Paul discussed the complex links between speed, time pressure and health. He introduced his talk with mention of:
- The success of a 30kph speed limit in urban centres.
- Evidence of obesity linked to extra hours spent in a car
- The links between speed and pollution
- The impact of speed on social interaction
Paul developed his discussion of speed and time pressure. He noted Jane Dixon and Dorothy Broom’s (2007) discussion of obesity and the identification of time pressure as the second deadly sin of obesity.
Paul asked if ‘fast’ modes of transport are linked to a perceived lack of time. He used a Fast and the Furious (2001) video clip to explore the concept of effective speed. (In the film a 400 metre road race lasts 90 seconds! This equates to 10kph.)
Paul then asked ‘Are we fooling ourselves to believe that machines save us time?’ He pointed out that we have to work to pay for all time saving devices.
High speed transport was one of the major attractions of cars when they first appeared as a means of urban transport. Cars provided the means for a privileged group of people to travel at higher speeds than the rest of the population, which was restricted to walking, cycling or trains. However, when cars became available to the general public, the time advantages of cars faded, along with the rise of traffic congestion. Even when the car appears to provide a speed advantage over other modes of transport, this advantage is questionable when the total time devoted to the car is considered. The ‘effective speed’ of the car is limited by the time investment needed to keep cars mobile. (Tranter, 2004)
Paul suggests that effective speed can be calculated using the formula:
“Speed = distance divided by time”, where distance is the total kilometres traveled, and time is the total time devoted to the mode of transport (including the time spent at work to earn the money to pay all the costs created by the particular mode of transport). (Tranter, 2004)
He noted that Henry David Thoreau (1854) was the first to discuss effective speed. Ivan Illich (1974) revisited these ideas. Paul then considered objections to the use of effective speed as a measurement and pointed to the paradox that the faster you drive the lower is your effective speed!
Paul gave some examples from his research:
For a detailed discussion of these themes see Paul’s (2010) paper Speed Kills: The Complex Link Between Transport, Lack of Time and Urban Health. The Abstract of this paper is:
Road safety experts understand the contribution of speed to the severity and frequency of road crashes. Yet, the impact of speed on health is far more subtle and pervasive than simply its effect on road safety. The emphasis in urban areas on increasing the speed and volume of car traffic contributes to ill-health through its impacts on local air pollution, greenhouse gas production, inactivity, obesity and social isolation. In addition to these impacts, a heavy reliance on cars as a supposedly ‘fast’ mode of transport consumes more time and money than a reliance on supposedly slower modes of transport (walking, cycling and public transport). Lack of time is a major reason why people do not engage in healthy behaviours. Using the concept of ‘effective speed’, this paper demonstrates that any attempt to ‘save time’ through increasing the speed of motorists is ultimately futile. Paradoxically, if planners wish to provide urban residents with more time for healthy behaviours (such as exercise and preparing healthy food), then, support for the ‘slower’ active modes of transport should be encouraged.
For a discussion of social effective speed see Paul’s paper co-written with Ian Ker (2007) A Wish Called $quander: (In)Effective Speed and Effective Wellbeing in Australian Cities.
The twin concepts of effective speed, private and social, highlight a common dichotomy in public policy. In the case of effective speed, an individual may feel worse off if he/she makes a larger proportion of travel by bus, as the average trip speed declines. Society, on the other hand, is likely to be better off as more public transport use enables a higher level of service to be offered, thus increasing the average social effective speed for all users of public transport.
Paul’s presentation concluded with a discussion of investment in the fastest effective mode of transport: the bicycle. He drew attention to David Engwicht‘s work too (particularly Mental Speed Bumps).
See too Paul’s Children and Their Urban Environment (2011) co-authored with Claire Freeman.