Mobility Needs, Rights and Privileges Pt 2.

Building on my contention that all humans have a basic right to walk, I’ll explore what I consider to be a hierarchy of transportation needs, rights and privileges. To my mind, privileges are those things whose enjoyment results in Maslow’s Self-actualization while rights relate to our basic physiological needs. We all need to be able to walk; our poorest citizens need to be able to walk to attend to the programs and services that sustain them and put them in a position to access higher rungs of the hierarchy of needs. Self Actualizers need to walk from where they park their car, to those places they need to go to attain higher levels of happiness and satisfaction. Recreational walking is also important to many in order to achieve higher levels of esteem. At least that’s my contention if the desired outcome is a raising degree of happiness and satisfaction – not to suggest that a Ferrari climbing a mountain road can give one that, but I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt either.

So the organization of our communities and investment in infrastructure, from a utilitarian view at least, would suggest that serving pedestrians is of the highest order, since government’s goal ought to be to create the greatest common benefit. These are the concepts of ‘highest and best use’ that frame so many public policy discussions.

When we consider the elevation of the greatest number of individuals to the highest rungs of Maslow’s pyramid, as the goal behind transportation and the provision of infrastructure, we can see the rungs of the goals of government, particularly at the local level. This is often where, whether acknowledged or subconsciously we define the difference between hard and soft services. Conservatives often argue that local governments job is to stick to the ‘hard services’ and yet fail to consider the prioritization of spending within these services.

If the right to walk satisfies our most basic ‘physiological’ need and the fulfillment granted by employment falls within the second level of happiness grouped as ‘safety’, giving our walk an objective, then enabling people to live far away from employment and to drive a personal conveyance to that source of employment which grants a higher level of ‘esteem’ ought to rank fairly low on the hierarchy of municipal spending.

When we consider spending priorities from this perspective, funding of cycling infrastructure ought to be considered of similar importance to that for public transit, since the environmental impacts of cycling are still much lower than public transit, which when run efficiently (ie, not including buses stopping in intermingled traffic) have lower impacts than individual cars. And conversely the pricing of these choices ought to reflect their higher per-need-satisfying cost.

One can argue for hours on end as to how to apply taxation to a collective in order to achieve the greatest results. Some will argue that less taxation and intervention create the best results and that markets have a way of sorting themselves out and those are valid arguments. Others view the degree of flaws and faults in markets as higher and more in need of correction and regulation and hold varying degrees of skepticism about the laws of economics and its inability to capture the full, if unintended consequences of policy both of intervention and non-intervention and there are acknowledged flaws about the inability of social scientists to build accurate models and to test theory – there are too many variables and uncontrollable factors.

I set aside these arguments because one man’s Ford fiesta is another person’s Hummer. We can consider the benefits and objective goals of making government decisions to enhance mobility which results in a greater number of people achieving higher levels of satisfaction, while ensuring all people have the same best basic rights and infrastructure. I don’t believe that providing great and wide sidewalks is a drag on an economy if those sidewalks are used. However, the same wide and great sidewalks would be greatly underused in suburban neighbourhoods, at least given our current development patterns in North America as dominated as they are by 8 parking spaces for every 1 car.

I hope this train of thought is logical. I acknowledge that I do make some assumptions and set aside rather large factors and likely leave thought-strings open for consideration and further discussion. In essence I am building a stage to argue that our current system is largely a result of accidents, of carry-forward budgets, of assumptions made previously that have since proven wrong and that collectively our objectives in transportation construction, financing, operating funding and pricing ought to reflect more closely, a rights and privilege-based system. Doing so I argue, would result in better outcomes for communities, neighbourhoods, cities and our environment.

There’s more to follow on this line of thought as I move up the ladder of need and how to create higher levels of personal satisfaction through public policy. For those thinking I’m simply advocating against cars I’ll remind readers that I actually love cars, love their design and love the mobility that they DO provide notwithstanding the physical barriers we’ve created by misallocating land for their driving and storage and the dependency that creates. What I hope for is equitable transportation options and pricing that better reflect the external impacts of personal choices. I seek better outcomes for all citizens and society and a transportation system that serves all users for the least amount of investment possible.

I also point to recent efforts of economists to include ‘happiness’ within measures of Gross National Product which often doesn’t reflect such subjective measures of the success of a nation. Interestingly, societies that enjoy less wealth often hold higher ‘happiness’ ratings – things don’t make us happy and very often, thriving, stretching and reaching and the public pressures of attainment can make people very unhappy. In transportation, while I am happy when I have access to a car, I’m freed of a lot of stress and financial strain when I don’t own one and feel inherently better about my own ‘footprint.’ Happiness doesn’t necessarily come with higher insurance premiums, a red paint job or a drop-top.


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