Why do we need to identify problems?
A clearly specified list of problems is the most suitable
basis for identifying potential solutions. Problems can be
identified, both now and in the future, as evidence that objectives
are not being achieved. However, objectives are often rather
abstract, and it may be easier for members of the public to
understand a strategy based on clearly identified problems.
This problem-oriented approach to strategy formulation is
an alternative to starting with objectives, but does still
need to be checked against the full list of objectives.
What types of problem are we concerned with?
One of the easiest ways of specifying problems is by reference
to a set of objectives (Section
7). This enables the question ‘how do we know we
have got a problem?’ to be answered more easily. For
example, the efficiency objective relates to problems of congestion
and unreliability; the safety objective to accidents. The
two concepts, objectives and problems, are two sides of the
same coin. We can start either with objectives or problems
and come to the same conclusions. The box shows the problems
which are considered in the Policy Guidebook.
|Lack of amenity
|Local air pollution
|Reduction of green space
|Damage to environmentally sensitive sites
|Poor accessibility for those without a car and those
with mobility impairments
|Disproportionate disadvantaging of particular social
or geographic groups
|Number, severity and risk of accidents
|Suppression of the potential for economic activity in
How can we decide if a problem is occurring and how
serious it is?
Problems may be identified in a number of ways:
People can identify the problems that they encounter when
travelling and which result from other people travelling.
Transport providers can be consulted about the operational
problems which they face. This is a key element of the participation
process (Section 5). People
will naturally have more reliable views about current problems
than those predicted to occur at some future date. Problem
identification through consultation is therefore of most use
for current problems.
Objective analysis of problems requires the adoption of an
appropriate set of indicators and targets (Section
7). When a condition is measured or predicted to differ
from a threshold, then a problem is said to exist. A range
of thresholds can be set, so that problems may be graded by
severity. Thus, for example, noise levels which exceed, say,
65dB(A), 70dB(A) and 75dB(A) could be classed as ‘slight’,
‘moderate’ and ‘severe’ noise problems.
When thresholds are defined, they can be used, with current
data, to identify current problems. Given an appropriate predictive
model, a similar exercise can be conducted for a future year.
This is shown in the feedback loop from Predict Impacts to
Assess Problems in Section 6.
Regular monitoring of conditions, using similar indicators
to those for objective analysis, is another valuable way of
identifying problems, and is covered further in Section
15. As well as enabling problems, and their severity,
to be specified, a regular monitoring programme enables trends
to be observed, and those problems which are becoming worse
to be singled out for treatment.
Why is it useful to determine the severity of problems
now and in the future?
If problems are identified through consultation, the city
authority is able to determine the areas of concern for citizens.
This will in turn help to confirm that they have selected
the right objectives, and to indicate the basis on which targets
might be set. Identification through objective analysis and
monitoring enables cities, and citizens, to compare problems
in different areas and in different years on a consistent
basis. Comparison of predicted problems if nothing further
is done with predictions of the impacts of possible solutions
provides an immediate indication of the scale of the predicted
improvement, and also highlights any possible adverse effects.
What are the weaknesses of this approach?
It is essential to start with a comprehensive list of indicators
which cover all the objectives. Without this, some types of
problem will be overlooked. If problems are judged analytically
by reference to thresholds, there is a danger that the thresholds
set will be somewhat arbitrary. It will be important to check
that problems are not occurring at levels below the threshold.
Where thresholds are set for different indicators, this will
imply that problems of that severity are equally serious.
Thus, for example: if a noise level in excess of 65dB(A) and
a carbon monoxide level in excess of 8.5ppm were both to be
classed as ‘slight’ problems, this would imply
an equivalent severity.
The approach may only show problems as symptoms. Some analysis
of the underlying causes of the problems should always be
considered. For example, it would not be safe to assume that
a congestion problem should be solved by adding extra capacity
at the location concerned. It may be that land use patterns
are encouraging longer distance travel, or that inadequate
public transport is forcing people to drive. Other solutions,
such as travel demand management or public transport improvements,
may be more appropriate and may only be revealed by analysis
of the causes of the problem.
How can we compare problems that are city-wide with
those that are more serious in some areas for some people?
Problems should be classed by both severity (see above) and
impact, in terms of the numbers of people affected. In the
interests of equity, it will be important to consider whether
a severe problem which affects few people is more or less
important than a less severe problem which affects many people.
Thresholds can be used with current data, to identify the
locations, times of day, and groups of traveller or resident
for which problems currently occur. This level of detail is
an important input to the specification of problems, but it
will add to the complexity of the appraisal process (Section