Urban Planning and Transport Paradigm Shifts for Surviving the Post-Petroleum Age in Cities-by Jeffrey Kenworthy

Urban Planning and Transport Paradigm Shifts for Surviving the Post-Petroleum Age in Cities
Jeffrey Kenworthy
Professor in Sustainable Cities
ISTP, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia


Cities vary enormously in the amount of energy they use in passenger transport, especially private passenger transport. In a study of 100 cities worldwide, Atlanta, Georgia residents each consume annually an average of almost 103,000 MJ in private passenger transport energy (about 2,970 litres of gasoline equivalent), while at the other end of the spectrum in Ho Chi Minh City, the figure is a mere 922 MJ or 26 litres. In the developed world, where fairer comparisons can be made, US cities consume on average 60,000 MJ per capita per annum for private passenger transport (1,730 litres) while Australian and Canadian cities average about 31,000 MJ (895 litres). High income Asian cities such as Tokyo, as well as Western European cities, which are wealthier on average than their North American and Australian counterparts, consume only between 9,500 MJ (274 litres) and 15,700 MJ (452 litres) per capita respectively. The large sample of developing cities in the study average only about 6,500 MJ (187 litres). Urban development in the auto-dependent cities of North America and Australia clearly requires abundant and secure quantities of relatively cheap oil, without which these cities would begin to unravel, whereas other high income cities are not nearly so dependent on this non-renewable resource.

At the same time that the world approaches, or perhaps has already reached peak oil production (the “big rollover”) and begins to decline in its output of this resource, newly industrialising nations are dramatically increasing their demand for oil. This growing gap between world oil demand and supply will usher in a period of radically more expensive transport fuel along with uncertainties in its supply due to potential economic decisions on
the part of OPEC nations, political instability and possibly armed conflict as countries position themselves to maximise access to remaining reserves. Under this scenario all cities, but especially the auto-dependent ones, will be forced to grapple with how to minimise their consumption of oil and replace it with alternatives, in short how to survive the post-petroleum age.

This paper shows the nature of the transport energy problem facing urban environments through a series of comparative data on cities around the world. It argues that low density sprawling development without effective transit-oriented sub-centres, combined with a focus on private transport infrastructure rather than infrastructure for walking and cycling, are major reasons behind currently high levels of transport energy use in many cities and a significant reason why less developed cities with much lower levels of private transport energy use are
motorising and increasing their oil demand. This paper argues that for auto-oriented cities to tackle the oil problem the key paradigm changes that are needed in urban planning and transport are:

• development of a network of effective neighbourhood centres (1 km radius) and town centres (3 km radius) built at a minimum density of 35 people plus jobs per ha. This will allow cities to maintain an overall average 1 hour travel time budget per person (Marchetti Constant) without excessive car use and effectively transform auto cities into a series of more manageable “transit cities”, with each neighbourhood and town centre being a small “walking city”.
This will also have many positive urban design, amenity and liveability benefits.

• prioritising the development of fast, reliable and attractive transit, to link all centres together, with walking and cycling priority within the centres.

• a moratorium on all high capacity road expansion to meet traffic demand forecasts; the old paradigm that we always have to keep reducing or eliminating congestion to minimise oil use is challenged and refuted and congestion is shown to be an important factor in mitigating oil use, not increasing it.

• allocating nearly all transport infrastructure investment funds for transit, walking and cycling in order to re-balance the severely unbalanced transport systems in auto cities. The old paradigm that we need “balanced transport spending” today to achieve “balanced transport systems” tomorrow, needs to be replaced with the idea of “biased transport spending” towards non-auto modes to re-balance the system and make up for 60 years or more of neglect in most cities.

• dropping the idea that technological change in terms of new vehicles and fuels alone will save cities from the coming oil crisis. It is argued that only a combination of reduced transport energy demand through urban structural change, as well as fuel conservation and oil replacement through technological change, will enable cities to survive
the post-petroleum era.

• recognition that strategic changes in urban form are not any slower or more difficult to achieve than significant technological change.

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