Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Transportation Culture and Performance Measures by George J. Nellas

Culture and Europe

It is interesting to note and quote some of the definitions of "culture" in Webster's Dictionary: "Culture, at the level of the individual, is the integrated and co-ordinated pattern of human behaviour that includes thought, expression and action. At the group level, culture could be defined as the code of customary beliefs, social forms and material traits of a racial, religious or social group".

Common culture is a very significant component of the sense of cohesiveness in any group. Therefore, the process of working towards a common culture for the peoples of Europe is indeed the building stone for the Europe of the future. This may sound as bit of a heretic idea given the present resistance to the ideas of European federalism or even nationhood, but the truth of the matter remains that the present haphazard collection of several nations with separate cultures, interests and policies has almost reached the limit of its potential. From now on, under the present structure, a lot of effort will be required to achieve minor results. In economic terms the horizontal level section of the Paretto-Efficiency-Law curve of the European Union as we know it, in my opinion, has been reached. Recognition of the role and convergence to a common culture is a necessity and the only way ahead. The questions that come to mind though are: How long will it take? What is the best way to promote and assist the process? Are there limits to cultural assimilations?

Now developing a common culture is a slow process to which laws of nature also apply. For instance the laws of gravity apply in the sense that larger masses of people exhibit a greater inertia in changing culture and at the same time present a certain tendency, proportional to their mass, to attract smaller masses and absorb them, similar to the way planets are drawn by gravitational forces inside a stella system or the same way that meteorites enter a planet's atmosphere and crash on its surface. A rather controversial, pertinent however, example is the "melting pot" cultural assimilation occurring presently in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Transportation Culture

Having defined the term, it becomes obvious that "traffic" culture is an inseparable part of a group's overall culture. Since the term "traffic" is directly related to vehicular movement, I would like to propose the more general term: "transportation" culture and use that in the following paragraphs. Transportation culture is on one hand expressed by the consumers of transportation services reflecting their overall social culture and on the other hand taken into account by transportation professionals. The question arises: are planners and engineers supposed to design systems accommodating existing transportation culture or should they attempt to influence existing patterns towards a uniform culture, at what cost and how are these uniform patterns defined and justified?

For example, current Greek transportation culture allows transit users to smoke in terminals and station platforms while it basically deprives individuals with special needs from the basic good of mobility. Should we, as planners, be designing smoke free systems or systems with facilities for persons with special needs and at what cost. It is, in my opinion, largely a question of setting transportation system service standards and performance measures.

It should be stated right from the start that transportation and land use, although rarely planned or managed as such, are directly related as components of the same system. To make matters worse, within the transportation field itself, individual transportation systems are planned and managed independently with little consideration to the overall transportation picture. System operating agencies have traditionally exhibited enough muscle to be able to defy joint planning or inter-modal optimization. They have even developed their own internal culture in the form of a closed sectarian religious group with high priests, clergy, believers, followers and fans. This has led to today's picture where one can speak of the railroad culture, the transit culture, the road culture, the auto-motive group etc.. Although Planning Commissions, Organizations and Ministries have been set up to co-ordinate and provide some uniformity to transportation services within a region, they have traditionally had a lot of difficulty in implementing their goal, more so in the case of Greece where as stated by others the loyalties of a person are to the inner group of family or close friends and much less so to society in general.

By what has been said already, it must be evident that the point this speaker is trying to make is that in present day Greece there is no such things as transportation culture: in fact that numerous diverging cultures exist. Such a culture needs to and can be achieved, at least among transportation professionals, by working on the issue of service standards and performance measures. This is urgently needed because the present lack of co-ordination among professionals assisted by the tendency of a lot of decision makers to play the role of a sorcerer's apprentice (i.e. redesigning a city's one way system or parking policy while nobody acts the same way when it comes to surgery for instance) leads to a lot of confusion and the development of even stronger centrifugal forces against the attainment of the common transportation culture goal.

Greece is no exception to the general rule that there is no such thing as universally set and accepted service standards. These are modified incessantly to reflect changing cultural values, expectations and the influx of "foreign" culture.

Transportation Culture - Service Standards - Performance Measures

Service standards should control the design of a transportation system. Such standards are for example "not to be exceeded values", i.e. number of standing passengers per square meter in a transit vehicle, highway speed limits etc., or "stay above values", i.e. minimum lane width, minimum bus or train frequency etc., or "mean values" i.e. proportion of sidewalks over total street surface per road category etc..

Operating speed was and still to a great extent is the essential element in the transportation planning culture. This emphasis on speed, of course, encourages excess travel and contributes to urban sprawl in direct conflict with society's environmental, energy and growth management goals. On the other hand the neotraditional planning movement has rejected speed as the ultimate performance measure and hinted at replacing it with personal mobility, accessibility, liveability and sustainability.

Mobility refers to the ease with which individuals can move about and is reflected in vehicle ownership, transit use, trip rates and kilometres of travel. Accessibility refers to the closeness of urban activities to one another measured in terms of travel time or cost - maximum contact with minimum effort. In the trade off between fuel-efficient transportation (high mobility) and fuel-efficient land use (high accessibility), the latter wins. Liveability has to do with putting the automobile in its place as one of many travel options (Calming of auto-traffic / enhancement of other modes through changes in land use and facility design). Sustainable development "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

What are the presently used performance measures? They mainly concentrate on the following parameters:

What is the way to go, how can a joint transportation culture be developed? What would be a proposal to the EU in this regard?

The transportation professional community needs to take the lead in this field. Standards and measures need to be surveyed across member states, coded and analysed. Common standards and measures need to be developed and agreed upon. The Trans European Motorway (TEM) project has offered Greek professionals a lot of valuable experience in working with professionals from other (Eastern European) countries towards the development of common service standards and performance measures.

At a minimum two dimensions of performance need to be considered. The first is traffic congestion (represented by levels of service or congestion indexes) and the second is overall travel demand (represented by ride sharing - trip reduction measures, accessibility measures and VHT). This basic core needs to be supplemented by capturing factors such as the travel opportunity for the disadvantaged, promotion of certain cultural aspects of proper design etc..


A recommendation to the EU DG VII, at this point, would be to formulate a research program in this direction (Survey, coding and work towards the unification of transportation design and service standards and performance measures in order to achieve convergence of transportation cultures both across states and across modes). This idea could be accommodated within the FURFT - the fourth research framework program which is about to begin.

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