A Haggadah for Transport Planning

To continue my self-imposed tradition, this is the time of year when I wish a Happy Passover to all the closeted transport planners of a Jewish persuasion out there by writing a blog that brings Passover and transport planning together.

Over the last four years, I tended to focus on the story of the Exodus, but this year, I thought I’d look at a different aspect of the holiday: The Haggadah, that all-important booklet that provides the Order for the Seder. Or the Order for the Order. For Seder literally translates as Order, which, considering the chaos that often attends the Passover prayers, festivities, and food of which Jews partake around the dinner table with friends and family, ‘order’ may seem a bit of a misnomer (especially in my family?!). But a good Haggadah can make sense of the occasion. Likewise, good transport planning aims to make sense of the cacophony of spaces we travel through and the ways and means by which we do so.

What specific parallels can I find between transport planning and a Haggadah? Four is an important number during the Seder. The proceedings are punctuated by four cups of wine representing God’s four promises of freedom and redemption. Four is an important number in transport planning too. For example, besides the various debates around accommodating two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles, transport modelling is traditionally divided into four – trip generation, trip distribution, modal split, and trip assignment.

I can also imagine breaking the middle matzah and hiding half for the children to find as an afikomen to be a metaphor for filtered permeability – breaking up the road network for children and others who cannot drive so they can find more routes safely open to them. And what about the Hillel sandwich? Transport planners often have to think about balancing space for different groups, just as we balance the bitter with the sweet in that symbolic food.

The most important parts of the Seder, however, are telling the story and having the festive meal. It is important too that transport planning has a narrative about place, community, and connectivity. Like in the Haggadah, where the story starts with the four questions, any transport planning narrative should start by questioning how assumptions and standards actually apply in what are often different, if not unique contexts. And just as the festive meal brings the whole family or congregation together, so transport planning should deliver places that everyone in the community can partake of and connections that allow everyone to have their fill of access to what they need and options to get there.

Finally, towards the end of the Seder, we open the door for the prophet, Elijah, in hopes that he will herald a better future. Likewise, if transport planning is to be a success, then any order or organisation which it brings to the myriad of movement made by people and goods must be future-proofed and help us to a better future. So a transport planning Haggadah might conclude with the prayer of ‘Next year in a sustainable transport paradise!’

Road Rage at the Red Sea

Happy Passover, blog readers!

Have you ever wondered how the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea? The simple answer is on dry land, created by G-d’s miracle through Moses the prophet. But does that really explain anything?

Let’s picture the scene in more detail. The Hebrews, and we’re told they were numerous, have fled Egypt with their families, old and young, as many possessions and as much food as they could gather together at speed. There were probably some animals, maybe even carts, or perhaps wheelbarrows. They have come to the edge of the Red Sea and run out of land, never mind road. Do they queue up in an orderly line awaiting Moses’ miracle to enable them to cross? Unlikely.

In all probability, they were a milling mess, spreading out along the shore in both directions, in some areas crowded many bodies deep, in some areas standing solitary to peer out across the waves in the hope of spotting this promised land. So what happens when they hear the chariots of the Egyptian Army behind them and Moses raises his staff? Do they then re-group, line up with military precision? Unlikely again.

So how did they cross the Red Sea? Perhaps Moses created a bridge of dry land big enough for them all to walk abreast, but that’s certainly not how it’s shown in the paintings. Sure they were probably fine once between the towers of water on dry seabed. But before that? I imagine they were a seething, pushing, elbows-out, road-rage-driven, traffic jam. If you didn’t try to run round the edges and push ahead, then everyone probably cut in front of you, leaving the Egyptian warhorses nipping at your heels.

Or at least that’s the image that came to me last week as we sat queuing to get into the tunnel to Logan Airport in Boston, my aunt coming ever closer to missing her flight. Tunnels and bridges are often pinch-points, but in this case, behaviour played a part too. As if there were ancient, avenging Egyptians at their heels, car after car cut down the inside lane headed towards South Boston and then cut in at the last minute, pushing those waiting outside the tunnel ever further back in the queue, stationary and sweating.

And so, eventually, we had to do the same. With guilty conscience, we cut around, half wishing we’d done it earlier, half wishing we weren’t driven to being another of ‘those bastards’ as other drivers were probably swearing. My aunt had the barest half hour until her flight took off, and by the time she reached the gate, her ticket had been sold. She just managed to secure another empty seat at the back of the plane. Luckily it wasn’t oversold like the plane that made the news this week.

Yet it does make you wonder. Not only at the insanity of the design of the tunnels that access Logan Airport or the parallels that could be drawn between Boston’s peninsular, landfill airfields and the mooted Thames Estuary island airport, which would be likely even less accessible to the volumes of people it needs to serve. Nor necessarily solely at the challenges of modern driving with the limitations of GPS and traffic updates, which you expect will enable foresight and contingency planning, but often get you within a few miles of your destination, reporting a problem only when you are immovably stuck in it. No, it also makes you wonder at that ancient challenge, crossing the Red Sea, G-d’s people already risking G-d’s wrath with their own road rage long before the Golden Calf episode. Seems to me agetting across bodies of water was probably a problem even back then.

A Transport Take on the Exodus Part III

As it’s a Friday before a bank holiday weekend; and as it’s the end of Passover and I plan to re-enter the promised land of chametz soon…. Well it’s a good time to be frivolous. And so our story continues…

Our Hebrew chariot chauffeurs, cart train drivers, Nile ferry men and sedan chair carriers are wandering around the desert following an episode of mass road rage upon receiving The Ten Transport Services Commandments (https://go-how.com/2015/04/06/a-transport-take-on-the-exodus-part-ii/). Now their sons and daughters, following in their parents’ footsteps in career but not in attitude, are about to enter the promised land.

Will this be a land of roads free of potholes and rivers free of sewage? The Hebrews send two trusted souls in to check. Their scouts do find the roads and rivers as described by Moses, but they also find plenty of existing inhabitants using those roads and rivers. Their mission becomes one of industrial espionage.

When they return, all the new members of the Transport Workers’ Union Moses had founded gather round, clamouring to hear what the spies have to say.

“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” asks Caleb, a chariot chauffeur himself.

“Good!” call his fellows.

“The roads are truly well-built, well-maintained and link all the most desirable destinations.”

“Hooray!” The cart train drivers join in the cheer.

The other scout and cart train driver, Rahav, holds up her hand. “But it comes at a cost,” she says. “They have manure-free zones in their cities and settlements. If your horse or camel drops one, you are liable to pay a charge.”

“What blessed regulations,” said a sedan chair carrier in the crowd. He was ignored.

“And that isn’t the only bad news,” continued Caleb. “They also have this strange guild called Chauff-uber. Anyone can join. If they have a chariot, then they get a red guild badge and if they don’t, they get a blue guild flag.”

“What does that mean?” someone asked.

“Anyone with a blue flag can wave for a chariot and anyone with a red badge can answer. They don’t have to do it for a living – they can do it for extra money, as a… hobby.” He whispered the last word and silence fell on the crowd.

Then someone snorted, “Unfair competition!”

Someone else said, “Undercutting, I bet!”

Their complaints echoed in the desert air. A Nile ferry-man shouted out, “Hey, what about us?”

Rahav whistled loudly for attention. “We have not finished. There appears to be few ferry boats on their rivers. They don’t need them, as the rivers are not as wide, the roads are good, there are fords,” she shrugged.

“And there are also fewer overlords,” added Caleb, “so I don’t know if anyone really employs their own sedan chair carriers.”

“Then how are we supposed to make our living?” asks the loud ferry-man.

Caleb and Rahav look to the leader of the Hebrews, Joshua, for his wise answers.

“Perhaps you can hire yourselves out to many different customers for pleasure cruises and special occasions?” he suggested slowly.

Rahav nodded. “Who doesn’t want to scrub themselves up sometimes and then be carried over the dusty streets for the night, however free those streets of potholes and manure?”

“Indeed,” agreed Joshua. “Perhaps small goods and messages could be better carried by boat or foot as well. The Eternal One has brought us here and with his help we will not only learn new ways of working, but also we will continue to develop new ways of transport that benefit all. We will lead the way among nations.”

With many nods and fists of solidarity, the Hebrews agreed that they would enter their new land in freedom and hope.

Happy Passover!