The Role of Engineers and Their Tools in the Transport Sector after Paradigm Change: From Assumptions and Extrapolations to Science

The Role of Engineers and Their Tools in the Transport Sector after Paradigm Change: From Assumptions and Extrapolations to Science

Hermann Knoflacher (Vienna University of Technology, Austria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2116-7.ch001
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On the contrary to other fields of human progress, transport is creating more problems with increasing wealth. Congestion, traffic victims, noise and air pollution are direct unwanted effects, not been solved so far. The cause is the lack of system understanding in the professional world. the existing paradigm in Transport is based on assumptions and extrapolations and not on solid science. The new scientific based paradigm, need also new tools for the sustainable future of transport and cities.
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Engineering tools in transport came from craftsmanship experiences to handle a great variety of materials such as wood, water, stone, earthwork, iron and steel till the 19th century. When railway came in use, new tools had to be developed and implemented to provide the society with a reliable and safe “modern transport system”. Responsibility for the operation of the new system became an engineering issue not only for the infrastructure and the vehicles, but also for the customers and the environment. Railways had strong effects on urban, industrial and social structures. But the interrelationship was not in the awareness of transport engineers. Their tools were focused on vehicles, all kinds of infrastructure, provision of energy and a smooth operation of the system. With the mass motorization these tools, dealing with physics, traffic flow and speed of cars were applied to this new and fascinating individual mode. Core hypotheses of this Paradigm were “Growth of Mobility”, “Travel Time Saving by Speed” and “Freedom of Modal Choice”, leading thinking and acting of transport engineers. Forecast models, Cost Benefit Analysis and a big set of Standards were developed to build and operate the Transport System for the motorized society. But the interventions, based on this Paradigm, produced a lot of adverse effects:

  • Traffic accidents,

  • Air pollution,

  • Damage of local business,

  • Urban sprawl,

  • Climate change,

  • Corporate domination, and

  • Unemployment.

A critical analysis of the foundation of this paradigm was necessary – and possible, by using methods from other disciplines, like system dynamics or evolution theory to understand not only the behavior of the transport system, but also the behavior of people, especially the gang of people in the fields of transport. The outcome of this research was a scientific sound background for the Paradigm Change, with core hypotheses in accordance with the real behavior of the transport system of today. Using this tools, adverse effects of the old paradigm and contradiction between the promises of transport engineers and the real effects can be prevented. Paradigm Change is not a superficial new buzzword, as someone might hope, it change the understanding of terms, it change the unit of scale from car to man, it change the borders of responsibility of transport engineers by widening them into other disciplines and force for other solutions.

This chapter gives an introduction into the issue, the history of the transport system, the problems to cope with the needs of the new system, the dynamic and overlapping of inventions in technology and operation till today. The adverse effects, unwanted and unplanned by transport engineers and the struggle to find new supporting hypotheses, when the core assumptions became doubtful are then described.

Traditional assumptions, which are the core hypotheses of the traditional paradigm, are confronted with the empirical facts of the system and the reality of human behavior in this artificial environment. The new principles and tools are briefly described with references to existing textbooks. Since the new paradigm is already in use in some cities, some practical examples are added, as well as the critical questions from representatives from the “old Paradigm collected over the last decades. (The author himself was an excellent representative of this Paradigm 45 years ago. Otherwise he would never become Professor at the Technical University) Paradigm Change has an “incubation time” of decades or even generations and is not an issue of understanding the new hypotheses only. Between understanding and acting, the mental environment must change also. And this is the case today. There are so many seekers in the professional world and even more in the society, to find a way out of the problems, we as transport engineers have created with the old Paradigm.

The chapter is subdivided into

  • History and genesis of the traditional paradigm and the tools of transport engineers.

  • Contradictions between promises, forecast and reality of the system.

  • Research results about system behavior and real people behavior – the foundation of the new paradigm.

  • The new principles and tools.

  • Can the new paradigm meet the challenge?

  • Conclusions and Future Research directions.

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