The road to hazards, death, poverty and social inequality

Urban Transport, Environment and Equity
February 7, 2003

The subject of this book - urban transport - is one of the greatest challenges to achieving sustainable development in the 21st century. Nowhere is the issue more important than inthe developing world, where cities are undergoing rapid urbanisation and motorisation and where transport affects the qualityof life of hundreds of millions of people each day. The book makes a timely contribution to this important debate by providing a comprehensive assessment of the institutional, political and social factors required to achieve change, emphasising the need for an equitable and socially sustainable urban transport system.

Eduardo Vasconcellos introduces the issue of transport by describing how his younger brother was knocked down by a car in the 1960s and had to stay in hospital for 45 days. Vasconcellos' own children no longer play on the street.

He divides the book into five parts, which cover urban transport conditions in developing countries, how they came about and how they might be changed.

He argues that most of the established explanations are inaccurate and inappropriate for developing countries.

He highlights the inadequacies of traditional technical approaches to transport planning and traffic management, not only in addressing urban transport in the developed world but also in the developing world. Such traditional approaches, he argues, involve a number of implicit assumptions or myths, including that transport offers equal benefits to everyone. He outlines a new approach, based on sociological and political lines, which aims to describe the relation-ship between the supply, operation and appropriate use of transport circulation and means.

Chapters on key issues that have contributed to current transport problems - ranging from the organisa-tion and use of urban space and roads to political, institutional and technical issues associated with transport planning - are well researched but they are laborious to read and could have been treated more concisely.

One of the weakest chapters in the book addresses space, environment and energy, which deserve much deeper analysis. Emissions from motor vehicles are a major contributor to poor urban air quality. In many mega-cities in developing countries, World Health Organisation guidelines are being exceeded on a daily basis, with an estimated 500,000 deaths a year due to outdoor levels of suspended particulate matter and sulphur dioxide.

Road traffic accidents are considered to have the worst impact in developing countries. Vasconcellos devotes a chapter to examining methodological issues involving such accidents and the sociological and technical aspects of road traffic fatalities and how they impact on different groups. Another chapter gives a good summary of the main dimensions of the urban transport crisis and provides reasonable counter-arguments to many of the myths that have dominated western transport planning and management.

The author argues that sustainable development cannot be achieved until poverty and inequality are addressed. He asks: "What should we sustain in developing countries, and for whom?" He answers by outlining four principles on which traffic policies should be based: accountability, social progressiveness,equity and sustainability.

On the whole, this book provides a thorough assess-ment of social and political issues that are often ignored in transport planning. Vasconcellos concludes: "The major challenge is to modify road building and use, by reassessing them according to social and equity concerns and ensure safety and priority to numerous vulnerable roles." Although the measures he proposes seem reasonable and practical on paper, a radical change in urban transport planning in the developed and developing world will be required if they are to be implemented.

Gary Haq is research associate, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York.

Urban Transport, Environment and Equity: The Case for Developing Countries

Author - Eduardo A. Vasconcellos
ISBN - 1 85383 726 1 and 7 X
Publisher - Earthscan
Price - £60.00 and £24.95
Pages - 333

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