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Distinguishing between accessibility and mobility

Understanding the distinction between accessibility and mobility is a crticial aspect in creating a sound and sustainable transportation policy.

  • 'Traffic': in this perspective vehicle movement and speed are beneficial; congestion or inadequate roads are seen as the problem. The old roads-focussed approaches in rural transport could be seen as analogous to a traffic focus.

  • 'Mobility': in this perspective it is the efficient movement of people and goods that is seen as beneficial or as they key aim of policy. This is much wiser than a traffic focus because at least it helps move attention to more efficient ways of moving people and goods. This would put a high priority on collective modes of transport (eg buses, rail).

  • 'Accessibility' or an 'access focus': In this perspective it is the ability to REACH opportunities that is beneficial, not movement itself. In remote rural contexts gaining access to services, goods and contacts will often require a lot of mobility. However, in many urban contexts accessibility might involve very short trips. And in places like suburban USA policy to enhance accessibility might actually require that we reduce traffic or even reduce the need to travel (or reduce mobility).
In the rural transport context, an example would be non-transport interventions such as efforts to bring water supply and fuel supply to houses (instead of forcing people - especially women - to walk long distances for them). This is an excellent example of an effort to increase accessibility of services without the need to increase mobility.

With an accessibility perspective, both traffic and mobility are obviously still important. But they are seen as 'means' not 'ends in themselves'. Other ways to enhance accessibility would include planning for proximity, improved communications systems, bringing services closer, etc.

Source: Paul Barter in the SUSTRAN mailing list.
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