The scalar dynamics of UK transport policy: low traffic neighbourhoods

Earlier this week a paper by Geoff Dudley, David Banister and myself was published in The Political Quarterly, and it can be downloaded for free until 31st October from here.

The installation of ‘traffic filters’ in the form of planters and bollards on certain residential streets that reduce access by car or van but offer passage to bikes and e-scooters — colloquially known as ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’ or LTNS — is no doubt the most controversial transport policy of the last couple of years. Implemented first in London and shown to reduce car use and ownership, this policy is now travelling into other UK cities, including Oxford.

Our paper does not consider the effects on traffic of the creation of LTNs but the policy processes behind their implementation. In the article we suggest that the LTN policy is an attempt to not only reduce local car use but also increase national government’s grip on local transport policy implementation. The endeavour to centralise implementation works through the conditions imposed by national government on funding allocated for LTN implementation to local authorities. Some of those conditions are so rigid that local authorities struggle to meet them, which leaves them two options: abandon their LTN plans, or fund LTNs through other (local) means. The latter is the course adopted by Oxford and is in some ways the best possible outcome for national government: it realises the ambition of the ‘centre’ without national government having to pay for it from the financial resources earmarked for active travel promotion. 

This approach to local transport policy differs from common understandings of neoliberal styles of policymaking — i.e. rescaling responsibility from national to local level without a concomitant rescaling of resources and capacities. Now, English transport policy has always remained powerful centralised elements, and stylised narratives about neoliberalisation of policymaking have never adequately summarised how transport policy is ‘done’ in England. Still, the LTN case seems to be heralding a new style of (attempting) central control over what local authorities do, in a context where the agency of the latter has been reduced by funding cuts in the wake of austerity politics overseen by former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

Then again, it is unclear at the current time whether this attempt to recentralise control over implementation of local transport policy is the beginning of a new trend of reassertion of central determination of what happens at local policy, or a temporary phenomenon. Only time will tell…

AAG 2023 Call For Papers: Transportation Justice

Transportation equity is an important and growing component of urban social and spatial justice. The crises associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, global economic recession, climate change, and racial injustice have only made more urgent the need to consider transportation as a key input in building an actionable “right to the city” for all.

Previous research has developed both a robust vocabulary through which to discuss transportation in light of diverse theories of justice, and a range of quantitative and qualitative metrics by which to evaluate transportation equity initiatives. The foundations set by this body of research and the pressing examples of urgent need in the contemporary transportation environment together suggest new, creative, and rigorous engagements by asking what transportation equity and justice mean today and how a more just distribution of transportation resources can be achieved.

In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have shifted how people travel in cities around the world. Many cities have used these crises as opportunities to experiment with various strategies to promote more equitable travel options, especially for those who lack access to an automobile.

Recognizing the interdisciplinary nature of this topic, and building on the theme of this year’s Annual Meeting “Toward More Just Geographies”, we encourage submission of conceptual, theoretical, or empirical research that draws on different research traditions within our discipline – i.e., transport geography, urban geography, urban planning, urban design, etc. – and/or takes different methodological approaches – i.e., quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods. We encourage papers that: a) move beyond the analysis of socio-spatial inequalities to more explicitly discuss the need for procedural, recognition, restorative and epistemic justice within the transport domain; b) highlight equity/justice-oriented research that better describes the mobility, accessibility, and/or safety of users who travel by means other than automobiles; and/or c) those that look at key examples from the Global South.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Transportation-related gentrification/neighborhood change
  • Modal shifts of workers in response to climate change/pandemic/displacement
  • Innovative or cross-sectoral partnerships to address transit and active travel in the new normal
  • Addressing equity and justice issues for public transit and/or active travel users during the pandemic
  • Mobility related equity and justice issues with a focus on vulnerable populations such as immigrants, racial minorities, elderly, persons with disabilities, etc.
  • User centric transportation system design focusing on equity and justice issues
  • The geographies of predatory financial practices in transportation
  • The geographies of urban protest in transport spaces
  • Affordability, housing policy and transportation justice
  • Environmental justice research pertaining to transportation infrastructure
  • Linkages between climate change, carbon emission mitigation and transportation justice
  • Policy and/or grassroots initiatives contributing to equitable mobility outcomes, and planning practices
  • Emerging theories, conceptualizations, standards, or practices in mobility equity and justice
  • Data collection for measuring transport poverty and its consequences
  • Measuring the benefits of achieving improved transport equity

Interested presenters may submit their title, Personal Identification Number (PIN), and abstract (max 250 words) to Joshua Davidson ( by October 26, 2022. In your message, please use the email subject header “AAG 2023 – Transportation Justice abstract”. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Organizers: Joshua Davidson (University of Pennsylvania); Hannah Hook (Ghent University); Hannah King (University of California, Los Angeles); Shaila Jamal (McMaster University); Dr Steven Farber ( University of Toronto); Dr Karen Lucas (The University of Manchester); and Dr Tim Schwanen (University of Oxford)

Climate Mobilities and the Informal City

On Sunday 31st October it will be World Cities Day. To celebrate this, the Oxford Martin School organised a seminar about informal urbanisation and its links with migration, health and climate change. With colleagues from PEAK-Urban and the OMS programme on Informal Cities, I discussed climate change-induced migration or, as we prefer, climate mobilities centred on informal settlements in cities.

I first spoke about the outcomes of a systematic review we have conducted of the literature published in 20111-2020 on climate change, migration and urbanisation (see also this blog post by my colleague Dr Jin-ho Chung). I also summarised some preliminary findings from our research about climate mobilities into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Martin School has recorded the event and placed the recordings on its YouTube channel

COP26 starting very soon

We are only few days away from the start of the COP26 in Glasgow. Expectations are modest about what the conference will achieve, but one thing that has been achieved is increased attention to and debate about the many types of action that are required to reduce CO2 emissions radically and rapidly. The debate is informed and to some extent shaped by communication initiatives by NGOs, universities and other institutions as well as discussion by the mass media.

Over the past three months I have been approached by media organisations from across the globe more than ever before, and my own university has also asked me to participate in some of its activities and initiatives. The comms team in my university has produced some wonderful animation for a brief video in which I speak about the potential and limitations of shifting towards electric mobility as part of collective attempts to reduce CO2 emissions from transport. It’s available on the university’s YouTube channel.    

Mobility levels and socioeconomic status during England’s first nationwide lockdown in Spring 2020

Today Won Do Lee, Matthias Qian and myself have published our first paper on the sociospatially differentiation in person mobility levels across England at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Health & Place. In the paper we use data from 1.1 m mobile phones and spatial statistics to analyse how income levels and a wide range of other variables were correlated with the reduction in mobility levels in 191 clinical commissioning group (CCG) areas in March and April 2020. The CCG area classification is used because most of England’s hospital services, including care for seriously ill patients during a pandemic, are planned on this basis.

Like other studies, we find that the extent of mobility reduction is significantly higher in areas with more high income households (belonging to the top quintile of the household income distribution at the national level). The relationship between income and mobility reduction remains after controlling for spatial autocorrelation but does vary across the country: they are most pronounced in and around the post-industrial cities of northern England.

On a more technical note, geographically weighted regression models offer substantially better goodness of fit indicators than global regression models (in which one coefficient is estimated to characterize the relationship of mobility reduction with income indicators and other independent variables), with or without correction for spatial autocorrelation. Spatial heterogeneity in correlations with mobility reduction must be accounted for if the effect of, say, income is to be characterized accurately.

We are currently conducting a series of follow up analyses, looking at temporal variations in mobilty reduction over the Spring of 2020, and the complex relationships between changes in mobility levels on the one hand and (local variations in) COVID-19 infection and mortality levels.

Changing everyday mobilities in times of covid-19

The covid-19 pandemic and people’s everyday mobilities are closely interrelated. The latter play a key role in the spread of the virus, while they shape the former in profound, diverse and uncertain ways. At this early time in the pandemic’s global evolution, it would be hubristic to make any authoritative claims about what impacts on everyday mobilities the virus is having or might have.

One observation is nonetheless that, on balance, people have rapidly heeded and adapted to the calls for social distances and (partial) lock-downs, even in advanced liberal democracies where state apparatuses are ill equipped for strict policing of implementation and compliance. Now, this relatively rapid and wholesale adjustment is no doubt in part a consequence of the perceived urgency of the threat of transmission of and infection by the virus, topped up in countries like the UK by a discourse promulgated by the state that staying at home can protect the healthcare system and ‘save lives’. Yet, as far as I tell from my specific social and geographical situation, the rapid adaptation also reflects that many of the processes of change in people’s everyday mobilities that we can currently witness were already ongoing and intensifying, at lest in the global North. I use the term intensification here in a specific way that is influenced by the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Manuel Delanda, to suggest that previously ongoing processes are now actualising in different ways with the unfolding of the covid-19 pandemic. In other words, these processes take on new forms and shapes, and sometimes substantially so, rather than being new in and of themselves.

This is perhaps most evident for the rapid shift from physical and bodily to digital mobilities that can be witnessed in the sphere of paid employment. Of course this does not occur for everybody, as much work — especially but by no means exclusively carework — remains bodywork that requires physical co-presence. Also, most ‘key workers’ in domains such as healthcare, logistics and delivery services are still expected to turn up in person at their place(s) of employment. Yet, the shift to digitally enabled remote work from home is a radical intensification of the longstanding trend of increasing telecommuting. Hyped in the 1980s and 1990s by many transport researchers and numerous others, telecommuting took a long time to become institutionally embedded in many professional contexts. Recent research, for instance by Vilhelmson and Thulin whose focus is on Sweden, has indicated that the last decade has seen a substantial increase in the adoption of telecommuting.

What is changing under covid-19 is of course that one of the most significant ‘barriers’ to telecommuting — the need for face-to-face contact and meetings with colleagues, clients, students and so forth — is overcome by the forcefulness of state and employer mandated social distancing measures. Meetings that were until recently perceived to be poorly suited to a digital and remote format are now being conducted using specialised software, and digital ways of (re)establishing trust and rapport are invented and institutionalised along the way. This is, however, not a novel development but exceptionally fast scaling up of pre-existing trends, even if the specific forms and characteristics of those trends are changing as part of their rapid diffusion.

Might there be more novelty in the use of digital communication for social contact with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and others? After all, events such as ‘virtual coffees’, ‘virtual wine tastings’, virtual sport events and the streaming of cultural events that are seemingly premised on physical co-presence, such as plays or exhibitions, will not have been part of the repertoire of most households and individuals who may now be engaging in them. But that does not make them novel per se. They too can be seen as modifications and variations of things some people, among whom the younger generations were clearly over-represented, were already undertaking. The way people were increasingly maintaining contact with distant others and the increased consumption of streamed films (the netflixification of the cinema) have cultivated the competencies and habits that make virtual coffees and cultural events relatively easy to adopt for significant number of currently housebound people.

All of this is of course not to deny that there are no radically new developments in people’s everyday mobilities. It could, for instance, be argued that the most significant novelty is the ‘resocialisation’ of everyday mobility — the idea that remaining physically immobile by staying at home is a profoundly social act because it protects the national healthcare service and ‘saves lives’. The shifting meanings of mobility in relation to health and the ways these are being mobilised by state and citizens alike is a topic for a separate post. Suffice it to say for now, firstly, that the connotation of health with physical immobility is on a one level indeed a reversal of the habitual (and neoliberal) associating at the level of discourse of physical mobility with physical and mental health, an active social life and with having a purpose in life and a role a society. All of these are supposed to contribute to one’s wellbeing according to the positive psychology and active ageing movements (see here and here for further discussions).

At the same time, and secondly, those discursive associations are not as hegemonic as it would seem. They are also rather specific to the neoliberal era, having emerged and gained in force since 1970 or so, and originate in the North Atlantic Anglo-American world, from which they have travelled across the planet. Alternative discourses do exist. Consider, for instance, the starkly gendered discourses around everyday physical mobility for young people in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. The work of Gina Porter and colleagues has shown how such mobility is often associated with sexual promiscuity for girls and young women in those geographical contexts. By implication, immobility, or at least tightly circumscribed and ‘responsible’ movement, is widely associated with virtuosity. Notice also that in Western Europe the recent rise of the no fly movement movement and the longer-standing interest in transition towns and the localisation of production and consumption have laid the groundwork for a revaluation of the virtues of immobility and tightly constrained mobility.

It is true that these examples of the cultivation of the virtue of immobility and heavily circumscribed mobility have no basis in medical discourse and praxis. But once the net is cast wider, then it is not too difficult to find historical examples from the medical realm. As Michel Foucault has argued in Discipline and Punish‘s chapter on panopticism, strict disciplinarisation of mobilities was an essential strategy in which authorities in medieval cities (in France, or at least Western Europe) sought to manage the plague. Understanding the strict disciplinarisation of people’s everyday mobility as socially and medically beneficial is not as new as it might seem.

Does it matter that the changes to the everyday mobilities of people in response to covid-19 are variations on pre-existing and past processes and tendencies rather than complete and radical novelties? I think it does, for the answer to that question has implications for what lessons that might be learnt for how we should deal with the environmental crises of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that have been caused at least in part by excessive fossil fuel consumption in everyday mobilities.

The covid-19 pandemic does not simply suggest that politicians and other decision-makers are able and willing to order radical and drastic changes, and police their compliance,if and when the threat is perceived to be urgent enough. It also indicates that people are able to adapt fairly quickly to large-scale, radical and drastic interventions in our carbon-intensive and polluting mobility systems when they can build on earlier experimentation with alternative everyday practices.

Perhaps the competencies, habits and understandings that people are currently accruing may constitute fertile ground for the much-needed post-pandemic interventions to enact deep and rapid cuts in the emissions and pollutants produced by our wholly unsustainable and deeply unjust systems for everyday mobility.

Critical Geographies of Mobility Using Digital Data

Call for papers for special sessions at the AAG meeting in Denver, CO, April 6-10.

Organized by Mei-Po Kwan (Chinese University of Hong Kong) and Tim Schwanen, (University of Oxford)

As one of the keywords in Geography (Kwan and Schwanen, 2016), mobility is attracting widespread attention in the discipline with research sprawling in many directions and cutting across epistemic communities. One of the biggest changes in mobility research in recent years has been the emergence and uptake of new digital data about mobility, including the much touted big data assembled from sensors in vehicles, bikes, phones, access gates, payment cards and the like. Such data are increasingly used to understand mobility patterns and urban structures in innovative and productive ways.

We plan to organise one or more paper sessions looking at how the new digital data are used to advance critical analysis of questions of disadvantage, inequality and (in)justice in the everyday mobility of people, goods and information. Topics that might be considered include, but are not limited to, the use of digital data to:

  • Understand transport-related social exclusion
  • Analyze motility (Kaufmann, 2002) or access to employment, education, social networks and/or healthy living
  • Examine socially and spatially differentiated exposure to pollution and harmful substances
  • Investigate the socially and spatially uneven patronage of ride-hailing, bike-sharing and similar mobility services
  • Probe inequalities in carbon emission from motorized transportation
  • Evaluate social and spatial differences in vulnerability to disruption of everyday mobilities
  • Scrutinize social and spatial inequalities in the relationships between mobility and wellbeing
  • Explore potentially exploitative labour relations in the transportation sector

Papers that consider how digital data are used by governments and firms to monitor and discipline ‘unwanted’ mobilities, including the formalization of ‘informal’ transport services by minibus, rickshaw, motor taxi, and so forth, are also very welcome.

Please submit your abstract (250 words max) plus AAG PIN (Personal Identification Number, obtained after registration for the conference at the AAG website) to and by October 23, 2019.

Urban Mobility, Wellbeing and Inequality

On Thursday 6 June I will give a keynote lecture at the 15th NECTAR conference with the theme ‘Towards Human Scale Cities — Open and Happy’ in Helsinki.

I will use this opportunity to reflect on the burgeoning literature on travel behaviour and wellbeing in transport studies and argue that this literature can benefit from broadening its concepts of wellbeing to also consider questions of inequality and justice. I will elaborate an expanded version of Amartya Sen’s capability approach that considers
the relational, emergent and experiential nature of capabilities as they relate everyday mobility. Empirically, the talk will utilise empirical research about cycling and walking in São Paulo and London to illustrate salient aspects of the interrelations between wellbeing and travel behaviour. One insight emerging from this manner of thinking is that wellbeing cannot be understood as inhering in individuals but rather is an always-emergent quality of shifting configurations of humans and all kinds of other urban elements.

The empirical materials on which the talk draws have been collected as part of the ESRC funded DePICT project.


Fleming Lecture at upcoming AAG conference

At the upcoming annual conference of the American Association of Geographers in Washington DC (3-7 April), I will give this year’s Fleming Lecture organised by the Transport Geography Specialty Group. The title of my talk will be “Geographies of transport in the new climatic regime”, a title that is directly referring to Bruno Latour’s latest book.

In the lecture, I hope to will reflect on Transport Geography research in the current era in which the earth system — the ‘geo’ — has become an active participant in public life. I will argue for an expansion of substantive concerns, theory, and methodology for geographical research about transport configurations. As an important part of this expanded agenda, geographers should contribute to a shift in the logics that help to organize and shape (transformations in) transport configurations, from a preoccupation with acceleration and efficient, reliable and normal movement to ongoing and just adaptation of such configurations to a variety of pressures and more sudden events. This shift comes with implications for research methodology too and shuld be accompanied by methodological orientations and practices revolving around concreteness, singularities, provincialization and description. In this way it becomes easier to study the necessarily context-dependent geo-social politics of transport. I will illustrate some of those politics using empirical examples from various ongoing research projects in which I am involved.

Day: Thursday 04 April 2019
Start Time: 5:00 pm
Room: Washington 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level

Autonomous transportation seminar at Florida Atlantic University

On 16th April I will be one of the presenters in a seminar about automated vehicles organised by Prof John Renne at Florida Atlantic University and held at the port of Palm Beach. I will talk about expectations and prospects of automated vehicles in freight transport, based on the research that Debbie Hopkins and myself are undertaking as part of the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand. This won’t deal directly with the controversy around autonomous driving’s first first death of a fellow road user in Arizona, but I am sure this will come up in the discussion parts of the seminar.

More information about the seminar is available here.