A lever to shift poor parking practices?

About a year ago, the consultation (and my blog recommendation) on options to end pavement parking in England closed. Since then, there has been no news on whether any options are to be taken forward or anything done at all.

It’s not a surprise. Parking is transport’s poor relation. It attracts less considered attention than walking, which by the way certainly deserves more attention. Walking is my favourite, most chosen mode, which is why I am so keen on a ban on pavement parking, but it is still a mode that you choose. Parking is just what happens when you stop driving.

Even if circumstances limit the alternatives people feel they have, they still can be said to actively choose to drive, to have a car, and therefore they must park it somewhere. And if they decide their best option for a house is one that does not have a driveway, then they park on the street or in a shared parking area or a layby or a car park. And if there is not enough room to park sensibly in these places, then they park wherever they can find room. Such as on the pavement.

This is why the Social Practices perspective is such a perfect fit for the act of parking. As an academic concept, social practices are viewed independently from the individual who performs them. Practices are routines made up of material things (the space, the vehicle), skills (to park), and meanings (e.g. convenience, entitlement) which can be bundled with other practices, such as driving or domestic activities. They are social in that they are so recognisable and accepted that they become something that people do because that’s how it’s done. People park on the pavement or otherwise clutter the public realm because it is socially acceptable and routine. But although routine, social practices can change.

Unfortunately, despite all the talk of driving less and switching to electric-powered cars to combat climate change, there’s very little discussion of reducing vehicle ownership. Or reducing parking space. Or even banning pavement parking.

But my research suggests that the switch to electric is changing the social practice of parking anyway, although in more subtle ways than policy interventions into parking itself. Recharging an electric car usually happens whilst parking, but adds to the practice new things (e.g. charge point and plug), skills (e.g. programming the charger), and meanings (e.g. balancing price to speed of charge).

It also adds a new social dimension. And where most social interactions around parking alone have been negative, some of those around the hybrid practice of parking and charging offer positive feedback. Early adopters of electric cars may compete for charging infrastructure, but our research suggests they also form social networks to help find and share charging.

Current electric car drivers also often find themselves attracting attention from neighbours and colleagues. Whilst, depending upon the scenario, this attention can be the usual complaints about space or pavement clutter, our research also suggests a genuine desire to learn about electric cars and the practicalities of charging them.

Will these changes, as they gain momentum alongside the mass adoption of electric-powered cars, be enough to rid our pavements and public realm of the scourge of poor parking practices? Probably not. I’d still like to see a ban on pavement parking. And more attention to reducing vehicle ownership, not just vehicle mileage. But researching how parking and charging practices combine does give a glimpse into how parking practices can change, and where there are opportunities to leverage that change in the transition to electric vehicles.

Levelling up Digital Divides: it’s not just about infrastructure

What is the digital divide? Wikipedia describes it as “the gap between those able to benefit from the digital age and those who are not.”

Most commonly this is interpreted as whether people have access to the internet or not, and whether that access is convenient enough and of a decent enough quality to use in the many ways modern society demands. And those demands have expanded exponentially during the pandemic, as so many aspects of life went online, intensifying the impact of digital divisions. 

Therefore, amid economic recovery plans and policies to level up, we can include the UK government’s aims to expand digital infrastructure, 5G and full fibre across the country. This investment and expansion of digital infrastructure is important, especially where some rural areas still lack connections or are operating on wires that cannot deliver speeds fast enough to allow any streaming or video calls. Yet it ignores lessons from the pandemic about the complexity of digital divisions. 

Prior to the first lockdown here in the UK, the peak demand for residential internet services occurred in the evening when households are streaming entertainment services like Netflix. Therefore, broadband download speeds at that time of day were benchmarked against the speeds promised by the internet service providers to their customers to determine performance and quality of service.

However, our research shows that in Spring 2020, patterns of demand altered significantly in most of the country. Demand, slowdown due to this demand creating network congestion, and frustration with such poor reliability of service speeds, were all greater during working hours, such as between 9:00-11:00 in the morning. 

Furthermore, the new pattern of demand could be found not only in download speeds, but also upload speeds, which are rarely highlighted in speed and performance management. Yet the reasons are clear. The mass uptake of video-conferencing by those working (and learning) from home for meetings and other social interactions with colleagues, as well as the constant need to upload work to remote servers and networks resulted in an extreme demand that had never existed before. 

To put this in perspective, only about 5% of employed people in the UK worked primarily from home in 2019, but in April 2020, this jumped to 47% – almost half the working population. Extreme demand for quality internet services during working hours was inevitable. 

Yet the other half the UK’s working population still had to go to work or were furloughed. These people may not have been complaining about connectivity, but neither could they benefit from quality internet infrastructure and services even if such were available.

We analysed clusters of Local Authorities’ experienced upload speeds during the spring 2020 lockdown and how they correlated with economic indicators for those authorities, such as occupations and numbers furloughed.

Our results showed that areas of the country with relatively slow and unreliable internet services were not those with the highest percentages of people put on furlough. Increased demand for digital services such as Zoom and network congestion occurred in these areas where, and perhaps because, occupations were more economically resilient. They were able to continue operating despite the pandemic.

Conversely, some areas with reliably high broadband speeds suffered economically as reflected in high furlough numbers. These areas were characterised by fewer jobs in occupations, such as technology and business services, that would enable workers to be productive at home. 

This tells a story that is about more than just having the skills to use digital technology, it is about having the skills to undertake productive, paid work using digital technology. If digital divisions are to be addressed to enable places not just to be connected, but also to gain economic benefits and resilience, then there needs to be a recognition of these different sorts of digital divisions.  

The impacts of the pandemic may be waning, but the working from home lifestyle they have introduced is not going away for many businesses and organisations, nor is the demand for fast and reliable upload and download speeds during working hours. Better infrastructure, although necessary, cannot boost the economic resilience of places on its own, where the industrial structure does not align with occupations that incorporate the digital skills and capabilities to work from home. This complex web of digital and socio-economic divides needs to be incorporated into our thinking of local economies and government priorities.

Inclusive group interactions: online or in person?

I recently published a paper on the intersections, or as it turned out, the divergence between three different levels of digital divide. The first level is about infrastructure and having fast enough internet connections. A bit like accessibility in transport. The second is about skills to use the required software. The third is whether digital technology enables people to be more productive or resilient or gain from the use of the technology.

The first two divides include the uneven distribution of infrastructure and technical capabilities across the population. The last is more a question of some forms of work or knowledge being recognised as valuable, useful, and worthy of remuneration even when forced online. Other forms of knowledge and work are designated essential but only possible in person, whilst still others are temporarily disposable (e.g. via furlough).

Another way to think about digital divides is to consider how they map onto aspects of social justice such as I am researching for a different project; these include distribution, recognition, and epistemic (or knowledge).

For example, as we slowly emerge from a world where social interactions were forced online in order to make decisions about whether we will return in person or continue to use digital technologies, will these interactions become more or less just?

I am not referring to jobs and occupations, as I was in the paper mentioned above, but rather the advantages and disadvantages of holding meetings, workshops, coffee breaks, and conferences online or in person as this becomes a matter of employer, organisational or individual choice. Similar choices are being made for many other group interactions which had unexpectedly switched to a screen during the pandemic; from charity committees to book clubs, from religious services to exercise classes.

So how did the online switch influence how just these interactions became in comparison to their previous formats?

In terms of distribution, some have the internet connections, data contracts and devices to support video-conferencing platforms. Some do not. Some find using the software easy and some difficult. However, many would note that spatial, temporal, and cost barriers were much reduced. People could meet, discuss, worship, or exercise together with little concern for distance. People could schedule activities without the travel time, fitting in online interactions between other responsibilities. And the cost to interact online is usually much lower.

In terms of recognition, some found it easier to put across their needs, wants, and points of view. Perhaps they could raise their virtual hand or comment in a chat box. Yet for others, the lack of body language, the unnatural uniformity of grids of faces make it much harder to recognise the expressions of others or to express oneself. Whilst some blossom in the odd combination of distance and intimacy that online interactions afford, others shrink from it, often unnoticed, such that their potential contribution to the team or club or congregation goes unrecognised.

Finally, whose knowledge is gained and whose is lost? What is spoken and what left unsaid? And even if different voices and views are heard, whose are valued and whose ignored? In some cases, knowledge has been gained from more diverse participants, perhaps due to reduced distance, time and cost barriers. In other cases, not only have previous attendees been excluded due to distributional issues of infrastructure and skills, but also knowledge is exchanged differently. Online social interactions reduce the ability to share non-verbal knowledge. There is a deficit of side conversations, informal commentary and one-to-one conversations on the way in and the way out.

The justice of online group interactions is context-dependent and interactions in person can also include or exclude in different ways. And yet, just as there are multiple levels of digital divide to consider, multiple aspects of justice should inform our decisions. Whilst many point to what are often net gains made in distributional justice from going online, the recognition and knowledge aspects of justice suggest a more complex and nuanced balance sheet as we make these tricky choices over how to meet and interact in the future.

Handling Holiday Travel

We once travelled to South Devon on the late May bank holiday weekend to celebrate the wedding of some friends. It took us a tortuous 8 hours to travel less than 200 miles. But it wasn’t a surprise.

We expect certain bank holidays or weekends at the beginning and end of Christmas and summer holidays to be the busiest travel days of the year, and yet holiday travel does not seem to come within the remit of transport planners, nor does it ever seem to be a major consideration in surface transport infrastructure strategies.

Tourist destinations make plans to accommodate visitors, but not the journeys they take to get there, and aviation strategy tends to sit in a separate silo from surface transport.

And yet, long distance travel is responsible for a larger share of climate emissions from transport than shorter distance travel, and the further you go, the fewer the options to travel in a more environmentally friendly way. Furthermore, as we come out of a period which has shown how efficient video conferencing can be for businesses, the likelihood is that long-distance travel will be increasingly synonymous with ‘holiday travel’, even though that includes the varied purposes of tourism, visiting friends and family, attending events, or participating in leisure pursuits.

So transport planners need to start thinking about how to plan for holiday travel when we plan for strategic transport infrastructure, when we target travel behaviour, when we model impacts or appraise projects.

This has to be about more than aviation. Whilst I stand by previous blogs arguing for that long haul flights are necessary and important, if not guilt-free, especially for someone like me who lives an ocean away from close family (and the pandemic has definitely demonstrated to me that online interaction is NOT a replacement!), there are few realistic alternatives other than managing demand through measures such as the frequent flyer tax.

Short haul and domestic travel is another story. It is worrying that new domestic aviation routes are being introduced and at prices well below train travel. And the price / time comparisons between air and train are incomplete without also considering where each mode terminates, how people travel the rest of the way (or to the airport or train station in the first place) and then how that compares with travelling by road.

Remember those interminable bank holiday traffic jams I described at the start? Traffic flow affects emissions, as does car occupancy, weight, age, engine type / fuel and use of heating or air conditioning. Taking the train might still be a more sustainable option, but as the emissions link above shows, car travel is not a monolithic behaviour or emitter – and the characteristics of holiday car travel are more difficult to pin down than a daily car commute.

Meanwhile, households do consider their holiday travel when making long-term choices, even if transport planners are not thinking of holiday travel strategically.

This is particularly noticeable when researching the motivations and barriers to switching to battery-powered vehicles. Consumers may realise that the range of most electric cars is perfectly adequate for their daily travel, but worry they will not be able to visit dispersed family. Others see the lack of electric vehicles large enough to pack the gear or to tow the trailer for their annual camping trip as a reason to postpone adoption. Still others worry about the availability of charging infrastructure when going somewhere unfamiliar. Some households even keep a fossil-fuel powered car after they have switched to electric, specifically for occasional, ‘holiday’ travel.

Whether providing for or managing travel, transport planning has long focused on regular, necessary trips, especially the commute, but also accessibility to key goods and services, such as food, education, and healthcare. But holidays happen, are impactful, and are integral to some of the bigger choices, such as car ownership, that affect travel behaviour. We need to start thinking about how to handle holiday travel.

Carless on a car dependent Thursday

As well as being a transport planner and researcher, I am also a wife and mother of two children in primary school. We live in a one-car household, partly due to our mobility history and partly on principle.

Despite living in a small town in South East England, which some locals prefer to call a village and many would consider fairly car-dependent, we moved here so my husband could walk to work. I have always taken the train when not working from home. With our excellent, catchment school less than a mile away and local amenities to meet many of our needs, the car’s role in our mobility history has been for more occasional errands and leisure trips.

Meanwhile, my principles as a transport planner and researcher are to practice what I preach and minimise the car ownership and use of my household. A single car should be able to give us more than enough flexibility and freedom to go where we wanted.

Then, two years ago, my husband changed jobs. Commuting by car is at least twice as quick and convenient for him as convoluted cycling-public transport options. We still have one car, but it is in use at particular times of day and year without much flexibility.

I can still commute by train (although I have been working from home for 16 months), and the children’s school and activities are all within walking and cycling distance. And yet, I was recently forced to admit that our car dependence has increased.

One sunny Thursday, my husband had to work late. Three of the four activities (two each) outside school which my children attend are on a Thursday, so my husband usually comes home early to help with the ferrying, whether by car, bicycle, or on foot. But now I had to do it alone. Without a car.

I walked to pick the children up from school. We came home and my son changed for his first activity. We walked there (~10 minutes). I waited outside, doing some work on my phone, and then we walked home.

A little later, we walked (~10 minutes) to my daughter’s Thursday activity, but this time I rushed home, as my son’s next activity starts 15 minutes after my daughter’s.

I cycled with my son to his activity, his pace slower than mine due to leg and wheel size. He was less than 15 minutes late. Not bad. I cycled quickly straight from there to pick up my daughter and we walked home together.

My phone’s health app said I’d been ‘active’ for four hours without stopping. My husband came home in time to pick up our son and his bicycle in the car.

I don’t begrudge the exercise. I’m lucky to be fit enough, and my work flexible enough to have been able to get my kids where they needed to go all afternoon. Indeed, we’re privileged to be able to let them participate in such activities and to even have the option to purchase a second car. We won’t because I still have my principles, but I recognise that my son wouldn’t have been late and I would have been able to do more work and finish the day less exhausted if I had a car available.

It was a car dependent day. For accessibility and car dependency is not just about the location of activities, it is also about their timing – schedule, duration, and travel time.

Car dependency is also about family structure and household decisions (unless in single person households). Not only did we choose to prioritise my husband’s car commute, I chose not to let even our older child walk unaccompanied to a nearby activity because there is a busy road without a pedestrian crossing between our home and the venue.

Until transport and accessibility planning takes account of time as well as space, families as well as individuals, it will struggle to solve car dependency.

Me, an Oxford academic?

I have been working as a researcher in the Transport Studies Unit at the University of Oxford since October 2019, but it’s taken a while for the full meaning of being ‘an academic at Oxford’ to sink in.

Partly that may be because I’ve only just had my first experiences teaching this past month: an hour’s discussion session for our executive education course (with a pre-recorded 15-minute lecture) and an hour’s session for the Masters in Sustainable Urban Development, which is run out of the Department for Continuing Education.

Despite the audiences being made up of more mature students and professionals, not dissimilar to the audiences at the many academic and professional conferences at which I’ve presented, being responsible for teaching them as part of an Oxford University course is different. There is more expectation of a certain level of expertise, even if it is from the literature rather than primary research.

Indeed, no matter how junior you are, if you conduct research at the University of Oxford, expertise is expected.

I’ve been approached by journalists, politicians, organisers of research events, etc for my advice and/or participation in recent months. Some of the approaches I found myself checking to make sure they were genuine. Who were they? Why were they contacting me? I hadn’t previously thought about being approached in that way. But gradually, I’ve realised that these are real requests, looking for input from the Oxford brand.

And that is the crux of the matter – the Oxford brand is world renowned, and rightly so. Yet it feels odd to be asked to share knowledge because of I’m associated with it on topics only tangentially related to the research I am actually doing as an employee of the University.

I find myself drawing on knowledge from my past work in local government, industry, with professional institutions like the Royal Town Planning Institute, and even from quick Internet searches prior to a call. And I do feel some imposter syndrome, whether teaching or responding to an external request – is my expertise expert enough?

Yet there is another side to expertise. Whether it is in demand or not, being seen to have it does not ensure that those who requested it will act on what you say, change what they think, or even truly listen to you.

The questions asked often reflect entrenched views or presumed answers. They don’t always offer the scope for responding with recommendations that might actually make a difference. They don’t necessarily allow for the complexity and nuance of research findings or how they might affect real people and communities.

This inflexibility or lack of openness to debate is something we all encounter and which I’ve certainly encountered before in various roles, both professional and personal.

I’ve also ended up sharing expertise with others who think along the same lines. In such situations, you’re preaching to the converted, you debate the nuance in a friendly way, and you come back next year to do it again and lament nothing has changed.

But perhaps, just perhaps, this is where the Oxford brand, being an ‘Oxford’ academic could move the scales a little. The weight of your expertise, of your involvement, the ‘gravitas’ as an old boss of mine called it, is suddenly greater. It seems odd gaining gravitas not through additional age or experience – although I’m always getting older and (thankfully!) learning new things, but through the age and experience of your employer. Yet if it helps you get your message across, even if it is an old message, or helps you have more positive impact, even in a small way, it is worthwhile.

So I am trying to embrace the opportunities offered to me as an academic at Oxford and ‘an expert’, even if what that means is only just beginning to sink in.

Policy, what policy?

I have recently started a new research project which involves analysis of the social justice aspects of policies and policy-making for electric mobility.

I was also recently accused, in relation to a different project, of unhelpfully conflating guidance and policy.

Personally, I would refute that I was mixing the concepts up, but I do understand why it was seen as unhelpful.

The inconsistency in our respective perspectives appears to have derived from their narrower focus on policy as formally adopted strategic principles. Yet I believe policies are also inclusive of the more detailed descriptions of potential ways to implement those principles, even if agreed at a different level. For example, the road user hierarchy with pedestrians at the top and private cars at the bottom is an example of a strategic policy. But I would say that design guidance for the layouts of roads that put pedestrians first, or the sections of the highway code that indicate who has priority at a junction are also policies.

And yet, strategic policies often gain widespread, multi-level approval more easily, whereas ‘the devil is in the detail’. Pointing out such details could be seen as unhelpful if there is limited power to apply or implement the policy concerned.

Still, just in case, I thought I’d look up the dictionary definition of ‘policy’.

The source of inconsistency was immediately clear. Policies are defined as ‘principles of action’, ‘ideas or a plan of what to do’. Policies should systematically both ‘guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes’. So are they principles and ideas to guide decision-making or are they actions and plans that achieve something called outcomes? Policies are also defined as being adopted by or agreed to in some official manner by a particular group or organisation. Yet there are as many ways to officially agree to something as there are groups or groups of groups who might do the agreeing.

These questions also partially explain the why the academic literature on policy processes and design is contested, as it struggles to make sense of the discontinuity, ambiguity and uncertainty inherent in a process now generally accepted to be non-linear. Allocating agency and unpicking power relations is also tricky, as policies are not the same as politics, and individuals can be actors in their own right as a ‘policy entrepreneur’, for example, or buried in an ‘advocacy coalition’ or a ‘target population’. The terminology reflects the challenge of defining the policy process in a rational and consistent manner.

All this may be why many transport studies include a section on ‘policy implications’, usually of the effectiveness of certain ideas or principles, without engaging with policy makers or the process of how policy is made. Yet if transport planning wants to achieve goals of social justice, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability, policy implications must consider not just statements of principle or indicators to measure outcomes, but also all the steps in between. And that means engaging with multiple elements of the policy process, even if the idea of distinct, linear policy stages has been criticised as overly simplistic.

This is particularly important for a project that aims to assess social justice, which also has multiple aspects. Transport research and planning tends to focus on distributional justice, measuring policy outcomes like accessibility. Yet there is also procedural justice, which is all about who is involved in policy design and decision-making, and the recognition aspect of justice, relating to who decides what is a problem that needs addressing and so sets the policy agenda.

In conclusion, policy is complex and contested. That is part of what makes policy what it is – and makes it only more likely that some will argue about what it isn’t.

Road to Freedom

This week, Jews around the world celebrate Passover, when we remember how God redeemed, delivered, and freed us from slavery in Egypt. I say ‘us’, not ‘our ancestors’, because we are told to imagine we were there too, experiencing the biblical story of the Exodus: once oppressed and now free.

This year, for many in the privileged west, imagining being freed is perhaps less of a stretch. As spring and sunlight return to the northern hemisphere and vaccinations gather pace, we feel the fear of disease decline, and the joy of easing restrictions on what we can do, who we can touch, and where we can go. We see the road to freedom ahead.

And yet, just as the story we tell on Passover ends at the first stage on the ancient Israelite’s road to freedom, with the prophet Miriam leading the people in song and dance on the far side of the Red Sea, so we too are very much at the beginning of our road to freedom. The difference is we are a lot less sure about whether our final destination will be the promised land.

So what else can we learn from the journey described in the Bible? Alongside redemption and freedom, we are told that we became the people of God. In other words, with freedom and rights came rules and responsibilities, such as following the 10 commandments and many more laws and codes. The biblical unwillingness to initially accept those rules and responsibilities condemned an entire generation to wander in the wilderness until the people who had known slavery were no longer in positions of leadership.

In modern times, not only can we not wait for a generation to pass to choose our direction, we also have yet to fully debate and describe the new responsibilities that are attached to the freedoms we think we are reclaiming.

I take my examples from the area of transport and mobility, where our freedom has been so restricted. We know that we should not, cannot simply return to our travel patterns of 2019. Nor do we necessarily want to, but who will take responsibility for what changes?

In the UK, there has been a 20% rise in people walking regularly. Do we have an individual responsibility to continue to walk more for our personal and public health? And whose responsibility is it to ensure safe, accessible environments in which to walk?

Alongside large increases in online ordering, support for local, independent retailers has grown. Do we as communities have a responsibility to continue to shop locally to help revitalise our neighbourhoods? And what other services do we need locally and how must space be organised to support that vitality – and our increased footfall?

Those with experience of working from home have quadrupled over the past year, with benefits from reducing the spread of disease to increased productivity and better work-life balance. Is it time for employers to take more responsibility for the time and energy dedicated to commuting – and how can they help employees avoid a return to the congested roads and overcrowded buses and trains of rush hours past?

Carbon emissions fell by an estimated 7% globally in 2020 – in large part due to a reduction in travel, both by road and air. Is it time for national and global organisations and businesses to take responsibility for preventing a rebound in emissions from long distance travel? And how can they also support those visiting loved ones spread far and wide, as well as all the innovation and inspiration that comes from working with, studying and exploring other cultures and places?

With freedom comes responsibility. If we, as individuals, communities, businesses, and governments do not take responsibility for and debate the rules we need to guide our post-pandemic freedom, we may well end up wandering in a wilderness instead.

The Dangers of Divided Responsibility

The rhetoric around climate change has shifted substantially in the last 5 years. There is a new urgency to declare it an emergency, to draw attention to global warming and its impacts, and to set ambitious emission reduction targets. International organisations, multinational corporations, networks of activists, national governments, local stakeholders; the majority from all sectors are singing from the same hymn sheet.

This shift is great news, but the challenges of transforming policy into action and rhetoric into reality are immense. Concerted efforts are required, not just voices in harmony. And yet, speaking together is much easier than working together.

A major reason that ambitious action is so difficult is that the responsibility for achieving the desired outcomes is divided and subdivided. Individuals are not only unsure what they can do personally, but even within organisations or government bodies, policy- and decision-makers are too often confused about their roles and responsibilities. Where do they fit in relation to the roles and responsibilities of others, and whose resources are available to do what? The result is often inefficiency if not inertia.

Let me use surface transport in England as an example. (I’m talking about England only – if you add in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it’s even more complicated!)

Most funding for transport comes from the central government, but Ministers and civil servants have very little responsibility for detailed planning and implementation. For national or strategic infrastructure, arms-length companies such as Highways England and Network Rail were established to get such things done. Meanwhile, the responsibility for local roads lies with local city and county governments, usually using monies distributed by or sometimes bid for from central government. However, to make things more confusing, in many parts of England there are two tiers of local government – county and district or city and borough. The county or city is the local transport authority, but the district is responsible for land use planning.

I (and I am not alone) have argued in past blogs that land use planning, the density of housing and the location of employment and amenities have an integral role to play in reducing the need to travel and changing how people travel, thereby reducing carbon emissions from private vehicles. Place-making determines whether people have space to walk and cycle, and where they can walk and cycle to. Yet different people in different levels and departments of government are planning where housing and services are located than those planning the infrastructure for people to walk and cycle on.

Density and the relative locations of where people live, work and play also influence the viability of public and shared transport. Yet the responsibility for providing those transport services often lies with private operators, who may negotiate with the higher tier local transport authority (e.g. the county), or even the national governments when it comes to rail operators, for the provision of infrastructure, financial support, and favourable policies. Funding for public transport operations or revenue spend is also quite separate from any budgets for building infrastructure and capital projects, and as it is rarely permitted to mix these resources, so the interactions between the outcomes of capital and revenue investment is rarely accounted for in advance.

Meanwhile, another source of transport funding at the local level can be gathered from fees, fines and permits for parking on- and off-street. Yet those charges are usually collected by the district or borough level of government, even though other local roads and transport matters are managed at city or county level. So even the responsibility to put in electric vehicle charge points, for example, is divided between levels of government. And I haven’t even started writing about the movement of goods by private fleets or the roles of private utility companies providing electricity and other services under the roads.

Confused? You’re not alone. Nonetheless, we must find ways to transform the rhetoric into reality – for sustainable surface transport and all the other sectors where ambitions for an equitable, vibrant and zero-carbon world could otherwise be derailed by divided responsibility.

A Walk through Winter Lockdown (an ethnography)

The neighbourhood where we live is full of trees, but not necessarily leafy. This is particularly true now, when the deciduous trees are skeletal silhouettes, no matter the time of day or position of the sun. But even in summer, there are too many pines and other conifers – the neighbourhood is needle-y. And yet the trees are towering and majestic. They were here before most of the houses, before most of the streets, pavements and other signs of human habitation.

The fallen leaves, needles, nuts, and cones from so many trees have created a mushy, muddy detritus along the edge of pavements and gutters, built up over months. It is messy, but not smelly in the cold, damp air. Along with bumps and cracks in the pavement where tree roots have pushed upwards, and puddles where rain has pooled downwards, the slick surface of compressed and decomposing natural materials narrows the available space and makes an additional hazard during daily lockdown walks.

Our neighbourhood is not in a city, but it is in the densely populated southeast of England. There are never urban crowds, but we are rarely alone on a stretch of street for long. There are other households with children, some young, some older. Teenagers are usually absent from their family unit. There are joggers and dog-walkers. There are pairs of women, taking advantage of being able to see one other person outside the house, and there are pairs of elderly residents, occasionally masked, usually walking very slowly, sometimes holding hands.

Were so many out walking so regularly in the neighbourhood at all times of day in January 2019? Did they walk at different times of day or not at all? Is this only a lockdown practice, and is there any observable routine?

Whether or not the when and where of pedestrian practice has changed, the how has definitely become ritualistically different. On quiet residential streets, some cross to the other side of the road when they see someone coming towards them. Some wait until the two households are almost upon one another and then string out into a single file, or step into the muddy grass of a verge. Some go onto the road. Joggers usually do. People with children or dogs usually don’t.

But going onto the road is risky for anyone if there is traffic, which there often is on the busier streets. Passing cars are still a threat, even if the roads are less busy than they were a year ago. Traffic is also loud, drowning out the birdsong – or at least the bird squawking and twittering that is the more common audio accompaniment on the side streets.

Thus on the busier roads giving space can mean stopping entirely when width allows, such as at a driveway or dropped kerb. Stopping and waiting until the oncoming household has passed or to cross the road to continue is unattractive, causing a new type of negotiation in body language and facial expression.

Pedestrians who forge ahead without making eye contact expect you to stop. Those who smile and slow down to reach a conveniently wide place are readying themselves to pause purposefully. Some hesitate, creating more obstacle and delay. Some have buggies or wheeled trolleys and take up more space, or struggle to divert without a dropped kerb. Sometimes pedestrians hurry past each other, too close, but reducing risk through speed, heads turned sideways, a muttered ‘sorry’ over their shoulders.

These new ways of negotiating pedestrian space in a residential neighbourhood engender new types of interactions and connecting or disconnecting. There are new norms around good or bad manners – for example, saying ‘thank you’ where someone has stopped or taken the less attractive path, on the road or in the mud.

There is also new recognition between those who might normally be elsewhere during the working day. Does this create new communities of neighbours who might otherwise never meet? Does it integrate population subgroups, such as elderly residents, families with young children, or dog walkers, exposing them to the diversity of life stages and situations around them? Will any new experiences of neighbourhood and community be retained as people return to other routines of work, school, and socialising?

It’s a question of continued observation… my attempt at an ethnographic approach!