CFP: Urban Rapid Transit: Critical and Speculative Histories of an Idea

Joshua Grace's picture

We seek panelists for a conference panel tentatively titled, "Urban Rapid Transit: Critical and Speculative Histories of an Idea," for the T2M (Transport, Traffic, and Mobility) Annual Conference in Paris, France 16-19 October 2019 (

Here's what we're thinking:

Over the last two decades, rapid transit schemes—perhaps best known by the designation, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit)—have become an integral part of urban planning across the world, especially in the so-called, Global South. According to their boosters, BRT schemes can do it all. They not only provide an alternative to vernacular systems deemed inefficient and undesirable by institutions such as the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF). By creating bus-only lanes—often down the middle of wide roads—they also claim an ability to make respectful technological interventions that enhance, instead of replace, existing built worlds and modalities of movement by making everything more efficient. The same goes for labor issues. BRT projects explicitly publicize buy-in from driving unions, and they aim to make bus bodies in country.

BRT boosters have claimed success by citing reduced traffic (and personal car use, in particular), more livable cities, and the possibility of limiting urban carbon emissions. Critiques from users, technologists, and researchers have emerged recently and will likely continue to do so as these lengthy projects finish and as questions of maintenance and social equity arise (i.e, the linked essay from Africa is a Country: Yet many of those who highlight BRT’s weaknesses seem to agree on one point: that they are much better than previous social and material conditions (no matter how vaguely these are framed). 

This panel has two aims. It first seeks to historicize the specific elements of current urban transport schemes and to critically engage their large geographic scale. In what historical context(s) did BRT offer an all-encompassing solution to global urbanization and the mobility frictions it creates? How have assumptions about materiality, space, and social and economic norms shaped BRT’s implementation(s)? Second, prospective panelist may connect the underlying assumptions of contemporary BRT projects—a desire for quick, frictionless mobility—to a broader set of ideas about speed, materiality, and social well-being across time and space. How have cities acted as spaces to debate the intersection of movement and materiality? As the panel title suggests, we’re open to speculative answers to this question.

Ideally, the panel will facilitate dialogue across disciplinary and professional boundaries.

Please send abstracts (300 word limit) and an author(s) bio of 100 - 150 words to by Wednesday Feb. 27.


Joshua Grace (University of South Carolina)

Jennifer Hart (Wayne State University)