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You are here: Home Archive 2016 Bliemer, Michiel C. J.; Mulley, Corinne and Moutou, Claudine J. (eds.): Handbook on Transport and Urban Planning in the Developed World

Bliemer, Michiel C. J.; Mulley, Corinne and Moutou, Claudine J. (eds.): Handbook on Transport and Urban Planning in the Developed World

Book review Erdkunde 70 (3) 2016, 293-294 by Joachim Scheiner

Bliemer, Michiel C. J.; Mulley, Corinne and Moutou, Claudine J. (eds.): Handbook on Transport and Urban Planning in the Developed World. XI and 534 pp., numerous figs. and tables. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK 2016, £ 180.-

Global transport demand is on the rise, and so are problems associated with it. Cars are ever more numerous, bigger, and faster. At the same time, transport planning is often characterised by optimism bias, unrealistic goals, exaggerated self-efficacy beliefs, cost overruns and demand shortfalls, the latter especially when it comes to modes that are desirable from a sustainability perspective.
Against this background, transport research has grown at such an incredible speed that it is difficult to assess whether or not a book published today fills a gap. Various academic sub-communities are burgeoning, and focus on emerging fields defined by topics, methodologies, modes, or cross-cutting disciplines. This includes research areas as diverse as transport and health, appraisal methods, cycling, the role of residential self-selection and land-use, travel demand management, transport master plans – the list could be extended to infinity.
In disciplinary terms the field can be seen to diverge and converge at the same time. A certain boundary has emerged between transport studies and the mobilities approach (Shaw and Hesse 2010; Schwanen 2016). Though there is productive interaction going on between the two, this boundary appears to draw a line between sociology and certain geographers on the one hand, and other geographers, planners and engineers on the other hand. At the same time boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred between the different disciplines that are concerned with travel behaviour analysis and/or policy studies, including geography, planning, sociology, psychology, economy, and public health. Geographers play a distinct role in this setting, though, oddly enough, transport issues play only a limited role in most geography study programmes at German universities.
These few words may suffice to provide the background for the volume reviewed here. The majority of books and other publications in the field are primarily concerned with transport analysis rather than planning in a closer sense. Fewer focus on the link between urban and transport planning, although many scholars and a growing number of practitioners work on the fringes of the two fields, and the relationship between transport and the built environment remains a pertinent area of study.
Hence, before opening this book I asked myself what I would expect from such a book as a student, an academic, or a practitioner. Which topics should be covered, and how?
To start with the outcome, my expectations were largely met. There is no major issue in the urban and transport planning field that is left uncovered, with the notable exception of traffic safety and, in a wider sense, public health. These topics appear in places in the book but would have deserved a separate chapter. Most chapters are less than comprehensive, and this should be understood as a positive evaluation, given the above-mentioned hugeness of the field. The editors did an excellent job in limiting the volume so that readers will not feel overburdened by the sheer amount of detail. This comes at the cost of nuance in some cases, but may also be considered as squaring the circle.
The book sets out by claiming to provide “an overview of relevant theories and concepts regarding transport and urban planning in the developed world” (p. 1). An introductory section written by the editorial team provides a useful overview and helps point out links between the following 25 chapters. This is particularly valuable as cross-references between the chapters are largely missing, which is somewhat confusing as some chapters discuss issues closely related to others. A well-developed 17-page key word (and author) index helps with finding information on details, but does not compensate for the lack of cross-referencing.
Looking at the table of contents reveals that authors are from all over the world, with a focus on Australia (where the editorial team is based), and the UK (where at least one of the editors originates from). They represent an excellent mix of well-reputed experts and younger academics in the field.
In terms of content, I was initially confused that ‘Transport Planning’ appears as an explicit heading in Chapter 18, but thorough reading clarifies that planning issues are discussed in many chapters with regard to the respective subfield. Interestingly, the two chapters (3 and 18) whose headings suggest the closest focus on transport planning both discuss the practice of transport simulation models. This may elicit a somewhat biased impression among students about what transport planners do, as “transport models do not design strategic transport plans, they have only a supporting role; decision-makers do” (p. 351, Chapter 18). I agree but, taken seriously, the authors of this statement suggest that they somewhat missed the point, as their chapter is about transport planning, not modelling.
Despite this, the book as a whole covers virtually all relevant issues, including historical perspectives, policy making, stakeholders and institutions, appraisal and financing, design and management. Thematic coverage ranges from microscopic travel demand management concepts to mega-infrastructures, from regional simulation modelling to design issues for preserving cultural heritage. Some important, yet rarely studied topics such as the role of media in shaping transport policy (Chapter 10) are included, and this may serve to stimulate more research.
The style of presentation varies strongly between the chapters, from pure text without any design elements to the inclusion of instructive figures and, as appropriate, beautiful pictures (e.g. in Chapters 16 and 17, on heritage and place-making) or mathematical problem formulations. Chapter 2 on the history and theory of urban planning lacks graphical representations of historical models and paradigms that would help students understand the visions and imaginations of the Radiant City, the Broadacre, or the City Social.
This said, the book clearly has great potential to inform and guide undergraduate and post-graduate students as well as senior researchers and practitioners in the field of urban and transport planning. It generally judges the failures and successes of planning in a balanced way and stimulates thoughts about how to proceed. Though not targeted especially at geographers, geographical research can be seen on almost every page. It is also a rare case of a book in this field which I am sure will not just prevent the blank spaces on my shelf from getting dusty. Besides issues of content, the chapters are generally well written and edited, and even entertaining in places. For instance, given that much effort in transport planning is devoted to increasing the speed of travel, thereby ‘shrinking’ the globe, isn’t it ironic that, in transport planning, “the single biggest cause for mega-project failure is ‘speed’” (p. 412)? Hence, one may call on transport planners (and researchers) to stay in tune with the speed of the world. And read.

Joachim Scheiner

 

 

References

Schwanen, T. (2016): Geographies of transport I: Reinventing a field? In: Progress in Human Geography 40 (1), 126–137. DOI: 10.1177/0309132514565725

Shaw, J. and Hesse, M. (2010): Transport, geography and the ‘new’ mobilities. In: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (3), 305–312. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2010.00382.x

 

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