Information for Action Contact Details:
Mail address: P O Box 245 6906 North Perth, WA, Australia
E-mail: Information for Action is a non profit environmental organization committed to environmental change in our global community. Work on the website began in 1999 by President Rowland Benjamin and is maintained by a group of talented volunteers.


Examples of Roads

Perth, in Western Australia, is a city built for cars. Its road system fragments the city and leads to massive urban sprawl. Perth with a population of 1.25 million is as long as Los Angeles, which has a population of about 13 million. It has one of the highest numbers of cars and roads per person. With over 500 cars for every 1000 people, it is car-dominated and highly energy inefficient. Perth residents use their cars far more than do people in most other cities. Some 76% of all trips are made by car and most trips involve just one person, whilst only 6% of all trips involve public transport. By contrast, half of journeys in some towns in Holland are made by bicycle. In Perth, the public transport system is so under-funded it fails to meet the needs of the community. Cars and trucks produce 50% of emissions contributing to photochemical smog. Smog can lie over Perth for several days before wind clears it away.

Perth is a highly car-dependent society as a result of the way the infrastructure has developed over the years. Perth has more roadways per person than any other major Australian capital city. It has the highest fuel use per person and the lowest number of kilometres travelled on public transport. Cities with a more balanced transport system, such as European, Canadian and wealthy Asian cities, are more economical. For example, 80% of trips to the Toronto town centre are made by public transport, compared with 35% in Perth. The city centre is lifeless after business hours and has little connection with its greatest asset, the Swan River.

Governments should not create departments solely devoted to road construction as they will inevitably operate with an agenda of increasing road building. This has certainly been the case with the Department of Main Roads in Perth, Western Australia, which does not work as part of an integrated transport strategy. Furthermore, the department is not accountable to the community, undermines other government initiatives such as reducing air pollution and appears not to be accountable to government.

In contrast to Perth, the central business district in Brisbane has a relatively high occupancy rate so there are always people around after the shops and offices close. A public transport system brings office workers into the city everyday and it is not filled with car-parks.

In the 1950s and 1960s, San Francisco and Los Angeles were caught up in building freeways. Planners imposed concrete and steel constructions, like the Embarcadero Freeway, on the population. There was no consideration of aesthetics - the goal was to facilitate the movement of private vehicles from A to B in the shortest possible time. Homes were demolished and areas of natural land swallowed up, all in the name of progress. These giant networks of freeways remain in place today.

Portland, in Oregon USA, was once typical of many North American cities in its design. It commonly displayed expanses of concrete, wide freeways cutting through communities, bumper-to-bumper traffic and major pollution problems. But a few years ago, the local government in Portland started changing their values and gave their planners a different agenda. They wanted their citizens to be able to find nature close to where they live and not have to drive out of the city in search of nature.

One of their most notable achievements was the demolition of a freeway along the riverfront on which the city was built. Natural green spaces were integrated into their planning. Green corridors were created where wildlife could migrate from one area to another. Trails were made which followed the river through the city and parks were established to break up the monotony of buildings. Portland, Oregon is now regarded as one of the most pleasant and liveable cities in the US.

In Strasbourg, there are white cars parked outside the railway station, which anyone can rent. All you do is swipe a credit card through a meter, which frees the car, and you drive up to 50 km. In Florence there are free bicycles at the site where you park your car to enter the city. Your car is your credit for returning the bicycle.

Moscow transport system follows the West in the wrong direction

In Moscow and many other Russian cities the transport system is a legacy of the country's socialist past. Until relatively recently there was little private transport. Millions of people travelled quickly and cheaply on buses and on the underground railway, the metro. The stations of the metro were clean and safe and the interval between trains was no more than a few minutes. Over the past ten years, however Russia's transport system has gone into reverse. It is the story of good social transport planning turned bad. All modes of mass transit in Moscow have been severely cut back in terms of budgets and service, over the past decade. All, that is, except one: the metro, one of the city’s proudest achievements and often mentioned among the things Soviet planners got right.

For years the maintenance and expansion of the transport system was subsidised by the State. But since the fall of Communism the system has been allowed to deteriorate. In Moscow, development of the metro has failed to keep up with expansion of the city. Revenue from fares just barely covers the metro’s running costs and investment is minimal. The metro, which opened in 1935, has escaped the reductions of recent years in its sister systems – buses, vans, trolleybuses and trams – and it is now about to expand.

The government has assigned money to the rebuilding of prestige projects, such as churches, but paid little attention to public transport, choosing instead to allow the private system to take the load. The number of vehicles has tripled - mainly cheap used vehicles from the West. Traffic jams have arrived in Moscow and levels of air pollution have sky-rocketed.

In response to new market opportunities, the motor vehicle lobby (mainly Western car firms) has been instrumental in persuading local governments in Russia to turn towards private transport and, where funds are available, for transport to invest in more roads.

In the move towards Capitalism, public transport users have been forced to pay the full cost of the service they receive. They have been losing out as fares are raised and off-peak services slashed. As more people have been buying cars demand on the public transport system has reduced and with it the revenue generated has decreased prompting further service cuts and fare increases.

The process has been a vicious downward spiral of the once great public transport system. As wisdom loses out to greed, the cheap, efficient and relatively environmentally friendly systems that were common to all Russian cities are replaced with a costly, polluting and ugly traffic jam. It is unfortunate that Russia is unable, or unwilling, to learn from the mistakes made by the West.

In the cities of many developing countries, public transport is unreliable. In Kinshasa, in the Congo, transport involves climbing aboard a truck which is overcrowded and carrying produce for market. Fuel supplies are unreliable and spare parts difficult to attain. The black market is the dominant financial system and anything imported into the country has to be paid for in dollars.

Mexico City has begun to regulate or close polluting factories, remove diesel buses, reduce lead in fuels, introduce emission controls on new cars and force cars off the roads for one day of the week. But pollution keeps getting worse because the number of cars is growing by 7% a year. In desperation, the mayor even suggested the ridiculous idea of building 100 giant fans to blow the pollution out of Mexico City.

Asia's major cities have grown at over twice the rate of cities in Europe and the USA. Planners have been overly concerned with facilitating business needs for more roads and infrastructure and have neglected social or environmental considerations. The result has been predictable: traffic chaos, pollution and health problems.

Bangkok, in Thailand has 10 million inhabitants and it is estimated they make an average of 18.87 million journeys by cars, taxis, motorcycles and buses every day. About 800 new cars take to the roads every day. Environmental laws are weak and rarely enforced. It is therefore not surprising that Bangkok is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Recently Bangkok authorities started to improve the public transport systems - a new mass public transport system should ease the pollution problems.

Traffic calming

Traffic calming is a system for reducing the speed of vehicles travelling down a street and for reducing the number of vehicles using a street. It includes adding speed humps, traffic islands, narrowing the road, curves and direction changes in the street. Traffic calming is an inconvenience to drivers using residential areas as short cuts. Traffic calming means more streets for people.

Traffic calming:

  • makes streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists
  • reduces the number and severity of accidents
  • provides space for activities such as rest and play
  • reduces noise and air pollution
  • enhances appearance by using fewer traffic signs and providing space for trees and other plants

In Curitiba, Brazil, a 35-year old think tank, known as the Institute of Research and Urban Planning of Curitiba / Inst. de Pesquisa e Planejamento Urbano de Curitiba (IPPUC), has been successful in introducing an affordable and reliable bus service and made other positive changes to the transport system. The city centre is closed to cars and special lanes have been made for buses. The city council have also been instrumental in the introduction of more pedestrian walks and parks. It is estimated that 85% of commuters use public transportation and that the rate of car accidents is the lowest in Brazil. In addition to the social and environmental effects, the project has resulted in economic benefits. Its economic growth has been consistently above the state’s average.

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