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Can’t we all be place planners?

20 July 2017 Author: Hannah Budnitz

Why aren’t new developments located where they can support commercially viable bus services? Why won’t developers pay a premium to locate near high quality segregated cycle routes? Why shouldn’t transport interchanges be designed to improve social equity, biodiversity and community cohesion as well as the switch between bus and rail?

Let’s collect data, but keep it in reserve. Let’s remember that bad transport planning is an eyesore, but good transport planning is invisible. 

These were some of the questions being asked at the annual Transport Practitioner’s Meeting, organised by the Chartered Institute for Logistics and Transport’s training subsidiary, PTRC.

Some felt that land use planners were not considering transport. Others thought that transport planners neglected land use. So why are aren’t we planning places holistically, instead of just thinking about transport links and developments separately?

At the plenary session, a panel of experienced transport planners, including the past and current Chairs of the Transport Planning Society, discussed these questions further. They gave examples of excellent transport policies, but warned that delivery was falling short. Messages weren’t getting through to politicians and developers.

As a Chartered Planner and an experienced transport planner, I could immediately relate with the observation that whenever you raise the subject of transport, you’re met with a litany of problems. Say you’re a transport planner at a dinner party, and you spend the next half hour listening to someone’s frustrations about a particular junction on their daily commute.

Transport planning is about the quality and function of place, not about transport.

No wonder narratives for the future of transport are increasingly being set by technology entrepreneurs from Google and Uber, or even app developers who have the skills to use the volumes of transport data being generated. But often they do not have the broader community and equity aims of the Chartered Planner.

So, said the panellists, our message should be about place, about the quality and function of place, not about transport. New technologies - from the sensors in transport infrastructure and vehicles to mobile ticketing, and from tech-enabled bike/car sharing to autonomous vehicles – are driving rapid change in how people access and use places. But places themselves change more slowly, at a speed people can easily adapt to.

Thus, transport planners need to reclaim their position in the place-making agenda. To go to communities, to politicians, to businesses, and ask what they want from their places. To tell them how transport planning can make that vision a reality. To trial innovation, and have the confidence to make things permanent. To offer leadership in place-making, even as if that is a role they have not filled before.  

It should have always been our role, the panellists argued convincingly, so let’s do it now. Let’s collect data, but keep it in reserve. Let’s remember that bad transport planning is an eyesore, but good transport planning is invisible. And let’s start with our colleagues, absent in that room filled only by the open-minded, forward-thinking and professionally-supported individuals, those able and willing to attend such an event.

Where were the risk-adverse traffic engineers or road safety auditors? How many profit-driven employees of bus and train operators attended? Were struggling local authority network managers or highways development control officers given conference leave? Never mind those involved in land use planning and development who probably never even saw the invite but whose presence is so needed to bring about joined efforts with transport planners to improve the accessibility and connectivity of places.

So I’ve written this blog to start the process of reaching out to new audiences and engaging with fellow planning and transport professionals through all our institutional networks. Only then can we engage with the public, politicians or other parties.

RTPI colleagues of all disciplines, let’s remember we are all place planners together. You are most welcome to join our Transport Planning Network, and we hope to see you at our annual conference in November

Hannah Budnitz

Hannah Budnitz

Hannah Budnitz is Chair of the Transport Planning Network at the Royal Town Planning Institute. She is a PhD student at the University of Birmingham researching into resilience planning by analysing big data sources to understand how commuters respond to weather, including through telecommuting. She previously worked as a transport planner at Arup in Cardiff and Reading Borough Council. She writes a transport-related blog and is active on Twitter @HBudnitz.