What is transportation? Why do we need it?

Don’t say ‘economic development’!

Transportation is one of our most basic human needs. Without it, we would die pretty quickly. Transportation is the act of moving something from one place to another. We┬áneed transportation because all of life’s necessities and pleasures can’t possibly fit within the reach of our static bodies from birth to death. We either have to move ourselves to things or have things moved to us. Transportation gets food to our mouths, glycogen to our toes, rabbits to other rabbits to do rabbit things, and people to their boyfriend’s gallery openings. This is essentially all transportation is. It doesn’t matter how it happens. When I looked up the wikipedia article on the topic just now, I was a little put off that it jumps rather immediately from a basic definition of transport to an exhaustive list of technology used in institutional, large-scale, contemporary transportation. This awkward disjunction is a perfect example of our typically distorted thinking. Transportation isn’t about highways and trains and bicycles and space shuttles as is most people’s first thought. These are all temporary manifestations of transportation, not transportation itself. When we talk about transportation, we aren’t talking about these things, but the more essential act they help us bring about.

Transportation allows economic development to occur because it’s a basic prerequisite for anything human. Neither could our economy exist without air, sunlight, or an expectation of immediate bodily safety.

Transportation planners generally define a person’s ability to transport in two ways: mobility and access. Mobility is the extent to which you’re able to physically move. If I went for a jog around the block, we might say that I had an urge to be mobile. Access is the extent to which you’re able to get to the things you want to get to, or have them brought to you. If I need a laundromat, but every laundromat in the city is closed, I have very little access, even if I go all over the place looking for one. The important distinction is between method and end. Access is the end to which mobility is the means. (In almost every case)

You may start to see pretty quickly how these two measures might effect each other in practice; If you increase your personal mobility(perhaps you buy a helicopter), all things being equal, you’re likely to have increased your access to the things you need because you can now likely reach more things for a given amount of effort or time. If your access increases(say a 24 hour laundromat moves in downstairs), then your need for mobility is likely to decrease, all things being again equal because more things you need now exist within the same scope.

It is very important here to note that all things are never equal, and that a change in access or mobility, especially if it’s widely shared has enormous effects. More on that in another post though!

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Posted in: Back to Basics | Definitions | Talking about Transit
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