Saving Time and Losing Space

by Joel Woodhull

A number of writers have explored the effect of motorization and increased travel speed on culture, nature, and equity, and the associated denigration of self propulsion.

In his book, Transport for a Sustainable Future, John Whitelegg has a chapter on “time pollution”, containing a discourse on “the conquest of distance by the destruction of time”. Whitelegg points out that the acquisition of higher speed comes at the increasing destruction of useful space, because higher speed facilities create a safety conflict with low speed travelers, which must somehow be addressed: longer lengths between people for the safety of the users, and wider rights of way for devices to protect the bystanders, slower travelers and others that may wish to cross the facility or travel with its traffic.

The saving of time, which has been used extensively to justify construction of road projects, is an illusion, because in large measure the gain of time is traded by the individual to travel greater distances. Although this may in the short run produce some satisfaction for the individual, it leads to a scattering of many of the most important travel destinations as land uses gradually change. The scattering initially handicaps the Bike-Ped,
and eventually erases any advantage attained by motorized travelers. In Sonoma County this process gradually engulfs the natural landscape that is one of its primary attractions.

Road justifying calculations of time saving are based on time saving for the motorist, and neglect the considerable time losses of others. Increases in speed almost always steal time from the non-motorist, and the inducement to travel more even results in one motorist making the other motorists worse off.

In his thirty years of studies of how people use space and time, Torsten Hagerstrand concluded that it is the ability to make contact with people that determines the success of a transport system or location. Access is what we really value, but the transportation system has been giving us mobility. Not mobility for all. Mobility in proportion to wealth, and reduced access for almost all.