James Gleave, Founder of Transport Futures, has played a pivotal role in helping us shape the special two-day plenary session ‘Death to Transport Planning, Long live Transport Planning!’ taking place at The 15th Annual Transport Practitioners’ Meeting 28 – 29 June in Nottingham. We caught up with James to find out more about why this debate is important to the industry.
Why did you first write the article ‘Why are transport planners still here?’ on your website Transport Futures?
I wrote the article from a mixture of frustration and optimism about the direction of transport planning. There is so much that is good about transport planning. It integrates a whole variety of perspectives into long term transport planning, it has an established capability in strategy-making, and even though they are much maligned our tools are respected and based upon years of hard work and evidence.
But my frustration with transport planning is clear. I am frustrated about the industry having the same old discussion about matters such as decision-making structures and - inevitably - funding. I am frustrated that the profession is reluctant to accept the unknown, no matter the risk. And what frustrates me the most is the lack of confidence that the industry has in itself. It can shape its own destiny, and rise to the future challenges that it faces. If it will allow itself to do it.
What does the future of transport planning look like to you?
A great question. The future to me can go one of several ways. The first is the one that I am most hopeful for. This is a future where transport planners realise their potential as integrators, enablers, and innovators. They augment their toolkit (naturally improved by embracing new technologies and approaches) within a decision-making framework that embraces uncertainty. Transport planners are confident enough to be bold, to routinely try new approaches, and to constantly iterate. Naturally, when making decisions it also considers its wider impacts on society, culture, the environment at its heart, and the business case has its rightful place.
There is, of course, the opposite. The scenario where transport planning retreats into itself. Its tools change slowly, its approach changes even more slowly. Transport planning is, in effect, relegated to the role of 'the strategy person' and does not benefit from the rich mix of expertise and backgrounds that it currently enjoys. It is very specialist, and in my mind becomes all the weaker for it.
Of course, these are just two poles on a single axis. The future will be more complex than that, I am sure of it.
What are the biggest obstacles in the way for transport planners?
Not the usual suspects of funding and time, though they clearly do not help. The biggest to me is its lack of confidence in uncertainty, and trialling something new. This lack of confidence is understandable - we would all love more certainty, and selling a strategy as something that is (almost) certain is much easier. But it is also misplaced in my mind.
Secondly, the profession's cultural background in engineering and economics has been to its benefit. But it presents a real challenge in opening up wider perspectives on our impacts. The impact of our industry cannot be measured just in concrete, operations, and pounds. Nor should it.
What do you hope to achieve from the debate at TPM?
Firstly, I am really pleased at the breadth of the plenary participants, workshop sessions, and presentations that are on the agenda. It shows that there is life in the profession, and some good thinking and practice taking place. Some good building blocks to create the future!
The future is really what I am looking to achieve from the debates to take place at TPM this year. Fundamentally, this is about understanding what the transport planner of the future would look like? What are their skills and competencies? Where is their place in the world? How do they influence others, and how do they make an impact? And finally, how are they different to now?
I have my own views on these. I would love to see all participants and delegates to challenge these, and challenge each other.
Tell us more about the workshop you are offering on day two of TPM. Why do you think it will be useful for delegates to attend?
I am actually running two! On Day 1, I am running a session with the talented Teresa Jolley of DEFT153 on Open Source Transport Planning. As the name suggests, in this workshop we will be exploring how the open source approach - very popular in technology circles - could be applied to transport planning. Not only will the participants learn a bit about this very different approach to working, but they will come away with an understanding of how to apply it to their work, and be inspired to do it. So don't miss it.
On Day 2, I will be running a workshop that will build upon the outcomes from the discussions at the two plenary sessions, and discussions taking place throughout the two days of TPM. In this workshop, participants will be led through an exercise to envision the transport planner in 10 years time, and to determine the actions necessary for them to realise this vision. Fun and interactive - just how I like my workshops!
Come and enjoy yourselves. It promises to be a fascinating and fun two days.
Join the conversation
To find out more information read below, head on over to Transport Futures for the original articles, follow James on Twitter and be sure to visit the #2017TPM website. The ‘Death to Transport Planning, Long Live Transport Planning’ plenary debate will take place over two days 28 – 29 June 2017. Tickets for TPM are selling quickly; don’t miss your chance to join us!