Counting costs that don’t count

Road workers in hi-vis vests are laying bitumentEver wondered why some economic arguments seem to fall on stony ground even when they’ve been well researched and even asked for? Looks like politicians’ personal experience counts for more when decisions are being made. A Norwegian researcher wanted to find out why road-building priorities diverge from those suggested by cost-benefit analysis. It is likely that many other policy decisions are made in a similar way, not just road investments. Here is an excerpt from the findings about why factors other than cost criteria are used to make decisions:

• Political institutions have created a kind of gift relationship in the road sector, with the state as donor and municipalities as recipients.

• To the extent that the state cannot scrutinize all assumptions and calculations of traffic, costs and benefits, an information asymmetry arises and favours the local receivers.

• In cases of local/national conflict of interest, some key politicians and other stakeholders at the donor side either have their own agendas (such as campaigning), or their loyalty is with the recipient rather than the donor (society).

It seems reasonable that elected representatives are less likely to vote in accordance with the benefit/cost ratios of projects the more sceptical they are to the method of CBA. When sceptical, they are apt to look for alternative decision support, even if several studies have found CBA results to be quite robust.

The intention has not been to argue that the benefit/cost ratio should be decisive when setting priorities among projects on classified roads, but rather to highlight circumstances that tend to push CBA results into the background. The principle of choosing projects with high benefit/cost ratio may be supplemented by so many other assessment criteria that the difference between professional and political judgement is dissolved.”

The title of the article is, Why don’t cost-benefit results count for more? The case of Norwegian road investment priorities. Published in Urban, Planning and Transport Research an open access article.

Abstract: The starting point is that the benefit/cost ratio is virtually uncorrelated to the likelihood of a Norwegian classified road project entering the list of investments selected for the National Transport Plan. The purpose of the article is to explain what pushes cost-benefit results into the background in the prioritization process. The reasons for their downgrading point to mechanisms that are at work not only in Norway. Explanatory factors are searched for in incentives for cost-ineffective action among planners, bureaucrats and national politicians, respectively, as well as in features of the planning process and the political system. New data are used to show that the road experts’ list of prioritized projects changes little after submission to the national politicians, suggesting that the Norwegian Public Roads Administration puts little emphasis on its own cost-benefit calculations. Besides, it is shown that the petroleum revenues of the state do not provide a strong reason for neglecting cost-benefit accounts. The overall contribution of the article is to offer a comprehensive explanation why professional and political authorities in Norway set road-building priorities diverging massively from those suggested by cost-benefit analysis.

Autonomous Vehicles are OK

A yellow automated vehicle is parked by the footpath.What do people really think about autonomous vehicles? That’s a question a group at Curtin University wanted to know. Using the feedback from a survey of more than 1600 Australians they found two main types of response: one cognitive and one emotional. Overall there is a general acceptance of autonomous vehicles – the cognitive response. However, concerns were expressed over safety, trust and control – the emotional responses.

The authors conclude that the move to autonomous vehicles will provide substantial benefits for society. However, there is a need to make sure the community is receptive to this technological change to ensure timely adoption. Negative views held by a few tended to be based on emotional factors. Concrete information to reduce fear levels and create trust will be important for this group. The key point in this qualitative study is that assumed resistance factors, such as those relating to ethics, hacking and liability, are not top of mind in the community. This means education and information can be better tailored with this information in mind. 

The title of the article is, Dimensions of attitudes to autonomous vehicles.  Published in Urban, Planning and Transport Research.

Abstract: For the benefits of autonomous vehicles (AVs) to be optimized, the fleet conversion process needs to be efficient and timely. This study explored public attitudes to AVs to inform strategies to increase receptivity to the wide-scale use of AVs. A national online survey was administered to a sample of 1,624 Australians aged 16+ years. The survey featured open-ended questions that scoped respondents’ perceptions of AVs. A grounded, thematic analysis identified two primary dimensions in the data: response valence (how positive or negative the comments were about the advent of AVs) and response type (the extent to which the comments reflected a cognitive or emotional response). This resulted in a dimensional analysis featuring four quadrants that captured the topics that were most frequently raised spontaneously by respondents. The quadrant characterized by comments that were positive/neutral and cognitive in nature was the most substantial, indicating general acceptance. Where concerns were expressed, they typically related to perceived safety, trust, and control issues, and tended to be more emotional in nature. The results highlight the importance of providing the public with concrete information about AVs to address fear levels and to resolve trust and control issues.

You can also read about the first driverless shuttle at Tonsley Innovation District in South Australia. The picture above is from the article.

 

Are UD and ID rivals?

a series of black icons on white background depicting people of all shapes and sizes, including a baby in a stroller, a person with a can and a wheelchair userFrom the Editor: This week I came across an article by John Harding who writes about rivalry between universal design and inclusive design. While I have encountered people who believe there are nuanced differences, I cannot agree that the concepts are rivals, academically or otherwise. A rivalry point of view is contrary to the work of advocacy groups striving for more inclusive societies. Indeed, “universal design” is cited in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability as the means by which to create inclusion. It is also cited by WHO guidelines for age-friendly cities.

Harding, in his dense academic paper, appears to base his argument on universal design being about the “widest range of users”, whereas inclusive design is about “offering everyone access”.  He then goes on to claim that universal design is “first generation” and inclusive design is “next generation”. 

Using a study of transportation in UK, Harding proposes that the “rivalry” between UD and ID hasn’t helped the cause for inclusion. I believe the barriers to inclusion are far more complex than terminology. However, terminology is very important to academics if they want to compare their work. 

Whether you use universal or inclusive, the aim is to cater to diversity, and that includes diverse ways of explaining universal/inclusive design for an inclusive world. Most academics use the terms interchangeably and include “Design for All”.

The paper is open access on ResearchGate. Have a look and see what you think. The title of the paper is “Agent based modelling to probe inclusive transport building design in practice”. 

It should be noted that John Harding is based in the UK where they have stuck by the “inclusive design” term throughout, whereas Europe has favoured Design for All, and most other countries have followed the UN Convention and use universal design. Most academics recognise the convergence of concepts rather than rivalry.

Jane Bringolf

Older people like self driving vehicles

Graphic from the paper showing the elements people would think about when planning a journey with an autonomous vehicle.A series of workshops with older people in UK revealed they are likely to welcome autonomous vehicles. The workshops also gave participants time to think about some of the implications, both negative and positive.  Accessibility was a key factor. Declining vision and hearing, as well as dexterity issues such as arthritis, were mentioned in relation to touch screens. Being able to stop for a toilet, room for a pet and for shopping or luggage, and where to leave the vehicle at the end of the trip were factors that designers need to consider. There’s good information about older people and their reasons for travel, and how autonomous vehicles might enhance their ability to get out and about and socialise.

The title of the paper is, Finding from Workshops held with Older People considering participating in Connected Autonomous Vehicle trials. It also contains information about the five levels of autonomy of vehicles. The workshops are part of a larger project, Flourish, a multi-sector collaboration.

See also Lifelong Mobility with Automation. 

Editor’s note: Too many people are thinking about drivers and self-driving vehicles when in fact, fully automated vehicles are self-passenger-ing. That is, no-one is driving, so everyone is a passenger. 

The graphic from the article shows factors older people thought about when making a journey: toilets, luggage space, route choice, refuelling, journey time, leaving vehicle at destination, and road conditions.

Invisible and Ubiquitous: UD at its best

The entry to Stortinget metro in Olso showing the uncluttered design with easy access for everyone.Universal design can be embedded in refurbishments and upgrades without anyone noticing. Using a case study of a train station in Norway, Richard Duncan explains how it was done. Norway is a global leader in implementing UD strategies. Their landmark document, Norway Universally Designed by 2025, focuses on inclusive policies where everyone is made responsible. Two surveys from 2018 reveal a gradual change in attitude about universal design. More people understand the concept and agree with the principle of, “Universal design is necessary for some and useful for many”. 

Duncan’s article, Right Under Your Nose: Universal Design in Norway is an easy to read article and is based on Olav Rand Bringa’s work. There is more on this website about the work of Bringa that traces the history of universal design in Norway.

Universal Design and Visitability: From accessibility to zoning.  

Progress on Universal Design in Norway: A review 

Universal Design as a Technical Norm and Juridical Term – A Factor of Development or Recession? Bringa discusses the importance of language in the quest for inclusion.  

Photo by Olav Rand Bringa showing the improved and uncluttered entrance to the station.

What drivers’ can’t see on the road

A red and white circular sign with a 20 speed limit showing.Here’s a call to traffic planners. A group in the UK is calling for slower speed limits on roads to help reduce pedestrian accidents.They list all the conditions where slower speeds could make a difference and allow people to cross the road safely. Drivers can’t tell if someone has anxiety, dementia, post traumatic stress or sleep disorder. Traffic can make them feel vulnerable and fearful. People who are deaf or hard of hearing, and people with low vision are also at risk of accidents. Pregnant women, older people, and people with prosthetic legs or chronic illness might not be spotted either. Even if they are, it is unlikely to change driver behaviour or alertness. The 20’s Plenty for Us press release links their call to the disability rights agenda which requires equitable treatment for everyone. Traffic planners should therefore assume everyone is vulnerable.

All aboard for accessibility

In the train carriage, a woman is seated in a manual wheelchair and is sitting next to a man in a standard seat. They are looking at an in-seat screen, probably for movies.Queensland Rail has improved accessibility on the Spirit of Queensland. This journey from Brisbane to Cairns over 25 hours can accommodate most types of power wheelchairs or mobility scooters. Seating car E has three wheelchair spaces, with four additional accessible seats for people who transfer to a seat. It also has an accessible toilet and shower compartment. There is captioning on messages and selected movies as well as hearing loops. Nice contrasting of colours on seats and flooring, plus Braille and tactile signage. 

The Queensland Rail website has a lot more information about accessibility on the Spirit of Queensland and there is a factsheet. The Tilt Train from Brisbane to Rockhampton has similar facilities.Other trains have narrow doors and aisles which makes access difficult. There is no information about toilets on these trains. It will be a great day when all rolling stock is inclusive.  

Editor’s note: I found it difficult to navigate the website to find the relevant information for this post. 

Photo from Queensland Rail website. 

Report on train station access in Melbourne

Distance view of a major train station showing platforms and trains.Here is a short research paper based on three case studies of train stations in suburban Melbourne. The stations were selected on specific criteria. The results show that in spite of a policy aim of going beyond the Transport Standards to take a whole of journey approach, there is some way to go when it comes to full accessibility.  In the concluding paragraph of the Executive Summary of this working paper, Kathleen Miller writes, “It is recommended that Public Transport Victoria update the information provided through Journey Planner, and on the website, to accurately reflect the accessibility of the train stations visited. This will provide more accurate journey planning information for people in wheelchairs. If this is done across the network it will be a large step towards enabling access to the train system and increased independence for people in wheelchairs to make the decision on what journey is best suited for them”.

A nicely written report with a detailed methodology that can be used as the basis of further studies across Australia. The title is: “Does information from Public Transport Victoria’s Journey Planner align with real life accessibility for people in wheelchairs?”  

Perhaps another case of bureaucrats not actually knowing what constitutes accessibility? Sometimes it is more than “access”.

Dangerous by Design

Two ambulance officers push a patient into the ambulance.According to Smart Growth America, pedestrian deaths are increasing while actual traffic fatalities are decreasing. So what’s happening here? According to a report, Dangerous by Design 2019, the numbers of deaths are equivalent of one jumbo jet full of people crashing every month with no survivors. And it seems the problem for walkers is getting worse. The report argues that government policies still favour high speeds for cars over safety for people. The article gives more detailed statistics for various states in the US. It would be interesting to know if this is replicated in other countries. The report was supported by AARP and the American Society of Landscape Architects. It is not clear whether population ageing is a factor.  

Tactile ground markers vs wheelchairs: A solution?

Train platform showing wheelchair crossings across a strip of yellow tactile markers.One paper that sparked the a lot of interest at the UDHEIT conference is the thorny issue of pedestrians and wheelchair users negotiating those yellow strips of tactile markers. Tactile markers, known as Braille Blocks in Japan, cause problems for wheelchair users, pram pushers, and others with mobility difficulties. Based on research by Yoshito Dobashi in the context of public transportation, the solution seems simple. Create small breaks in the line of tactile blocks to make wheelchair and baby buggy crossing points. These crossing points are now installed in Fukuoka city and in some airports, but not yet on a national scale. Dobashi cautions that, “…improvements need to be made in response to the voices of visually disabled persons who note that the crossing points pose a hazard to them. In his latest study, Dr. Ito of the University of Yoshito Dobashi pointing to his slide at the UDHEIT conference showing wheelchair crossing points, one with a man wheeling a suitcase.Tokyo proposes a new braille block system that incorporates an improved version of braille blocks with wheelchair crossing points upon verifying its feasibility with wheelchair users and baby buggy users. As the press release of this study was published in nationwide newspapers, widespread dissemination can be expected hereafter. It is worth keeping an eye on future developments of this new system.” Good research paper by a man passionate for his topic and keen to find solutions. The title of the paper is, Re- examining the Creativity of Universal Design Initiatives in Public Spaces in Japan.  

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.