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Future Transport in Cities

By Brian Richards. Spon Press (London), 2001. 176pp. £24.99 '

All public transport systems must be to a standard sufficiently comfortable, convenient and safe to get people out of their cars.' Brian Richards is not a man to mince his words, writes Terence Bendixson , and the overriding mission of his book is to demonstrate that such a standard is attainable. He has scoured the earth for bus, railway, tram, bicycle, travelator and monorail systems that meet his requirements. He deals too with renting or sharing cars, information technologies, interchanging and land use planning.

Excellent, though small, illustrations abound.

Richards has ridden on many of his examples and subjected them to his experienced and exacting technical eye. The upshot is a mine of information collected by an architect who has himself worked on moving pavements for La Defense near Paris and as a consultant to civil engineers on London Underground stations. But Richards also has a fundamentalist side. Excessive traffic, the 'tyranny'of kerbside parking and low density are anathema to him.

The upshot is a book with which one can as easily quarrel as agree. There are several mistakes - as where Richards says only one in 10 English children walks or bikes to school. The 1999 figures were 55 per cent for 5 to 10s and 43 per cent for 11 to 16s. Richards' figure may be for children who walk alone.

An important section of the book concerns future cities. Here, with free buses, trams and monorails financed, perhaps, from the proceeds of road user charging, Richards envisages inner-city districts where people would live at high densities, rent rather than own cars and enjoy streets devoted to walking.

Out in the suburbs, new neighbourhoods might be designed around tramlines, as in Portland, Oregon, while fuel cell-powered buses would run along guideways, turn traffic lights to green and be timed, like Swiss trains, to arrive minutes before connecting services. Cars, though still running on roads, could be automated, while other automatic vehicles would deliver goods.

Cities are the most complex of man's works and are not controllable by architects, politicians or anyone else. Richards offers a vision of walkable places where the good service of elegantly designed, shared vehicles lures people from their private machines. The role of cars in future cities may, in reality, turn out to be more dominant than he allows, but that should not preclude one's interest in this comprehensive vision.

Terence Bendixson is secretary of the Independent Transport Commission.

E-mail t. bendixson@pobox. com

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