Why Alternatives Analysis is critical to Penang’s transportation future

Alternatives assessment or alternatives analysis is a problem-solving approach used in environmental design, technology, and policy. It aims to minimize environmental harm by comparing multiple potential solutions in the context of a specific problem, design goal, or policy objective. It is intended to inform decision-making in situations with many possible courses of action, a wide range of variables to consider, and significant degrees of uncertainty.

Since the early 1970’s transportation planners apply a multi-modal and/or comprehensive approach to analyzing a wide range of alternatives and impacts on the transportation system to influence beneficial outcomes

Penang’s SRS ca. RM 50 bn “Transport Master Plan” does not make scientific use of an essential transport planning and decision tool, namely Alternatives Analysis to test and compare alternative solutions to identified mobility solutions (see below). This is a grave deficiency which discredits the entire body of proposals,, methodology and recommendations currently being actively pushed by the state government and their under-qualified  consulting partners whose expertise lies in other sectors than strategic transport planning and policy..

Alternatives assessment was originally developed as a robust way to guide precautionary action and avoid paralysis by analysis; authors such as O’Brien have presented alternatives assessment as an approach that is complementary to risk assessment, the dominant decision-making approach in environmental policy. Likewise, Ashford has described the similar concept of technology options analysis as a way to generate innovative solutions to the problems of industrial pollution more effectively than through risk-based regulation.

[Posting based on latest Wikipedia entry, edited to exclude sections on chemicals and chemistry. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternatives_assessment

Generally, alternatives assessment involves considering a number of possible options to achieve a specific objective, and applying a principled comparative analysis. The objective is usually to improve the environmental performance or safety of a specific product, material, process, service or other activity.

Potential alternatives considered in the analysis may include different  technologies, methods of use, or even extensive redesign to enable new ways of achieving the objective while avoiding the problem. Understanding the consequences of each available option is central to the process and goals of alternatives assessment, because this helps avoid decisions that substitute one problem with another (unknown) problem. The comparative analysis can involve any number of criteria for evaluating options, and these are typically focused on environmental health and sustainability.

There is no single protocol that dictates how options should be identified, evaluated, and compared in an alternatives assessment. Rather, a number of different alternatives assessment frameworks exist, which serve to structure decision-making and to enable systematic consideration of the key factors. Jacobs and colleagues identify six major components of alternatives assessment: evaluation of hazard, exposure, life cycle impacts, technical feasibility, and economic feasibility; and an overall decision-making strategy.

One major framework, the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production Alternatives Assessment Framework, conceives of alternatives assessment very broadly, as a reflexive problem-solving process that recognizes the social and technical complexity of environmental problems. It emphasizes aspects such as stakeholder participation, transparency of the process, and open discussion of values in decision-making. Most other frameworks are more narrow and primarily focused on technical aspects.

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About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Britton is an American political scientist and sustainability activist who has lived and worked in Paris since 1969. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest book, "BETTER CHOICES: Bringing Sustainable Transport to Your City" focuses on the subject of environment, equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions. A pre-publication edition of Better Choices is currently undergoing an international peer review during Sept.- Oct. 2017, with the goal of publication in English and Chinese editions by end-year. If you wish to participate drop a line to BetterChoices@ecoplan.org .

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One thought on “Why Alternatives Analysis is critical to Penang’s transportation future

  1. The State should take measures to improve the current public transportation, which means working together with PT operators to improve accessibility, reliability and speed. Back to basics will be a good start, for example improving the quality of roads, improve safety by installing more street lights, and better town planning. Next will be creating a comprehensive network of bicycle and pedestrian lanes to encourage locals to go car-lite. These are the low hanging fruits that can achieve the same objectives as TMP that does not require billion Ringgit investment, at the same time minimum impact to the environment. As the saying goes: First achieve small things and you will achieve great things ultimately.

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