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World Transport Policy and Practice, Volume 8
Average reader rating: 9  
by John Whitelegg, Editor 04 the future of Mobility

World Transport Policy and Practice, Volume 8, No. 2, Summer 2002

This is a rather unusual and special issue of this journal. It is dedicated to the memory of Louise Darracott Britton who died in Amory, Mississippi (USA) in October, 2000. Louise was the mother of one of our editors, Eric Britton, and led a long, active and healthy life until Parkinson's Disease slowly deprived her of independence and the means to live a full life.

This journal has always taken a clear line on the need for a human-centred conceptualisation of transport. One of the key trends that has grown in strength during the long period of Louise's life is the development of motorisation and high levels of mobility. Whilst for some people this has produced a dazzling array of destinations and travel opportunities within a couple of hours driving time, for others it has produced a sterile and machine dominated world that reduces travel opportunities and accentuates isolation. A child in the 1950s had far more freedom and independent mobility than a child has in 2002. For the elderly and those with mobility problems the situation is much worse than it is for children. A child is deprived of independent mobility and freedom (see M. Hillman, J. Adams & J. Whitelegg, (1990) One False Move: a study of children's independent mobility Policy Studies Institute, London) but still has one or two parents who will go to quite extraordinary lengths to ferry them around, arrange visits and ensure that social networks are as rich as geography, time and cash can permit.

Many elderly people, people with mobility problems, people with low income and people with long term serious and debilitating illnesses do not have this parental support system. The results can be devastating. Modern life is predicated on the assumption of high levels of mobility and 'in your face' celebration of the delights that await us all at the end of the car trip. This encapsulates one of the fundamental failures of our transport and planning systems. We have lost the plot in terms of human-centred, supportive and modest transport services that take a kind and nurturing view of the travel needs of everyone within a well planned local environment.

Personal stories are important if we are to regain this lost ground. Louise found life increasingly difficult as her Parkinson's disease developed . This included very real difficulties in getting around. We have to try and understand how to provide transport services through the eyes of Louise and others like her who because of Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, MS, psychological problems, injury or whatever find themselves in an unforgiving world that is dedicated to speed, cars, poor quality public transport, poor quality pedestrian pavements/sidewalks and impossible crossing facilities. Crossing a very wide road in Paris, Copenhagen, Lancaster or Brisbane requires athletic skills of Olympic standards. This penalises the slow, the ill and those in pain. The planning of crossing times for pedestrians is only one small example of this lost ground but it shows clearly that our transport systems are not caring, kind or human centred.

Another personal story. In 1977 and 1978 I had the enormous pleasure of walking around Lancaster with my small children. We walked everywhere and enjoyed it. There were problems but in the main an adult could walk around with a 10 month old child in a pushchair/buggy on a reasonable sidewalk and at the same time hold the hand of a 3 year old child. I am now repeating this experience with a 10 month old grandson and it is dreadful. The sidewalks are broken, cracked and uneven, the cars go too fast and are driven too aggressively (turning across my path when I am crossing a side road), the timing on the signalised crossings are not long enough for me to get the buggy across within the allotted time. It is very unpleasant.

These same conditions make life difficult for the elderly and for those with mobility problems. We have allowed our local environment to become child unfriendly and to be shaped only by the desire to reward car drivers. They can now drive faster and metal railings have been erected on some streets to make sure that the elderly and the ill have to walk even further so that drivers can be given even greater opportunity to drive faster and ignore vulnerable road users. Why should the journeys on foot of the elderly, the ill and young children be made more difficult and circuitous to enhance the ease and joy of the motorist?

This special issue can only scratch the surface of this subject area. We have put together a collection of papers that share an interest in those groups that have been ignored and have carried the burden of our inhumane and unkind transport systems. We want to continue to represent the views of those who have been ignored. We want to restore the importance and the dignity of those who have been forgotten. Louise Darracott Britton will not be forgotten and her struggle with Parkinson's Disease will be an inspiration for us to do better in this area and to act as a focus for a new paradigm in transport based on inclusivity, social justice, kindness, humanity and respect for all ages and all abilities. (She would have liked that very much.)

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