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How Does Urban Public Transport Change Cities? Correlations between Past and
Present Transport and Urban Planning Policies
Geraldine Pflieger, Vincent Kaufmann, Luca Pattaroni and Christophe Jemelin
Urban Stud 2009 46: 1421
DOI: 10.1177/0042098009104572
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46(7) 14211437, June 2009

How Does Urban Public Transport

Change Cities? Correlations between
Past and Present Transport and
Urban Planning Policies
Geraldine Pflieger, Vincent Kaufmann, Luca Pattaroni and Christophe Jemelin
[Paper first received, March 2007; in final form, August 2008]

Is it possible to discern correlations between past and present urban policies? Do
path dependencies exist at the urban level? If so, how do they differ from other links
between the past and present? A preview of the literature dealing with dependencies
and urban change, a presentation of the research methodology and an examination
of the historical archives of six European cities in France, Germany and Switzerland
enable us to identify three features common to both past and present transport and
urban planning policiesnamely, contingency, reproduction and innovation.

Territory, overburdened with traces and interpretations from the past, is like a palimpsest.
In order to introduce new facilities, to make
more rational use of land, its substance often
needs to undergo a process of irreversible
change. Yet, territory is not like throw-away
packaging or a replaceable consumer product.
Each territory is unique, hence the need to
recycle, to re-etch the old text which mankind has written on this irreplaceable material
in order to create a new text, one which meets
the needs of today, before it too is replaced
(Corboz, 2001, p. 228).

1. Introduction
At first glance, it would appear that there is
a certain paradox with regard to urban transport in Europe. On the one hand, there is a
clear political desire to reduce the use of cars
in cities, which is manifest in the legal apparatus and investments in public transport
infrastructure. On the other hand, these
investments have had varying degrees of
success and do not seem to have encouraged
modal transfers from car use to public

Geraldine Pflieger is in the Institut dtudes politiques et internationales (IEPI), Universit de Lausanne,
Btiment Vidy, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland. E-mail:
Vincent Kaufmann, Luca Pattaroni and Christophe Jemelin are in the Laboratoire de Sociologie
Urbaine (LaSUR), Ecole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne (EPFL), EPFLLASUR, Station 16, Btiment
Polyvalent, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland. E-mail:;
0042-0980 Print/1360-063X Online
2009 Urban Studies Journal Limited
DOI: 10.1177/0042098009104572
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transport (Banister, 2005; CEMT, 1997). What

is behind this paradox and how have some
conurbations managed to avoid this trend and
curb the rise in urban car traffic? What are
the decisive factors which have allowed these
cities to adopt a different transport policy,
while dozens of other cities are stuck in a rut
of apparently ineffective measures? How far
do public transport policies change existing
urban dynamics?
To address these issues, we believe that answers could be found through a comparison
of the long-term trajectories of conurbations
transport and urban planning policies. We
therefore chose to compare how six relatively
similar public transport projects had a different impact on the political trajectories and
spatial dynamics of the six medium-sized
cities which adopted them. Our aim is not
merely to run a beauty contest, rating one
urban policy better than the others. Rather,
we seek to understand how new public transport policies are in keeping with localityspecific sociopolitical processes. An analysis
of these processes will help to explain why the
launch of public transport policies in some
cities led to changes in urban development
conditions, while in others their impact was
scarcely felt.
Integrating the time aspect in the study of
transport and urban policies allows us to
consider elements of materialisation and
consolidation of policies in urban space: the
objects producedinfrastructure, the built
environment; the framework in which these
objects are producedthe standards and
regulations; the production processthe institutions involved and forms of government;
and cognitive support given to the decision.
Studies on unbuilding cities (Hommels,
2005a, p. 5) invite us to place formal breaks
and urban change within a perpetual
process of construction/destruction/reconstruction. Cities are built and organised
by sociotechnological artefacts; they are
fashioned, modified and appropriated as

part of a long process. These artefacts are

embedded within various spatial, social, economic, technological and political contexts
in terms of both their production and their
change. They fix cities territorially and endow
the urban space with a certain obduracy. For
Andr Corboz (2001, p. 228), the territory
is like a palimpsest, made of irreversible
actions, of objects positioned in sequence.
Thus, the long term links politics and space,
allowing for the embodiment of decisions,
the implementation of public policies and
the production of effects. An historical analysis can help to identify the slow process of
reconstructing political alliances, technological set-ups and the conventional and
cognitive frameworks needed to transform
the city.
What types of correlation exists between
past and present urban planning policies?
What are the different kinds of link between
the past and the present? What are the
conditions for change?
We shall first review the literature which
deals with the concepts of dependency and
inertia, followed by a presentation of the
research methodology. The next part of the
study will involve a comparison of six cities:
Karlsruhe and Oldenburg in Germany,
Clermont-Ferrand and Grenoble in France,
Basle and Lausanne in Switzerland. The aim
here is to identify the conditions underlying
the reproduction of earlier urban planning
and urban transport policies, as well as the
changes generated by the different forms of
innovation and contingent events.

2. State of the Art: Path

Dependencies, Inertia and
Urban Change
2.1 A Definition of Path Dependencies

The notion of path dependencies has rarely

been applied to research on urban transformations. In economics, political science

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and historical sociology, much has been

written on the concept of path dependencies.
It would appear then that the application of
this concept to urban studies could prove
fruitful. The theoretical work by economist
Paul A. David (2001) and by sociologists and
historians James Mahoney (2000) and Jack
Goldstone (1998) provides a conceptual
framework which enables the identification
of the historical dynamics that have been created by path dependencies, as well as those
that are the result of other forms of causality,
or historical and contextual determination.
The general, interdisciplinary and widely
accepted definition of a path dependency is
historical sequences in which contingent
events set into motion institutional patterns
or event chains that have deterministic properties (Mahoney, 2000, 508).

This definition implies that a sequence must

meet two criteria to qualify as a path dependency: a point of departure, a trigger which is
contingent and which itself is not determined
by laws or more general trends; and, a series of
successive eventsA, B, C, Dwith proven
and explicable causal links.
A contingent event is an accidental event
which the course of history (Mahoney, 2000,
p. 513) and the general laws on the transformation of society do not help to predict or
explain. From a historical perspective, assassinations, inventions, natural disasters, a
technological innovation or, more simply, a
choice between two equally probable alternatives could be classified as contingent
events. They may also be events which defy
historical trends. Accidental events aside,
historians have a further criterionnamely,
the conjunction of two independent events,
such as a technological innovation and an
institutional changewhich leads to a specific
chain reaction (David, 1998). This conjunction
is therefore considered contingent and can
create a path dependency.


Besides its specific origins, path dependency also differs from other forms of causality
in terms of how the events are sequenced.
As Goldstone (1998) reminds us, the succession of past events is a response to general
laws and explanatory models created within
theoretical frameworks. The mechanisms of
reproduction created by a path dependency
are extremely powerful as they limit the
opportunities for change and block institutions, actors and processes in a sort of
predetermined, locked-in set-up. Economists
believe that such a blockage can be caused
by increasing returns. Margaret Levi states
Once a country or region has started down
a track, the costs of reversal are very high.
There will be other choice points, but the entrenchments of certain institutional arrangements obstruct an easy reversal of the initial
choice (Levi, 1997, p. 28).

According to the political scientist Paul Pierson

(2000), these high costs of reversibility are
linked to two key factors
(1) The collective dimension of public action.
The political cost of going against a
trend is particularly high since it is first
necessary to make sure that the majority
of participants in such an action keep to
the same path. In contrast, a status quo
or the continuation of past policies will
be less costly due to the stabilised and
relatively co-ordinated set-ups on which
they are based.
(2) Institutional density. The creation of entirely new institutions to replace existing
ones is a costly and complex undertaking. Furthermore, existing institutions
tend to be perpetuated, becoming selfreinforcing over time. Consequently,
the domination of a system of decisions
by one or more institutions will tend to
endure, authorising the reproduction of
past trends (Levi, 1997).

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Consequently, there is an inherent paradox

in a path dependency, a contrast between the
origins of the path, which must contradict
forecasts and general trends in terms of the
transformation of a society, an economy or
an institution, while at the same time reproduce processes that can be explained by
traditional theoretical and analytical frameworks. While the starting-point for a path
dependency must be accidental, its reproduction must be explicable and suitable for
analysis. Between chance and rationality,
the innovative feature of path dependence
theory is its ability to emphasise how contingent facts and successive sequences which
have a theoretical explanation fit together.
2.2 Dependency and Changes in
Urban Space

Territories are the product of the general and

of specificsof laws, of trends and of localised
events. In this sense, they follow the typical
path dependence trajectory.
While the concept of path dependencies
has been largely overlooked by urban studies,
time issues, the weight of history and the
inertia of past public action are well covered
in four distinct research fields. First, urban
regime theorywhich originated in the US
but has been applied further afield since
the 1990s (Stone, 1989)aims to provide
a temporal representation of local policies
and to place social and political actors at
the forefront of any definition of these temporal arrangements, their slide into crisis
and their overhaul. In their study of urban
regimes, which in fact counters the prevailing
trend towards an expansion of this theory,
Mossberger and Stoker (2001) stress the extent
to which urban regimes consist of a coalition
of actors rooted in long-term co-operation
rather than simply being an ad hoc grouping.
From a more applied perspective, a body of research has expanded on the methods used to
analyse the trajectories of urbanisationfor
example, the work of Walter Nicholls (2005)

on power and long-term governance in complex urban systems. Subjecting the city of
Stockholm to a case study, Anders Gullberg
and Arne Kaijser (2004, p.18) developed the
concept of a City-building regime, defined
as a set of actors and the configuration of
co-ordinating mechanisms among them,
which produce the major changes in the
landscapes of buildings and networks in a
specific city region at a given time. More
widely, the work of Peter Newman and Andy
Thornley (1996) has identified geographical and historical factors which had a bearing on urban public action at the beginning
of the 21st century (British, Napoleonic,
Germanic and Scandinavian systems). In
this first field of research, reproduction and
dependency are direct outcomes of the stability of sociopolitical coalitions.
Furthermore, following on from the institutionalist work of Paul Pierson (2000) and
Mahoney (2000), some urbanists have been
concerned with highlighting the inertia that
is intrinsic to local systems. This inertia is a
consequence of rigid institutional set-ups,
rising returns on investments related to
past choices and the high costs of changing
direction. Woodlief (1998), for example,
analysed these types of reproduction in his
study of how the cities of Chicago and New
York, both faced with the repercussions of
the Great Depression of the 1930s, followed
different paths depending on their specific
institutional set-ups.
Thirdly, analysis of local policies largely
focused on the role of cognitive frameworks
seen either through the prism of the terms
of reference for public action or the role of
changing political powers. The aim was to
paint a picture of reproduction and continuity
which revolve not only around institutions
and interests, but also ideologies and political
projects present in these cities (Gallez and
Maksim, 2007).
Finally, a series of research papers on STS
(science, technologies and society) and the

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city looked at the role of infrastructure and

technical choices (Tarr and Dupuy, 1988;
Graham and Marvin, 2001) in the production of territories. They attribute particular
importance to successive phases of technological development and to the role of
standards (Lorrain, 2004) in the composition
of local histories. Anique Hommels (2005),
in particular, proposed a three-part classification: social and technical embeddedness,
infrastructure and urban forms. The first is
associated with the roles and strategies of
those involved in the design of urban artefacts, while the second is linked to the coevolution of infrastructure, urban societies
and technological advances. The third
classificationurban formsis linked to
the influence of past choices and traditions on
contemporary urban technical change.
Regardless of whether they apply the path
dependency theory or not, these studies all
stress the forms of reproduction that are
inherent in the history of cities, the foundations of which include the presence of coalitions, institutions, ideas and urban artefacts.
These historical sociology studies focus on
continuities, while giving little importance
to local specificities and change. Yet, the point
of the path dependency theory is to link both
contingency and reproduction within the
same analytical framework. Not only should
reproduction be given consideration, but any
examination of it should seek to understand
its connection with the opportunity for
change, whether as the result of contingency
or of conscious innovation. Path dependencies show how certain contingent events (in
relation to political manoeuvring, cognitive
frameworks and even technical aspects) can
generate a reproduction effect. Consequently,
these paths prompt us to consider the conditions needed to change direction and to
improve our understanding of this complex
trade-off between contingency, innovation
and reproduction.


Path dependencies can be removed through

the reconstruction of coalitions, the creation
of new institutions and the unbuilding of
certain urban artefacts (Hommels, 2005).
We should consider, therefore, all paths that
give rise to a break with the past, to innovations and to changes which imply that reproduction can only carry on as an unstable
and short-lived equilibrium. Beyond reproduction, the concept of urban path dependency is interesting from a methodological
point of view, as it helps us to understand the
conditions under which stability emerges and
vanishesi.e. all processes in which urban
artefacts are transformed.
Furthermore, care should be taken when
applying path dependency theory in urban
studies. The first precaution concerns the
identification of an event which is contingent
in origin. Indeed, contingency is a criterion
which can be qualified arbitrarily. An event
classified as contingent at the micro level can
appear clearly premeditated at the meso or
macro level, locally or nationally, or in the
short or long term. The spatial and temporal
focus of observation becomes a differential
factor. When attempting to qualify a trajectory
as a path dependency, there is a temptation
to carry out exhaustive research on a catalytic
contingent event, to go back in time and to
move the discussion forward based on the
cornerstones of urban transformation towards a sterile debate on applying (or not)
the criterion of contingency to a given event.
The criterion of contingency is nevertheless
of interest as it encourages the study of the
urban to distinguish between what emerges
from the general and the singular.
The second difficulty comes from the succession of sequences. While current path
dependencies concern the evolution of a
homogeneous system, a technology, an institution, an economic system or even the urban
space, a complex sociotechnological system
does not have such conceptual homogeneity.

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Jean-Marc Offner (2000) showed that the

same infrastructure can produce different
effects, or even none, depending on the context and how these infrastructures are embedded in and appropriated by a given
territory. The impact of infrastructure does
not produce a linear causality but, rather, a
system of causalities or correlations between
the different factors associated with real estate
policies, other sectoral policies, pre-existing
trends and socioeconomic conditions.
The third problem concerns the need to
avoid explaining the entire urban history
through the prism of path dependency. The
present cannot always be explained by contingent events or by the transition from
the specific to the general. More traditional
explanations which propose an order of logical and generic causality that are enshrined
in pre-existing tendencies are also pertinent
for the analysis of certain urban realities. Furthermore, some cities choose to innovate and
to oppose generic dynamics of development.
The non-contingent processes of breaking
away from the past appear to have been neglected by path dependence theory.
2.3 Two Hypotheses

Consideration of time in the study of transport policies also allows us to consider how
these materialise and become consolidated
in urban space: the objects they produce
(infrastructure, the built environment), the
production framework (norms and regulations), the process of production (institutions
and types of government) and the cognitive
support given to the decision (cognitive
frameworks which underpin these policies).
Furthermore, an approach which draws on
both political and urban sociology allows us
to consider urban uses and practicesi.e. the
occasional cumulative or retroactive effects of
these policies as well as the imprint of these
effects in space.
Objects, norms, institutions, cognitive frameworks, uses and social differentiations are

all elements which entrench urban planning

and transport policies within the territory and
which have variable temporal properties (from
the weak reversibility of technological objects
to the instability of cognitive frameworks, and
from the slow evolution of sociospatial structures to the permanent change in uses and
practices). Current policies are based on the
constraints and resources of past policies. Yet,
the power and the duration of these constraints vary depending on the object which is
produced, as well as the conditions and effects
of its production.
Our general hypothesis is that the weight
of history differs according to the given
space and according to the fabric of elements
which enabled specific spatiotemporal sequences to become entrenched. By studying
the interaction between various factors of
irreversibility at the local level and by comprehending the importance of both eventand trend-driven dynamics, we shall propose
historical settings for technological objects,
cognitive frameworks, public policies and
local usages. Given these observations, we can
formulate two clear hypotheses, which we shall
test empirically by applying them to urban
planning and urban transport policies
H1 Any change in urban policy presupposes
action that accounts for the specificities
of spatiotemporal embeddedness in a
H2 Cities that endeavour, albeit unsuccessfully, to change their urban policy are considered to have failed because the means
they used to this end are not attuned to
the spatiotemporal embeddedness of the
local context.

3. Methodology
A comparative approach was chosen to
examine the different trajectories relative
to transport and urban planning in a temporal perspective. This choice was motivated

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both by the wish to reduce complexity and

by the will to nourish the study by confronting contrasting territories. The comparison
operates at two levels: an international level,
with six case studies in Germany, France
and Switzerland, making it possible to assess
the impact of legal provisions and norms
in each country, and the global references
that drive the area; then a comparison between conurbations of comparable size in
each of these countries (300 000 to 600 000
For the second level of comparison, choices
were made according to the use of means
of transport (measured in terms of cars per
household and daily use of public transport).
A conurbation characterised by intense car
use was identified for each country, plus a
conurbation in which other means of transport are important. Such a choice allowed
us to establish extreme areas relative to the
means of transport for each country and
thus to assess a priori, by comparison, the
presence of obdurate habits. In terms of the
applicability of results, such an approach
also allows for the examination of the conditions for the emergence and the obstacles
of public transport development policies.
The metropolitan areas of Oldenburg and
Karlsruhe (Germany), Clermont-Ferrand
and Grenoble (France), Lausanne and Basle
(Switzerland) were selected as investigation
sites (Table 1).
After gathering documentation on national policies relative to transport and urban
planning, with a focus on the production of
Table 1.


norms and laws which enabled us to identify

national cognitive frameworks, and a study
of the geographical, sociodemographic and
morphological situation of each of the six
cities, every site was analysed for the trajectories of public policies with regard to transport
and urban planning between 1950 and 2000.
We defined trajectories of urban policies
as: the course which in a given city charts a
linear and continuous perspective of the development of urban and transport policies in
the medium or long term, of the conditions of
their production, and their effects. Over five
decades, a city may thus experience several
trajectories, changes of course and public
policy shake-ups. In particular, the study of
these trajectories should pinpoint decisions
and events that marked them, and any
changes that occurred. The objective of such
an examination is to determine the degree of
irreversibility and obduracy of the policies
implemented and the factors that determine
irreversibility or change.
In line with the problems defined and the
selected comparative research approach, the
influence of local political conditions, of infrastructure, social and spatial differences,
institutions and cognitive frameworks on
trajectories and possible breaks with the past
were analysed for each case. We used three
main materials: first, a study of the local press
since the 1960s, focusing on transport and
urban development; secondly, a record of the
documents and public reports dealing with
the conurbations major projects; thirdly,
extensive interviews with the significant

Rate of public transport use in the six cities under investigation (percentages)


Karlsruhe 18 [2002]
Grenoble 15 [2002]
Basle 28 [2000]

Oldenburg 5 [2002]
Clermont-Ferrand 7 [2003]
Lausanne 19 [2000]

Note: Percentage of trips taken on public transport in comparison with overall trips.
Sources: Social data, Kontiv (Germany), INSEECERTU (France), AREOFS (Switzerland).
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players (decision-makers, political representatives, technicians whether working or retired,

heads of user associations, political parties).
The interview grid aimed to boost the memory
of the interviewees over a 10- to 15-year period
and then compare it with the documentary
materials. Our monographs took a careful
view of the importance of recent changes
generated by urban projects and transport
policies that are being implemented currently and for less than five years.
We formalised six main trajectories, linking
different temporal dimensions of public policies and going beyond purely party-political
factors of change such as alternation and
democratic upheavals, to arrive at a systemic
analysis of the trajectories that characterise
each city. This systemic approach led us to
take a good lookcase by case, in the three
countries, six urban conurbations and as
many possible public policy trajectoriesat
the relative impact of factors such as infrastructure, laws, institutions, cognitive frameworks, sociospatial structures and social
practices on urban inertia or change. Six complete historical monographs were written,
presenting a detailed view of each trajectory,
the main trends relative to urbanisation and
the changes in public policy over the past
50 years. These six monographs provided
secondary research material which allowed
us to produce a general analytical framework
to understand the different types of relations
between past and present urban planning
and transport policies. This will allow us to
understand what conditions are needed if
urban transport policies are to change cities.

4. Three Types of Relations

between Past and Current
Urban Policies
The aforementioned six monographs enabled
us to identify three specific elements that underpin the trajectories followed by transport

and urban planning policiesnamely, reproduction, innovation and contingency. Each

element is present to varying degrees in the six
conurbations we studied. Their significance
and their specific arrangement generate particular forms of embeddedness.
4.1 Reproduction

Due to their regularity, continuity and cumulative nature, the trajectories that the urban
planning and transport policies of ClermontFerrand and Oldenburg followed are typical
of reproduction in the long term, a process
which neither innovations nor contingent
events have managed to change. ClermontFerrand illustrates the typical public policy
trajectory taken by post-war functionalist,
urban planning projects in France. It centres
on two sectoral policies: housing and road
infrastructure. We cannot talk of path dependencies in relation to Clermont-Ferrand,
since the origins of its urban development are
non-contingent and bear the clear imprint of
the imperatives of the construction of social
housing. This ideal in terms of infrastructure
became entrenched in Clermont-Ferrand
through a stable political and institutional
regime as well as through the functional and
economic domination of the tyre industry
Between 1945 and 1997, Clermont-Ferrand
had only two mayors, both Socialists: Gabriel
Montpied between 1945 and 1973, and Roger
Quilliot between 1973 and 1997. In the early
1950s, the town boasted an exceptionally
tightly knit tram network. However, the
growth of the car industry increased the impact of car traffic in the capital of Auvergne
and the urgent needhere as elsewhereto
dismantle tramlines. The Michelin housing
developments had played a structuring role
in low-cost housing policies until the 1960s.
Subsequently, Michelin became less involved,
leaving the way free for the city of Clermont.
The municipality launched a vast public

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housing programme, fired by the will to generate sociodemographic stabilisation and

specialisation. Yet
Roger Quilliot never encouraged the creation
of public metropolitan spaces. He simply
wanted to make it easy for city-centre residents to hop into their car on a Sunday and
drive to the fresh air of the Les Puys mountains
(urbanist from Clermont-Ferrand; authors

Any innovations which were introduced

either reinforced the existing trajectoryfor
example the construction of the Jaude citycentre shopping mall (one of the first of its
kind in France1)or failed to change the
trajectory due to the fact that they were in
direct opposition to it. This was particularly
true of public transport policy. At the end
of the 1970s, Clermont-Ferrand introduced
bus-only lanes in a bid to boost the appeal of
public transport. Nevertheless, later development projects were halted due to a lack of
funding. In the late 1980s, the communists
were elected to power and suggested relaunching the project to introduce bus-only lanes.
Their motivation was not to restrict car use
but rather to save the urban transport system
from bankruptcy
The public transport network in ClermontFerrand was so unappealing due to the halffinished bus-only lane system and the complete absence of complementarities with the
well-structured but underused SNCF network.
In addition, the expansive spread of urbanisation and greater demographic growth
outside the zone served by public transport
contributed to the difficulties the bus network
in the Great Clermont-Ferrand area would
later face (Schma directeur de lagglomration
clermontoisediagnostic, 1995, pp. 7879).

The city would have to wait until 1995 for the

local government to propose constructing a
northsouth tramway line; only to be abandoned at a later date. The socialist municipality,
led by Serge Godard, launched its tramway


on tyres (guided busway) project; it has been

operational along one of the citys public
transport routes (Ligne 1) since 2006. However, government spending restrictions meant
the cancellation of accompanying measures,
such as reduced car access in the city centre
and urban regeneration projects.
Oldenburg was subject to a similar process.
In 1955, the Social Democrat Hans Fleischer
became the mayor of Oldenburg; a position
he would continue to occupy until 1981.
During the immediate post-war period, new
social neighbourhoods were built, leading to
a change in the morphology of the city: scattered urbanisation spread and low population
density on the outer fringes of the city. For
example, the historical centre of Oldenburg
saw its resident population shrink by nearly
40 per cent between 1950 and 1960. Lower
Saxony also invested in road infrastructure
with the aim of turning Oldenburg into the
main centre of the Weser-Ems region. As a
result, an urban motorway was constructed
that would bypass the city centre. This new
centrality, associated with the explosion in
individual motorisation, would generate
urban planning and transport policies that
focused on the management of ever-higher
volumes of road traffic. By 1964, traffic on the
bypass had already reached saturation point:
21 000 vehicles per day. New car parks and
pedestrian zones would become a priority.
So, in 1967, the historical centre of Oldenburg
became the first pedestrian zone of its kind in
Germany; the city also acquired land in the
city centre to house car parks.
Heightened sensitivity to environmental
concerns led to several attempts to shift the
focus of urban transport policy to public
transport. However, low urban density (hampering the profitability of efficient public
transport services), extensive bicycle use and
excellent accessibility by road meant that these
projects ultimately failed. Even the Green
Party seemed resigned. One of its members,
Dr Hilmar Westholm, claimed that the public

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transport services in Oldenburg were already

adequate, as they ran at 15-minute-intervals
during peak times (interview with authors).
In his opinion, the only way to increase the
market share of public transport was to
increase housing density in the vicinity of
existing bus stops. Yet, this was a difficult
measure to implement due to the fact that
Oldenburg residents favoured living in
detached homes. He added that the Greens
had already, several years earlier, begun to
move away from their anti-car attitude towards
environmentally friendly development across
all transport modes.
Faced with plummeting public transport
use, a 1994 study proposed major improvements, but to no avail. In the end, it would
be rail transport which would bring about
the revival of public transport in Greater
Oldenburg. In 2000, a subsidiary of Connex
together with the public transport company of
the town of Osnabrck improved timetables,
speed, punctuality and the rolling stock.
The success was immediate: during the first
year, passenger numbers rose by 70 per cent,
and by a further 50 per cent in the second
year. Despite the positive outcome, later development projects (the tram-train proposal
put forward by the director of the Bremen
tramway system, who had previously worked
for many years in Karlsruhe) were put on
hold; the reason given was insufficient traffic
potential. Innovations which could have
changed the trajectory of Greater Oldenburg
systematically clashed with a very forceful
reproduction dynamic.
4.2 Innovation

Grenoble and Lausanne illustrate the power

which a sociopolitical break with the past
can exert over a trajectory. In both instances,
this break consisted of an innovation and
response strategy to previous development
trends and models. These trajectories can
be labelled innovative because they are part

of a review process which aims to react to

previous conditions for urban organisation
and introduce new and improved ways of
linking urban planning and urban transport.
Innovation in both cities would progressively develop into reproduction, but under very
different conditions. In Grenoble, the tramway would enjoy success, while in Lausanne,
large projects outlined in the Greater Lausanne
Community Master Plan (CIURL) of 1973,
would serve as a roadmap for transport policy
over the subsequent 30 years.
Until the end of the 1970s, the Grenoble
municipal area pursued much the same trajectory as Clermont-Ferrand: a vigorous public housing policy, with a more progressive
approach to developing the road infrastructure. Local public policy changed this course
in the late 1970s. Given ample media coverage
due to the tram, this break was not only due
to new equipment but to the use of this means
of transport as an instrument to foster a policy
structuring the conurbation around a strong
centre. Yet, Greater Grenoble, however, does
not follow a path dependency. The initial
conditions for change are not contingent but
simply amount to the exhaustion of an earlier
development model. The adoption of the
tram is not accidental; it is a consequence of
severe transport management problems and,
in particular, public transport congestion in
the city centre. This would be followed by the
introduction of an innovative public action
trajectory in the early 1980s, which broke
away from planning policies promoted at the
national level and proposed a new model of
accessibility and linkage between the centre
and outskirts of the city.
As of that point, the tram became an instrument in the transactions between the city
centre and the periphery
The transport issue was central to mediation
and the power relationship between the
municipality-centre and the city outskirts.
The modernisation of the network and greater

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accessibility to the city centre straddled the

interests of the middle classes (who elected
the socialist Hubert Dubedout to the head
of the Grenoble executive) and those of the
communist-run municipalities in the firstring suburbs of Grenoble (Pradeilles, 1997,
p. 98; authors translation).

The tram project was implemented in parallel

with the financing of urban requalification
and municipalities were able to fund their
own urban development projects at lesser
cost. Although this considerably increased
the price of the tram per kilometre, it made the
urban ambitions of the city centre more acceptable politically. The will to reinforce centrality was linked to compromises with the
first-ring suburbs, which gradually benefited
from the tram service. Requalification gave
areas serviced by public transport first-class
facilities, neglecting the intermediate areas
and the periphery.
At the end of the 1980s, the introduction of
soft access to the town centre was coupled
with steps to step up traffic within the conurbation: the southern bypass has 22 lanes;
the northsouth tangent road was extended.
In this context, the development of public
transport beyond the transit authority territory was not an option, while regional rail
services are inadequate for a conurbation of
over 300 000 inhabitants.
In the case of Lausanne, the reproduction
process took on greater significance than that
of innovation because the new trajectorya
consequence of institutional upheavalwas
not enough to bring about change. The trajectory followed by Lausanne is also typical
of urban development in western Europe
during the 1950s: collapse of the public transport network, dismantling of the tramway
network and the car boom. Shortly after the
opening of the first Swiss motorway in 1964
which ran between Geneva and Lausanne,
the reproduction process would lead to institutional change: the creation in 1968 of
a supramunicipal authority in charge of


developing a future transport vision for the

citythe Intermunicipal Urban Planning
Community of Greater Lausanne (CIURL).
Published in 1973, the first Greater Lausanne
Master Plan was ambitious, proposing a new
direction for territorial planning. In his preface, Georges-Andr Chevallaz, the mayor of
Lausanne, stated that the city would henceforth be an urban conurbation and that territorial planning meant sacrifices had to be
made, such as reduced personal freedom
for the common good. He even went so far
as to say
The Regional Master Plan must not merely be
the juxtaposition of plans autarkically decided
by the municipalities; it implies mutual consideration, even sacrifices (CIURL, 1973, p. 4).

The master plan deemed that planning measures decided at the local level could not cope
effectively with the geographical dispersal of
economic activity caused by ever greater car
use, especially since intermunicipal links were
non-existent and structures were built by and
large outside construction zones. In response,
the 1973 Regional Master Plan recommended:
a moratorium on extending construction
zones in Greater Lausanne; improvements to
the transport system by favouring the most
effective transport mode in the given city
zone; development of secondary centres; and,
better protection of sites.
However, the municipalities rejected the
master plan on the grounds that it was too
restrictive. This decision would eventually lead
to the demise of CIURL, which would be later
replaced by COREL (community of municipalities in the Greater Lausanne area). The
successor to CIURL would afford lesser importance to cultivating intermunicipal links
and would never produce a new master plan.
Innovation in the form of CIURL was
shored up by municipal autonomy. Following this institutional failure, Lausanne could
have switched to a similar trajectory to that observed in Clermont-Ferrand and Oldenburg;

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this was not to be the case. Despite official

abandonment of the Intermunicipal Master
Plan, its central recommendations would
be implemented over time: the south-west
tramway (the current M1), the extension of
the LausanneEchallensBercher railway
line to include the city centre, the Ouchy
city centreEpalinges subway line and the
introduction of park and ride. The master
plan therefore has served de facto as a road
map for urban transport and urban planning
policies in Lausanne over the past 30 years.
Their innovative strength consequently would
morph into reproduction.
4.3 Contingency

The third type of embededdness centres on

contingency, as observed in Karlsruhe and
Basle. In both instances, the distinguishing
features of their trajectories are the highly
specific and contingent choices that reversed
the trend in terms of transport-related decisions. These initial preferences could be consolidated and reproduced thanks to stable
cognitive and institutional frameworks, and
would ultimately generate what we can label
as innovation path dependencies.
Throughout the 20th century, Karlsruhe, in
contrast to Clermont-Ferrand and Grenoble,
followed an alternative trajectory to the inexorable expansion of car access, a trajectory
which can be qualified as a path dependency.
Like Basle and Berne, Karlsruhe is one of the
rare western European cities which did not
abandon its tram system after the Second
World War. This exceptional situation has
its origins in two successive and contingent
events: the relocation of the railway station at
the beginning of the 20th century which would
prompt the city to organise its multipolar
centre around the tram; the arrival of three
people in the public transport directorate
who would consider the local infrastructure and morphology to invent a new concept
for public transport at the end of the 1970s,
the tram-train. These two contingent events

were themselves embedded in a specific local

context. Indeed, since its foundation in 1715,
Karlsruhe has remained true to its tradition of
urban innovation: an initial half-circle layout,
urban planning operations carried out since
the early 20th century on the occasion of the
relocation of the train station, the creation
of peripheral garden cities during the same
period, architectural experiments inspired
by the Bauhaus movement, the reconstruction
of the city centre after World War II, the planning of new housing developments along
the main tram lines and, more recently, the
construction of new neighbourhoods in
the city centre on a former railway site. This
tradition forms the bedrock of an urban culture of ambitious projects and intermunicipal collaboration, which would enable the
reproduction of path dependency. Indeed,
since the beginning of the 20th century, much
of Karlsruhes growth has been due to its
merging with numerous smaller surrounding municipalities, making for continuous
urban expansion. As of the 1970s, an on-going
urban planning policy was made possible
by the establishment of supramunicipal
bodies in charge of planning. In 1976, the
Land Baden Wrttemberg introduced
Nachbarschaftsverbnde (neighbourhood
associations) to connect its densely settled regions. The aim was to improve co-ordinated
planning and joint land occupancy by the
municipalities. This project came to an end
in 1985.
Yet Karlsruhe is not a particularly publictransport-friendly city. In fact, it is among the
German cities with the highest rates of car
traffic. The difference in the urban planning
tradition does not fully explain the continued
existence of a grid tram network. As early as
1958, for instance, the municipal council had
to cope with the urgent need for new parking
spaces. On the other hand the global post-war
trend to dismantle tramlines was not followed
in Karlsruhe. Proposals to replace trams by
buses met with little support, probably due

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to recent investments required to link up

with the Albtalbahn. In 1960, the municipal
council decided to preserve and extend the
tram network. At the time, proponents and
opponents of trams were to be found across
the political spectrum. The fact that the tram
was finally preserved was largely due to the
mayor, a great defender of rail traffic and a
pioneer in the area of transport policy. As
early as 1968, he declared that his aim was to
create a city adapted to all transport modes.
This marked the beginning of a movement
to modernise and extend urban transport.
At the end of the 1970s, innovation in the
sphere of urban planning seemed to be stalling (no large projects) and shifted to the area
of public transport. This laid the groundwork for a new model which has been widely
copied: the tram-train. Passenger transfer at
the central train station (which lies outside
the city) was frequently cited as an obstacle to
regional public transport in Karlsruhe.
Thus, in 1983, the local public transport
commission drew up a proposal to extend
the regional Nord- and Sdbahn by using
rail lines. To resolve local problems linked
to the centreoutskirts interface, three engineers would invent a new model of public
transport, both a local and contingent innovation. Three alumni of Karlsruhe University
came up with the idea of running tram-trains
on main line railways; they were Professor
Gerhard Bernstein (Karlsruhe University,
Department of Railway Systems), Horst
Emmerich (German Federal Railways) and
Dieter Ludwig (director of urban and regional
public transport). They established key contacts between transport companies, the municipality of Karlsruhe and the research sector.
In 1983, a feasibility study on the establishment of medium-distance passenger rail
services (S-Bahn, Rseau Express Rgional)
in small conurbations by using alreadyexisting infrastructure was commissioned
and subsidised by the Federal Ministry for
Research and Technology. Between 1985


and 1999, the number of passengers increased

from 62 million to 130 million; the network
grew from 88 km to over 400 km. Peripheral
municipalities were linked directly to the city
centre and enjoyed better services thanks to
additional terminals in the municipalities.
For the former mayor Gerhard Seiler, it was
down to the commitment and charisma of
Dieter Ludwig that the project came to fruition. To all intents and purposes, Ludwig was
given free rein to realise these plans (interviews by the authors).
We also observe that contingency played
a significant role in the trajectory of Basle.
For example, the continued existence of the
tramway network was built upon elements
of contingencynamely, a popular referendum which accepted the proposal (albeit
by a very narrow margin) but rejected any investment in new trams, a problem which was
circumvented by the reorganised deployment of older vehicles. Several years later,
a request for funding would be successfully
resubmitted. There was a further referendum
of Basle citizens, who rejected linking up the
urban tramway network to the regional public
transport network; this too was circumvented
by subsidies directly from the canton of
Basel-Landschaft to introduce these facilities.
The common feature of all these elements is
contingency: if the anticipated effects had
been produced, the tramway network would
have been deprived of any new grounds for
renewal, ending inevitably in its closure, as
happened in Lausanne. For example, Lausanne
decommissioned its last tramway service in
1964, followed by the regional narrow-gauge
network. The trajectory of Basle is thus
characterised by a path dependency at the
urban scale and marked by an innovative
policy, which could also be considered trailblazing for that time: the promotion of public
transport and human-powered mobility, accompanied by restrictions on car use, particularly by a freeze on the number of parking
spaces in the city.

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5. Conclusion
By studying long-time trajectories at the
local level, an analysis of the links between
space and policy uncovers the driving-forces
behind a potential break with the past as well
as the conditions for change. The aim was to
understand how far urban infrastructure and
forms, spatial morphology, cognitive frameworks, instruments and institutions are
factors in the irreversibility of or changes in
transport and urban planning policies.
We have identified three historical settings
for local policies: inertia, through which local
cognitive, institutional and morphological
arrangements are closely correlated with the
generic dynamics of urban development;
innovation, through which a territory breaks
away from earlier trajectories thanks to the
creation of new urban artefacts or the transformation of cognitive or institutional arrangements; path dependency, which, given
its contingent origins, delineates a specific
causal chain which prolongs its long-term
These three historical settings show the
potential and pathways for change at the urban
level according to the given spatiotemporal
context. Besides an over-rigid and determinist
interpretation of urban forms, we first of
all stress that objectsbuilt environment,
infrastructureare not unchanging, but the
pace at which they are reworked, transformed
and destroyed is relatively slowi.e. 20 or
30 years, even several decades. This pace
differs from one infrastructure to another
and from one era to another. At first glance, it
may appear that a tram is more easily reversible than a motorwayquickly constructed,
quickly dismantled, quickly reconstructed.
However, over the past 10 years in France,
the US and the Netherlands, initial projects
have been launched to dismantle motorways, to renew urban neighbourhoods, to
pull down tower blocks and to reconvert

industrial buildings (Hommels, 2005, p. 3).

Furthermore, changing track does not necessarily imply a step backwards and the
dismantling of existing infrastructure. As
our survey highlights, urban actors have at
least two other alternatives to choose from.
The first concerns attempts to influence the
trajectory by creating new objects or new
institutions which are embedded in new
cognitive arrangements, as illustrated by
Grenoble. The second is less tangible and
can be considered as an extension of the first
option. It concerns launching an alternative
trajectory based on local, accidental events,
such as elections, a change of government, a
technological innovation or a decision taken
at the national or international level.
Therefore, our examination of opportunities for change goes beyond the identification of the type of historical embededdness to
which local policies are subject. In each of
the six cities studied here, we observed every
single factor of reproduction and dependency: technical, morphological, political
and institutional. Our comparative analysis
also showed the variations in their relative
importance and in the interaction between
these different elements. This, in turn, allowed us to verify our first hypothesis (H1).
Spaces have become embedded in a process
of inertia due to factors related to public
housing policies and infrastructure, as observed in Clermont-Ferrand for example. In
the case of Lausanne, inertia is caused by the
insurmountable inflexibility of the institutional arrangement. Finally, in Oldenburg,
inertia is the consequence of considerable
plasticity of urban forms, uses and social
practices. Furthermore, factors which may
appear similar can play a different role depending on the type of space and interaction
with other factors. The case of Grenoble illustrates the significant influence of sociopolitical factors behind change: the effectiveness
of cognitive frameworks and arrangements,

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and the weight of instruments in shaping

public action. The implementation of the
Grenoble point of reference, aimed at the
creation of new urban centres centred on
public transport, was based on the use of
tram network and urban requalification.
Yet, in Clermont-Ferrand, the introduction
of the tramwidespread in French cities
during the 1990swill not have the same
effects on urban renewal since the principal
factor behind inertia remains housing policy, which clearly segregates the city centre
and the greater Grenoble area. There has
been no change in policy and the introduction of the tram, which occurred against
the backdrop of a budgetary crisis in public
transport, was not accompanied by an urban
planning policy.
An historical and comparative analysis
enables us to pinpoint the material, institutional and cognitive factors that contribute
to the sustainable entrenchment of certain
policies in the territory and make it difficult
and sometimes even impossible, to introduce
new policies. Such an approach is a first step
towards a more extensive understanding
of the necessary investmentsin terms of
money, time, political alliances, material provisions (Thvenot, 1986)to redirect public
policies and change territorial forms and the
practices to which they play host.
The second hypothesis which we endeavoured to test in this article (H2) posited that
the success or failure of a changed trajectory
depends on the extent to which the means
used were compatible with the inherent
spatiotemporal embeddedness of the local
context. This hypothesis is borne out in terms
of innovation. In reality, innovation should
be in tune with the context in which it is
generated, if it is to enable the pursuit of a
new trajectory. Our hypothesis is also borne
out in terms of contingency and the pathways
it produces. The invention of the tram-train


in Karlsruhe is not a miracle. The reason

why it had a considerable impact was that
the dynamic of this pathway was founded
on a pre-existing culture of urban renewal
and linking the city centre and the outskirts.
For example, if the tram-train had been invented in Clermont-Ferrand, it would not
have had the same effects as in Karlsruhe.
Consequently, it is possible to explain the
effects of a contingent event, despite their
uniqueness. Like the import of models, the
impact of accidental events depends heavily
on the localised dynamics in which they
occur. This observation can also be applied
to those factors behind innovation which
cannot simply be transferred from one territory to another.
Examples of contingent situations sufficiently open up the inherent potential for
change, thereby preventing territories from
becoming imprisoned by the irredeemable
dynamics of inertia. Besides contingency,
we have observed that crises act as a catalyst
of innovation and total change, as occurred
in Grenoble and the functional crisis of its
public transport system in the early 1980s.
A crisis can be advantageous as it reveals the
obsolete nature of the model, as well as the
factors needed to overcome this situation.
Clermont-Ferrand, Lausanne and Oldenburg
may change or they may continue along
the same path, but no one can predict if the
change will come from a change in the generic
trajectory, in the critical or reactive innovative
trajectory or from the emergence of a path

1. An urbanist from Clermont-Ferrand also
confided that: In 1980 we were the only city
in France to have a shopping centre bang in the
middle of the citys main square. Clermonts
lack of architectural heritage is not always a
bad thing!.

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This article is part of a research project Interdpendance entre action publique locale passe
et actuelle, funded by the 11th Group (Transport
Policy) of the French programme of research, experimentation and innovation in land transport
(PREDIT). This paper is also partially based on
work supported by the Swiss National Centre of
Competence in Research (NCCR) NorthSouth:
Research Partnerships for Mitigating Syndromes
of Global Change. An earlier draft of this article
was presented at the World Conference on
Transport Research (Berkeley, 2428 June 2007).
The authors would like to thank the five referees
of Urban Studies and the conference participants
for helpful comments. They would also like to
acknowledge Julie Barbey, Marie Heckmann
and Tina Klein who have participated in this
research project.

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