eco+people-friendly" trains similar to sugar cane trains (ours use a small diesel engine but could be any available fuel e.g. bio-fuel) on a much narrower gauge and much lighter track and bed (i.e. track and bed is related to and depends on weight loading per wheel).

This image suggests the benefits of rail for loads heavier than can be carried on bicycles (see Dave's email) ... especially in relatively flat coastal country which also looks as if it is of a low load carrying geology.

However, the problem of emergency assistance is well described by our friend from Florida DoT in that the emphasis will be on restoring the previous situation ASAP rather than considering other options including whether it might be "improved" by utilising a move to 'more sustainable" transport solutions.

But the destruction and removal and non-replacement of damaged freeways after earthquakes provides a good example of not simply replacing the previous situation although there are probably more rail tracks than roads not replaced ...!

So the "story" suggests yet another example of an inability to get off the car/road/truck/bus dependency "train" ... even when catastrophic situations AND low cost, high efficiency solutions create an opportunity to do so.

The fact that the authorities are now relying increasingly on helicopters (eg several being sent by air at vast expense in an Antonov freighter from Australia) suggests that cost is NOT an issue given the enormous social pressure.

However as others have pointed out, this catastrophe is relatively insignificant when compared to the ANNUAL global road toll ...

Solutions and suggestions?

One suggestion to raise awareness of the transport and land use links (in this case, traditional links to the sea in low lying coastal areas) sounds totally unsympathetic, almost inhuman and potentially politically risky but if it is any of these, then the reasons why must be addressed. It is realistic and must not be forgotten. The comparison with the annual global road toll extended if necessary to include victims of air pollution etc must be emphasised and "aid" to address it contrasted. Have we become too complacent and accepting of the annual road toll such that only
catastrophes make news and "sustainable" modes of transport are ignored or forgotten? Should the areas and infrastructure damaged be "restored" or should other strategies be considered too?

The second is to emphasise that some transport systems are inherently better than others and that four in particular stand out.

1. walking
2. cycling and other HPV modes
3. rail modes with emphasis on light rather than heavy "efficiency"
4. boats (or traditional "low tech" methods) for moving heavy loads

I would argue that these are the "sustainable modes". They emphasise localness, self-sufficiency and appropriateness. Are these some indicators
of sustainability? Perhaps. They reduce the emphasis on economic efficiency and bulk, mass, fast or "just in time" travel for goods and/or passengers in favour of "sustainable efficiency" and "appropriate technology" and "localness" ... in the sense that for a trip of up to 1-5kms walking is healthy, and cycling or HPV travel is appropriate, whereas a car is neither esp when the load carrying capacity and fuel/cost efficiency of bicycles and HPVs is taken into account!

Somewhere, sometime, we have to take into account the unsustainability of cheap air travel and global freight networks that pass on or avoid externality costs while excluding the vast proportion of the global population for the benefit of a very small proportion. [In this sense, it seems the dependency on the cheap global tourism economy could or should be considered a major "cause" of the tsunami catastrophe.]

We have to be careful not to lose track of the inherent efficiency and appropriateness in a "sustainable" sense of these four "sustainable" modes in seeking to emphasise "new" mobility.

Unfortunately, the idea of walking or cycling rather than using a car is too easily replaced by use of a bus or truck (or helicopters and other "new" VTOL aircraft!) ... rather than fixed (preferably light) rail modes ... repeating the error of dependency, flexibility and individual travel time preferences which disguise the inappropriateness and danger and unsustainability of modes that encourage faster travel and other-than-localness ... ie more longer, faster and heavier trips ... whether for moving freight or passengers.

The bigger problem here is that the hegemony of high speed motorized transport dependency is so ingrained in "the west" that any suggestions that might be worth considering can appear patronising, paternalistic and inappropriate ... and rightly so! We don't set a good example!

However, where there is an opportunity to demonstrate appropriate technology in a (more) sustainable mode ie if it provides an appropriate and sustainable solution to the real 'local' needs, then taking that opportunity will add the weight of evidence to the argument that the west is profligate with energy, wealth and space per capita.

As with many of these decisions, local democracy suggests that the decisions should be taken by the locals rather than be made by others under pressure of assistance to restore the previous situation and this pressure includes reluctance to refuse foreigners giving specific types of aid.

The lessons about "appropriate and sustainable technology" in transport and travel eg as learned in/from China and Vietnam with heavy load carrying bicycles and HPVs and walking should not be allowed to be forgotten or ignored by proponents of "new" modes of travel if "sustainability" is an issue. The lessons apply in urban as well as rural and natural settings, and as Dave points out, in all sorts of conditions, from long wars to sudden catastrophes.

Whether we in the west can bother to make the effort is quite another issue!

Michael Yeates
Brisbane, Australia

Original Message 2:
From: Tramsol@aol.com
Date: Thu, 30 Dec 2004 14:27:23 EST
To: WorldTransport@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [New Mobility/WorldTransport Forum] Post-Tsunami rebuilding

A most telling feature of news coverage immediately post impact was the speed and coverage in restoration of transport achieved by the humble bicycle, almost as soon as the water had subsided to axle depth, bicycles were on the streets ferrying supplies and people, and apart from their limitations on load carrying for mass relief, in a coordinated group the final distribution of essential supplies like water, can be achieved without the delay of having to clear every road for motor vehicles, repair bridges, and get fuel supplies in place.

Those organising the aid might note that a bicycle - especially the Phoenix/Flying Pidgeon/Dutch roadster with substantial load carrying racks, has geometry which allows riding with no tyres, backpedal brakes allow riding with near-round wheels, and bikes don't need fuel bunkerage and fuel supply taking valuable space on incoming transport (nice analogy here with the far North Highland line where steam trains required a further steam train hauling the coal to replenish the stock of coal at the end of the line to put provide the fuel for the return trip, including taking coal for the engine that hauled the coal up for the engines...). Maybe some lessons to learn here also from Vietnam - where 50,000 Tons of supplies were shipped down from Hanoi to Da Nang on bicycles, with the riders walking down guiding their bikes with bamboo extensions to saddle and handlebars, and each bike carrying roughly 250Kg of supplies, along jungle trails, and going around on very basic temporary structures where bridges and roads had been destroyed by the US military who could not conceve that such a vast supply chain could work without large trucks and roads. Once unloaded the bamboo extensions were detached and the bikes returned to being ridden machines for the return trip.

If the relief is to get to the people then the bicycle has a major role in reaching every remote location where there are no roads available.

Dave Holladay
Transportation Management Solutions
6 Woodlands Terrace
Glasgow G3 6DH

0141 332 4733 Phone
07 710 535 404 Mobile


Original Message 3-----
From: tara.bartee@dot.state.fl.us
Sent: Wednesday, December 29, 2004 4:15 PM
To: WorldTransport@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Post-Tsunami rebuilding - the role of sustainable mobility proponents


You are correct that it will be incredibly difficult to get heard.

I took part in the disaster response in Florida to our four hurricanes this year. I can attest that the hectic nature of response makes it very difficult to deal with the simplest of issues, much less real changes in infrastructure. The disparity in resources makes me think that whatever difficulties we had here are absolutely nothing compared to those in the path of the tsunami.

The pressure to get things going again as fast as possible will be incredible. It will be essential to get transportation going first, or the rest of the relief won't be able get through. Time to rethink HOW things will be rebuilt will be an unbelievable luxury. What gets accomplished in the initial response has a serious impact on what can be accomplished in the ongoing recovery stage. The existing system will have to be replaced, perhaps with incremental improvements.

A better strategy might be to monitor the response for sustainability issues. Afterwards, make cogent, specific recommendations to international disaster response and recovery organizations on planning in advance to correct "mistakes" when a disaster presents an "opportunity". For
example, in much of the flood prone US, property owners are advised that in the next "event" they will not get federal disaster assistance to rebuild in the flood plain. Such aid will be available only for relocation and building anew on higher ground. Thus incremental restructuring occurs.

URL to an article about some of the advance planning we do in Florida.

And this takes you to some planning for the next disaster.

This interesting URL lists numerous international disaster relief efforts.
and their home page looks interesting as well

Tara Bartee
Public Transit Office FDOT
Voice 850-414-4520
FAX 850-414-4508
E-Mail tara.bartee@dot.state.fl.us

Wednesday, December 29, 2004, Paris, France, Europe

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

In the wake of the current tragic events in the regions affected by Tsunami, and once the terrible immediate health and basic needs of these areas and their people have started to be met, it is going to be time to take a number of decisions about rebuilding in all those impacted areas. And at the center of this rebuilding will be the transportation sector. Since this is the case, and since it opens up some unique opportunities in terms of sustainability, I invite us to think about it together.

My question to you all here is: might this be a unique opportunity for us to make the voice of sustainable transportation and social justice heard once and for all as it should be? There are at least three things about this approach that recommend it strongly in the immediate situation and the after-math. First, sustainability proponents are used to figuring out how to get the most mileage, the most sustainable mobility bang per buck, out of the infrastructure and related realties and constraints before them. Second, they are accustomed to dealing with the physical mobility issues and needs in a far more resource and environmentally efficient manner. And third, the sustainability approach to defining and meeting the needs of people is based on an active citizenry, surely a precondition of the rapid progress which is needed at this time. So for all these reasons, the sustainability approach should be at the center of the transport policy and practice debate and decisions that must now follow.

Here’s our bottom line: The proponents of sustainable development now have a unique opportunity to influence transportation decisions and the specific hands-on programs and measure that follow, not only in the affected tragic regions but also world wide – since anything of real value that is accomplished there is going to gain world wide attention.

But are we as yet geared up really to make our voices heard at this time? It is my view that despite the growing body of expertise and accomplishment, the proponents of sustainable transportation or new mobility are still very much a minority and until now not able to get in there and really change the problematique and the practices when it comes to investing money and making the big decisions which shape the system.

In this context, I would like to propose here that those of you who have not as yet had an opportunity to look over our proposal for sustainable transportation as a “Third Voice” in the coming high profile international project, might wish to check out the following latest draft of the proposal in process – with a view to seeing if anything here can be used or built on to create the higher profile ‘voice’ that is going to be needed in the months and several years immediately ahead to make the wise decisions that are going to be essential if the rebuilding efforts are to be accomplished with maximum speed and best overall fit into the communities and people directly affected.

To conclude: It may well be that my proposal that follows here is not the best way for us to join voices to see what can be done now to influence these important decisions that are going to be make in our beloved sector. No problem. Toss it out the window, and come in here with your suggestions. The issues are so very important, the opportunity so unique, and the decision window likely to be open for such a short period, that we really need to seize this opportunity to be every bit as smart and responsible as we can be.

I hope that this will set off better thoughts and a course of action that mobilizes as many of us as possible.

Eric Britton


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